Love without limits or qualifications

Only God our Lord can give the soul consolation without a preceding cause. For it is the prerogative of the Creator alone to enter the soul, depart from it, and cause a motion in it which draws the person wholly into love of his Divine Majesty. By “without cause” I mean without any previous perception or understanding of some object by means of which the consolation just mentioned might have been stimulated, through the intermediate activity of the person’s acts of understanding and willing.

Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works (New York and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1991), pp. 205-206.

This is one of the classic texts for Ignatius’ notion of consolation without cause, a notion which is in turn quite central to his treatment of the discernment of spirits. The very next paragraph of the Exercises sets out the alternative, a consolation with cause, which can come from either the good angel or the bad angel. What strikes me about the description of consolation without cause is that “it draws the person wholly into love of [God’s] Divine Majesty.”

Bernard Lonergan, the great Canadian Jesuit, comments about this as follows, “Being in love with God, as experienced, is being in love in an unrestricted fashion. All love is self-surrender, but being in love with God is being in love without limits or qualifications or conditions or reservations. Just as unrestricted questioning is our capacity for self-transcendence, so being in love in an unrestricted fashion is the proper fulfillment of that capacity. That fulfillment is not the product of our knowledge and choice. On the contrary it dismantles and abolishes the horizon in which our knowing and choosing went on and it sets up a new horizon in which the love of God will transvalue our values and the eyes of love will transform our knowing.” Method in Theology (Toronto: University of Toronto Press/Lonergan Research Center of Regis College, 1990), pp. 105-106.

This formulation is meant to give voice to the reality of religious experience in a way that is consistent with a thoroughgoing humanism and ordered process of inquiry and interpretation. The heart of the matter, however, is love, which leads to conversion and change in (our limited) horizon. This is the Holy Spirit, the divine love and living grace of God who floods our hearts (Romans 5:5), free, sovereign, and unbidden, and thereby changes everything for us.

And in this lies one of the clearest signs of the Spirit’s presence–the mysterious gift that deepens our love for God and neighbor.

The Rev. Bill Carroll serves as Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. His parish blog is at here

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