Ignatius And The Carmelites

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On the surface, it would seem that both the individualism and the passivity are perpetuated in the great Catholic writers of the sixteenth century. Certainly there is little here which directly confronts the social dimensions of grace. However, there has been in recent years a growing recognition of the strength and value of these spiritual guides, and a reappraisal of their work within the contemporary context. There are a number of reasons for this. One is that in these writers there is both an insistence on the integration of prayer and ordinary life, and a stress on the confrontation with illusion. Ignatius Loyola stressed discernment and the need to find and serve God in the midst of the activities of life, while John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila placed the mystical path firmly within the context of ordinary life. Teresa insisted that the foundation of Christian discipleship could not consist only of contemplation, but must also include the practice of the virtues. Without such practice, she says, we will remain dwarfs.

Another factor in the renewed attention on these writers is the realization that the teaching of John of the Cross, focused on the symbol of the dark night of the soul, has much to teach modern men and women who are struggling with newer forms of darkness and alienation. John sees this central experience of darkness as a necessary part of the way of illumination. For illumination means the running out of language and the need to move beyond the limits of one's ordinary conceptual apparatus. There is a need to look into the darkness of God, and to enter into both that mystery and the recognition of our own vulnerability, failure, and contradiction. Far from being a passive and purely 'spiritual' experience, this encounter with darkness is one of extreme turbulence and passionate intensity. One contemporary Carmelite has emphasized the dynamic and active dimensions of the dark night:

In the Dark Night the passion flames forth unchecked by any barrier because it is perfectly pure—and purity is essentially freedom from limits. That is why mystics, men and women who plow through the tremendous upheavals and torrential storms of the Dark Nights, are the most passionate of all people, exploring as they do the terrible uncharted regions of human evolution.

(McNamara 1977:11)

Recent thinkers have emphasized both the need to reinterpret Ignatian spirituality in the light of social and political factors, and the need to read the dark night in terms of corporate and intellectual experience. So we find such language as 'corporate dark night', 'the dark night of our institutions', and so on.

It was in the seventeenth century that the problem of 'quietism' became a matter of discipline in the Roman communion, and there were condemnations of Miguel de Molinos (1687), Madame Guyon (1695), and some of the claims of Fenelon (1699). The issue was about exaggerated forms of supernaturalism. Yet, as the authentic tradition went into decay, many of these forms were to become accepted and promoted at the level of personal devotion.

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