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Jung on Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises: Lectures Delivered at ETH Zurich, Volume 7: 1939–1940

Lecture 8  16 June 1939

In this lecture we will now turn to a quite dif fer ent chapter.2

However, this chapter is once again about that great prob lem of the imaginatio, of the application,3 the development, and the formation of the human capacity for imagination.

After our rambling journey through the spiritual world of the East, we are returning to our Western world: that is, to Europe.

This transition is no easy proposition.

Nowadays one may well be able to travel physically by car from India to Europe in about three weeks, but making this journey intellectually is quite another matter.

On arrival in the West one 0nds a completely dif fer ent spiritual atmosphere.

In the East, despite the apparent abstraction, every thing is simple, clear, and philosophical.

It is about insight, differentiation, and understanding. t is essentially a spectacle that passes by, as it were, in a calm, peaceful4 state and through which one changes or is changed.

It is never a struggle, ordeal, or compulsion.

It grows, blossoms, develops, and unfurls, and the yogi allows it to happen within him and through him, sees it in his visions, and experiences it in his body.

But it is never unpredictable; there is no decision or torment. One hears nothing about conscience.

Morality comes into the picture only incidentally, in the form of a technical mistake, for example.

If you study Buddhism, which has a highly developed ethics, you see hat not only the ways of life but also the ethical attitudes are highly humane.

If someone becomes a monk and isn’t happy being celibate, he can continue living outside the monastery as a lay or secular monk.

If in this life something goes wrong because of your own imperfection, well yes, you incur a somewhat unpleasant and burdensome karma,5 but you can make up for it in the next life.

The next life will be slightly more dif0cult, due to your kar ma, but you can try to do things better next time, and karma
gives you the opportunity to do that.

The technical mistakes can be gradually eradicated through reincarnation.

Bud dha, before he became Buddha, also had countless previous stages, in which he existed as a plant, an animal, etc. and gradually developed to higher levels.

It is like an ancient tree that in the course of hundreds of years exhibits the biggest, most beautiful blossoms.

That is by and large the image of the psychological atmosphere of the East.

When we come to the West, however, we encounter a most unique religious and philosophical situation.

Here we need to go back some way in history to understand how certain endeavors6 came about, and we will then compare them with Eastern techniques.

Specifocally, I will explore with you the Exercitia spiritualia of Ignatius of Loyola.

These were not developed until late in the sixteenth century, and there is a long religious and philosophical history behind them.

Such efforts to alter the human psyche are age- old, and, as in the East, such things originally came from primitivism.7

Among the primitives,8 one already 0nds special times or phases in life: puberty rituals or later male rites of passage in which magic preparations are performed, initiations, instruction, ordeals, even mutilation and the like, for the purpose of achieving some kind of psychic transformation.

From these primitive beginnings, which are found among all primitive peoples, as it were, the mysteries of antiquity gradually evolved.

I refer above all to the ancient and holy cult of Eleusis, where the most signi0cant magical and religious initiations took place throughout antiquity in the famous Eleusinian mysteries.9

These Eleusinian mysteries were performed until 392 CE, thus extending well into our Christian epoch, until they were abolished by a special edict of a Byzantine emperor.10

They apparently dis appeared without trace, meaning we actually have very little precise information about their content.

But from the intimations of vari ous writers and results of archaeological excavations we have been able to piece together most of it.

These mysteries primarily altered the consciousness to such an extent that immortality was experienced— that is, an experience of unchanged
existence in time. This is also expressed symbolically through time being suspended.

We 0nd similar initiation rites in Egypt. The Eleusinian initiations most prob ably originated in Egypt and were brought to Greece along with the cultivation of grain around 1500 BCE.

They were originally an agrarian mystery. The corresponding mysteries in Egypt were the Isis mysteries.11

We have more recent information about those. I recommend the writings of Plutarch on these mysteries.12 Well worth reading.

He himself was an initiate.

The well- known ancient novel by Apuleius, Asinus aureus, is also highly recommended, as at the end it describes a mystery rite.13

The whole story is actually a mystery.

It describes vari ous changes that the initiate goes through before reaching the state of complete salvation.
There were of course many other mysteries as well as these ones.

For instance, the Samothracian mysteries in which the Cabiri initiations took place.14

Such mysteries became merged in around the 0rst century before Christ, and together with neo-Pythagorean and Neoplatonic philosophy they formed Hellenistic syncretism, a conglomeration of the various religious
and philosophical viewpoints. In practical terms, this resulted in numerous variations of the dif fer ent mysteries.

