Imagination and Experience: Conscience and Moral Reflection in Ignatian Pedagogy

Dr. Timothy Brownlee, Ph.D.Timothy Brownlee
Mentor: Dr. Trudelle Thomas, Ph.D. (English)

General Aims
My general aim for this project was to investigate the ways in which Ignatian pedagogy and practice can contribute to the development of a habit of moral reflection in our students. Since I regularly teach PHIL100 Ethics as Intro to Philosophy, I was particularly interested in the ways in which I might draw on the tradition of Jesuit pedagogy to help students to identify connections between the theories of justice and of the good life that we examine in that course and their own experiences. My initial aim was to consider possible roles for the Spiritual Exercises in establishing that link.

Research and Background
I worked with Dr. Trudelle Thomas in examining two primary topics:
First, we examined different approaches to Ignatian pedagogy by reading articles from a variety of authors. We considered especially the relation between the Ignatian idea of cura personalis and the educator's role in moral reflection and formation. The notion of cura personalis, of caring for the whole person, is one that is central to Xavier's mission. In this connection, we are concerned with seeing our students develop not only intellectually, but also morally and spiritually. At the same time, it is unclear exactly what role we might play in promoting that moral development, especially through the classes we offer. It is a significant feature of Ignatian pedagogy that Jesuit education was initially intended for preparing initiates for the society, not for the education of lay people.

However, the liberal character of Xavier undergraduate education imposes some limitations on the applicability of Ignatian principles and ideas. In particular, I believe we should not be primarily concerned with requiring our students to act in a way that is consistent with a specific idea of justice or the good life (though we certainly do want them to act in accordance with some conception of these things). Instead, we should make it our aim to help students to develop a capacity to reflect on and understand the nature of justice and the good life so that they can pursue that life for themselves, without dependence on the authority of a teacher. Dr. Thomas and I engaged in a number of fruitful discussions on our own experiences in the classroom and as teachers, focusing especially on the idea of ethical virtue--of a habitual disposition to act and think in ways consistent with the demands of justice and the goal of a good life--and on the ways in which we might contribute to the cultivation of virtue in our students.

Second, Dr. Thomas and I also devoted significant attention to the animating ideas of Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises. We considered the role that careful reflection on individual experience plays in Ignatius's ideas. In this connection, I was particularly interested in Ignatius's stress on the roles of imagination in recalling one's own experiences and history, and desire in finding direction for one's own convictions and actions. We might be inclined to dismiss both of these, believing that they provide, at best, secondary guidance in moral questions. For example, if a moral life is simply a product of adherence to a set of universal rules of conduct, then individual imagination and desire will need to receive all of their guidance from those rules, and will not be matters of primary interest. By contrast, Ignatius stresses that these intimately personal matters are not simply objects to be directed by rules or abstract universal demands, but instead are themselves significant guides to justice and the good. Reflection on one's own personal experiences with a view to understanding one's deepest desire is in fact essential to achieving an orientation toward these ultimate ends. In the Exercises, Ignatius frequently stresses the importance of "seeing with the eyes of the imagination," of making present one's own experiences (or some event from scripture).

In this connection, I have been primarily interested in the role that the examination of one's conscience plays in Ignatius's Exercises. Ignatius proposes this examination not simply with a view to identifying our moral failures, our sins. Rather, he encourages us to find and distinguish experiences of desolation, those in which our desires are at odds with our "deepest desire," which orients us toward the achievement of our purpose (for Ignatius, it orients us towards God), from experiences of consolation, in which we experience a harmony of our particular desires and our ultimate purpose. To this extent, Ignatius encourages us to reflect on and identify the moral roots of our emotions and desires on the grounds that the imaginative engagement with these very personal, individual experiences is essential for the achievement of our highest purpose. Not only does Ignatius claim that every individual should engage in this conscientious examination. He also believes that the very particular character of our individual experiences has a moral significance and value that we might otherwise overlook.

My Project
I aimed to bring together these two general issues--moral development as an element of cura personalis and the role of imagination and experience in the Spiritual Exercises--through a writing assignment for my PHIL100 Ethics as Intro to Philosophy sections in Spring 2013.

For this assignment, students were required to attend a lecture in the ongoing "Ethics, Religion, and Society" series on "Justice, Tolerance, and Diversity," or a lecture sponsored by the Philosophy Department at some point during the semester. Following the lecture, students were required to write a brief account of the speaker's lecture, identifying its central claim and argument. However, they were also required to offer a personal reflection on an issue of moral, social, or political significance on which the speaker dwelt.

For this personal reflection, I first asked students to consider the way in which they confronted an ethical question in their own experience. I asked students not only to explain a situation in which they found themselves, but also imaginatively to recall their own individual responses--their personal feelings and thoughts--and to state how those personal experiences shaped their own understanding of the ethical question. Second, I asked students to consider the role that this experience played in shaping their response to that ethical question. I encouraged students to reflect on ways in which their moral experience either strengthened or transformed their understanding of the issue. Finally, I asked students to identify whether they now agree or disagree with the view offered by the speaker, and to state reasons for their agreement or disagreement.

Aims of this Assignment
First, the assignment encouraged (by requiring) students to attend a lecture sponsored by ERS or Philosophy. To this end, it worked to foster student engagement in the intellectual life of the university. In the case of the ERS series, it drew attention to the impressive series of speakers who have agreed to author original pieces on topics of great significance to the life of the institution. Moreover, because it encourages students to bring reflection on their own personal experiences and histories to bear on the subject matter that the speaker addresses, it aimed to draw students' attention to connections between their own lives and the intellectual concerns of the speaker, concerns which it might otherwise be possible to think bear no great connection to the students' own lives.

