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Lecture 13       16 February 1940

We talked last time about the meditation on the peccatum mortale.

Today I want to give you an overview of the first week’s meditations, and then we’ll return to the peccatum veniale.

The first exercise includes the meditation on the sins of the angels, the sins of the 1rst parents, and lastly one’s own sins.

This meditation is followed by a colloquy, a dialogue with one of the divine figures, generally at the end of each exercise.

The purpose of this colloquy is to make the meditator particularly aware of the divine presence in the exercises.

By talking to another party, as it were, the effect is naturally much more vivid than if one simply turns inward to meditate.

In addition, this colloquy does not just take place with the divine figure, but also with the exercise director, a soul guide who supervises the exercises and gives the necessary instructions, talks with the exercitant about the meditation, points out any mistakes, and hears the confession.

These methods and circumstances ensure that the meditation on the sins is certain to make a deep impression on the meditator.

The aim is of course to make the meditation a deeply personal experience.

The meditators do not dream, for example, but hear themselves speaking before a witness, which makes the whole exercise more dramatic and impressive.

The second exercise relates to the examen generale— that is, a general examination of one’s own sins, and as usual this meditation is divided into separate points.

The first point involves putting on trial, as it were, the vari ous sins committed during the course of one’s life.

In order to picture things as realistically as possible, this must be imagined as a kind of court hearing.

You imagine yourself standing before a judge or jury and acknowledging your misdeeds. These must be recounted with all the relevant details, giving the time, the place, and all the individual circumstances.

The second point involves precisely weighing up each individual misdeed, from a moral perspective as well as all the other pos si ble angles, naturally also in regard to religious truths.

The third point is a comparison of one’s own sinfulness and the corruption of humanity in general with the lives of the saints and the innocence and purity of the angels, whose particular merit lies in not committing any sins. The angels have the characteristic of “non posse peccare.”498

The bad angels sinned only once, in a fundamental fashion, and the whole company immediately tumbled down to hell.

There they were transformed into evil demons, and have not been able to do anything but sin ever since.

Then one also compares oneself to the purity of God himself and thereby realizes one’s own odiousness.

Then, again point by point, one has to imagine what God is like, the God against whom one has sinned, and one has to exclaim with won der that God has put up with the angels, with mankind, and with one’s own nature all this time despite all this sinfulness.499

At the end of these points, there is another colloquy in which, as usual, only the meditator speaks.

It is actually not really a colloquy, but an address that the meditator gives to any of the divine figures and in which one praises the divine mercy and proposes a list of good intentions which one promises to keep to  henceforth.

Now comes the third exercise.

This consists 1rstly in repeating once again the colloquy that took place in the two previous exercises.

So there is now another colloquy which is to be made with “Our Lady” so that she will advocate for the speaker with Christ.

The Beata Virgo, the “sacred virgin,” is chosen as an intercessor for the sinner for a very particular reason: namely, that according to the Church, she, body and soul, ascended to heaven after her death.

She is therefore the 1rst dead person ever to be received in heaven with her body, meaning she naturally has a special
relationship with us mortal, carnal men and will therefore understand inners particularly well.

That’s the only conclusion we can draw, or at east it’s the generally accepted view.

Consequently, she is an advocate par excellence.

And then one has to ask her to grant one recognition of one’s own sins, of the extent to which one’s previous way of life was wrong, and finally also of the vain, transient, and fleeting nature of the world.

Then follows a colloquy with Christ, who will essentially then be one’s intercessor with the Father.

So you see, it takes place in stages.

Then comes a colloquy directly with the Godhead, the Father, and specfically to ask for the same three things: recognition of one’s own sinfulness and depravity, recognition that one’s previous attitude was wrong, and complete recognition of the transience and super1ciality of the world.

The fourth exercise that follows consists of repeating the third exercise.

So you see that in these exercises the re6ection on the sins is recapitulated
in all pos si ble forms, in order to make a particularly lasting impression
on the meditator.

So, it consists again of imagining the wickedness,500 corruption,
depravity, and odiousness within oneself, and in which one would
be lost eo ipso were one unable to beg for God’s grace.

Now, bringing this meditation to its climax, comes the 1fth exercise.
This is the meditation on hell, which occupies a very special position, if
one may say so.

It is done in incredible detail. The meditator has to imagine
very precisely and concretely the length, breadth, and depth of hell.

the oratio, the prayer, one even has to ask God to give one a very precise
and clear sense of what it is like to be punished in hell.

