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Roger Haight on Social Sin

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Continuing on the topic of unjust social structures from Arrupe with a fellow Jesuit’s reflection on the first week of the Spiritual Exercises:

I want to point out a possible direction for reappropriating the doctrine of sin into the Spiritual Exercises. A point of departure for understanding a new sense of sin in which we all participate lies in the social structure of one’s personal action. The social world which shapes every individual consists in multiple patterns of behavior some of which corrode human values when they do not actually destroy human life. Human beings cannot avoid participation in these social structures…relative to each person these structures are objective. They stand over against the individual who is socialized into them; they defy every individual who seeks to change them. More than this, they fashion and shape individual action into their own image and likeness. No one can escape social sin because everyone participates in some social mechanisms that injure and dehumanize victims of society and in some measure corrupt the values of all….

Consciousness of this [social] sin, even when only implicit, does not cause personal confusion and anxiety but a general disorientation and a sense of entrapment and frustration. It can lead to cynicism and through cynicism to the moral threat to freedom that resides in boredom or indifference. It saps one’s courage and leads one to doubt the value of good action because it is drawn up into the vortex of social systems and their consequences and robs the good that the individual does os any signficant effect.

Of course, the seeds of sin lie in each individual; sin would not appear in society were it not for the innate egoism that is part of the very constitution of everyone’s freedom. Surely one must wrestle with inner concupiscence in the attempt to be open to the power of the gracious Spirit that alone will overcome it. But there is another hidden level of subjective sin. The objective sin of the world, in its concrete manifestation as social sin, does not remain objective. Sinful patterns of human action are out-there-real only because they are also introjected and internalized to become part of our own subjectivity. The experience of entrapment thus has both objective and subjective dimensions; social participation qualifies the very motives of our action. Our action merges with the world and society; the world is part of us even as we are part of the world…

In sum, the meditations on sin should being objectively. Anyone who looks at the world critically cannot not have a sense of sin. But it is not a sense of sin that crushes the person with personal guilt so that he or she may be saved by a sheerly personal salvation. Rather it is a sense of sin that undermines the positive meaning of creation and a constructive direction of my action with a global sense of futility. The response to this sin and its effects is not merely forgiveness. Of course one could go nowhere without that forgiveness; the acceptance by God of the person precisely as a sinner provides that very foundation for any further freedom. But after this forgiveness, what? After the healing grace of forgiveness one needs a positive direction one’s freedom and action in the world.

Roger Haight, Expanding the Spiritual Exercises, 17-19. Of course, seeking a positive direction would be one of the main purposes of the doing the Exercises for Haight.

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Ignatian meditation and phenomenological theology

January 27, 2010 2 comments

I recently read through Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises.  I did so much too quickly:  I spent a few hours rather than the prescribed four weeks.  And yet, I find them nevertheless very enriching.  I especially like Ignatius’ idea that we should meditate very concretely on particular scenes in scripture.  Try to picture the place, think about who is there.  Apply each of the senses: try to hear the sounds, smell the air, feel the ground beneath one’s feet, see the people and the scenery.

This technique, which appears in different ways in each of the exercises, seems to have had a profound impact on many theologians.  I wonder if Rahner’s insistence on Aquinas’ doctrine of “conversion to the phantasm”  in Spirit in the World has something to do with his practice of this sensory form of Ignatian meditation.  Likewise, Balthasar’s project of rewriting theology from the point of view of aesthetics may very well be inspired by the aesthetic quality of this form of Ignatian prayer.  Ellacuria’s turn to the concrete reality of the historical Jesus, which is followed and developed by Sobrino, also points to the depth of their Jesuit training in this sensory method.

As influential as it has been in theology, it strikes me that this spiritual exercise is not totally unlike the form of phenomenological reflection developed by Husserl (only to be expanded and revised by Heidegger and others).  In both cases, the method is to take sensory intuition and to vary it imaginatively, in order to sense and understand it from every angle.  Just as in Ignatian prayer, so too in phenomenology, one distinguishes profiles of experience in order to appreciate more clearly the ways in which they compose one whole.  The difference, in short, is that for Ignatius and the theologians who follow him, Christ is the phenomenon par excellence.

Perhaps Jean-Louis Chretien, in his synaesthetic approach to phenomenology and theology, in works such as The Call and Response, has been the one most perceptive of this continuity between spiritual and philosophical practice.