Second, the assignment encouraged students to reflect on their own moral experiences, with a view to showing how those personal experiences are essential to discerning the demands of justice and the purpose of a good life. To this extent, it points to the relevance of issues of general ethical concern to their own lives and experiences.

Third, the assignment required students to link their own individual experiences to a response to the ethical question about which they write that is, in principle at least, shareable by others. In asking the students to state the reasons for their agreement or disagreement with the views expressed by the speaker about whom they are writing, the assignment required that students transcend their own individual standpoint, and to consider the ways in which a moral issue that has touched them directly and powerfully should be significant for the lives of others.

In general, the assignment encouraged students to bridge what may be a gap in their moral reflection and thinking, namely that between the concrete level of moral experience, and the more abstract level of ethical reasoning and reflection. The assignment aimed to bridge this gap by drawing on the resources offered by Jesuit pedagogy and spiritual practice.

On the whole, this project was a success. While the quality of submitted essays was not entirely consistent, those students who seriously engaged with the assignment succeeded in presenting not only accurate and thorough accounts of the speakers' views, but more importantly, thoughtful and careful reflections on the moral significance of those views for their own lives. Some students reflected on their experiences as members of a family, as participants in a community, as citizens in a state, and as students and drew links between the ideas and arguments proposed by the speakers and those experiences. I am confident that, in the case of at least a few students, this exercise helped them to achieve a kind of clarity in understanding the moral character of their experiences that they previously did not have.
In general, I was heartily encouraged by the informal discussions that I had with students both in class and in office hours concerning their reflection papers. Students showed a laudable willingness to reflect on the connections between their own lives and the ideas discussed in the lectures. This activity of reflection mutually enriched their understanding both of their own experiences and of the ideas presented by speakers in the lecture series.

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The Life of Saint Ignatius: Philosophical and Pedagogical Implications

Dr. David Rodick, Ph.D.
Mentor: Rachel Chrastil, Ph.D. (History)

I have always been interested in the experiential context out of which one philosophizes. In keeping with this interest, I wanted to obtain some sense of the experiential context out of which Iñigo de Loyola emerged to become Saint Ignatius. I began W.W. Meissner's Ignatius of Loyola: The Psychology of a Saint,[1] and moved to the Spiritual Diary and Spiritual Exercises, as well as other cognate works in Ignatian scholarship. Below are some insights discerned along the way, followed by some brief implications for pedagogy.

Preliminary Notions: Experiential Time and Secondary Reflection

The experiential life of Saint Ignatius is not a linear phenomenon; it is reflexively continuous and best represented by a spiral. [2] Experiential time does not conform to the time of the clock. "Clock-time" refers to a most abstract conception of time--the discrete time of the chronometer. From the perspective of clock-time, the "present" is "now", the "past" is "no longer," and the "future" is "not yet." Prima facie, this conception of time makes sense. It supports the traditional notion of time as a series consisting of past, present, and future. Philosophical speaking, the concepts associated with clock-time lead to paradox. The "now" becomes a fleeting moment between the "no longer" and the "not yet", a specious, vanishing present! How can a person exist within such a razor-thin span of duration? Experiential time is multi-dimensional; the three dimensions of time (past, present, and future) are related. Martin Heidegger, a twentieth century, German philosopher who wrote extensively on the question of time, characterized experiential time as "a remarkable 'relatedness, backwards or forwards.'" [3] Within the "ecstatic" unity of experiential time, the three dimensions of time are intra-related--the future invades the present by way of the past: "Temporality is the primordial 'outside of itself' in and for itself. We therefore call the phenomenon of the future, the character of having been, and the Present, the ecstaces of temporality, Temporality ... [in] essence is a process of temporalizing in the unity of the ecstasies."[4]

Hans-Georg Gadamer, another twentieth century, German philosopher, and student of Heidegger, characterized experiential time as similar to the process of negotiating a series of bending, hairpin mountain switchbacks; when traversing an ascending path, one advances by crossing over where one has been.[5] Gadamer's example further implies that experience is reflexively circuitous and capable of reaching elevated levels of perspective. Similar to the case of a reflexive verb in which the action rebounds upon the subject, the reflexive unity of experiential time results in a synergistic unity in which the temporal unit becomes larger than the sum of its parts. A contemporary computer scientist, Douglas R. Hofstadter, examines the significance of reflexive awareness in his book, I am a Strange Loop. Hofstadter understands reflexive (recursive) experience in terms of a "looping effect" capable of yielding exponential growth: "Feedback loops have levels of subtlety and complexity that are seldom given any thought, but turn out to be rich and full of surprise."[6] Feedback loops act as a dynamo by serving as the locus of a concentrated discharge of energy. As in the case of a guitar in close proximity to an amplifier, a feedback loop consists of a synergistic relationship caused by an exponentially increasing source of power being recursively generated within a self-referential field.[7]

