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ETH Lectures

LECTURE II 10th November, 1939

In the last lecture I just mentioned that Ignatius had been influenced by Arabian culture.

The master, who was the Father of Arabian mysticism, is Al Gazzali, 1059-1111.

He was a Mohammedan theologian and at the same time a Greek philosopher.

He lived in Bagdad, where a Neo-Platonic community was tolerated by Islam until 1050.

Its members were highly cultured and were therefore valued as philosophers and doctors.

Al-Gazzali owes much of his wide knowledge of Greek philosophy and of the whole learning of his time to this fact.

We possess manuscripts of Al-Gazzali, showing his peculiar, though characteristically Moslem attitude towards causality.

Every occurrence in nature being the will of Allah was one of his main philosophical ideas, much as Schopenhauer saw a manifestation of the primordial will in the falling stone.

Al-Gazzali united the theological tradition of Islam, which was already four hundred years old, with Greek philosophy and with the mystical experience of individual saints.

We could say that it was owing to Al-Gazzali that Islam became a mystical religion, though we in the West know very little today of this mystical side.

The writings of Al-Gazzali, however, had a great influence on the West in their day.

There were very few western savants then and they became interested in the treasures of Arabic literature.

People studied at the Moorish universities of Salamanca and Cordova, and the Greek writers first became known through Arabic translations.

So Christian theologians became acquainted with the devotional and mystical books of the Arabs and they made a vast impression upon them.

It was especially the Dominicans who translated these works into Latin and embodied pages, or even whole manuscripts, in their own devotional books. AlGazzali is quoted, as if he were a Church father, as a sacred authority.

We find many things in the exercitia of Ignatius which correspond to Arabic and Sufi mysticism.

The retreats, for instance, which lasted thirty to forty days.

The Arabic retreats were under the direction of a Sheik who had absolute authority over his pupils.

They had to live an ascetic life, in silence, fasting, watching and praying.

Everything had to be confessed to the Sheik who had a heavy responsibility for he was responsible for the salvation of the souls of his pupils.

This was much the same in the case of the director of the lgnatian exercises and many of the subjects of meditation were also very similar, such as sin,
repentance, death and Hell.

Al-Gazzali and his followers prescribed a strict self-examination and a little note book had to be kept, a sort of daily debit and credit account of spiritual improvement or regression, a moral balance sheet.

We find these also in the exercitia and it is not surprising that Ignatius was accused of using Mohammedan methods.

He had the fanaticism as well, and the spirit of military discipline, he prescribed absolute obedience and an uncomplaining submission to the director.

There is no doubt whatever that Ignatius was influenced by Arabian tradition, though some people claim that it was the other way round.

It is quite possible that Christianity also exercised an influence on Islam but we have documentary proof that the things I have mentioned existed in Islam long before the time of Ignatius.

There were two kinds of Ignatian exercises, big and small.

The big exercises were prescribed, the small ones were preached.

The former lasted about thirty days, the latter at most three days.

The small exercises were open to the public, they were really exceedingly like Methodist Revival meetings, the preacher roused the people and played on their emotions.

These small exercises were very important to the Jesuits, but were not always approved of by the rest of the Church or even by all the Jesuits themselves.

The Jesuit, Boeminghaus, says: “The three day exercises go over the land like a flood, they are our peace, our hope and – our peril.”

One can imagine that exercises which worked on the emotions sometimes had very undesirable effects, especially among women who have a particular
way of reacting to such things.

Ignatius himself noticed that the big thirty day exercises were not for the many but really only for the few.

His experiences, right at the beginning, taught him caution and he eventually gave up working with big groups at all.

There is a very good reason for this, for the individual is a totally different person alone.

We always forget that we become unconscious in a group of people, one does not know exactly what happens but we fall below our level.

The collective man in us rises, he is strengthened to such an extent that we forget who we are.

This is why a crowd of people always have a lower level than individuals.

One of the great dangers of our time is the uprooted population in big towns, they live too near together and become completely collective.

The argument that man is raised by the community is false.

Take an example.

You go to a Swiss “vaterlandischen Schiitzenverein” (patriotic shooting club).

If there is a speech every member may feel what a wonderful people the Swiss marksmen are and feel himself to be a little Wilhelm Tell.

He goes home treading on air but what about next morning, when he wakes up to the fact that he is earning 350 francs a month and living in a third floor back.

The whole thing has flown out of the window, for it was mere suggestion.

The crowd is exceedingly suggestible, it believes everything and can do anything for no one is responsible.

Read Gustave le Bon’s “Psychologie des foules”, it gives an excellent picture.

Community is something for independent people, not for those who have no roots.

Take a group of a hundred people, they are one huge swollen head, everything sinks to a collective level where we all meet on the level of the homo sapiens.

And do you believe that the homo sapiens is sapiens?

I have never seen one yet.