You can get a fuller picture in the book on Gnosis by Leisegang, for example.15

There you will find many traces of these unique spiritual movements.

I remind you again of Demeter and the Cabiri which I talked about after the dreams last year.16

Christian ity arose out of these movements.

In the West, we like to give the impression that Christianity fell straight from the sky with no prior

That is inaccurate, historically.

The main contents of Christianity, which is rich in philosophical thought, were actually already present in this extraordinarily broad and to an extent very conscious constellation characterized on the one hand by Gnosticism and on the other hand by Neoplatonic philosophy.

That in turn goes back to Pythagoras, Plato, and so forth.

From this specific syncretism, other special spiritual movements within

Judaism also arose, but which then dis appeared without trace due to dogmatic17 rabbinic attitudes.

The only remaining trace is the Kabbalah (Hebrew for “tradition” or “transmission”), a Gnosis that has survived to
the pre sent day.18

Also the group known as the Sabians in the East.

They are the Mandaeans in Basra and Kut al- Amara in Mesopotamia.19

Also called the Christians of Saint John, they still exist today— Gnosticism lives on there.20 There were also still Neoplatonic sects active in Baghdad until 1050, which were wiped out by Islamic persecution.21

In the West, little has remained, and only in secrecy.Most of it became incorporated into Christianity.

It should therefore not surprise us that Christianity soon resumed those attempts that we encountered in the mystery
cults, namely attempts at psychic transformation.

This was particularly evident in the monasteries.

The monasteries themselves, which were supposedly established on biblical authority, actually existed before Christ.

We know that from Philo of Alexandria’s descriptive tract De vita contemplativa.22 In this he describes monastic communities which were wrongly assumed to be Christian by the old church, but which were actually Gnostic.

However, they were precursors of the early Christian monasteries in Egypt.

There in Alexandria we also 0nd the 0rst eremitic monastic communities, where the monks were able to devote themselves
to their spiritual practice undisturbed.

The monasteries were founded solely for this purpose.

These endeavors fundamentally to alter the human soul were pursued in monasteries before any kind of systematic pro cesses or methods had been established.

There are numerous examples of this. In the Middle Ages, a great number of books and tracts were produced containing
instructions for prayer or meditation which had by then become more methodical.23

One example is the Goldene Büchlein by Petrus of Alcántara. 24 Thomas à Kempis, who died in 1471, wrote The Imitation of Christ.25

From more recent times, there is a very in ter est ing spiritual work by Madame Guyon, Moyen court et très- facile de faire oraison que tous peuvent pratiquer.

She was a French mystic whose famous confessor was Abbé Fénelon.26 All these prayer instructions (orationes) are used
for27 meditation.

They usually contain a description and analy sis of the experiences that the person performing these exercises has had.

Experiences of the spiritual life are examined, then strung together and arranged in stages corresponding to the ancient mysteries, in which there is also a ladder of progression. Jacob’s ladder,28 of the Old Testament, was often used to symbolize this climbing in stages up to the unio mystica with God.

Goldene Büchlein über die Betrachtung und das innerliche Gebet (1900), which was an impor tant inspiration for other mystics such as Peter’s spiritual heir Teresa of Ávila (1515–82). 25

Thomas à Kempis (ca. 1380–1471), the best known member of the Brethren of the Common Life, a pietist Roman Catholic community founded by Gérard (de) Groote (1340–84) (see n. 116).

Their simple way of living revolved around prayer and meditation, and is known as the devotio moderna.

The Imitation of Christ consists of short texts with instructions for how to conduct a spiritual inner life following the example of Jesus Christ.

Over the centuries, the book has maintained its popularity and has become one of the most successful books in Christianity.

The book plays a prominent role in the chapter “Divine Folly” of Jung’s Liber Novus, where its mediating truth is opposed to that of Nietzsche’s philosophy, and where Jung re4ects upon the imitation of Christ: “If I thus truly imitate Christ, I do not imitate anyone, I emulate no one, but go my own way, and I will also no longer call myself a Christian. Initially, I wanted to emulate and imitate Christ by living my life, while observing his precepts. A voice in me protested against this and wanted to remind me that my time also had its prophets who strug gle against the yoke with which the past burdens us” (Jung, 2009, p.&332).

