Friday, February 17, 2012

Iconology as a Spiritual Exercise

Iconology as a Spiritual Exercise:
The compositio loci in Ignatius of Loyola

Paul Richard Blum (Loyola University Maryland, Baltimore)

When in 2004 Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ was hyped I organized a reading group among my colleagues at our Jesuit university to read Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises and specifically to interpret the compositio loci as a means to the same effect without creating mass hysteria but also without cashing in millions of dollars. Probably, the esthetics of movies has been studied more than the esthetics of the Spiritual Exercises. My thought experiment in this paper is to read the sensuality of images as a kind of exercise of the soul, or – conversely – to understand the directions of Ignatius’ Exercises as an invitation to compose iconological programs that may reach beyond the pious purpose of the author. 

1.       The activity of the soul
Let me first describe the procedure and directions as they are in the text. We should notice that the work, Spiritual Exercises,[1] is quite an unusual genre of text. It opens with twenty preliminary remarks that would well suite a handbook for guided or self-guided meditation. Then follow more definitions and suggestions concerning meditation (21-44), before the exercises themselves are described (45-237). The book concludes with classifications of prayer (238-260), a recapitulation of the major events of the life of Christ (261-312), and a long list of rules regarding the self-perception of the pious person, actions, and – most famously – regarding the obedience to the Church.
The Exercises offer theologico-psychological insight combined with technicalities and procedures that induced Roland Barthes to compare the book with the obsessively systematic permutation of sexual pleasure in Marquis de Sade.  Barthes diagnosed “an incessant, painstaking, and almost obsessive separation” of acts, times, mysteries, etc., which for some inscrutable reasons made him compare Ignatius’ text with the scholastic technique of argumentative distinctions.[2] However, what is distinguished in the Exercises are not concepts, notions, or definitions but, rather, images. “The image is very precisely a unit of imitation. The imitable material (principally the life of Christ) is divided into fragments so that it can be contained within a framework and fill it completely.”[3] Barthes also does not fail to relate this method of distributing images and parts of images to the rhetorical and mnemotechnic tradition.[4] It is at this point where we need to part company with Barthes’s brilliant analysis, because I believe that Ignatius’ way of operating with images warrants an epistemological and metaphysical interpretation. The first parallel that comes to mind is the rigorous curriculum of early Jesuit education; the Ratio studiorum (definitive version of 1599) was quite a similar combination of abstract ideas and day to day technicalities.[5] More closely related to our topic, readers of Renaissance mnemotechnics and topics will recognize that the medium is the message: the exercises proposed by Ignatius are not preparations for something other than the exercises, they are not practice for the final tournament; rather, they are what piety is all about, namely, the exercise of the soul, or the soul in action.
This can be seen in the very first opening annotation, which offers the definition of 'exercises':
The term ‘spiritual exercises’ denotes every way of examining one’s conscience, of meditating, contemplating, praying vocally and mentally, and other spiritual activities (spirituales operationes) … For just as strolling, walking and running are exercises of the body (corporales), so ‘spiritual exercises’ is the name given to every way of preparing and disposing one’s soul to rid herself of all disordered attachments, so that once rid of them one might seek and find the divine will in regard to the disposition on one’s life for the good of the soul. (1)[6]
The definition is clearly circular in that it defines exercise by exercise; therefore it must be intended to be descriptive rather than classificatory. Indeed, it invites to praxis which is not conceptual. The aim of “preparing” the soul is for the soul to function in an uninhibited way, that is, to ‘operate’ properly. In a Christian context we may grant that “the good of the soul” is nothing but finding the divine will.  However Ignatius refers to the Aristotelian point of view that has the ‘exercise’ of the body by walking or running as the nature of the body’s operation, so that the telos of the operation is the operation itself.[7]
Already the second introductory remark, directed at the supervisor or personal guide of an exercise, comes to the main feature of the whole enterprise, which may be termed experiential: it assumes that to teach meditation and contemplation can only be done by example and by narrating the personal experience and thus inviting the other to relive the same experience.
