Brian O’Leary, that lucid and learned chronicler of spiritualities, poses a key question in an article in The Way (October 2013): why is it that Jesuits, dedicated to a life of active ministry in the world, flocked to see Into Great Silence, and experienced a profound resonance in viewing that mesmerising, almost entirely wordless film about Carthusian monasticism?
Brian’s exploration leads him into contemporary, post-modernist culture, and a hard look at the reality of Ignatius Loyola. One caricature sees him as the soldier saint who moved from the heroic defence of Pamplona, through injury and near-madness, to recruiting a band of fellow-militants to fight for the Catholic Church against the nasty Lutherans. It is a picture entirely at odds with the historical evidence: Ignatius did not found the Society to combat Lutheranism, nor does the military image fit. His personal style is caught in a beautiful cameo by Diego Lainez, who was to succeed him as General:
Imagine the Gesu, the Jesuit house in Rome, round the year 1550. Some of the brethren go up to the roof in the cool of the evening for a blessed interlude of peace. One of them, Lainez, remembers how Ignatius would come up to the flat roof: “He would sit there quietly, absolutely quietly. He would take off his hat and look up for a long time at the sky. And the tears would begin to flow down his cheeks like a stream, but so quietly and so gently that you heard not a sob nor a sigh nor the least possible movement of his body.”
This weeping Ignatius, moved to something like ecstasy by the contemplation of the stars, is a mystic. Brian O’Leary accompanies him from the life-changing injury at Pamplona, through the episodes of near-lunatic desolation at Manresa, to the beatific enlightenment on the Cardoner river. Brian outlines the search for meaning in 16th-century culture, and that same struggle working itself out in the heart of Ignatius. Much of his thinking was in harmony with Renaissance humanism, but transformed by the central position of God. The Spiritual Exercises led Ignatius, as they can lead us, to finding God in all things. This is everyday mysticism, for which a one-word synonym is interiority. In the Christian experience it is linked with praying from the heart, at all times, becoming people of prayer. Brian quotes Karl Rahner: The Christian of the future will be a mystic, or will not exist at all.
Please do not stop with this inadequate summary, but go on to Brian’s luminous paper, which you will find here.