Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
Discovering the Wisdom of Saint Ignatius
An informal lecture on July 31, 1970
The Spiritual Exercises by Saint Ignatius of Loyola are often presented as a magnificent sequence of logical arguments that can lead a person to amend his life, save his soul, choose his state in life or make important resolutions.
Saint Ignatius teaches us to be completely honest when considering our private lives.
However comforting or painful this honest vision may be.
While all these treasures are found in this work, we need to have an even broader vision that will allow us to see yet another treasure that is rarely pointed out. That treasure is his wisdom. If someone wants to have mental balance, nervous equilibrium and wisdom, let him read The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. His way of thinking is not just speculative reasoning. Rather there is no more sensible or logical way to think about the concrete problems of life today than that of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. Anyone who becomes familiar with, and used to, his reasoning acquires a truly extraordinary and structured soul.
What is it about The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius that we should especially praise? First of all, the wisdom by which he lays out the topics. He always goes straight to the central points of a topic. For example, his consideration of sin leads us to reflect upon the gravity of sin and the rights of God. By taking conclusions about the gravity of sin, people then gauge the gravity of their own sins. From a central point, he always develops his reasoning in a logical, simple, direct and irrefutable way. We are left with the alternative of either admitting we have no faith or that he is right.
Secondly, Saint Ignatius teaches us to be completely honest when considering our private lives. The Exercises are laid out in such a way as to make us fully objective when considering our defects, virtues, circumstances and duties. The saint teaches us to fight against those numerous and devious (although mostly semi-subconscious) maneuvers that we often employ to avoid knowing ourselves. His logic is like a straight arrow that forces us to look at things head on and with all honesty. We see and recognize ourselves as we are. At the time of our spiritual self-examination, we are put in a position where we will not lie to ourselves or to God.
However comforting or painful this honest vision may be, we can then draw helpful conclusions and resolutions.
Finally, Saint Ignatius supplies us with an admirable equilibrium between the intelligence and the will on the one hand, and the sensibility on the other. He bases his arguments on reason, not sensibility or feelings. Nevertheless, once reason dominates, he asks man’s sensibility to follow reason. Thus, Saint Ignatius asks us to think about a topic and then imagine a place or situation that will help stir up good movements in our souls. That is to say, he tries to bring human sensibility into line with the logical arguments. If however, your sensibility or feelings are not moved by the argument, he advises us to carry on with the exercise without them because that is what reason indicates we should do. This is a marvelous equilibrium!
Saint Ignatius also strikes a balance between the supernatural and the natural. At every moment he asks us to make an act of love or make an act of the will. He asks our souls to “exercise” but he also constantly asks us to stop and ask God for an insight to consider this or that thing. We are asked to stop and ask God to move our souls in the direction He desires for us. In other words, he bends over backward to stir in us the right natural dispositions to accept the orientation God wishes to give us. This truly shows an extraordinary fullness of wisdom.
In this regard, Saint Ignatius is so opposed to everything that our times have of arbitrary, wild and crazy. All saints are the opposite of the hippie. Charles Manson, for example, was characteristically unbalanced, with regard for neither thinking nor law, a kind of wild beast loose in the world.
In Saint Ignatius we have the exact opposite. We have composure, logic, common sense and a sense of measure. From this standpoint, he is an incomparable master of wisdom.
The preceding article is taken from an informal lecture Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira gave on July 31, 1970. It has been translated and adapted for publication without his revision. –Ed.