Secondary reflection, a notion developed by the twentieth-century, French philosopher Gabriel Marcel, provides another helpful lens through which to view the experiential development of Ignatius. In the course of day-to-day living, our primary mode of relating to the world is functional. Marcel refers to this way of relating as "primary reflection"--things are abstracted from their wider context and represented in terms of a function served within a chain of efficient causality--"doing this in order to obtain that." Despite occupying a location within a causal network, things experienced from a material perspective appear fragmented. The quotidian world stands before us with the appearance of authority but, as Marcel reminds us: "Life completely transcends the categories of biology [and] infinitely transcends my possible conscious grasp at any given moment."[8] Life oftentimes exhibits a dynamic aspect experienced as mystery. Mystery cannot be captured in canonical speech or ratiocinative thinking. Problems, on the other hand, occur in a specifically defined context within which they can be "solved." A problematic situation requires the subject to take an exterior position vis á vis the problem "at hand"--a strange perspective in which the subject somehow removes itself from the very circumstances under consideration. What gives the self the ability to inhabit a "non-problematical" sphere? Our egocentric orientation is unable to account for the obdurate and inviolable source of that through which the problem is constituted. What is the source that gives meaning to the self and allows the self to consider itself separately from any problem? This source cannot come from a self! Sands begin to shift beneath our feet--something akin to the experience of a tightrope walker who, "as soon as it looks at its feet, it realizes that it is operating in mid-air."[9] The treatment of any problem demands an inquiry into the totality of being and the self as related to that totality. Secondary reflection is an attempt to gain awareness of the wider, mysterious totality within which we exist, seeking higher unities discerned through experiential and intellectual synthesis. This experience is beautifully captured by the American writer, Norman Maclean: "All there is to thinking is seeing something noticeable which makes you see something you weren't noticing which makes you see something that isn't even visible."[10]

The Life of Ignatius: The Winding Path from Guipúzcoa to Pamplona

Experiential time and secondary reflection provide useful lenses through which to view the life of Ignatius.[11] The course of Ignatius' life exhibits a complex seriatim character. From the beginning, his genetic development exhibits a dynamism that is not serendipitous. Born in the Guipúzcoa region of Spain where it is said that the water is so saturated with iron that "the inhabitants have it in their veins,"[12] Iñigo reflected the autochthonous temper of toughness and persistency. Raised by three women, his birth mother, a surrogate, and Magdalena--his older brother's wife--the young Iñigo's experience of maternal love was always mitigated by a sense of absence--a sense he would never completely overcome. It was during this formative time that Ignatius would undergo his first encounter with religious experience. The Annunciation, a painting in which the Archangel Gabriel informs the Virgin Mary she will conceive the Son of God, was a wedding gift to Magdelena from Queen Isabella. Magdalena had the painting installed in a specially constructed cathedral at Loyola. Iñigo developed a special devotion to the picture. According to Pedro de Leturia, S.J., "In the life of the author of the Exercises, Doña Magdalena's picture of our Lady had the first place, long before those of Olaz, Aránzazu, and Montserrat."[13]

Although the clerical life had been considered an option, young Iñigo displayed too much life and vivacity for the ecclesiastic vocation. He was sent to Arevalo to join the household of Juan Valázquez de Cuellar--a man of great wealth and member of the aristocracy who took a paternal interest in the boy. It is at this point that Iñigo became consumed by macho, chivalrous behavior. During this time, Iñigo experienced such a high degree of social and political immunity that he was able to avoid a murder charge!

Iñigo's circumstances would soon take a turn for the worse. Valázquez's wealth and power came to an end with the death of King Ferdinand of Castile in 1516. With five hundred escudos and two horses, Iñigo journeyed to Pamplona to find the duke of Nájera--a distant relative. The events at Pamplona are moments of world historical significance in the life of Ignatius. A French force of twelve thousand men, equipped with heavy artillery, surrounded the fortress ready to attack. The garrison commander was prepared to accept the terms of surrender but Iñigo refused, petitioning the governor with "so many reasons ... that he persuaded him to carry on the defense against the judgment of the officers, who found some strength in his spirit and courage."[14] Prior to the six hour attack, Iñigo gave his last confession.

The walls of the fortress collapsed under sustained artillery fire. Iñigo stood at the forefront, anticipating his last stand. A cannonball shattered both legs. The battle was over. As a tribute to his bravery, the French assisted in Iñigo's convalescence, seeing and to it that he was escorted back to the castle of Loyola.

The extent of Iñigo's injuries required spiritual intervention. His sister-in-law, Magdalena, provided him with the four-volume Life of Jesus and the Flos Sanctorum ( The Lives of Saints) during recuperation, ultimately lighting the fuse of his conversion experience in August of 1553:

One night as he lay awake, he saw clearly the likeness of our Lady with the Holy Child Jesus, at the sight of which he received most abundant consolation for a considerable interval of time. He felt so great a disgust with his past life, especially with its offenses of the flesh, that he thought all such images which had formerly occupied his mind, were wiped out.[15]

From Montserrat to Manresa: The Spiral Continues

Return to thyself; but when, again facing upwards, thou hast returned to thyself, stay not in thyself. First return to thyself from the things that are without and then give thyself back to Him that made thee. [16]

It would be a mistake to view Iñigo's conversion experience in terms of a "wiping out" of the past--quite the contrary, his past is about to be re-inscribed within a higher unity. The narcissistic aspects of his former self as hidalgo and courtier are realigned in terms of greater degrees of service to God. In terms of experiential time, we are confronted with continuous epigenetic development and radical synthesis. We are able to witness the coming of Iñigo's future, as Saint Ignatius, in statu nascendi--arriving out of the past in the course of the present. In this sense, Ignatius is a pilgrim or homo viator; underway to a destination of religious significance in recognition of the need for penitential response to one's past. [17]

In the wake of his conversion experience, Iñigo, elegantly dressed, set off for the shrine of our Lady of Montserrat. On the evening of the Annunciation, he made his general confession and received absolution from Jean Chanon, a highly respected French priest. Iñigo relinquished his clothes to a poor beggar and later hung his sword and scabbard on the entrance to the cathedral. At daybreak, he set off for Barcelona in a rough, sackcloth robe and hemp girdle. He traveled a short distance to Manresa. Expecting to stay a few days, he remained there a year. These were "the most important months in the entire life of Iñigo de Loyola."[18] He alternated between a small cell in a Dominican priory and a cave, overlooking the valley of Cardoner, where he would carry out his prayers and penitence in the form of agere contra--reacting vigorously against inclinations non-spiritual in nature. During this time Iñigo undergoes a trans-valuation of identity:

