St. Ignatius’ Devotion to the Holy Trinity

Yesterday was the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, but due to the exuberant celebrations that tend to mark the day, we were unable to post anything.  I would like to offer some reflections on what is something of a trademark of Ignatian spirituality, and that is devotion to the Trinity.

For starters, in his autobiography, paragraph 28, Ignatius recounts:

One day while he was reciting the Hours of our Lady on the steps of the same monastery, his understanding began to be elevated as though he saw the Holy Trinity under the figure of three keys.  This was accompanied with so many tears and so much sobbing that he could not control himself.  That morning he accompanied a procession which left the monastery and was not able to restrain his tears until dinner time.  Nor afterwards could he stop talking about the Most Holy Trinity.  He made use of many different comparisons and experienced great joy and consolation.  The result was that all through his life this great impression has remained with him, to feel great devotion when he prays to the Most Holy Trinity.

Nor was this devotion a purely abstract reality. Each of the persons of the Trinity played a decisive role in the development of the Order and of Ignatius’ own spiritual journey.  Pedro Arrupe was the first to highlight this in an article on the Trinitarian dimension of Jesuit spirituality.

First, a few paragraphs further, while still at Manresa, and at prayer, Ignatius tells us that he “often and for a long time saw with the inner eyes the humanity of Christ…. If he were to say twenty, or even forty times, he would not venture to say that it was an untruth.”  It is at Manresa that Ignatius put together the bulk of his Spiritual Exercises.  These Exercises are essentially a mediation on the life of the Son, so as to lead the exercitant into making a well-discerned decision to follow Christ in a particular station of life.  The graces received from the second person of the Trinity at Manresa were so strong that Ignatius goes on to note:

These things which he saw gave him at the time great strength, and were always a striking confirmation of his faith, so much so that he has often thought to himself that if there were no Scriptures to teach us these matters of faith, he was determined to die for them, merely because of what he had seen.

Second, Ignatius ultimately decided to go to Rome to place himself at the full disposal of the Pope for whatever use he had for him and his friends.  While on his journey to Rome with Faber and Laynez, he stopped at La Storta, a few miles from Rome. (I recently received a new insight into the meaning of this place while reading The Count of Monte Cristo this summer.  The count mentions that La Storta is the first point on the road leading to Rome from which one can see St. Peter’s basillica). While there, Ignatius had a vision of God the Father confirming his journey to Rome and promising him that he will “be propitious to him in Rome.” Ignatius recounts in paragraph 96 that “he felt such a change in his soul, and saw so clearly that God the Father placed him with Christ his Son, that he would not dare to doubt that the Father had placed him with his Son.”  The Father had confirmed Ignatius’ mode of following his Son, and he would never again doubt it.

The third important moment comes from Ignatius’ Spiritual Diary.  The Spiritual Diary is a small collection of Ignatius’ discernment of poverty in houses of Professed Jesuits.  It tells us many important things about Ignatius’ own prayer life and spiritual experiences, particularly his relationship with the Holy Spirit.  It is from there that we learn that he cried tears just about every mass to the point of almost losing his sight.  Beginning at number 56 in the Diary, Ignatius speaks of what he calls loquela.  This word translates from the Latin to English as “discourse, language, tongue.”  In most translations of the Diary, it is left as loquela, since no one knows what Ignatius means by it.

It is worth quoting at some length from number 56:

Tears before Mass and during it an abundance of them, and continued, together with the interior loquela during the Mass.  It seems to me that it was given miraculously, as I had asked for it that same day, because in the whole week, I sometimes found the external loquela, and sometimes I did not, and the interior less, although last Saturday I was a little more purified….

Those of today seemed to be much, much different from those of former days, as they came more slowly, more interiorly, gently without noise or notable movements, coming apparently from within without my knowing how to explain them.  In the interior and exterior loquela everything moved me to divine love and to the gift of loquela divinely bestowed, with so much interior harmony in the interior loquela that I cannot begin to explain it…..

In the greater part of the Mass, no tears, but much loquela, but I fell into some doubt about the relish and sweetness of the loquela for fear it might be from the evil spirit, thus causing the ceasing of the spiritual consolation of tears.  Going on a little further, I thought that I took too much delight in the tone of the loquela, attending to the sound, without paying so much attention to the meaning of the words and of the loquela; and with this many tears, thinking that I was being taught how to proceed, with the hope of always finding further instruction as time went on.

