Lecture XV 1st March, 1940
We finished the first week of the exercises in the last lecture and come today to the second week.
We shall be able to handle this more briefly, for we have already spoken of many of the ideas which it contains in the introduction to the exercises.
The idea of Christ as mediator, as the bridge to God, at the end of the first week, leads over logically into the meditations of the second week: the kingdom of Christ and his human existence.
One is more and more struck, in the meditations that we have already considered, by the peculiar relation in which man stands to God.
It almost looks as if Christ were thought of as a reflection of man, though, of course understood dogmatically this is far from b eing the case.
One could rather say that man is a kind of distorted image of eternal man.
The contemplation of the life of Christ is intended to make his figure vivid and concrete, as sin, damnation and the tortures of hell were made in the first week.
The first exercise is a meditation on how Christ came into being and this does not begin with his birth, but before this in the pleroma, in the fullness, an expression which St. Paul often uses.
It is a spiritual condition where the world has not yet come into being, the pre-existing womb of the Divinity from which the germ of the world emerges.
We find the same idea in the Primitive’s ancestral world where the primordial ancestors had their home.
The world was created through the transformation of these ancestors into the visible things of this life.
The primordial rain ancestor, for instance, transformed himself into a being whose head is the clouds, whose hair is made of rain, whose body is a mass of falling rain and whose feet stand where the rain spurts up from the ground.
These are Australian myths.
The beings that transform themselves into such strange phenomena are really invisible, partly man and partly animal, cloud or rain.
The bow and arrow ancestor transformed himself and his wife into the first bow and arrow.
He did this without losing his own form: his head became the top of the bow, the fluffy strands of the bow string were his hair, his feet were the lower end of the bow, and the bow
string was his wife, clasping him round the neck, and in like manner men, animals, and all things came into existence.
The secret teaching of the tribe contains the knowledge of the ancestors, the places where they once lived, the paths they followed, the works they performed in this or that place, etc.
There are countless legends which only the few know; the old men of the Rain Totem know all the stories which tell ab out the deeds of the Rain Ancestor and it is the same with the totems of all the other curious ancestors.
These are really archetypal ideas, which pre-existed and transformed themselves to a certain extent into the things which we experience.
Primitives in Australia call this pre- existing world the Alchera, and it is also the dream and is identical with the dream world which we call the unconscious.
That is how we should understand the pleroma, the fullness, which is the origin of the existence of the world, where everything is contained but in potentia, as a possibility, anything can come out of it.
The meditation begins with a picture of the three persons of the Trinity looking down from Heaven on to the earth, where all people are on their way to Hell.
They take counsel together how this dreadful fate can possibly be stopped and they decide that the second person of the Trinity must descend to earth and b e come incarnate as man.
This naive conception is really made on the old pattern.
This is the way primitives think: if, for instance, they are threatened with a failure of the rice crop, they send for an expert of the Rice Totem who knows all the legends concerning the Rice Ancestor.
A little hut is built for him in the rice field and there he tells the rice how it was originally made by the Rice Ancestor.
Then the rice, attentive, remembers how it was brought into b eing and how beautifully it grew, it thus recaptures the art of growing and the crop is assured.
We find this idea in the origins of Christianity where the Man Jesus was said to have always existed.
He remembered the pleroma where he dwelt with God and his conversations with the Divinity; then he came down as man to man and through his image he reminds man of what he was and what he should be.
For man has forgotten where he came from, forgotten his creator, he now thinks he can do everything out of himself and not through his primordial ancestors.
The manifestation of Christ has been understood as a means to awaken in man the memory of what he originally was when he dwelt in Heaven as the Anthropos.
The Gnostic writings, in their varied and complicated speculations about the origin of man, were much concerned with the events in the pleroma which preceded all world existence.
The lgnatian meditation therefore, pictures the becoming of Christ as having begun in a pre-existing world.
St. John says the same when he speaks of the Logos, the Word, having always existed and having always been with God “and all things were made by him, and without him was nothing made that was made.”
Christ is, so to speak, the executive arm of the Divinity.
The meditator must make a vivid picture of the Godhead taking counsel in its own womb concerning the fate of the world.