[T]he process that had been begun on the bed of convalescence was extended and deepened in the cave at Manresa. At Loyola Iñigo had undergone an experience which could best be summarized under the rubric of a deepening and broadening of his value orientation... At Loyola Iñigo became aware of and sensitive to another dimension of reality, the spiritual dimension, which from his childhood had remained a significant, but not determining, element in his colorful milieu... [T]he moratorium at Manresa had in fact produced a new personality, the lines of continuity between Iñigo the courageous man of arms and the emerging personality of the pilgrim were all too clear. [I]t does not seem accurate to envision this process as the elimination of an old identity and its replacement with a new one. The identity of Iñigo was not destroyed; it was transformed.[19]

Reconstructing one's life in terms of increasing degrees of awareness of the presence of God is the Ignatian version of secondary reflection--an attempt to recover experience from fragmentation, restoring a sense of ontological continuity to our most mundane acts; in Marcel's words, a grafting of the flesh on to the spirit... remaking, thread by thread, the spiritual fabric heedlessly torn."[20] Ignatius would often undergo an experience of the world emerging from "something white out of which rays were coming, and out of which God made light... but [Ignatius] did not know how to explain these things...." [21]

Pedagogical Implications

What pedagogical implications can one draw from this brief overview of Ignatius early life? First, it is of the utmost importance to engage students where they are in terms of their particular experiential context. Not all students share the same past, nor are all students oriented to the same future in the present moment. Pedagogy must engage in the basic activity of cura personalis, addressing the dynamic situation of "backward-forward relatedness" occurring at every moment in the life of a person. Like Plato's conception of knowledge as a process of re-collecting, Ignation pedagogy is a form of re-membering: "a creative process that goes to the depth of reality and begins recreating it." [22]

Secondly, pedagogy must highlight the process of experiential growth, the magis, [23] occurring reflexively as one traverses the switchbacks associated with wider degrees of awareness and understanding, passing through incomplete views while seeking broader truth and richer harmony of thought: "The starting point, then, will always be what is real [which] leads one to see the hidden presence of God in what is seen, touched, smelt, felt." [24]

Finally, pedagogy must lead to an awareness of ad maiorem gloriam Dei. All things should be viewed in their relation to God, the source of all relations--an energizing experience of grace working in and through man's psychic potentialities. [25]

[1] W.W. Meissner S.J., Ignatius of Loyola: the Psychology of a Saint (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994). As both a Jesuit and M.D. with a clinical specialty in Freudian psychoanalysis, Meissner is well equipped to provide a unique look into the mind of Ignatius.

[2] The spira mirabilis, Latin for "miraculous spiral," refers to the logarithmic spiral. The logarithmic spiral was first described by Descartes and later investigated by Jacob Bernoulli, who called it Spira mirabilis, "the marvelous or miraculous spiral." Bernoulli was fascinated by one of the unique mathematical properties of the logarithmic spiral: the size of the spiral increases but its shape is unaltered with each successive curve, a property known as self-similarity. The spira mirabilis has is discernable in nature in the form of nautilus shells and sunflower heads. Bernoulli wanted such a spiral engraved on his headstone along with the phrase " Eadem mutata resurgo" ("Although changed, I shall arise the same"), but, in error, an Archimedean spiral was engraved instead.

[3] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. J. Macquarrie and E. Robinson (Harper and Row, 1962) 28.

[4] Ibid.: 377

[5] See Hans-Georg Gadamer, Philosophical Apprenticeships, trans. Robert R. Sullivan (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985): 50-51.

[6] Douglas Hoftstadter, I Am a Strange Loop (New york: Basic Books, 2007): 55-56. In his more popular GÖdel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (New York: Basic Books, 1979), Hofstadter uses examples from Bach's Canons, Escher's drawings, and GÖdel's incompleteness theorem to demonstrate the power of self-reference.

[7] See I Am a Strange Loop, p. 54: [E]ach cycling around of the input sound would theoretically amplify its volume by a fixed factor, say k--thus, two loops would amplify a factor by k 2, three loops by k 3, and so on. We all know the power of exponential growth from hearing horror stories about exponential growth of the earth's population or some such disaster."

[8] Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being, Volume I: Reflection and Mystery, trans. G.S. Fraser (Regnery, 1950): 167.

[9] Annie Dillard, Living by Fiction (Harper and Row, 1982): 55.

[10] Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through and Other Stories (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976): 92.

[11] The account given of Ignatius' life is necessarily selective due to reasons of space. See Meissner, Chapter XX, "Divine and/or Psychic Causality?" for a more synoptic account.

[12] See Meissner: 3.

[13] Cited in Hugo Rahner, S.J., Saint Ignatius Loyola: Letters to Women (New York: Herder and Herder, 1960): 116.

[14] See Meissner: 35. See also Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Personal Writings, edited and translated by J. Munitz and P. Endean (New York: Penguin Classics, 1996): 13.

[15] See Meissner: 57. See also Personal Writings: 16.

[16] Saint Augustine, Sermon 330 in Saint Augustine: Essential Sermons (New York: New City Press): 383.

[17] See Meissner: 63. See also p. 59: "[T]he transformation was not a sudden or climactic event, but a slow process that began during his convalescence, was subjected to its definitive reconstruction in the cave of Manresa, and finally came to fruition in the extraordinary career of Ignatius."

[18] Meissner: 69.

[19] Meissner: 84-85. The neoplatonic notion circumincessio, or circumincession, is helpful for understanding Ignatius development.

