Saturday, August 1, 2009

Ignatius of Loyola and George Fox: Companions on the Way

Two days ago we flew from Portland, Oregon to San José, Costa Rica, getting up at 4:30 am and at 9:00 pm finally checking into our room here on the campus of the Nazarene Theological Seminary. On the plane I read the autobiography of Ignatius of Loyola and was both surprised and delighted. Something that especially struck me was the parallel experiences of Ignatius and George Fox, founder of the Quaker faith community some 100 years later.

Ignatius was born into a well-to-do family in northern Spain at the end of the 15th century. At one point in his young adulthood, he found himself in a time of great spiritual restlessness. He records this prayer in his journal: “Help me, Lord, for I find no remedy among men, nor in any creature. No task would be too irksome for me if I thought I could get help. Lord, show me where I may get it, and even if I have to follow after a little puppy to get the remedy I need, I will do it.”

The translator’s footnote explains that “During his months in Manresa, Ignatius sought spiritual guidance from many individuals but found none to offer him what he needed. Having gone through months of darkness of soul, he finally learned that his teacher in all this was our Lord Himself” (J. N. Tylenda). I wrote “George Fox” in the margin of the book.

The experience of finding Jesus as his teacher and guide changed his life, and soon he had gathered a following as he went from place to place, preaching and teaching. Among the responses Ignatius made to the excesses of his social context were a refusal to take off his hat or give deference to people of the upper classes and his insistence on using the familiar “tú” (thou) instead of the formal “usted” (you) with all people, regardless of social rank. Another “George Fox” scrawl in the margin.

Of course, the two stories differ in many details, but I can´t help but reflect that when the Spirit of God touches a hungry seeker, the things that divide us—race, history, culture, time—take second place to the common experience of becoming the people of God.

This next week in my class on “Culture, Spirituality and Mission” here in Costa Rica, one thing we will consider is the relevance of the Spanish mystics for contemporary Protestant Latin Americans. We will especially look at Ignatius, at Teresa of Avila with her raptures and meticulous metaphors of prayer, and at that strange dark man, John of the Cross. Will the experiences and insights of these singular saints of old bridge the gaps of time and culture? It will be fun finding out.


  1. Wish we could be there for the class! But it was wonderful to have this little sample. I know the class will be a rich feast for your students.

    In the meantime, our departure clock is ticking....

  2. Nancy, I totally agree about the crazy parallels between Ignatius and Fox. The same Spririt leaves the same fingerprints! I wrote a paper for a seminary course that compares the discernment traditions between the two. (I'll email you a copy). Bruce Bishop

  3. Bruce,
    Thank you so much. I found your paper very enlightening, and I'm filing it with my class resources on spirituality.The comparison between Ignatian and Quaker practices of discernment is fascinating, and I especially appreciate your pointing out ways Ignatian discernment can clarify and strengthen Quaker practices. Your conclusion that Quakers tend to be more mystical and Jesuits more practical and focused on the processes is counter-intuitive, but I think it's accurate. This is helpful stuff.