The meditation on the human existence of Christ begins with the angel Gabriel appearing to the Blessed Virgin who lived in a little house near Nazareth; every geographical and local detail must
be included and the meditator must call up all the knowledge he possesses to make the picture as concrete as possible.
The rest of the holy legend of the Incarnation follows.
The second exercise consists in meditating on the birth of Christ, again with every imaginable detail.
The story of the nativity begins, as you know, when the Blessed Virgin leaves Nazareth with Joseph to be taxed in Bethlehem.
Again no detail of the preparations and the journey must be omitted: the Virgin, nine months with child, riding on a donkey, accompanied by a maid and a cow in order to have milk should the child arrive.
Then step by step the long journey, the exact number of miles between Nazareth and Jerusalem, the undulating road over the hills of Judah, the steep way up to Jerusalem which lies about 2600 feet above the sea level, all the incidents of the road . . . then worn out with fatigue they reach the cave in Bethlehem where, according to tradition, Christ was born.
It was not a stable but a cave.
There are many of these caves in Bethlehem today, they are used as goat stables.
The Church of the Nativity, an old Byzantine building, has been built over the holy cave and recent excavations show that a temple of Attis once stood on this spot.
Attis was also a dying and resurrecting god.
The meditator should then walk into the cave, so to speak, and take part in the scene of the Nativity, observing the exact role played by the people and even by the animals.
When that has all been carefully meditated upon, he can enter upon a further exercise consisting in a repetition of: the becoming of Christ in the pre- existing world, b) the actual birth of Christ – so that every detail is grasped clearly.
Then again a general repetition follows, and after this an exercise which consists in going through the whole preceding meditation with each of the five senses in turn.
The purpose of this tremendous effort of the imagination is to get the meditator into the situation which he has created and which has become a reality, it works on him to such an extent
that he transforms himself into it and experiences it as if he were one of the figures of the drama.
The second day’s meditation is on the presentation in the Temple and the flight into Egypt.
This also is repeated twice and realised through the five senses.
On the third day the youth of Christ is meditated up on.
As little is known of these early days, the meditator’s active imagination comes into play to supply the details.
Christ’s absolute obedience to his parents is particularly dwelt upon, so that the meditator becomes completely identified with this attitude of obedience, he assimilates the image of the
Then a dramatic and sudden change of attitude takes place. Christ has gone up to Jerusalem as the most obedient of children and unexpectedly, in the Temple where his weary parents who have sought him for three days find him at last, he answers his mother’s rebuke with: “Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”.
His striking obedience to his parents has been transferred to God.
This rather offends our feeling, as it does when he says later: “Woman, what have I to do with thee? and is in direct opposition to the commandment: “Honour thy father and thy mother”.
Christ has put his own vocation before obedience to his parents.
We all have to experience this decisive hour when the time comes that we must cut ourselves adrift from the authority of the parents.
The meditator must consider these two attitudes to the parents which stand in opposition to each other, and then realise them again through the five senses.
The meditation on the fourth day is on the two standards.
The hosts of the Lord Christ are mustered on one side and those of Lucifer, the fallen angel, on the other.
These two figures are imagined as two generals in command of opposing armies.
Here we see the officer in Ignatius come to the fore, the fight against the powers of darkness takes on a military aspect, the milites ecclesiae are going into battle.
Christ gathers his army in a field near Jerusalem whereas Lucifer musters his forces in the neighbourhood of Babylon.
Lucifer has a fiery smoking throne surrounded by all hell’s legions.
He sends the upper devils, his officers, all over the world, to recruit soldiers and he harangues them before they go, explaining to them how they can corrupt people and persuade them to join his banner.
As the Holy Scriptures have no record of this, the meditator must give his imagination a free rein. Christ, on the other hand, sits on a little hill in a charming spot, surrounded by his officers a
nd by his general staff who are the twelve disciples.
He als o addresses his army.
Although the scriptures can be drawn on to a certain extent here, free imagination plays an active role.
When all this has been thoroughly meditated upon, it is applied to the meditator himself, he is drawn into the picture and realis s that he is also called upon to make his choice.
He holds a colloquy with the Blessed Virgin, the great mediatress, praying her to intercede with the Lord, that he may be called to his banner as a soldier of Christ.
We can assume, as so many people are on the way to hell, that many are really in doubt as to which side they want to choose, and it is not possible to remain neutral in this war. (Please do not draw any historical parallels!)