[20] See Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being, Volume I: 203, and Homo Viator: Introduction to a Metaphysic of Hope, trans. E. Craufurd (Harper and Row, 1962): 100.

[21] Meissner: 80 (emphasis added). See also Personal Writings: 26. In a section entitled "Mystical Experiences" (Meissner: 80-83), the reader is presented with a rich sampling Ignatius' mystical experiences. One is particularly worth mentioning:

"[A]bout a mile distant from Manresa ... he sat down by the river which there ran deep. As he sat,
the eyes of his understanding began to open. He beheld no vision, but he saw and understood many
things, spiritual as well as those concerning faith and learning. This took place with so great an illu-
mination that these things appeared to be something altogether new. He cannot point out the particulars of what he then understood, although there were many, except that he received a great illumination in his understanding. This was so great that in the whole course of his past life right up to his sixty-second year, if he were to gather all the helps that he had received from God, and everything he knew, and addthem together, he does not think that they would equal all that he received at that one time (81)."

[22] See Adolfo Nicolás, S.J., "Depth, Universality and Learned Ministry: Challenges to Jesuit Higher Education Today," p. 4 at . N.B. Nicolás is the Superior General of the Society of Jesus.

[23] See Hugo Rahner, S.J., The Spirituality of Saint Ignatius Loyola (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1953), p. 22, for an account of the experiential dimension of Ignatian magis: "[T]he net result of his traditions in his family home and of his aristocratic upbringing, formed the immediate preparation for the "more" of his service in the battle line of his eternal King, into the ranks of whose army he is now deployed as a consequence of his conversion."

[24] See Nicholás, p. 4.

[25] See Josef Stierli, "Ignatian Prayer: Seeking God in All Things," in Ignatius of Loyola: His Personality and Spiritual Heritage, ed. F. Wulf, S.J. (Saint Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1977): 151ff. Also Meissner: 347.

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The Political Character of Ancient Greek Religion

Eleni Tsalla, Ph.D.
Mentor: Arthur Dewey, Ph.D. (Department of Theology)

Course Information

The ethics course (PHIL 100) is designed to familiarize the students with methodical attempts to answer the question what it means to lead a good human life on the basis of Plato's Republic, which is the requisite text.

The ancient political philosophy (PHIL 362) course is a survey of ancient political thought with an emphasis on Plato's and Aristotle's political writings.

We touch upon religion in both courses. From a modern perspective, the ancient philosophical approach to religion is very distinctive. Both Plato and Aristotle understand politics as the architectonic art that oversees, along with everything else, religious institutions to ensure that their effects coincide with those of legislation.

IMP Experience

With Arthur Dewey, my mentor, we discussed Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises and the significance of the faculty of imagination in Loyola's thought. Under my mentor's guidance, I read Antonio De Nicolas' Powers of Imagining: Ignatius De Loyola, A Philosophical Hermeneutic of Imagining Through the Collected Works of Ignatius De Loyola (State University of New York Press, 1986).

Spiritual Exercises: Composition, Contemplation, Colloquy

Ignatius' emphasis on taking the world as it is, made a particular impression on me, especially as it relates to the ancient philosophical way of approaching the realm of nature and culture. In the Spiritual Exercises again and again one becomes engaged in compositions of place. One sees "in imagination" [65] or "with the eye of imagination" [66]; one "hears, tastes, smells, feels" [67-70], one "applies the five senses" [121], immersing oneself completely into the images recalled or evoked, becoming part of their drama. The imaginative re-enactment carries with it the faculties of the emotions and intelligence, effecting, thus, their active integration into what is envisioned. The act of imagining is a dynamic re-creation of the self called to engage anew with the realm of the familiar, the given, it inhabits. Such contemplative vision becomes the beginning and the end, the A and the W, of action, which, to the degree that it is human action, is also public.

Course Objectives in Light of my Acquaintance with Ignatian Spirituality

While my objectives have not changed in essence, I try to apply more consciously the imaginative pedagogy of the Spiritual Exercises.

Composition of place: Both courses begin with a lengthy introduction to Ancient Greek Culture, which emphasizes the function of religion and myth as the carriers of the community's collective experience and self-consciousness. We discuss the Great Dionysia of Athens, a religious festival funded by the city, which included drinking celebrations culminating in a religious procession that marched through the city to the theater of Dionysus for a three-day theatrical contest. The goal is to allow the students to recreate imaginatively the ancient eusebia (piety) embodied collectively by the citizens.

Contemplation: The thought of the classical philosophers on religion is introduced as commentary of the established customary practice. (1) Ethics as Introduction to Philosophy: Socrates observes in the Republic (379a) that "it's appropriate for [political] founders to know the patterns on which poets must base their stories and from which they must not deviate." So, even though he and Adeimantus will not compose the poets' poems for them, they will spend considerable time (bks II and III) determining precisely "the patterns for theology or stories about the gods." Traditional religion is embraced as an indispensable dimension of the political life. This happens though only after an elaborate scrutiny of religious institutions, according to the principles established as paramount in guiding political action. True statesmanship depends on knowledge, and knowledge pertains to the intelligible world without which one is confined to the world of opinion. (2) Ancient Political Philosophy: To the pluralistic and disconnected list of human excellences, promoted by the agnostic Protagoras (Plato, Protagoras), who thinks that man is the measure, Socrates counters an organic model of virtue, where piety needs to be harmonized with the other virtues, primarily wisdom and justice.

The students consider these suggestions in contrast to the modern assumption that the private can be isolated from the public, that human beings are first individuals and then members of a social structure. The students think critically of pluralistic assumptions, especially in light of the fact that every legislative act is a definitive one embracing a certain set of values.