The 1rst point to be meditated on is thus a very precise and concrete
visualization of the great 1res and the multiple and varied ways in which
the damned suffer.

The second point is an equally sensate pro cess, in which one imagines
the wailing and blaspheming of the damned, the sounds that ring out
around hell.

The third point involves smelling the smoke, the burning sulfur, the putrescence, the stench of feces and rotting matter emanating from what are, after all, corpses.

In the fourth point, one vividly imagines a bitter taste which represents the pangs of conscience or bitterness that one would feel if one were damned to hell for eternity and looked back on one’s life and had to say to oneself, “I messed up in all those idiotic ways and now I am lost forever.”

And finally comes the sense of touch, imagining how it would feel to burn in this 1re. We’ll pick up a few more points about the hell meditation from our old Jesuit friend Izquierdo later.

The finale is a colloquy with Christ again, this time about the terrible impression that you have of hell, about the fate of eternal damnation, and you give thanks that you have not sunk so far even though you actually deserved such a fate long ago due to your corrupt and depraved nature.

That is the content of the 1rst week. Perhaps I should also tell you about the general circumstances during such an exercise week.

During the period when one is completing the exercises, one should exclude, if pos si ble, all thoughts that are not directly related to the exercises.501

Specifically, from the time you wake up until you go to sleep, all thoughts relating to anything worldly must immediately be suppressed, and only things which are related to the purpose of the exercises should be allowed to become conscious, in ful1llment of the Ignatian instruction that we should only choose that which is useful for our goal.

It is about training the ability to concentrate and to discipline our impulsive instinctual and capricious nature.

If one prays during the exercises,502 it should always be done while imagining that Christ, God the Father, or the Virgin is looking on, so that one always has the feeling of a presence, that one is never alone, as it were, but is always being monitored by the eternally watchful eye of the Godhead.

In concreto, this is done in such a way that the exercise director goes into each individual detail, examines it, and holds the meditator to account.

The meditations themselves can be done in vari ous positions, depending on personal preference.

This could be sitting, lying, or standing, walking to and fro, or kneeling.

After each exercise, one has to examine again how the exercise went, whether every thing went rite, exactly according to
the instructions, and lege artis, or whether any point was overlooked.

To aid concentration, the meditations should be done in a darkened room.

The curtains should be drawn or the shutters closed. Laughing is not allowed.

Of course, one may also encounter other people, although the meditations are done alone.

When one meets others, one may not look them in the eye, apart from on greeting, and if pos si ble one should not talk to them, in order not to have other thoughts.

The necessary feelings of regret should be cultivated with acts of selfpenance, such as fasting, sleep deprivation, and 6agellation.

The 6agellation is optional: it is left up to the individual whether to do it. But sometimes 6agellation is used.

There are many people, even clergymen, who do the small exercises and simply cannot take the large exercises, psychologically.

I’ve met a few Catholic clerics who said they had not been able to get through it, because they were so affected that they became severely depressed and were pushed to the limit even physically.

You can easily imagine that happening, because it’s a terribly aggressive thing.

Of course, if you just listen to a lecture about these things and have never done them yourself, it’s hard to picture.

You can’t put yourself in the state of mind that you might be in if you were really to seriously consider your own sins.

I must say, I have not done these exercises, but I am blessed with a pretty good imagination and can picture how it might be.

But I have also seen what it is like when someone takes these things seriously.

These people want to take it seriously, and it is a serious business for them; other wise they wouldn’t subject themselves to it, and if they do, it is clear that they will be moved to their core.

Hopefully I’ve managed to give you an impression of the extraordinarily impressive way in which one becomes aware of one’s own sinfulness.

I)would like to support that with a few points from Izquierdo’s meditation book, speci1cally about the peccatum veniale— I already translated a few bits about the peccatum mortale before.

They [the peccata venialia] include sins that happen due to carelessness, from imbecilitas or lack of attention, and even perfect people are not completely immune to these sins.

Other peccata venialia are done out of real evil [. . .].

The first point in the meditation is to get a deep impression of the strictness with which God also punishes venial sins. Indeed, he keeps that terrible imprisonment in Purgatorium [the purgatorial 1re] ready as punishment. [. . .]

The second point contemplates how much one should actually fear the venial sins. [. . .]

