True Obedience: The Mark of A Faithful Catholic Part D: Jesuit Obedience


The Obedience of the Jesuits

There is one religious order that is usually put forward as the paragon of obedience: The Jesuits.
While according to Fr. Harvanek SJ, the Jesuit practice of obedience changed after the Second Vatican Council, we are primarily concerned with how St. Ignatius understood obedience and its ideal practice within the Jesuits. A letter to the Portuguese Jesuit, penned by St. Ignatius in 1553, describes in detail the ideal of perfect obedience.
In this letter, St. Ignastius exhorts the Portuguese Jesuits to a very high degree of obedience and as the word cloud of the top 100 words shows how the words superior and obedience dominate the letter.

This theme of obedience to the superior is reinforced throughout the letter, with little or no distinctions concerning the content of the command. The Jesuits are exhorted to humble themselves by obeying the least command of their superiors, to internalize this humilty and to desire internally nothing other than that desired by the superior.

Near the end of the letter St. Ignatius deals with the concept of 'blind obedience' – that if taken out of context could lead to a great deal of trouble.

The third means to subject the understanding which is even easier and surer, and in use among the holy Fathers, is to presuppose and believe, very much as we are accustomed to do in matters of faith, that what the superior enjoins is the command of God our Lord and His holy will. Then to proceed blindly, without injury of any kind, to the carrying out of the command, with the prompt impulse of the will to obey. So we are to think Abraham did when commanded to sacrifice his son Isaac [Gen. 22:2-3]. Likewise, under the new covenant, some of the holy Fathers to whom Cassian refers, as the Abbot John, who did not question whether what he was commanded was profitable or not, as when with such great labor he watered a dry stick throughout a year. Or whether it was possible or not, when he tried so earnestly at the command of his superior to move a rock which a large number of men would not have been able to move.

We see that God our Lord sometimes confirmed this kind of obedience with miracles, as when Maurus, Saint Benedict's disciple, going into a lake at the command of his superior, did not sink. Or in the instance of another, who being told to bring back a lioness, took hold of her and brought her to his superior. And you are acquainted with others. What I mean is that this manner of subjecting one's own judgment, without further inquiry, supposing that the command is holy and in conformity with God's will, is in use among the saints and ought to be imitated by any one who wishes to obey perfectly in all things, where manifestly there appears no sin. ( )

If someone were to read the letter, missing or dismissing the highlighted sentence, the Catholic world would be led into ruin. Without this key phrase, the Church would be led to believe that whatever "the superior enjoins is the command of God our Lord and His holy will".

While St. Ignatius differs with St. Thomas concerning the degree of virtue of simply obeying a superior's commands, they agree on the key element: A sinful command cannot be obeyed.


Popular Posts