The full theoretical implications of the ancient position are discussed. According to ancient political philosophy, the environment of the polis (culture) enables the development of logos both as language and as the continuity of human intelligence in the arts and sciences. Human intelligence is actualized in structured environments and channeled towards distinct skills, crafts, or arts, in the effort to satisfy common needs, i.e., all arts are in the service of the common good. While each art has its own objectives and goals, taken together these objectives and goals should be woven into the common political good. Failure to do so has dangerous consequences for the human well-being, as Plato provocatively shows whether in the case of rhetoric, poetry, or religion.

Colloquy: No definitive answer is given. That the ancient polis embraces principles foreign to the ones of our age is no news. M. Schofield is pointedly advising that "it would be a mistake for those of us who are some species or other of democratic liberal to think we can find very much to identify within its [the Laws'] pages." Acknowledging that there is a message for our times, he warns us that it is one "not beckoning us" ("Religion and Philosophy in the Laws," in Plato's Laws: From Theory into Practice, ed. S. Scolnicov, L. Brisson, Academia Verlag, 2003, p. 13). But if human beings are political animals, the student of Plato and Aristotle could retort, allowing the operation of diverse powers in the polis without understanding their origins and nature, and without conceiving of a plan to integrate their ends, leads directly, even inevitably, to deviations, what Plato calls hemartemenai politeiai.

What both courses stress are the inherent difficulties of some very popular modern assumptions. What is also stressed is that our and our students' lot at this point in time is to think creatively of possible reconciliations or to continue to suffer the many injustices our deviant constitutions breed. The question of a common political good that goes beyond the negatives that the individual's rights protect is upon us. While life and liberty are necessary, they are not sufficient goods. Happiness needs to be commonly defined and pursued.

Loyola writes from the perspective of 16th century individualism. Imagining and understanding the ancient Greeks in their context raises the political problem as the most urgent in human life and allows for creative extensions of Ignatius' thought. He compels us to do so. He taught us that by actively imagining we partake of the demiurgic divine activity.

This paper was published:
"Religion as Political Institution in the Platonic Dialogues." Greek Philosophical Review, The Journal of Greek Philosophical Association, 28 (2011), pp. 259-283 (in Greek).

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The Jesuit Understanding of a Liberal Arts Education

Dr. James Wood, Ph.D.
Mentor: Dr. Kathleen Smythe, Ph.D. (Philosophy)

In the course of my initial exploration of various approaches to this program, primarily through reading the reports of past participants, I saw that most projects in the Ignatian Mentoring Program have focused on methodology, broadly speaking--for example, by applying the Ignatian spiritual principles of discernment and reflection to classroom teaching. After consulting with my mentor, Kathleen Smythe, I decided to investigate another aspect of Jesuit education, namely its content rather than its methodology.[1] Specifically, I was interested in the conception of liberal education that guided the early Jesuits and their successors in their selection and organization of subjects, texts, and authors. In this way I hoped that I might come to a greater understanding of the principles and traditions that have helped to shape and that continue to guide Xavier as "a Jesuit Catholic university rooted in the liberal arts tradition."[2] In what follows I will briefly summarize the results of my research and then reflect on their implications.

First, let me note an obvious but nonetheless important point: Jesuit education from the very beginning has been self-consciously and explicitly grounded on the study of the liberal arts. As Ganss puts it, referring to Ignatius' Constitutions, "Ignatius' educational scheme, if taken in its entirety of prescriptions for both higher and lower faculties, is indeed a Jesuit code of liberal education." [3] But how exactly did the Jesuits conceive of liberal education? The specific disciplines composing such an education have not substantially changed from Ignatius' time to the present, though the names and categories have fluctuated: languages (including grammar), literature (rhetoric, poetry), history, mathematics, philosophy (logic, ethics, metaphysics, natural sciences), and theology. The classic liberal disciplines of the medieval trivium and quadrivium, as modified by the Renaissance humanists, provided the basis of the Jesuit curriculum. In effect, the Jesuits took the best of the educational theories and practices of the day and adapted them into the system delineated in its most authoritative form in the Ratio Studiorum of 1599. In the words of McGucken, "The Jesuits wished to save what was best in Scholasticism and unite it to humanism. The result is evident in the Ratio, which provides for a thorough training in the classics, followed in the higher studies by courses in scholastic philosophy and theology. The Ratio is essentially a compromise between the old learning and the new." [4]


The progression noted here by McGucken marks an important difference between the original Jesuit approach, modeled in part on the organization of studies at the University of Paris (the modus parisiensis), and the current approach standard in American universities, characterized by distribution requirements and electives. As Schwickerath puts it, "The Ratio insisted not on a variety of branches taught simultaneously (the bane of many modern systems), but on a few well-related subjects, and these were to be taught thoroughly." [5] All students pursued the same studies in the same order from secondary school (the "colleges") through the university. Those studies were organized to provide, first, a foundational knowledge of the "humane letters," the languages and literatures of Rome and Greece, leading to the study of rhetoric, the ability to express one's cultivated thoughts with eloquence ( eloquentia perfecta[6]). This grounding in language and literature prepared the student for the next stage, a rigorous study of "the arts," including mathematics, science, and philosophy, which was designed to yield knowledge of nature (including human nature) and its principles along with the intellectual skills to analyze and apply that knowledge. The study of the arts was followed in turn by the various sub-disciplines of theology, which was not just a professional discipline for the training of priests but also designed to integrate the different aspects of one's education in a comprehensive God-centered wisdom. [7] An impressive amount of time was dedicated to the mastery of each stage. For example, the Ratio Studiorum assigns three full years to the study of "the arts," including logic, physics, metaphysics, psychology, and ethics, as well as mathematics, based primarily on readings in Aristotle and Euclid, with eight hours a week dedicated to the first year and two hours a day to the second and third years. [8] The ultimate aim of this program of studies was "to stimulate each student to the self-activity by which he will perfect, with well-balanced attention, his whole personality to the highest virtues of both the intellect and the will, that is, to both wisdom and charity. The truth is taught to stir up good deeds." [9]