They are punished by God with terrible punishments involving not just physical suffering and persecution but also—
mainly— spiritual punishments: for example, being subjected to temptations which then cause the affected person terrible trou bles, hen unrest, pangs of conscience, desolation, darkness, aridity [e.g., like a thirsty animal deprived of water, that is, of the grace of God; CGJ], and 1 nally, privation of the peace and calm that are always the fruit of a good conscience.503

These, then, are the sacred punishments that God hands out.

Then one considers how great is the evil even of venial sin, because the consequences to which it can ultimately lead are similar to those of peccatum mortale. [. . .]

One must therefore consider as deeply as pos si ble the consequence of venial sin.

Namely, it is a spiritualis aegritudo animae (spiritual sickness of the soul) which causes the same effects as a physical illness has on the body.

That is, it generates stulti1cation and lack of strength with which to resist temptations. It also generates a weariness with regard to spiritual matters;

[ there is no longer any willingness, there is re sis tance; CGJ] to prayer and to the colloquy (conversatio) with God, a weakness, weariness, and laziness preventing one turning to the spiritual path: [. . .] and thus this spiritual sickness from the venial sin now disposes one to the death of the soul, namely to peccatum mortale, to mortal sin.

That is what we have to fear the most about venial sin [that it leads to peccatum mortale; CGJ].504 503

There are also a few other points worth mentioning about the meditation on hell.

Namely, similarly to what I told you before, he describes how one should carefully visualize the place when meditating on hell:

One has to imagine a great cavern, which one pictures in one’s mind and which in real ity is at the center of the world [presumably of the earth; CGJ], full of sulfurous 1re in which the damned are submerged like 1sh in the depths of the ocean.

And one must say the prayer and beg God to grant one a vivid fear of descending to such a place.

And if love505 is not suf1cient to turn one away from such a fate, then at least let fear prevent it./ The punishments in hell consist in princi ple of the privatio gloriae [the privation of glory, the withdrawal of glory; CGJ], which the damned forgo.506

This is is of course the gloria Dei. The glory is the emanation of God, his merciful 1re, which these damned souls forgo.

As Saint Thomas teaches, the punishment is unending, because it robs one of the in1nite goodness that is God, the possession of which is the privilege of the Blessed.

Thus Saint Chrysostom also says that a thousand hellish 1res combined still would not reach the scale of the punishment of the damned, namely the privatio Dei [that is, the state of being removed from God; CGJ] because God is the center of the soul [the innermost point toward which the soul is oriented and pulled; CGJ], and this pull is in1nitely greater than that of other things to their center, e.g., the limbs that are attached to the body[.]

So he says that the arms, legs and head are less drawn to the body than the soul is to that center which it carries in itself.

And thus the separation from this center, the tearing off, causes in1nitely more pain than if a living person’s limbs were torn off.507

This point is essential. In puncto hell, Izquierdo is now particularly graphic.

At the time when this text was written, the seventeenth century, the Jesuit sermons and missions played a particularly large role, especially through the small exercises, as I mentioned in the historical introduction, which were generally led by wandering preachers, while the large exercises were only performed by clerics or particularly pious men.

Izquierdo now talks about meditating on the hellish apparitions using the senses:

The sense of sight is tormented by this evil light of the infernal 1re [. . .].

The sense of sight is plagued by demonic figures that take the form of lions, tigers, bears, snakes, dragons, and other terrible beasts, and also the putrid corpses of the damned and other frightful and abominable creatures that are imprisoned there./

The sense of hearing is tormented by the constant noise of hellish hammering, of raging cries, moans, lamentations, screams of the damned, by quarreling, blaspheming, cursing, and all kinds of other dreadful and shocking sounds. [. . .]/

The sense of smell is tormented by an unbearable stench, by the smoke of the 1re and the sulfurous fumes, and by the
awful reek of the rotting bodies of the damned, worse than the stench of as many festering cadavers of dogs all piled up together in an airless place./

The sense of taste is tormented by permanent hunger and raging thirst for which there is no relief. There is only one thing
to eat, absinthium [wormwood, that is the bitterness; CGJ].

And to drink, bile [. . .]./ The sense of touch, incorporating the whole body, is plagued by this sulfurous 1re in which the damned are completely submerged. Oh ignorant sinner, if you cannot bear to hold one finger in the 6ame of a candle for the briefest of moments, how will you bear being submerged from head to toe in the flames of hell for all eternity? [. . .]/ The inner sense is plagued by an acute perception of pain and by sad and terrible fantasies that are imagined over and
over again [. . .].

