- The Texts and Contexts of Ignatius Loyola’s “Autobiography.” by John M. McManamon, S.J.
John M. McManamon describes his work as a “somewhat atypical book” (p. ix). Indeed, the book reads like a collection of articles on different aspects of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Acta, his memoirs, which were dictated to Luís Gonçalves Câmara between 1553 and 1555. Other historians have dealt with the difficulties presented by this text. McManamon joins them in reminding readers that these recollections were not compiled by Loyola but were recorded by Câmara based on his own recollections of his sessions with Loyola. Furthermore, the text starts abruptly in 1521, the year Loyola was wounded in Pamplona, and ends in 1538, with his arrival in Rome. We know, however, that Loyola told Câmara about his earlier life, and the latter probably decided not to include these memories in the final version.
McManamon’s first chapter summarizes the Acta’s textual history, pointing out that the acting agent in the text is not Loyola but God, and the acts recorded are God’s actions within Loyola’s soul. In chapter 2, McManamon argues that Loyola’s Acta is a mirror of the saint’s attempt to overcome vainglory and to instruct other in how to resist this temptation. The author offers a short history of patristic and medieval attitudes toward vainglory, emphasizing especially Cassian’s writings on the topic. This is a strange choice. McManamon himself remarks that Loyola rarely mentions Cassian and that there is little in common between the monastic life he cultivated and the apostolic life of the Jesuits. The explanation that “vainglory [End Page 149] and narcissism provide a big tent” (p. 45) and that both men appreciated the peculiar spiritual challenge of vainglory, is forced. Similarly, the insertion of Freud’s discussion of the psychopathology known as narcissism into a theological discussion of the sin of vainglory obscures rather than clarifies. What is more convincing is the author’s chronological discussion of Loyola’s life as it is presented in the Acta—an account of a battle against different forms of vainglory and a journey from the Spanish warrior to the mystic, pilgrim, and intellectual. Loyola struggled throughout his life with his self-confidence and his charismatic ability to shape and even transform souls. McManamon suggests, not without justification, that the examination of conscience was a trusted method of resisting this sinful behavior, hence its centrality in the Spiritual Exercises.
Chapter 3 traces Loyola’s years of tribulations from his arrests in Alcalá and Salamanca to his investigations in Paris and Venice and the hostility he met in Rome. Throughout this period, Loyola and his companions resided in hospitals, established shelters for prostitutes and orphans, preached to the Jews, and “helped souls.” McManamon highlights the apostolic aspect of both these persecutions and activities. But should we expect otherwise of a group of spiritually-inclined individuals who consciously modeled themselves on the apostles?
In chapter 4 McManamon develops his most important contribution—namely, the argument that Loyola’s life and “autobiography” refract the life of St. Luke. For both, geography and mobility were important and acquired theological significance: Luke portrayed Jesus’s entire life as a pilgrimage; and, for the Jesuits, apostolic life means permanent movement and pilgrimage. Both the apostle and the Jesuits emphasized crossing gender, ethnic, and religious boundaries in their ministries, and both practiced inclusive faith.
In the final chapter McManamon calls attention to the Jesuits’ world-affirming spirituality, the importance of humanistic education to their enterprise, and the proliferation of charity establishments in Italian cities of the Renaissance that might have shaped the Jesuits’ approach to charity. McManamon rightly argues that the culture that shaped Loyola and the early Jesuits was the Renaissance rather than the Counter-Reformation.
McManamon’s book is an important addition to the growing field of Jesuit studies.