The progression of studies was a key part of achieving this goal, but no less important was the content of the studies themselves. The curriculum was based on the greatest works of classical civilization, in part because those were also the greatest works available at that time (before the full flowering of vernacular literature), and in part because of the broad consensus concerning the inherently elevating qualities of these texts. As Farrell notes, the Jesuits held that "the Latin and Greek classics and scholastic philosophy are constants in any educational planning, because they offer abiding and universal values for human training." [10] More generally, humanitas, a humanistic education, "had come to mean both the process and the studies that developed moral goodness, devotion to truth, and a disposition to act for the civic good: languages, poetry, history, rhetoric, and logic, along with mathematics, the sciences, and philosophy of nature. For the humanists these were the subjects that opened the mind, sharpened wits, deepened human sympathy, developed clarity of thought and force in expressing it. They gave students an adroitness of mind in meeting new questions, and laid a foundation from which to explore the more important questions they would come to later in their studies." [11]


The Ratio as well as the Constitutions go so far as to indicate the study of specific texts and authors, with a heavy emphasis on certain key figures, such as Cicero in rhetoric, Aristotle in philosophy, and Thomas Aquinas in theology. [12] However, even from the beginning these specifications were not regarded as sacrosanct. As Farrell points out, "The facts are, first, that the Ratio itself foresaw the necessity and advisability of present and future adjustments, and secondly, that in practice the Jesuit schools did not remain static, slavishly bound to the curricular prescriptions of the Ratio." [13] In the revised Ratio of 1832, furthermore, several changes were made, including the removal of direct reference to Aristotle, the expansion of studies in mathematics and the sciences, and an increased emphasis on the vernacular languages and their literatures. These changes reflect developments in these fields without abandoning the core principles on which the original Ratio was founded: an orderly progression of studies grounded on the greatest works available in the core disciplines of the liberal arts, leading to the broadening and deepening of the mind and the enrichment of the soul--the education of the "whole person" to fulfill his God-given potential as a human being. [14] This kind of "general education" has thus been the heart of Jesuit education from the beginning to modern times; specialization and professional training were not rejected but were regarded as secondary and subsequent. [15] On the other hand, the practical and professional utility of a classical liberal arts education itself was always regarded as an important part of its value. [16]


On the basis of this review of the principles, curriculum, and organization of the traditional Jesuit liberal arts education, I will conclude by considering their potential applicability to the educational program at Xavier and to my own teaching in particular. On the former point, I am struck first by the extent to which Xavier has preserved its Jesuit liberal arts heritage in the designated disciplines and courses of the Core Curriculum. The emphasis on the study of language, literature, history, mathematics, science, and especially philosophy and theology, reflects Xavier's respect for this heritage. It is true that Latin and Greek are no longer required except in the HAB program, and the content of these disciplines has changed significantly, but such changes (along with addition of other disciplines, notably the social sciences) need not violate the principles and spirit of Jesuit education, as noted previously. However, to the extent that the content of required courses is no longer grounded on classic texts (whether ancient or modern), that the same content is not studied by all students at the same level, and that courses are not organized in such a way as to constitute a cohesive and well-integrated curriculum, it is fair to say that Xavier (and certainly not Xavier alone), has moved away from the principles and practices of the first Jesuits and their followers. [17] Similarly, the more that the distribution of courses has shifted from the liberal arts disciplines to the student's major discipline, particularly in the professional programs, the more Xavier (and other Jesuit schools) has come to resemble the typical non-Jesuit university rather than the Jesuit university as it existed up until fairly recently. [18]


As Xavier considers changes to its Core Curriculum, then, it faces the option of continuing further down this path or of finding ways to reemphasize and strengthen its Jesuit liberal arts heritage in the contemporary context. [19] Certainly there is more than one way to accomplish the latter objective. The university could make an explicit commitment to the assignment of canonical texts in Core courses, taking inspiration from the original classical curriculum; common texts could be read in multiple sections of the same course, courses could be blocked and taken at particular stages of a student's studies, the curriculum could be oriented around common themes focused on perennial questions and ideas, [20] the progression of courses could be organized chronologically (beginning with the ancients and moving forward) or systematically (as in the traditional Jesuit curriculum, or in some other way), interdisciplinary courses, perhaps of higher credit-hours, perhaps team-taught, could integrate the content of two or more Core disciplines, [21] capstone courses or projects could draw together disciplines and previous courses or encourage application of classical problems and solutions to contemporary issues, and so on. [22] The timeliness of exploring such ideas is apparent not only from upcoming discussions about changes to the Core Curriculum but also from two different "Faculty Learning Communities" taking place this year--one that is exploring ways to improve our teaching of honors courses, in which I am exploring various models of integrated programs centered around classic texts, and the other looking at ways of integrating courses, with particular focus on the "human good" as a common theme around which courses could be designed or coordinated.