The appetitus sensitivus [that is, intellectual pursuits, human desire; CGJ] consists of a tempestuous longing that is never

There are af6ictions and fears. The intellect is full of misapprehensions.

It is imbecilic and fatuous, sees nothing else and is directed only at perceiving the enormity of the infernal punishments [. . .]. The will is doggedly 1xed on evil and is afraid of reaching the good that one cannot reach, and afraid of the evil that one cannot avoid [. . .]./

The mind is plagued by fantasies that it constantly generates, feeds, and incubates, and from which the worm of remorse hatches [that voracious worm of conscience, pangs of conscience; CGJ].

The Holy Scriptures say of this worm that it will never die. [. . .]/

As Saint Gregory says, in hell the wretched creature suffers a death without death, an end without end, because death always lives and the end always begins. [. . .]

Because these damned souls are eternal, their imprisonment is also everlasting, the 1re is everlasting.508

This is how Izquierdo, our Jesuit Father from the seventeenth century, suggests we might contemplate hell.

Before we get into the meditations of the second week, we have to ask ourselves— from a historical and psychological distance— what this concept of sin is all about.

Why does a sense of their own sinfulness have to be so drummed into people? There are prob ably historical reasons for it.

This form of the exercises is medieval, not modern, and we are thus in the realm of medieval psy chol ogy, in which the Church had a lot to be guilty about. In Spain alone, from the burning of heretics.

It was a dreadful and dark time, rooted to a large degree in the barbarity and unconsciousness of the time, a barbarity which until recently we thought we had risen above.

But now we have discovered a few things in this regard, thank God.

Maybe it will get even better, but we have become slightly more enlightened in this respect.

Hitherto we looked down on the Middle Ages with regret: a terrible time—it did these awfully uneducated and ignorant people a lot of good when a missionary came and hauled them over the coals to give them a bit of a shock about themselves and their spiritual fate.

This form of meditation on hell is of course very medieval, and one tends to disregard something like that with a smile.

But I must stress that even in the most modern form of the exercises, sinfulness plays a significant role.

We must ask why it is that people have to be made to feel their own sinfulness so keenly.

We know that we are, unfortunately, not gods, and that it is terrible to tell children they will burn in hell if they don’t
obey their papa.

That plants an inferiority complex in them.

One should therefore instead tell them more often that they are good. “Tout est bien, sortant des mains de l’Auteur des choses.”509

You just have to tell them that, then they’ll all be good people, amenable and appreciative. Now just give that a try.

These ideas, which came in with the French Revolution and our dear Rousseau, are still 6oating around.

Of course, it is very nice to be friendly to people when you 1rst meet them.

It is also better to treat the other person like a gentleman before you put the boot in. But, you have to ask: is it any use? And is it really true? As we have recently read in the newspapers, people also have quite dif fer ent backgrounds.

All people, even the most primitive, provided one approaches them in the right way, are awfully nice in ordinary circumstances.

I once spent time with a primitive tribe;510 we spent the whole eve ning enjoying ourselves and dancing around the 1re together.

They were extremely charming. They thought we were very nice people. We thought they were, too.

Two days later, an Englishman came upon the same people.

He approached them the wrong way and snarled at them. So they speared him.

That could have happened to us, too. We were just three White fellows,511 with only one gun.

That’s why one hears such contradictory reports about the primitives.

Some say the Papuans512 are the slyest dogs going, with not a trace of loyalty and faith or anything good, and others say they are the most lovable children— yes, they are like children.

They are terribly nice, but also diabolical; they abuse animals and all sorts.

If a child has a bad upbringing and grows up in an abusive atmosphere, as is the case in many families, you will 1nd that this child abuses others. Only the abused become abusers.

Then they torment animals and other people, and then those sweet children are bad kids.

It’s a fact of nature: men are not just good, they are also bad. And if we want to know the truth, we must know that we are not only capable of being good- natured.

One doesn’t harm others, one treats them well.

On the one hand, we are capable of great virtue; if we are well brought up we are astonishingly good at self- denial, but on the other hand, we can also do the most terrible, unbelievable things— like machine- gunning people, women and children even, as we keep reading about at the moment.

Those who do such things are not bad people, they’re just normal folk like you and me.

But they have gotten above themselves, have gone beyond their bearings, just like others who show the highest virtues have also gotten above themselves.

And we must remember that we are not simple creatures, but have a background that stretches in1nitely farther than we
can perceive with normal consciousness.  ~Carl Jung, The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, Page 197-207