Saturday, May 3, 2014

Reflection - Compassion & Rigor in Religious Life

PictureIgnatius the Pilgrim

At the heart of the dispute between the Jansenists and the Jesuits was the question of salvation - The theological principles of Cornelius Jansen emphasised predestination, denied free will, and maintained  that human nature is incapable of good. Jansens was influenced by a particularly strict reading of St Augustine, which emphasises God’s gratuitous predestination and efficacious grace.  This grace was dispensed to some by God, thus bringing about their salvation whilst leaving others to damnation due to the lack of this grace.   This rigorism had strange echoes of Calvinism and the Protestant doctrine of justification by faith alone. 

On the other hand, the Jesuits – and the Church itself – taught the importance of free will in the matter of salvation.  There was less emphasis on the effects of the ‘fall’, a view of humanity that wasn’t hopelessly corrupt but on the contrary sought for and affirmed man’s residual goodness.  Many Jesuit theologians had been tasked by Lainez, the General in 1558, to find a theology that was suited to the needs of the times.  The Spanish Jesuit, Luis Molina, did just that, rather than predestination he spoke of divine prescience, that God foresaw the merits and demerits that we freely chose to earn by our actions.  In tune with the burgeoning spirit of Renaissance Humanism, Molina and the Jesuits were much more optimistic about human nature.  This approach became known as Molinism. Thus Jesuit confessors were not insisting that their penitents showed  a radical conversion but rather a conforming of ones life to the Ten Commandments and the Church’s Precepts.

Against this background, one side was to accuse the other of moral laxity, whereas the other was to condemn an over rigorous approach.  It is interesting to note that the autobiography of St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, had emphasised the mistakes that the young Ignatius had made by being overly rigorous in his self-imposed penances and practices.  Ignatius who had physically damaged himself by these excesses would urge a prudent moderation to his successors. He had realised that his excesses were not what God was looking for, but were rather more about himself trying to be perfect for God.  The more we relied on external signs of conversion, the more distracted we become from the heart of the matter – the healing and saving power of God’s love.  God does not want spiritually macho men and women, but simply those with a humble and contrite heart.  
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