Settimo Cielodi Sandro Magister
15 mar 19
The Society of Jesus Adrift. The Indictment of a Great Jesuit
“It seems that I am in good Company….” This is how an exultant Antonio Spadaro hailed via Twitter the release of “Confesiones de jesuitas,” the expanded new edition of a book published back in 2003 with the title “31 jesuitas se confiesan,” in which he too now appears together with 37 other confreres, including several of the highest rank, living and dead, from Avery Dulles to Carlo Maria Martini, from Roberto Tucci to Tomás Spidlik, from Jon Sobrino to Robert F. Taft, from Adolfo Nicolás to Arturo Sosa Abascal, the last two generals of the Society of Jesus.
The book’s editors, Catalans Valentí Gómez-Oliver and Josep M. Benítez-Riera, write in the preface that what prompted the updating of this collection of testimonies was the election of the first Jesuit pope in history. The asked each of the interviewees to “confess” his personal life experience for the sake of composing a sort of collective self-portrait of the Society of Jesus, coming up to today with Jorge Mario Bergoglio at the apex of the Church.
But take care. “Confesiones de jesuitas” is far from being a celebratory book. Fr. Spadaro must not have realized this, seeing how he exulted at finding himself in the midst of a Company that by no means turns out to be so “good,” according to the judgment of some of its own confreres.
It is enough to read, to understand this, the “confession” of Xavier Tilliette, from France, who died at the age of almost one hundred on December 10 of 2018 and was hailed the next day in “L’Osservatore Romano” as “not only a thoroughbred philosopher and theologian, but a true Jesuit.”
Tilliette had no rival as a scholar of the German philosopher Schelling, to whom he dedicated a monumental book that is still unsurpassed. But his research ranged farther, on the border between faith and reason, gaining him the admiration and friendship of giants of Catholic thought of the 20th century like Gaston Fessard, Henri de Lubac, Jean Daniélou, Hans Urs von Balthasar, the first three also Jesuits. And entirely worth reading is the emotional remembrance dedicated to him in “L’Osservatore Romano” by his confrere Jacques Servais, a disciple of von Balthasar and author of the most important theological interview of Joseph Ratzinger after his resignation from the papacy.
So then, here is what Tilliette writes – among much else – in his “confession.”
To begin, these words of his act as a title for what follows:
“My religious vocation in the Society of Jesus was precocious, and practically never wavered. Only in the last decades, in the face of changes that made its original traits unrecognizable, it was put to a hard test and questions arose for me: on the exercise of the vows, on poverty and obedience, on the function of the superiors, on the future of the Society.”
One of the pivotal moments was 1968, when Tilliette was living in Paris, precisely while he was dedicating soul and body to his monumental study on Schelling and while one of his most well-known Jesuit confreres, Michel de Certeau – whom years later Pope Francis would call “the greatest theologian for today” but whom de Lubac branded as a “Joachimite” infatuated with a presumed golden age with no institutional Church anymore – was instead exalting the revolt as a moment of total liberation:
“I had a very bad experience of the crisis of May 1968, from which I immediately distanced myself. The enthusiasm of a Michel de Certeau seemed entirely out of place to me. One was witnessing the sacking of this venerable institution, the university, and in recoil a crumbling of the Society from which it has not recovered.”
This is how Tilliette describes this “crumbling,”in a Society of Jesus become unrecognizable to him and to many of his confreres:
“In parallel with the sudden tumult of 1968 and without relation to it, there took place the methodical transformation of the Church following the Council. But the increase of freedom that stemmed from this had disastrous consequences for the scholasticates of the Society. On that occasion I also had a very bad experience of the evolution or transformation of our way of life. The rebellion of the scholasticates seemed absurd to me. I remained convinced that the Society had steadier nerves and an inner strength capable of overcoming the crisis without giving in on anything essential. But the result was not what I hoped. Thanks to God, the spirit was saved, but the body of the spirit, the letter, suffered in a lasting form. It is a hard trial, that which was inflicted on the Jesuits of my generation, of the previous generation, and of the following one. It may be a lack of flexibility, a lack of adaptation, but these no longer recognize themselves in the relaxed lifestyle that was established, they no longer recognize themselves in the order that in previous times welcomed them. The general congregations took note of the changes that were produced in behaviors, of the desire for independence among their members, of the permissiveness that comes from civil society and has spread among us. They set aside the treasure of the rules, the priority of priorities is no longer the communal religious life, which ended up in pieces, but the preoccupation with justice and the predilection for the poor. Wonderful ideas, that however run the risk of deteriorating into mere words and being unrealizable for the most part.”
As one revealing moment in the crisis of the Society, Tilliette identifies what happened after the death of Cardinal Jean Daniélou, at the Paris home of a prostitute whom he had led to the brink of conversion:
“Something broke in me after the death of Cardinal Daniélou, when calumny was circulating even among the ranks of the Society and the attitude of the superiors was awkward and mediocre. Instead of flying to the aid of an assassinated confrere, there was a conflagration of base vendettas. It was then that I doubted my order, its discernment, its capacity for solidarity. I fell from the height of my ideal, like Mallarmé. Before my entrance and at the time of my formation, I had a very high ideal of the Society, of its esprit de corps, of its solidarity.”
As a professor of philosophy, first at the Jesuit institutes of formation, then at the Institut Catholique of Paris, and finally at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Tilliette says he had also seen evaporate in the Society the primacy of the “intellectuals”:
“I spent my existence as a Jesuit in the traditional positions of college director and professor, of magazine editor and writer, of university professor. I took on these austere tasks convinced that Jesuit humanism is primordial and that intellectuals are the apples of the Society’s eye. Instead it seems that today it is no longer so and that the preference is given to directly apostolic ministries. I think that a virtue is being made of necessity: the scanty recruitment does not permit the maintenance of a high level of studies and superiors do not have subjects available to fill openings as little by little these become open. From this point of view, the future of the Society is rather dark. Houses are being closed and the elderly are being placed in residences staffed with medical personnel. Without a doubt there is no other solution. But we would like it if this inevitable retreat would not be accompanied by customary euphoric discourses, which are reminiscent of wartime proclamations of defeat.”
Summing it up, the picture that Tilliette sketches on contemporary society is dark, partly through the silence of the “superiors”:
“Having come to the age at which the shadows stretch across the road, I feel the duty to confess a disappointment that I share with many. I have changed infinitely less than the vital context that surrounds me, and it is a suffering to feel out of sync, anti-modern, and, worse, complicit, since the influence of the surrounding environment is too strong. I do not want to blame anyone, but at certain moments there has been a lack of resolute words on the part of the superiors. The materialist mentality reigns and extends itself without being contrasted by the collective conscience. God is absent from hearts. The innocent and the victim are worth less than the guilty. A society that moves heaven and earth against the death penalty and, at the same time, justifies and promotes free abortion, is at the lowest point of the scale of perversion.”
But the conclusion remains trustful in any case, because what matters more than belonging to the Society is service to the Church:
“Our age, one of the darkest in history, nonetheless sees the blossoming of sublime sacrifices, heroism, examples of holiness. There comes the desire to repeat with Gertrud von le Fort after the first world war: only in disaster and in universal ruin does the Church stand firm. The holy Catholic Church, like a lighthouse on the hill. Which remains intact in its divine essence even when our sins have stained its noble face. My early education instilled in me love and respect for the Church, its sacraments, its liturgy, the refuge of mercy, of prayer and of knowledge that it offers to the people of the world. The life of the saints, the example of Fr. de Lubac, the assiduous reading of Claudel taught me to venerate the Church, to subordinate membership in the Society to the service of the Church and of the pope, for which it was created and which remains its reason for being. Not the Society as such, but some Jesuits of all ages must make a serious examination of conscience. Mine is certainly not reassuring, and I teach myself a lesson every day. But I do not believe that I have intentionally sinned against the light.”Condividi: