A Review regarding Authentic Mysticism

Theology of the Spiritual Exercises "

By John A. Hardon, S.J.
Eternal Life, P.O. Box 787 Bardstown, Ky. 40004-0787
1998, 223 pp. softcover $9.95; hardcover $16.95


This is a welcome reprint of a classic work on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola that was first published in 1959 but whose contents are even more applicable today when counterfeit spiritualities have proliferated and threaten the spiritual lives of millions. Sects and cults of every description challenge the doctrines of orthodox Christianity and so-called spiritual movements promoting a "Do It Yourself Salvation" and extolling certain mental and bodily techniques of Self-divinization have duped many souls.

In "All My Liberty" the distinguished Jesuit theologian Fr. John A. Hardon, whose many books and audio-tapes have served to place him in the forefront of that authentic spiritual and catechetical renewal called for by the Second Vatican Council, explains with great clarity the doctrinal principles contained in the famous "Spiritual Exercises" of St. Ignatius Loyola. He quotes the Protestant author Fulop-Miller who stated:

"There is no other work which for its historical effect, can be compared with Ignatius's little book of the Exercises."

Across the centuries over 8,000 volumes have been written as commentary on the Ignatian Exercises which provided a method that has helped innumerable souls "to hate sin, and to plan out their life holily after the model of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Pius XI — who proceeded to declare St. Ignatius the "heavenly patron of all spiritual exercises ").

It is not surprising in the least that St. Ignatius's "Spiritual Exercises" would be lauded by many Popes and by such saints as St. Charles Borromeo, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Francis de Sales who were to transform the lives of thousands through group retreats based on St. Ignatius's teaching. The doctrinal principles contained in the "Spiritual Exercises", Fr. Hardon notes, were clearly drawn from the "wealth of ascetical principles and psychological insights that goes back to the early centuries of the Church," and from the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, the Ignatian Exercises are revealed to be nothing other than "the ascetical counterpart of the Summa Theologiae", and thus constitute a sure guide to that union with God and spiritual perfection which the Catholic Church seeks for all Her children.

Fr. Hardon expounds with scholastic precision St. Ignatius's doctrine of supernatural charity, his teaching on contemplation, and what the love of God means and entails, especially for busy lay people involved in mundane tasks. Like his "father in God", Fr. Hardon commends the daily examination of conscience, the value of frequent confession, and gives practical advice to facilitate both vocal and mental prayer. Also like St. Ignatius, Fr. Hardon manifests his admiration for the "scholastic doctrine of St. Thomas" and this is reflected in the scholastic language in which he is obliged to present St. Ignatius's doctrine of Christian perfection.

It must be recalled that Pope Pius XI praised the Ignatian Exercises above all for "the excellence of their doctrine, which is altogether free from the perils and excesses of false mysticism ." Father Hardon is at home not only with the scholastic theology of the Angelic Doctor but with the spirituality fostered by the great Jesuit doctors (St. Robert Bellarmine, St. Peter Canisius, and Doctor Eximius Francis Suarez). Thus, his book has added value as providing an antidote to the false principles underlying counterfeit spiritualities and dangerous forms of illuminism.

It is St. Ignatius's doctrine of the supernatural, sin, grace, fallen human nature, free will, and detachment from temporal and earthly goods which helped form saints in the Counter-Reformation period and can equally safeguard souls today from the false prophets and alleged seers and mystics who disturb the peace and unity of the Church today. One has only to examine the works of Matthew Fox, Anthony de Mello, and Vassula (and a host of other writers preaching a pseudo-spiritual "liberation") to realize the importance of such works as "All My Liberty" to provide clear guidance to today's priests who would be spiritual directors of souls.

The confusion between the spiritual and the supernatural in our time has opened the Pandora's Box of pantheistic spiritualities appearing to be "Christian". Thus, St. Ignatius's teaching on the "Discernment of Spirits " and his presentation of "Norms of Catholic Orthodoxy" remain indispensable for any priest, religious or layman seeking to determine the authenticity of certain alleged charisms or supernatural gifts. Echoing St. Ignatius, Fr. Hardon observes that:

"The normal attitude to adopt towards contemporary revelations and mystical phenomena should be one of great reserve."

The "Spiritual Exercises" of one of the greatest Saints in the history of the Catholic Church witnesses to the remarkable blend of reason and faith which has always characterized Christian spirituality, and which has safeguarded the faithful followers of the Gospel of Christ from the religious fanaticisms and superstitions and follies and frauds marking periods of heresy, schism, dissent and apostasy. A major lesson to be drawn from a careful reading of Fr. Hardon's book is that there can be no authentic mysticism without the asceticism of the Cross that has been insisted upon by such spiritual masters as St. Ignatius.

About James Likoudis
James Likoudis is an expert in Catholic apologetics. He is the author of several books dealing with Catholic-Eastern Orthodox relations, including his most recent "The Divine Primacy of the Bishop of Rome and Modern Eastern Orthodoxy: Letters to a Greek Orthodox on the Unity of the Church." He has written many articles published by various religious papers and magazines.
He can be reached at:  jlikoudis@cuf.org, or visit  Mr. James Likoudis' Homepage