Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Luther and Ignatius: Reluctant colleagues?

As part of our grant, Lisa and I will be teaching a course on comparative spiritualities, Lutheran and Ignatian. To prepare myself visually, I tried to find an image of Luther and Ignatius together. After all, they were roughly contemporary, one from the Basque country of Spain, the other from Germany. Theologically, they had lots in common.

1. Both focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ, though Ignatius gravitated to the life of Jesus, while Luther remained in awe of Christ, his righteousness, and how he conferred it freely upon humans.

2. Each discovered divine mystery in everyday life, something Ignatius called "finding God in all things," while Luther marveled on the infinite God capable of the most finite expression.

3. Finally, both emphasized vocation, or calling, though in Ignatian spirituality, one is called to a path or pilgrimage, which entailed ongoing discovery and discernment. For Luther, vocation was more static, God calls everyone to his or her place in life, even the most humble baker or brewer. Vocation was not just for those in religious life, nuns, monks, and priests.

If Luther and Ignatius could agree on all this good stuff, you'd' think there would be an image of them together, arms encircled, lifting a glass to the mystery.

This is all I could find: Pierre Le Gros' statue (c. 1695-1699)in the Ignatian Church of The Gesu in Rome, "Religion Overthrowing Heresy and Hatred." It's located near the tomb of Ignatius, who is buried underneath one of the world's largest slabs of lapis lazuli, an opulence he would have abhorred. That's as close as Ignatius gets to Luther.

Truth is the female figure, lashing out at the male heretics writhing in fear at her feet, while malevolent little angels tear out pages of books. We could easily imagine the men to be Luther and his Genevan counterpart, John Calvin. If that's the case, we can almost read the title of the books, Calvin's "Institutes" or Luther's polemical, provocative treatises.

Close in time to the invention of the printing press and a general uptick in literacy, the Reformation was all about words, words, words. Hymns, tracts, even bibles in the common language were suddenly widely available for dissemination, and the common people could read them.

The Catholic Counter-Reformation's protest was visual: baroque and rococco (baroque on steroids!) images of salvation, grace, and, as depicted here, damnation. Particularly to the Reformers.

How will we parse all this conflict in a class offered more than four hundred years later, when the similarities seem greater than the differences, particularly at a time when religions swing wildly between expressive individualism and fundamentalisms of left and right?

Maybe in the end, it doesn't matter. We'll take the wheat -- and leave the chaff behind.


  1. I hate to comment on my own post, but I was trying to figure out what the Lutheran analogue is to Ignatian discernment. Could it be confirmation? That is, when a community says: Yes! Congregations issue a call to a pastor, confirming the call that pastor feels in presenting herself to the congregation as their potential minister. That happens elsewhere: tenure decisions, retirement parties, birthday wishes, Mother's/Father's Day. Confirmation of a calling well-fulfilled. Or better, well-heard.

  2. Interesting, Marty, this question of a Lutheran analogye to Ignatian discernment. Does Lutheran confirmation also works for an individual or only for a community?

    Best of luck for your project. I wish I could be a fly on the wall when you do it :-)

  3. I'd look at the concept "consolation of the saints" which is not well developed, but seems to have some potential. Marty may recall that I once wrote a little piece about Toy Story II and the way the toys in that film do this for Woody.