Coming from a Charismatic background, I have often thought that Ignatius was experiencing some kind of the gift of tongues, both interiorly and exteriorly. Whatever the case, he had a profound experience of the Holy Spirit which enabled him to make his decision about poverty in Jesuits Professed houses.

***

Devotion to the Trinity as such seems rare enough these days.  Part of the difficulty I think is one of images that we use.  I gave a talk to Seniors last year on relationship with God and encouraged them to pray with each of the Divine Persons individually. The one they had the most trouble with is the Holy Spirit.  How does one speak intimately with a bird, or a flame, or a wind?  The problem of image seems to go deep and often prohibits us from having a personal relationship with the Spirit.

However, if we meditate on the Annunciation, and realize that each of us as Christians is meant to place him or herself in the position of Mary, receptive to the revelation of God, we realize that unless we each become a spouse of the Spirit, we cannot bring forth Christ in our lives.  We must not have only an intellectual relationship with the Holy Spirit, but an intimate, loving relationship.  For that reason, at least for myself as a man, I have found that it helps to picture the Holy Spirit as a female being, as we often picture the Father as a male.  Since there are really no gendered pronouns that tend to be symbolically associated with the Spirit, I think this can be helpful for prayer.   I tend to have trouble meditating on the “overshadowing” of the Spirit as male.  Of course, the sooner we get beyond gendering God in our personal prayer images (except for Jesus) the better.

The point is, Ignatius teaches us the need for a devotion to the Trinity, not for abstract theological purposes, but as an aid in daily discernment.  Let us pray that we come to know the three Persons as closely as he.

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13 Responses to St. Ignatius’ Devotion to the Holy Trinity

  1. therese says:

    Wow. Best post here in a long time.
    Over the years, I’ve felt the gift of tongues taking on more of an inner dimension, for lack of a better way to describe it. The sensation of bubbling up from within, the consolation/freedom etc is similar to what I experience with the oral gift & so that’s what made me associate the two experiences. Of course, I have no idea if that’s what Ignatius is refering to here or not.

    IMO, you’ve saved your students many years of being hampered in prayer by pointing out to them early on how the common images of the Holy Spirit inhibit our relationship with that person of the Trinity! It took me years to put my finger on the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to pray to a bird. What a relief. Once I asked in prayer how I could communicate the sweetness of who he is & it seemed like the answer was: A smile.

  2. Father Joseph Leppard says:

    For those of us who preach daily and predicate the Trinity as Mystery most of the time without citing images or perceptions, a great essay.

    As a teacher of theology for many years, I am still in wonderment of how much more we could teach if we ourselves had the Wisdom.

    Enjoy the posts very much and a belated congratulations to all the Jesuit communities in the Province of the South (New Orleans)

  3. Christina says:

    Very insightful, thank you for your words. God Bless!

  4. Jay Hooks says:

    Thanks for the post. I also think it’s important to remember the place of the Trinity in Ignatius’ devotion, especially because the Jesuit vocation finds its strength in mutually reinforcing movements of contemplation and action. (Of course, contemplation/action isn’t just for Jesuits; Ignatius knew that too!) There’s an inherent dynamism/activity in the image of the Trinity: love, obedience, self-giving, and receiving all get mentioned in even cursory descriptions of the relationship between the three Persons. Obviously, taking the step of actually focusing on this intra-Trinitarian action in prayer can both draw us into this dynamism and move us to imitate it. Ignatius was clearly given the gift of Trinitarian insights and experiences. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he intentionally made the Trinity part of his prayer because it reflected and animated his call to both contemplation and action.

    I agree that Christian devotion could use more emphasis on the Trinity. The image and fact of the Trinity offer insights that the more common emphasis on God’s oneness and the Father-Son relation necessarily lack. Von Balthasar’s description of the intra-Trinitarian drama is one example: the necessity of three Persons and the place that is opened to us by virtue of God’s threeness offers lots of spiritual fruit, and would be lost if we focused only on God’s oneness.

    The same for the Holy Spirit – finding a helpful image is difficult. Then again, so much of our liturgy is directed to the Father and focuses on the saving action of the Son. Thematically, the Spirit doesn’t receive an equal mention by any means. In Scripture, there’s also a vagueness when the Spirit is mentioned: In Christ, the Son “becomes” human (and not just “like” humans). The Spirit, however, descends “like” a dove (it’s not that the Spirit “is” a dove). The Spirit is something that overshadows Mary; it is something that drives the baptized Christ into the desert; it is something that is breathed on the Apostles by Christ after the Resurrection. A bird is about as specific as you get. As linked as it is to movement and power, the Spirit seems to resist a single image that would pin it down. (As a professor of mine said, even using the term “Holy Spirit” fails to be specific, as both Father and Son are also “holy” and “spirit”.)