Ignatius was very wise in being careful in the choice of his pupils and when possible he saw them alone.

In the big exercises a group was taken but the Director had to maintain an individual contact with them all and be ready to see !hem alone when necessary.

This was to avoid worthless collective enthusiasm and to insure that the exercises were suitable to the individual, that they fitted his age, ability, education, etc.

Ignatius had a shortened and simplified form of the exercises of which Bernhard Hegardt says:

“So that an uneducated person, or one endowed only with feeble powers, should not have things presented to him which he cannot easily endure and from which he can derive no benefit. Likewise according to the stage which each seeks to attain, things shall be presented to him by which he may acquire more benefit and make more progress. To him who seeks only a little improvement one must only prescribe the examen particulare et generale and at the same time, during half an hour in the morning, the method of prayer concerning the ten commandments, the mortal sins and so on, and exhort him to confess weekly and when possible to partake of the sacrament every fortnight or better still every week. This method is more suited to people of little education or illiterate people, at the same time every precept must be explained to them. The same applies to mortal sins, the laws of the Church, the use of the five senses and the acts of mercy.”

We see that the individual point of view was discriminated and respected.

In the small exercises all the work was done by the preacher and his sermons, and the director was also very important in the big exercises.

But the chief work in the latter was done by the pupil himself.

He was inspired perhaps by the sermon, but he had to retire to his own room for a considerable part of the day and carry through his meditations alone and undisturbed.

I will read you a description of the small exercises in the 18th century from Bernhard Hegardt:

“One can understand how such a frame of mind could arise when one sees how the smaller “Exercises” were carried out at that time, for instance, in Naples. The so-called religious house of the Jesuits in that town was used as a meeting place. The nobility were asked first to the ‘retreat’, then the most venerable clergy, further the youthful students and others of whatever standing and line of life they might be. All these made a point of meeting regularly twice a day in a big hall or in another suitable place in order to take part in the Exercises, for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon. And as darkness and gloom may affect the frame of mind of the assembly in no small measure, all windows are very closely veiled and curtained. The first thing to strike those who enter is a great, painful crucifix, a number of skulls and bones, thorns and such like. Upon the stroke of a bell the whole proceeding begins by reading aloud from a sacred book. After that the director of the Exercises propounds the subjects of meditation with ‘great spirit’ (in an uplifted frame of mind), that is ‘the fundamental truths of the first week’s meditation for the purification of souls.’ And thus it proceeds with repentance and mortifications, dialogues with the crucified one, etc. One meditates upon the fact that the pleasure of vice lasts only a moment, but pain an eternity. Therefore be ye always ready, for ye know not in what hour the Son of Man cometh. Ye are always happy and joyful and in the twinkling of an eye ye are in hell. Or: how easily would he be able to scorn all earthly things, who considers how soon he will die. Finally, and in conclusion of the devotional exercises , each one kisses the five holy wounds, receives the divine blessing and returns home. And although this gives only a faint idea of the big Exercises, the members of the assembly can be likened unto ‘ardent coals which alternately flame up and kindle and light each other, so that soon all are
animated by the same fire.”‘

This is collective emotion, where people are all seized by a mystical enthusiasm.

We hear that these small exercises had the most marvellous moral effects, drunkards stopped drinking, inveterate smokers stopped smoking, cripples were cured, etc.

Everything happened in short which can happen under group suggestion.

This is the shadow side of the small exercises which were really just revivals.

I will say no more about them for they are in no way a parallel to eastern Yoga.

Before I begin with the big exercises I should like to say that I am not in a position to give you first-hand information.

I have never carried out such exercises but I have studied the extensive literature about them carefully, and I will try to give you information gathered from this as objectively as possible.

I regard them as an extraordinarily interesting parallel to eastern Yoga.

The exercises are under certain general rules:

  1. “We understand by spiritual exercises a special method of examining our conscience, of using contemplation and prayer for the ultimate purpose
    of removing the disorderly inclinations of the soul and of discovering God’s will concerning one’s own life’s occupation and one’s own salvation.”

This is the official formulation, not mine.

  1. “The director of the exercises should just state the material for contemplation, touch on a few short points, and only give a few brief elucidations.
    The contemplator should continue to work on the foundation of the historical material with his thinking reason.”

The historical material consists of the holy legends.

“If he can thus find some light it will have a stronger affect and bear more enduring moral fruit for being the result of his own efforts.”

It is obvious from this paragraph that in the big exercises the Director must only give the subjects for meditation and leave the conclusions to the contemplator.

It is important that it is his thinking reason which is recommended to help him.

  1. “Two forces of the soul come into action during this contemplation. First reason which must penetrate the material logically; and then the will which must pick up the affects released by the thinking. This latter activity should be practised more reverently than the thinking, because it is speaking directly to God and his Saints.”

This again is an official formulation and we see how much reason and thinking are emphasised. We are also told that such thinking brings up affects.