26 Jeanne- Marie Bouvier de La Motte Guyon, Madame du Chesnoy (1648–1717), was a French mystic and author who was at the heart of the seventeenth- century controversy regarding quietism, which was declared as heretical by the papal bull Coelestis pastor. Although Guyon repeatedly retracted the propositions brought forward in her writings she
was arrested in 1695 and not released until 1703. Her main work is Moyen court et trèsfacile de faire oraison (A short and easy method of prayer) written in 1685 (Guyon, 2007 [1685]). One of her disciples and defenders was François de Salignac de la Mothe- Fénelon (1651–1715), better known as François Fénelon, who met Madame Guyon for the 0rst
time in 1688. Fénelon was made archbishop of Cambrai in 1696 and royal tutor, a position he lost due to his role in the quietist controversy.

These books, which deal with a kind of speci0c mystical union with God, were like manuals for monks who wanted to undertake the exercises.

They not only give formal instructions about the time, place, manner, and method, but also about the content and material on which one should meditate.

Thus in the Middle Ages a host of such religious meditation systems was created. The writings of the Victorines are good examples of this type of lit er a ture— Hugh of Saint Victor (1096–1141), for instance, wrote an in ter est ing dialogue between the human being and the soul.29

That is a typical Western meditation. Meditation was understood as an inner conversation between a person and their soul, with their good angel, or even with God.

Ignatius also took up this approach in his exercises, in which an exercise often culminates in a colloquy— a discussion
with one of the divine 0gures.

So it’s a prototype of this meditation. Hugh of Saint Victor gives us a good example of it.

This inner debate, an inner conversation with oneself, is something that is very dif fer ent from the approach
in the East.

With us it is all much more personalistic.

In the thirteenth century, after the Victorines, this system of meditation was developed further.

The term “spiritual exercise” appears: the exercitium.

At the same time the forms become somewhat more precise.

During the fourteenth century, actual manuals or handbooks are produced with instructions of how to perform such exercises.30

The purpose of all these exercises is the development in stages of the human consciousness, leading to a state of supposed perfection in which the experience of the unio mystica, the union with God, takes place.

Originally there were usually three of these stages, but gradually the number of stages increased.

There are even some tracts with up to forty stages. German medieval lit er a ture

in particular excelled in expanding the methodical steps to such a degree that consciousness could be transcended.31

At the end of the fourteenth century, during a time when the moral and intellectual decline of monasteries was becoming noticeable, a kind
of spiritual reformation movement occurred. This movement began in Holland, with Gérard de Groote (1340–84) and his followers.32

They formed a group called the “Brethren of the Common Life.”

They followed the devotio moderna and were also called the Devoti.

They dedicated themselves to pursuing a deep inner piety, an approach which had a great in4uence both on Catholicism and, later, on Protestantism.

The Devoti produced some notable texts about such spiritual exercises.

If you read The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis you will 0nd a good example of the Devoti.

They are evocative and exquisite religious meditations.

This Devoti movement developed particularly during the 0fteenth century.

It became perhaps the most prestigious and popu lar spiritual movement of its time.

Many outstanding characters belonged to the movement. The work they did was quite considerable.

They took on a fundamental reform of the monasteries, which at that time had fallen into disrepute; in partic
u lar Johannes Busch (1399–1479)33 in Germany, Johannes Mauburnus (1460–1501)34 in France, and Ludovico Barbo (1381–1443) in Italy, whom I mention because he was the one who 0 nally brought these meditation
methods and the spiritual writings to Spain.

It is thanks to Barbo that Ignatius became at all familiar with this meditation movement.

Barbo undertook, with great success, the reform of the Benedictine monasteries in Italy.

He also wrote a text which he specifically referred to as a “modus meditandi et orandi.”35

36 These successes in cloister meditation became well known all over, and even reached as far as Spain, which at that time was rather distant from [the rest of] Eu rope. In 1442,

Barbo and a few other monks came to the monastery at Monserrat near Barcelona.37

This cloister is now famous on account of the time Ignatius spent there. Barbo initially led a thorough reform of the monastery, but after his death it quickly declined again.

Later came another reformer, also from the devotio moderna movement. He was the abbot Cisneros (ca. 1455–1510), the teacher of Ignatius.38

He once again implemented the devotio moderna very thoroughly, having brought much of the Devoti lit er a ture with him from France.

I will mention here two titles: Libellus de spiritualibus ascensionibus ( Little book about spiritual ascent),39 and another by Mauburnus (whom I already mentioned), Rosetum exercitiorum spiritualium et sacrarum meditationum.40

This is the 0rst time we come across the expression “exercitium” [in the devotional lit er a ture].

Ignatius learned about the Devoti movement at the monastery in Montserrat from a book written by Cisneros himself, Ejercitatorio de la vida spiritual:41 that is, exercise or drill rules.

