This article is from our special April 1st edition of Dominicana Blog. Read “Jesuitica and The Dominican Post” for more details.
Finding St. Thomas in the Writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola
by John Peck, S.J.
St. Thomas Aquinas can be justly praised for many things, but brevity, alas, is not one of them. The Summa Theologica — available for only $195 on Amazon! — runs, in print, to five volumes containing 631 questions, around 3,000 articles, 10,000 objections and answers and just a little over three thousand pages. That’s just the Summa: once we start in on the Angelic Doctor’s commentaries on Aristotle’s works or the Summa Contra Gentiles or any of his other works … well, we’ve got a whole new reason to be grateful for electronic editions.
As for Jesuits reading Aquinas — well, there’s a whole history of that too, including a famous argument between Ours and the Order of Preachers over the proper account of the relationship of grace and free will. (We thought the Dominicans got too close to Calvinism; they thought we were being semi-Pelagian. It got a bit ugly, though at least this time, no one got imprisoned.) The debate finally ended not with a victory, but an order from Pope Paul V in 1607 for each order to stop condemning the other’s theology and wait for a final decision, which, in the great wisdom of the Church, was never rendered.
So, while it may be coming four centuries late, we thought we’d make a peace offering, by highlighting a classic bit of Ignatian wisdom that tracks back to St. Thomas: “finding God in all things.”
St. Ignatius would be the first to admit that he is not a great theologian, and even with Pope Francis in charge, we’re not advocating for our founder to be named a Doctor of the Church. But he knew a great theologian when he saw one. For instance, in the Rules for Thinking with the Church that Ignatius appended to the Spiritual Exercises, he urges Jesuits “to praise positive and scholastic learning,” since “it is more proper to the scholastics, as St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and the Master of the Sentences [Peter Lombard], etc. to define or explain for our times the things necessary for salvation” (363).
When I made the Spiritual Exercises as a Jesuit novice, I remember being struck by just how much St. Ignatius relied on the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, in particular. Although one may recognize Aquinas’ footprints throughout the Spiritual Exercises, his influence is especially discernible in the Contemplation to Obtain Divine Love, with which Ignatius concludes the Exercises. At the outset of the contemplatio, Ignatius urges the retreatant to ask God “for interior knowledge of so great good received” (233) during one’s retreat and, indeed, throughout one’s life. By reflecting on the benefits natural and supernatural that God has bestowed, the retreatant hopes to grow in gratitude and service to God. Further on, Ignatius asks the retreatant to consider “how God dwells in creatures, in the elements, giving them being, in the plants vegetating, in the animals feeling in them, in men giving them to understand: and so in me, giving me being, animating me, giving me sensation and making me to understand” (235).
This last bit is pure, unalloyed Thomism, integrating the Christian doctrine of creation with Aristotle’s teaching about plant, animal, and rational souls. Indeed, for St. Thomas, regardless of where something finds itself on the hierarchy of being, i.e. whether it’s a rock, oak tree, squirrel, human being, or angel, God causes that thing to be immediately, i.e. without using any creature as a means. Moreover, God’s activity doesn’t bear fruit only at the first moment of a thing’s existence, abandoning it in the next instant. According to St. Thomas, “God causes this effect [existence] in things not only when they first begin to be, but as long as they are preserved in being; as light is caused in the air by the sun as long as the air remains illuminated” (ST I, q.8, a.1).
St. Thomas’ view that God immediately creates and sustains beings reveals that the whole universe in informed by divine love. This is because God, like any agent, always acts for the sake of some goal. But since God is the Good to which no other good thing could possibly be added, God’s “goal” when He creates, the ultimate object of His love, is nothing other than Himself. As St. Thomas writes, “the universal efficient cause [what gives everything being] is necessarily itself the first and universal desirable thing [what everything loves], that is, the first and universal good, which produces all things because of the love of its very self”(De Malo q.1, a.1). We might rephrase this by saying that everything exists as a “sacrament” of God’s love: each and every being, from my stone paperweight to the most exalted angel is a sign of God’s love for Himself, a sign in which God’s love is celebrated and bears fruit.
In the Contemplatio, Ignatius invites you and me to marvel at how God has lovingly willed to include us in this cosmic design of love, despite our poverty and sinfulness. He asks us “to look how all the good things and gifts descend from above, as my poor power from the supreme and infinite power from above” (237). For Ignatius, recognizing everything as a “sacrament” of God’s fruitful love enables one to incorporate all aspects of one’s life, e.g. family, work, studies, into one’s walk toward God. After all, God is already immediately present and active in each of those settings.
Or, as St. Ignatius said, we can find God in all things, which has the additional benefit of fitting on a bumper sticker. Try that with the Summa!
Image: Miguel Cabrera, St. Ignatius of Loyola