Self examination reveals faults, and these cause anger, repentance or unhappiness.

The rules pre scribe mastering such affects by the will and using them practically.

Choo sing a line of conduct and res olving on such and such a course.

  1. “The exercises are divided into four weeks; the first week is devoted to sin as the subject of meditation, the second to the life of Christ up till the Passion, the third to the Passion and the fourth to the Resurrection and Ascension.”

These are just general directions and this rule goes on to say that though the usual time for a big exercise is a month, equally divided into four weeks of seven days, this need not be taken literally and can be altered at the discretion of the Director.


“it is better to be severe and each meditation should last an hour, to be on the safe side rather more, for the devil is very fond of shortening the time for meditation.”

We will leave out the rest of the rules and go over to the detail of the exercises themselves.

But here naturally we shall get into the depths of Christian psychology, particularly Catholic psychology.

Many of you will not be acquainted with this, it is very strange, particularly to us Protestants, so I must ask you to follow in the same spirit in which you followed the eastern material, with a naive and open attitude.

This was, of course, much easier in the case of the eastern texts, they are so far from us that we could allow them to happen and to work upon us.

Do not listen to the exercitia as Christians, with a Christian upbringing, but as if you were Indians who had never heard anything of the kind.

When you hear things familiar to you, such as the sayings of Christ, do not think you already know what they mean, for we do not really know at all, we only think we know.

Try to think of Christ as if he were Mahasukha, Shri Heruka or one of the Buddhas.

It is in a way a pity that we all read the Bible so young, for now it is very difficult to get a fresh and unprejudiced impression of it such as an Indian would have.

Indians told me things about the Bible, when I was in India, which I had never seen and only saw after they were shown me through the spectacles of an eastern understanding.

It would be advisable to keep the images we saw in the eastern material before your eyes because the differences and parallels will then strike you at once.

The actual exercises are preceded by a praeparatio which usually consists of an oratio, an introductory prayer which is also a meditation.

I have the Latin book of an old Spanish Jesuit here, Izquierdus, of the classical school who gives us authentic information about the character of the praeparatio.

The mental prayer or meditation (oratio mentalis) simply consists of recalling something said or done, thinking it over with the intellect, weighing the essential, the accidental and the circumstances against each other and inferring one from the other.

The will is thus persuaded to win sound insight and right feelings and to grasp holy precepts and this is the fruit of the prayer.

Before beginning the meditation one must prepare the points to be meditated upon and keep them in mind.

About two places before one reaches the place of meditation one should raise the state of one’s mind, and reflect that one is in the presence of God who will listen favourably to one who pleads zealously for salvation.

Concerning the body, usually one should kneel.

But should any one feel more devotion and attention lying face downwards on the ground or standing, then he should do so.

And, after God’s permission has been asked, he may also sit if there is a bodily weakness which makes it unavoidable.

In order to concentrate better on the prayer, and to hold one’s phantasy in bounds, or to collect it when it wanders, one should imagine the
place exactly, that is make a substantial picture of what is to be meditated upon, painting in the things, people, place and other circumstances,
as the object of meditation requires.”

This is an excellent description of the process of active imagination, where it is also necessary to see the phantasy substantially.

The invocation follows in which one asks God for enlightenment and Grace, in order to receive the fruit which belongs to this prayer.

You can see here already the enormous difference between this and the eastern point of view. In the praeparatio itself God is invoked.

One has a vis-a-vis, even a personal vis-a-vis.

There is no turning inwards, the building stones are taken from the memory, from the conscious.

The contemplator remembers a sin, for instance, which he committed at a certain place and time, and meditates, as the praeparatio prescribes, on that.

This meditation is directed to God, towards vis-a-vis, not towards oneself.

So meditation, in the Ignatian sense of the word, is something very different to eastern meditation, it is less an oratio than a petitio.

This is typical western extraversion.

I must rely on your memories for I cannot possibly mention the eastern parallel each time.

The eastern way of meditation is entirely introverted, it is concerned with inner facts.

There is never a feeling of personal relationship to a vis-a-vis, to God.

I experienced this in Ceylon.

I went to the Temple about six o’clock in the evening when it was already dark.

A golden image of Buddha gleamed in the lamp light and many young girls, with shallow bowls full of jasmin blossoms, were shaking the flowers on to the altar of the Buddha and murmuring a mantra.

A Buddhist monk was my companion and I asked him: “Are they worshipping the Buddha”?

“Oh no”, he replied, “the Buddha does not exist any longer, he has gone into the Maha Nirvana from which there is no return.”

I asked him what they were saying as they scattered their flowers.

He replied: “They repeat a mantra to the effect that as the flowers fade so do our earthly lives”.

The evening devotion of these young Buddhists was no invocation, no petition to God, but an admonition to themselves. ~Carl Jung, ETH Lecture 10 Nov 1939.

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