Sunday, September 25, 2011

Ignatius the Weeper

For about six months now I have been reading many written works from the 16th century, including Praise of Folly by Erasmus, Utopia by Thomas More, The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, and The Discourses by Machiavelli. 

I have also made it a point to read explicitly religious works written during the period and at present I am reading the Penguin Classics edition of the Personal Writings of Ignatius of Loyola.  Ignatius founded The Society of Jesus, better known to us today as The Jesuits.  The Jesuits played an important role in the Catholic Church's Counter-Reformation in the mid-sixteenth century.

But back to Ignatius himself.  At present, I have only read about 84 pages in a book that is some 360 pages.  Even so, from what I have read so far, Ignatius cried a lot.  He cried more than Republican House Majority Leader John Boehner.  He may have cried more than any other person in history.  The tears of Ignatius could have filled buckets.

To get an idea of the frequency of Ignatius' weeping, one need only read his Spiritual Diary.  To provide some context, the Spiritual Diary was written during a period when Ignatius was agonizing over whether or not The Society of Jesus should have a fixed income for its churches.  The issue must have caused him a tremendous amount of grief and turmoil, because his eyes became a veritable Niagara Falls of tears.  Let the crying begin:

February 5, 1544: "Great devotion before, during and after mass, with tears so abundant that my eyes ached."

Febrary 6: "Devotion, not without tears, before and during mass, and more inclined toward complete poverty."

February 7: "Very great devotion and tears before mass."

February 8: "After experiencing remarkable devotion and tears while I prayed, from preparing for mass and during mass very great devotion, also tears; only at times could I retain the power of speech."

February 10: "On reconsidering the choices, and on making the offering of complete poverty, I felt great devotion, not without tears."  Apparently Ignatius didn't cry on February 9, because he makes no mention of it in his entry for that day.  Or maybe he had just exhausted his supply of tears.

February 11: Lots of crying on this day, of which I quote only a portion: "Then receiving greater devotion and losing all desire to consider the question any longer, with tears and sobs I made, on my knees, the offering of complete poverty to the Father; and so many were the tears running down my face, and such the sobs that I could hardly get up, so great was the devotion and grace that I was receiving.  Finally I did rise though even then the devotion and the sobs continued."

February 13: "Then I experienced very great devotion, and many most intense tears, not only during prayer but while I vested; I sobbed and as I could feel the Mother and Son to be interceding for me, I felt a complete security that the Eternal Father would restore me to my former state.  Later, before, during and after mass, greatly increased devotion and a great abundance of tears."

February 14: "When I prepared to leave the room, not without tears and interior impulses.  Then before, during and after mass, very copious tears, devotion, great sobs - so great that I often could not keep the power of speech for long before losing it again."

And on it goes, day after day after day.  I can only imagine some of the people in the pews during his masses rolling their eyes and muttering "Oh for fuck's sake, there he goes again!"

There's a great line from the television series House, "Isn't it interesting that religious behavior is so close to being crazy we can't tell it apart?"  Outside of the context of intense religious devotion, profuse crying on an almost daily basis would be considered crazy or bizarre by most people.  So, why should intense religious devotion get a pass?

From the Reminisces, I offer this last excerpt:

"He used to have great devotion to the Most Holy Trinity, and so used to pray each day to the three persons separately.  And as he was also praying to the Most Holy Trinity as such, a thought used to occur to him: how was he making four prayers to the Trinity?  But this thought troubled him little or not at all, as something of little importance.  And, one day, while praying the office of Our Lady on the steps of the above-mentioned monastery, his understanding began to be raised up, in that he was seeing the Most Holy Trinity in the form of three keys on a keyboard, and this with so many tears and so many sobs that he could not control himself.  And on walking that morning in a procession which was leaving from there, at no point could he restrain his tears until the mealtime, nor after the meal could he stop talking, only about the Most Holty Trinity, and this with many comparisons, a great variety of them, as well as much relish and consolation, in such a way that the impression remained with him for the whole of his life, and he feels great devotion when praying to the Most Holy Trinity."

No comments: