8/27/2012 8:28:00 AM Historical context is always important
Deacon Owen Cummings
Q — In his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius Loyola is said to have written: “That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. For we must undoubtedly believe, that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of the Orthodox Church His Spouse, by which Spirit we are governed and directed to Salvation, is the same.” Are Catholics expected to believe this today?
A — I have not checked the exact provenance of this extract from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, but it sounds very much like St. Ignatius.
However, let us recall some pertinent interpretative issues. First, the historical context is the 16th century, the century of the Protestant Reformation. The climate of the Catholic Church was one of response to what were perceived to be the errors of the Reformers in matters of faith and teaching. The Council of Trent, for example, is careful in a number of places to insist that it is not teaching anything especially new, but simply retrieving and reiterating the ancient Catholic faith.
In helping to promote unity of faith at a time of real doctrinal controversy, St. Ignatius’s words make good sense. Second, the saint is using hyperbole, because the Church does not teach that black is white or that white is black. In the Catholic tradition reason and faith go hand in hand, and it would be most unreasonable to say that black is white or white is black.