The person who gives to another the way and order to meditate or contemplate should tell faithfully the history of this meditation or contemplation ... For if a person begins contemplating with a true foundation of the history and thinks it through and reasons about it with his own effort, he may find something that makes the story more clear or allows him to savor it (…) then it is of more spiritual taste and fruit. (…) For it is not so much knowing that fills and satisfies the soul but sensing and tasting the things themselves internally.[8]
The key concepts in this advice are: historia, gustare, and gustus et fructus historiae.[9] This is the constellation: the spiritual director narrates the history, or rather story, of the contemplation (and we need to come back to that), adding some hints, but no full interpretation or theory; the exercitant—as the other person is commonly called—is thus enabled to think for himself rationally with the purpose to savor the story and hence draw a taste and spiritual fruit of the experience. Ignatius adds that it is indifferent at this point whether the insight comes from one’s own intellectual capability or by divine inspiration. His point is that the fruit is no mediated and distanced understanding of something but the thing itself; and access to it can only be described in sensual terms, as tasting and internally relishing. At the point of this writing, Ignatius was not anymore an illiterate gung-ho, a self-taught preacher, but someone who had gone through the Paris schools.[10] So, if he retained from his early career as a heretic in Spain some of the techniques and psycho-therapeutical expertise present in mystical and spiritual movements of the time, he nevertheless knew the terminology and rules of Aristotelian epistemology.
This is patent in the third preliminary remark that refers to the well-known tandem of discursus and voluntas; interestingly, in this case he adds that voluntas requires more reverentia than acts of the intellect. We are immediately reminded of the anthropological fact, elaborated by Marsilio Ficino, that human relation to God is in its essence a form of reverence that is manifest, present and prefigured in the self-reference of the human being.[11] Given this framework, as to the language of taste and sensuality, we may assume Ignatius meant what he said when he taught to relinquish rational discourse after having made use of it. We will see soon that Ignatius is deliberately making use of sensuality, in order to reach a level of savor that outsmarts rationality, including that of present day pragmatism.
We cannot pass over the very “principle and foundation” of all spiritual exercises (in the defined meaning): What begins as a pious commonplace "The human person is created to praise, reverence and serve God …" morphs immediately into intellectual stoicism:
It follows from this that one must use other created things in so far as they help towards one’s end. To do this we need to make ourselves indifferent to all crated things … Thus as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness ..., but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created. (23)
Indifference, taken seriously, is not ashamed of having good things. The stoic indifference is that of the superior operation of the mind, to which all is good that makes good. The spiritual position of indifference will turn out to be the condition for the possibility to contemplate the absolute by balancing the physical sensual with the spiritual imaginative. Since the aim and proper operation of the soul transcends rational discourse, the sensual has to be transformed into the visionary.
This, by the way, is not an unusual form of thought: in metaphysics the notion of God has to be thought as indifferent to the entanglement with matter, otherwise the philosophical theology would deviate into mere dualism rather than the foundation of reality, material or not.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, temporarily a Jesuit, elaborated on the mystical and metaphysical importance of Ignatius' call for indifference. He related the indifference to apatheia (passionlessness) in the Church Fathers, equanimity (Gelassenheit) in the Rhenisch mystics, and "abandon" in 17th-century French mysticism. To him, indifferentia is the universal principle and fosters the leap beyond all creation into the immediacy with God (Unmittelbarkeit zu Gott). Hence he infers that the meditating person is stripped of all personal values (jedes eigenen Guten entkleidet).[12] This may be correct and integrates Ignatius into standard notions of spiritual elevation that relinquishes the earthly and egotistic perspective.[13] However, that should not explain away that Ignatius emphasizes the ancillary importance of the material and sensual, once that is liberated of any peculiar value that could be mistaken for absolute and resilient to spiritual power.
The exercises proper contain the famous “compositio loci”. Much has been written and speculated about it, for the most part from the perspective of the further development of Jesuit spirituality and, in general, of asceticism and psychology.[14] However, I hope I can shed some light on it by reading the text as it stands. The composition of the place is but one preparatory to the exercise itself. Therefore it helps understanding the 'composition' to know that the preparation to the exercise consists in activating the three faculties of the soul, namely memory, intellect, and will:
Bring the memory to bear on the first sin [that had been exposed before] …, then apply the intellect to the same event, in order to reason over it (el entendimiento discurriendo), and then the will, so that by seeking to recall and to comprehend all this, I may feel all the more shame and confusion … (50)
The standard triad of psychic faculties — memory, intellect, and will — is portrayed as interacting towards the perfection of the soul. The composition of the place unmistakably prepares the ground by providing the object of contemplation, the stuff to think and act upon. There is nothing mystical about it and no reason to divert the operation towards something psychological that may sound more familiar.[15] It is understandable that for a modern audience one is tempted to jump to the ascetic aim of the whole exercise, so that we seem to know already that the exercitant is expected to “let himself led by Jesus”,[16] but in order to do justice to the author we have to acknowledge that Ignatius is clearly referring to the three powers of the soul. And those faculties have first and foremost cognitive power.
The intellectual preamble to contemplation is “composición viendo el lugar.” It should be noted, Ignatius adds, that “for contemplation or meditation of visible things, e.g. a contemplation about Christ Our Lord who is visible, the ‘composition’ consists in seeing through the gaze (vista, oculo) of the imagination the material place where the object I want to contemplate is situated. … e.g. a temple or a mountain where Jesus Christ or Our Lady is to be found, according to what I want to contemplate.” (47) So far we are hearing a quite commonsensical advice, namely, to visualize the object of meditation or contemplation. The soul is active in focusing the attention on an object of noteworthy importance. This advice would be well applicable to a student of geometry who tries to grasp Pythagoras' theorem, to visualize the triangles and squares and their relations. The student might even pray, if it is a question in an exam. What is remarkable is the fact that Ignatius has the exercitant deliberately and consciously put the image together or compose. Therefore Hans Urs von Balthasar paraphrases it with Zurichtung, preparing, finishing, conditioning.[17] This meditation is a planned program for a psychological workshop.
The deliberateness and purposefulness of the meditative act becomes even more patent, if the intended object of contemplation is not a corporeal visible given as in the example above, but invisible, such as a sin. In this case "the composition will be to see with the gaze of the imagination and to consider that my soul is imprisoned in this [perishable] body, and my whole composite self as if exiled in this valley among brute beasts." (47) The view of the imagination, when it chooses for its object a psychic reality requires the corporeal human condition as integral part of that whole person that is ready to meditate. Ignatius' advice is to work with the body as with the condition sine qua non to become liberated from it. There is, of course, some pious padding, like the reference to 'exile' and 'valley of tears', but they only reinforce the call for integrating and employing sensible reality. The presence of the body is accepted in the spirit of indifference.[18] Since the triad of memory, intellect, and will are taking command and exercising their power, the senses are put to work. And tears will flow.
The second preliminary to contemplation is the begging for emotions: for instance, “in contemplating the Resurrection one asks for joy with Christ joyful, but in contemplating the Passion one asks for grief, tears and suffering with the suffering Christ.” And in the case of the invisible sin “I will ask for personal shame and confusion as I see how many have been damned on account of a single mortal sin …” (48) We are talking about emotions that by definition overcome a person from external events and consequently unasked for and unexpectedly. The exercitant is encouraged and even required to produce the state of mind that is agitated by visual experience and emotional response to it. Ignatius was a glutton for punishment.
The composition of places, we can conclude, is part of the process that involves the whole of the human mind on the way to shape consciously the conscience. Ignatius is interested in the actions of the soul and their union and synergy. That makes it possible to bestow on will and intellect the control of sensual and emotional experience.