It fits in with our Western penchant for drills, military exercises, and so on.

Abbot Cisneros, a great lover of order, had written the booklet for the pious pilgrims who came to the Montserrat— pilgrims whose conduct was apparently rather undisciplined and who needed to be brought into line by structured exercises.

The booklet itself is a compilation of vari ous methods combined into a meditation sequence. It is taken from the writings of the Devoti.

One new aspect of it, connected to its military character, was that the meditation sequence was intended to be followed for period of thirty days.

There was a daily spiritual task and the tasks had to be completed in thirty days, like in basic army training.

The idea of retreats had already existed in antiquity.

The word “retreat” was now used to describe a monk withdrawing to a hermitage near the monastery where he would not be disturbed even by the other brothers.

The book set out a methodical pro cess and precise regulations for such a retreat.

So, when Ignatius, about whom we will hear more later, traveled to Manresa and stayed in the monastery, he came
across this little book, these exercise rules for spiritual life, and it pleased him—he being a military of0cer to the core— inordinately, even though it was more dif0cult than anything he had ever encountered.

I would like to give you a small example of what these exercise rules were like.

The whole thing was split into four weeks. The exercises had three distinct parts:

  1. Via purgativa, that is, the path of puri0cation; 2. Via illuminativa, that is, the path of enlightenment;
  2. Via unitativa, that is, the path of union with God.

The fourth week was then spent contemplating the Lord’s life and suffering. Essentially, that was supposed to support these three paths.

So you see, even the order of thoughts is completely technical.

The idea that they took from the Devoti and from even older spiritual exercises was that of the unio mystica with God. It had to be achieved, come hell or high water,42 and via the technically correct routes, by a supreme effort of will.

That is typical of the West— you don’t 0nd it in the East. I will say some more about the three stages later.

They 0nd equivalence in occult philosophy, which was around at the same time as these exercises.

The exercises represent the openly recognized, above- ground spiritual ndeavors, all of which are characterized by enormous intellectual efforts of will.

Concurrently there was also hermetic philosophy, which however was not recognized openly, in par tic u lar not as being a valid spiritual xercise.

But the spiritual idea is exactly the same. However, one cannot say that the idea came from here—it is actually much older.

All three stages correspond to a hermetic concept.

Here are some indications of how these exercises would be carried out:43

First week: Via purgativa

Monday: Begins with contemplating one’s own sins and sin in general;
Tuesday: Contemplation of death, including one’s own;
Wednesday: Hell and “I am hell”;
Thursday: The Last Judgment;
Friday: The Passion of Christ;
Saturday: The sorrows of Mary;
Sunday: The glory of heaven, but with the thought that I, black, corrupt animal, can see the glory of God and perceive the difference.

Second week: Via illuminativa

Monday: Contemplation of God’s bene0cence, speci0cally of the creation of existence;
Tuesday: The blessing of God’s forgiveness; that we might hope for God’s grace;

Wednesday: The blessing of being called to be a child of God; the dea of the electio;
Thursday: The justi0cation before God;
Friday: Par tic u lar gifts received by the grace of God;
Saturday: The guidance of God under which we stand.44

Those are the individual parts of the illuminatio. Here, technical methods are used as a substitute for the actual experience:

I imagine that I have a positive relationship to the creation, that I am happy to be alive, that I&feel God’s grace and feel myself called as a chosen one to lead a meaningful life, that I am justi0ed in what I am, that I have a par ticular gift given to me by God, and that I moreover do not walk in darkness but am guided by the hand of God.

That is the experience of the illuminatio. It is achieved here by these exercise techniques.

Then comes the third week, that of the via unitativa. The whole week is spent exclusively in contemplation of God.

Third week: Via unitativa

Monday: God as source and beginning of all things created;
Tuesday: God as the beauty of the universe; the Catholic church largely takes the standpoint that God can be seen through his revelation in nature;
Wednesday: God as the crowning glory;
Thursday: God from the perspective of the love of God, that He is all love; sub specie amoris; Friday: God as the rule and law of all things, as the source of all laws and princi ples; Saturday: God as the guide of the universe, the most tranquil guide;
Sunday: God as the most bountiful giver, as the one who gives every thing.

This, therefore, is the technically correct substitute for the unio mystica which assumes that the mystical experience will be granted to one who meditates properly.

Through these exercises, the mystical union is supposed to be achieved in a period of four weeks, in the same way that
Buddhahood descends on the practicing yogi.

And there are also the hermetic parallels.