Thursday, March 21, 2013

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam


Ignatian Education is my longtime foundation or perhaps more correctly visionary summit for homeschooling.    I started homeschooling when my oldest was going into 3rd grade, which was almost twenty years ago now, and for a couple of years, I didn't have much of a clue what I was doing or why (beyond that my husband wanted to homeschool and I felt called to give it my best try).

I had read about everything from unschooling to "better late than early" to unit studies to Charlotte Mason to Douglas-Wilson type classical to Laura Berquist's version of the Trivium, and we were using a structured curriculum (somewhat sporadically), but I didn't get a real handle on the principles of education till we enrolled with Kolbe Academy and especially until I read their manual, Implementation of Ignatian Education in the Home.

"Christian perfection here below" is the ideal of Ignatian Education.   This gave me an integrating principle and the more specific details of implementations helped me sort out and prioritize all the options out there.   I can't say I have done eminently with these principles, but I can say that I would have done worse without them and their informing motto:  Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (For the Greater Glory of God). 

I haven't been an active Ignatian educator for several years now due to a combination of factors.   One was simply weariness and mismatch of vision with daily reality.   Basically I realized I just wasn't very good at homeschooling and mothering, never mind excellent.    Our successes have come from grace and a providential serendipity and my children's Gaelic talent for finding treasure in the most unlikely places.    Another problem is middle age.   I was idealistic well into my forties, but now I struggle.   Aristotle says there is a kind of youthful hope that is simply optimism and lack of solid experience, and then a more mature hope that reckons with reality, which I would identify with Christian hope, though of course he did not.  I am in the transition point.    Of course, God always infused my natural capacity with grace but I feel like I have to operate more fully on supernatural gift of hope since I don't have the natural qualities of youth anymore.  And it's taking a while to find my stride.

All this is to say that when it turned out our new pope was a Jesuit who identified himself with Francis of Assisi (and perhaps Francis Xavier and Francis de Sales as well) it revived my dormant fascination with all things Ignatian.

I just found a new (to me) word, Magis.  I know that combined with Jesuit it sounds sort of creepy, like alchemists in a lab or occult forces, but what it means is apparently "the more".   And the meaning is quite admirable, much as "Jesuit" refers gloriously to service to Our Lord Jesus, even though the term was originally one of oppobrium. 

Magis (pronounced "màh-gis") is a Latin word that means "the more." It is taken from Ad majorem Dei gloriam, a Latin phrase meaning "for the greater glory of God." Magis refers to the philosophy of doing more, for Christ, and therefore for others. It is an expression of an aspiration and inspiration. It relates to forming the ideal society centered around Jesus Christ.
The roots of the phrase are ascribed to St. Ignatius' exercise of doing more for God. He would encourage people around him during his time by asking: "What have I done for God? What am I doing for God? and What MORE can I do for Him?"
I love that!

There is a bit more at the Ignatian Spirituality site:  The Foundation of Heroism: Magis.

Early Jesuits captured this aggressive drive, this relentless energy, in a one-word motto plucked from elsewhere in the Exercises: magis, Latin for “more.” Jesuits are exhorted to always “choose and desire” the strategic option that is more conducive to their goals. But the simple motto captures a broader spirit, a restless drive to imagine whether there isn’t some even greater project to be accomplished or some better way of attacking the current problem.Motivation is personal. And the meditative exercises transformed Jesuit company goals into personal ones. The meditation on the two kings presents an invitation, not an order. Accepting that invitation is a personal decision.

Jesuits used this idea of "more for His greater glory"  to do extraordinary things.    They went to all the corners of the earth to evangelize.   They died in dreadful ways with the utmost courage and grace.     They developed a unique, characteristic but not idiosyncratic form of education, particularly focusing on high school and college.   Their brand of education was thoroughly humanistic (in the non-pejorative sense, meaning education fitted to the human being, not the specialist or the worker, with an emphasis on literature and language) but they also trained and equipped great scientists and thinkers (in particular, Jesuit philosophers have distinguished themselves as moral theologians, pedogogues, and spiritual directors).