    Thanks again for the post.

  5. Jay, you’re right. I’ve always felt that the Holy Spirit gets the shaft in the Divine Praises, only getting mentioned once while Mary gets four! Oh well.

    You could be right about Ignatius’ intentional focus on the Trinity for the dynamism that it brings to the spiritual life. I hadn’t thought about that. It’s easier to be comfortable with a static God than a threefold relationship. As we all know about relationships, they can be hard to pin down, since they are based upon trust, not just knowledge.

  6. Father Dick Tomasek, S.J. says:

    Thanks, Nathan, for enriching our appreciation of both the Three Divine Persons and St. Ignatius’s loving union with Them. Great quotes and commentary.

    A couple observations. At La Storta, Ignatius heard the Lord say to him: Propitius ero vobis Romae, that is, “I will be favorable to you (plural–i.e. “and your companions”)at Rome.” The “vobis” is important to help us understand that God’s promise regarded the new Society of Jesus, not just Ignatius as an individual.

    As for developing a relationship with each of the Divine Persons, I just finished reading the little novel entitled “The Shack” by Young. Despite some slightly protestant slants, I think it can help many of us imagine an intimate relationship with each of the Persons. He too imagines the Holy Spirit as feminine.

  7. Thank you Father. I have been told to read The Shack but haven’t yet gotten around to it. And thanks for the clarification on “vobis.”

  8. Henry says:

    Nathan,

    When I was taught the doctrine of “circumincession” many of the difficulties you and Therese mentioned evaporated.

    While I understand your difficulty, I am not sure that the solution you are proposing is a good one becasue you may end up creating problems for your listeners. For example, if your lesson on the HS involved the study of the following paragraphs in the Compendium of the Catholic Church, how would you answer if someone said: “Hey, the Church made a mistake here because She used a masculine term to identify the Holy Spirit.”

    47. Who is the Holy Spirit revealed to us by Jesus Christ?
    The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Most Blessed Trinity. He is God, one and equal with the Father and the Son. He “proceeds from the Father” (John 15:26) who is the principle without a principle and the origin of all Trinitarian life. He proceeds also from the Son (Filioque) by the eternal Gift which the Father makes of Him to the Son. Sent by the Father and the Incarnate Son, the Holy Spirit guides the Church “to know all truth” (John 16:13).

    145. What does the Spirit do in the Church?
    The Spirit builds, animates and sanctifies the Church. As the Spirit of Love, He restores to the baptized the divine likeness that was lost through sin and causes them to live in Christ the very life of the Holy Trinity. He sends them forth to bear witness to the Truth of Christ and He organizes them in their respective functions so that all might bear “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22).

    Lastly, I realize that she is not a Jesuit but perhaps the writings of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity might be of help to you.

    I also recall reading a book by Edward Leen (I think it’s now published under the title “the Holy Spirit”) which was very good.

    Pax Christi,

    Henry

  9. Pete Lake says:

    Nathan, very insipirational, thanks for the essay. No doubt the fruit of discerning the movement of the “good” spirit within you.

  10. Henry, sorry for the delay.

    If someone asked me that while reading the CCC, I would reply that the Church uses the masculine pronoun in this case simply out of habit and for convenience. “It” is not personal, and “she” might cause consternation unnecessarily. But I would maintain that there is nothing necessary about the use of the masculine pronoun for the Holy Spirit. As Yves Congar points out in his essay “Motherhood in God, Femininity in the Holy Spirit, “Jerome noted that ‘Spirit’ is feminine in Hebrew, neuter in Greek and masculine in Latin, and interpreted this as a sign of God’s non-sexuality.”

  11. From Jerome’s commentary on Isaiah 11.

    • Henry says:

      Thanks for the reply and citation Nathan. I’ve read the Conger article but not Jerome and so I’ll look it up. I personally lean toward apophatic theology when pondering the Holy Spirit although I am not adverse to using images on occasion.

  12. therese says:

    Not to put too fine a point on it, I just have to add that, without knowing anything about Jerome/Conger etc, it makes intuitive sense that the Holy Spirit meets us where we are. I mean, I doubt that “he” is inhibited in who he is by our (necessarily) human pronouns. My sense is that, like any real spouse, “he” conforms himself to us & our limitations at the same time he draws us to conform ourselves to him. Its dynamic, beautiful & pretty much inexpressible…but Elizabeth of the Trinity came pretty close!

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