Regardless of any future institutional changes, however, I can see ways to bring my own courses more fully in line with the original Jesuit vision of the liberal arts. Assigning classic primary texts comes first, and I am now more inclined to favor some of the preferred texts of the early Jesuits, especially Aristotle, Aquinas, and Cicero. Replicating the order of courses would be more difficult, but it would be possible to follow the spirit of the traditional modus parisiensis in a single course by assigning certain preparatory texts from the "humane letters" in advance of a key philosophical text, such as the Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and Aristophanes' Clouds in advance of Plato's Republic, in orderto bring to life the world within which the Republic emerges and to highlight key themes such as justice and its relation to democracy and philosophy. This could be offered as a version of the standard Philosophy 100 course, which already assigns the Republic as a common text, and it could be cross-listed in Classics or other departments, team-taught, focused on a particular theme such as war, and so on. Another option would be to coordinate my courses with courses in other departments on an individual basis, perhaps in one of the ways mentioned above. These are just some possibilities. In short, I see opportunities for positive changes in the Core, the Honors program, and my own courses, which my study of the Jesuit tradition has helped to illuminate. For this reason, undertaking this project has certainly been of benefit to me, and hopefully its results will prove to be of benefit to others as well.


[1] I also met with Fr. George Traub, whose comments and suggestions were very helpful to me.

[2] From Xavier's recently revised mission statement (

[3] Ganss, Saint Ignatius' Idea of a Jesuit University (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1954), 200.

[4] William McGucken, The Jesuits and Education (Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1932), 28-9.

[5] Robert Schwickerath, "Ratio Studiorum," The Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 12 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911), See Allan Farrell for a strong criticism of the elective system from a Jesuit perspective. (Farrell, The Jesuit Code of Liberal Education: Development and Scope of the Ratio Studiorum [Milwaukee, The Bruce Publishing Co., 1938], 408 ff).

[6] This phrase captures the Renaissance ideal of education, reflected in the elevation of Cicero to a central place in the curriculum. Farrell describes eloquentia perfecta as "the union of knowledge and eloquence, or the right use of reason joined to cultivated expression" ( ibid. 356).

[7] Cf. John Donahue, Jesuit Education: An Essay on the Foundation of its Idea (New York: Fordham University Press, 1963), 141-2.

[8] Cf. Farrell, op. cit., 343.

[9] Ganss, op. cit., 186-7.

[10] Farrell, op. cit., 403 .

[11] From the Boston College Jesuit Community, "Jesuits and Jesuit Education: A Primer" in A Jesuit Education Reader, ed. Fr. George Traub (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2008), 41. Compare a recent statement by Fr. Michael McMahon: "The emphasis on these subjects, without absolutely excluding others, of course, contributed to the balanced formation of the human being, making him a fit receptacle for the grace of God. The humanities offer abiding and universal values for human formation. Why have the great classics, the great works, the great authors, been studied" "Quite simply, they provide what it takes to form a soul, to form a personality" ("The Jesuit Model of Education,"

[12] Cf. Constitutions Pt. 4, chapters 12-14 (in Ganss, pp. 331-7) and Ratio (33-37, 40-45, 72-77).

[13] Farrell, op. cit., 367; he cites the 39 th rule of the Provincial and evidence from the actual practice of schools such as the College of Madrid.

[14] Cf. Farrell, op. cit., 390 ff.

[15] Cf. Schwickerath, "The training given by the Ratio was not to be specialized or professional, but general, and was to lay the foundation for professional studies. In this regard the Ratio stands in opposition to various modern systems which aim at the immediately useful and practical or, at best, allot a very short time to general education; it stands in sharp contrast with those systems which advocate the earliest possible beginning of specialization. Jesuit educationists think, with many others, that 'the higher the level on which the professional specializing begins, the more effective it will be.' . . . The educated man is to be not merely a wage-earner, but one who takes an intelligent interest in the great questions of the day, and who thoroughly understands the important problems of life, intellectual, social, political, literary, philosophical, and religious" ( op. cit.).

[16] Cf. Ganss, op. cit., 163-66, 200-1.

[17] As Monica Hellwig notes, when liberal arts programs dissipate "into unrelated elective offerings," focused narrowly on distinct disciplines, "the benefits of a truly liberal education are lost. Those benefits ought to include the integration of learning, the realization of the community dimension, increasing experience of the continuity of faith and reason, a deepening respect for and appreciation of the cumulative wisdom of the past, progressive transcending of facile and unexamined prejudices and, of course, the integration of life and learning" ("The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Catholic University," in Traub, op. cit., 254).

[18] Farrell observes that at the time of his writing (c. 1938), all Jesuit universities in the United States still required two years of philosophy for all degrees and two years of advanced Latin for the A.B. degree ( op. cit., 408).

[19] In Farrell's view, because Jesuit institutions in general cannot compete financially with their secular rivals, they would be foolish to attempt to imitate their approach to education, but instead should emphasize the distinct features of their own educational philosophy, heritage, and practices. He cites in particular "three essential elements of their pedagogical code: (1) Inherent unity and continuity of curriculum; (2) characteristic teaching methods and techniques, and (3) their conscious aim to develop in the student alertness of all his mental powers by demanding public proof of mastery of a subject or an entire field of knowledge, thus inculcating habits of self-activity, self-exertion, responsibility, and hard work" ( op. cit., 422-3).

[20] Among the "seven higher standards for Catholic higher education" delineated in "Higher Standards," the second is a "focus on the big questions" because "[w]isdom, not mere information, is the goal of education" (Dean Brackley, "Higher Standards," in Traub, op. cit., 190).

[21] Item number 10 from the 34 th Jesuit General Congregation's statement on key principles in "Jesuits and University Life" (1995) reads "Jesuit universities will promote interdisciplinary work" both within and beyond each university, promoting faith, freedom, and justice (in Traub, op. cit., 136).

[22] Michael Buckley points to one way of integrating courses in a program at Santa Clara, which takes a contemporary issue that resonates with Jesuit-Catholic concerns such as faith and justice (examples include poverty and war) and makes it the unifying theme of courses from a variety of disciplines. As he sees it, this is one way of restoring theology to its traditional "architectonic" function. ( The Catholic University as Promise and Project [Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1998], 72-3)

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