Miguel Pro was a Jesuit.  So was Edmund Campion.    So was Gerard Manley Hopkins.   In our day, we have the late Fr John HardonFr Joseph Fessio,and of course, the present Pope Francis.     Scratch a heroic martyr or distinguished Catholic writer and you are quite likely to find a Jesuit.

The legacy of the Jesuit company in our day is a mixed one.    I am not sure exactly what happened to the order, but it seems to parallel what happened to the Church in general during the 50's through the 70's.     Nowadays you have to pick and choose your Jesuits and their works.   Some are thoroughly orthodox, like Fessio and Hardon, others are a mixture, and still others can't quite be trusted.    A priest in our area lamented that not one Jesuit college can be totally trusted to be loyal to the Magisterium. ... a sad fall for a Society who takes a vow of special service to the Pope.

Getting back to "Magis" -- it is etymologically and conceptually not unlike Charlotte Mason's idea of "Magnanimity".   In turn, I am guessing that CM was influenced by Aristotle's conception of Magnanimity. ... greatness of soul.

As I said, I am middle-aged and lacking in the visionary idealism of my younger days, but after all,  St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit "Company", started his road to endeavor quite late in life.    In his 30's, he put himself in grammar school to learn Latin alongside pre-teen boys.    It wasn't until his mid-40's that he founded the Society of Jesus.    Even though I am dragging a bit during this last stage of the marathon, and I know I am not the only one,  his life encourages me that God provides hope for the weary, comfort for the sorrowful, ever-new sources of refreshment for the thirsty. 

If you are interested in using careful method while aspiring to high goals, it is worthwhile reading more about Ignatian spirituality and educational practices.     Robert Schwickerath's Jesuit Education is carefully documented, slightly polemical in tone, and an extensive source of information about the practices and principles of Ignatian education.  I've already mentioned Kolbe Academy's Implementation of Ignatian Education in the Home, which is sort of a sketch/outline, very packed, but makes it a bit easier to envision how the educational model might be applied to home education.    A very nice article by Fr Fessio lays out a vision for Christian revival:  The Family, Monastery of the New Dark Ages, which seems to complement our Counsels of Perfection book study: 

There are many other things like the home schooling movement, but I use this as the icon, because in the new Dark Ages every home must be a monastery. Every home must be a place of refuge. It won’t be summa quies, as I’m sure people who are families here will tell me; nevertheless it will be a certain repose from the hectic noise, promiscuity and violence of the world. It will definitely be that. It will be a sanctuary, a holy place.
The surprising election of Pope Francis and its series of "firsts" (first modern retirement of a living Pope, first American, first Jesuit, first Francis) gives me hope for the Jesuit order and reminds me of the ceaseless work of the Holy Spirit in the world.   I know that divine Wind, Fire, Breath operates ceaselessly and ubiquitously in every instant and location, but sometimes it becomes more apparent to me, as if a veil were lifted for a moment. 

I have come to think of the Holy Spirit as answering prayers only half-uttering, of turning prosaic, seemingly predictable elements slightly aside and showing a brand new picture.   JRR Tolkien called it eucatastrophe,  and perhaps a quote from him is the best way to end this

And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary 'truth' on the second plane (....) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made.
By analogy, I think there is hope for your homeschool, even if daily life seems to daily knock you down, even if you feel as broken and shattered as Ignatius felt after the cannon blasted his leg, as inept and stupid as he must have felt striving in his 30's to acquire Latin along with 12 year olds.   The whole of Jesuit tradition has showed that "Magis", the More, can be given, by God's grace, from the less of our ordinary human capacity. 

St Ignatius, St Francis Xavier, St Peter Favre,  St Miguel Pro, pray for us! 


  1. Absolutely love are SO informative here and I really learned a great deal. Your closing is so hopeful and honestly just what I need to hear tonight! And you've shown me that I need to read up on St I b.c it seems his life and trials will surely be inspirational. I don't know enough about him, that's for sure.
    Have a great night!

  2. Willa
    Loved this post!!! and yes I know what you mean about lacking the visionary idealism. Do you know that my mum always taught us to write AMDG on the top of our pages, I used to do that with my olders but have slipped, inspired me to remind the middles & youngers.


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