Therefore a contemplation follows on three different kinds of people.
A banal and well worn example is used for this purpose.
They each have 1 0,000 ducats and must decide what to do with them before they can join Christ’s Banner.
The first is willing to sacrifice his attachment to his money but dies before he does anything about it.
The second is willing to give up his attachment to his money, but he also wants to keep the money and his deliberations on the subject never end.
The third is willing to give up his attachment, and the money itself, if God and reason demand it of him.
That is if he is sure God really wants him to sacrifice it and if reason endorses this conclusion.
This last is specifically Ignatian, Ignatius was exceedingly rational.
The will of God was submitted to human reason and thought about most carefully before it was acted upon.
The Jesuits must always know why God has suggested such and such a course, and it must agree with human reason.
A test of some kind is really necessary or one has no critique, one just acts on intuition.
The Jesuit considers: is the urge to do such and such from God or the devil?
This is much the same as the old problem of the Church as to dreams, were they sent by God, did a devil whisper them or were they just the result of indigestion?
The only critique was human reason and that soon became the critique of the Church, it decided whether a dream was sent by God or not: if it agreed with the doctrine of the Church then God sent it, if not the devil. Anatole France tells an amusing story of St. Anthony of Egypt.
I cannot vouch for its historical accuracy!
St. Anthony had been a hermit in the desert for twenty years and was already a very holy man.
One evening there was a knock at his door, a stranger stood outside and said: “Anthony, you are a great saint and have acquire d a great deal of merit but I know a man in Alexandria who is holier than you.”
St. Anthony, much disappointed, asked for the details about the man, packed his handbag and went at once to Alexandria, to seek out the man and learn his methods, for even saints are ambitious in their own way.
He had a great deal of trouble in finding this man, who was a shoemaker in a poor quarter of the town.
St. Anthony was a good deal surprised at his appearance, which was that of an ordinary shoemaker, but he questioned him: “The angel of the Lord appeared to me and told me that you were a greater saint than I.
Please tell me what exercises you use? ”
The shoemaker denied all knowledge of the subject, he was a poor man he said, with nine children and had to work from morning to night in order to earn their bread.
He had no time for anything else.
St. Anthony did not want to believe him but, when he found out that it was really the case, he knew that the stranger who came to his cell must have been the devil!
This story shows us that in spite of the critique of the Church and human reason itself, it is sometimes very difficult to decide where a hunch comes from.
The teaching of the Church is exceedingly valuable, but after all God might decide to say something new.
This is no joke but a very difficult and serious question and if you consider it from the psychological point of view you will see how difficult it is.
The meditations are concerned with the life of Christ till the twelfth day, His Baptism and all the events of His life till the Passion.
An exercise on humility follows, Christ as the servant of God who deigned to lower himself into the dust to take our burden upon him.
This leads over unexpectedly and almost illogically into the question of the meditator’s own profession.
God’s son not only allowed himself to be born as a man, but submitted to a very lowly station in life, to mockery and to torture.
So God became man in the fullest sense of the word, and I?
What do I do, what is my profession, and whatever it is, saddler, soldier, or anything else, what goal do I pursue in it?
Do I work for the creature or for God?
So one’s own life is contemplated from the point of view of the absolute humility and obedience shown by Christ.
Do I live my life as he lived his?
The attention is thus drawn to the meditator’s own life and to all his weaknesses and failures, how he has chosen the easier path, shirked details and duties, deceived, cheated, etc.
The daily life of the meditator is ploughed through and through with the comparison to the life of Christ.
This results in an inner fusion between Christ’s life and that of the meditator and these exercises should enable the latter to live his life as a totality, as Christ lived his.
This leads us near to the thought that Christ is really the example of how a human life should be lived, he reminds man of his true nature.
This true nature only appears if man lives as a totality, it is invisible when man is repressing himself here and there.
We do not know what a man really is when he is deceiving himself, or leading a respectable life just because it is easier, not because he is essentially a moral man, but because he is rather cowardly.
It is comparatively easy to be respectable and to go through life so that everyone says afterwards: “What a decent man he was”.
Yet, if one has repressed one’s real nature, such a reputation is a swindle.
These exercises really penetrate into the depths of human nature.