But we are not done, yet, with the first exercise, the first directed operation of the soul in contemplating. A final component of the process of meditation is the imaginary dialogue: "Imagining Christ Our Lord … on the cross make a colloquy asking how it came about that the Creator made himself man … Then, turning to myself I shall ask, what have I done for my sins …” The colloquy is defined as “speaking as one friend speaks with another, or a servant with a master, at times asking for some favour, at other times accusing  oneself of something badly done, or telling the other about one's concerns and asking for advice about them.” (53) The colloquy completes the activity of the soul in meditation by lifting the sensual imagination up to an imaginary discourse, seeing Christ “hanging on the cross, talk over whatever comes to mind.” (53) To be sure, not only seeing but equally hearing, tasting, and tactile feeling will be employed. (66-69)
One of the recurrent terms in the context of the composition of place is the 'application of the senses'. The term applicatio sensuum (and variants of it)[19] was a coinage of the humanist translator of the Exercises, Andreas Frusius, S.J.; his version became the 'vulgate' of the text.[20] The term conveniently connotes the voluntary and deliberate employment of the sensory faculties towards the object of contemplation. Ignatius' Spanish text has the verb traer, which perhaps even more suggestively associates the act of controlling and puts the senses in a position dependent on reason.[21] For instance, in section 121, where the Latin versions use the term applicare/applicatio, the Spanish has: "traer los cinco sentidos sobre la primera y secunda contemplación." Those "contemplations" had pondered the incarnation and the nativity; now the exercitant is invited to "ver las personas con la vista ymaginativa, … oýr con el oýdo lo que hablan o pueden hablar," etc. (122-123; cf. 66-67, 169). Notice that the imaginative senses 'imagine' possible dialogues. Furthermore, by 'application' one should not be induced to think of the senses as some object that could be attached to some other object like a hand to a handle. In the composition of the place the object of contemplation is not 'objective' in the modern sense of the word; it is a product of the creative imagination.
The reference to the relation master-servant makes us aware that this colloquy does not create some kind of partnership, it does not at all level out the hierarchy; rather, it reaffirms the difference in making it consciously operable. Remember that at the very beginning reverentia said to be a main feature of the will.[22] We should also emphasize that the same twofold movement is happening as in the local imagination: from the external visual image to the imagined self; here: from the partner in dialogue to the self-dialogue. Therefore, we may say that the spiritual exercise in the psychological workshop consists in asserting the metaphysical distinctiveness and hierarchy in which a human being is located; it asserts the position on the spiritual level so that the sensual, the emotional, the cognitive, and the voluntary powers each contribute with their peculiar competences.

2.       Aristotelian and Neoplatonic epistemology
It is suitable to raise the question: what kind of epistemology is implied in this exercise of the powers of the soul? We may take for granted that in medieval and Renaissance epistemology and physiology the cognitive act of sensation consists in sense perception, which is first processed in the mind with the help of imagination and phantasy, then qualified by the cogitative power and stored in the memory. A discussion arose reading Aristotle’s De anima, book 2, namely to what extent the sensing is an active process or, rather, a merely passive perception.  To illustrate the issue I chose the commentary of the Jesuits of Coimbra on this issue. Although this work appeared only in 1598, it is representative for the Jesuits' reading of Aristotle, who was at that time about to be established as the standard teaching for Jesuit philosophy courses.[23] After referring to the medieval and late medieval discussion the Conimbricenses establish that “sensation (potentia sensitiva) has three aspects: it receives the species of the object [that is: the image of the object insofar as mentally representing it]; once informed it brings about the act of sensing (actum sentiendi); and it receives this kind of act in itself.” The authors then state the obvious, namely, that the middle aspect refers to “an active power, because it does not undergo anything but, rather, is operating (operatur).” The conclusion is that both image and operation are not actually “immediately received” in the mind but only thanks to the intervention of the power.[24] This amounts to saying that already on the level of sensation human understanding is actively producing images. The Jesuits of Coimbra invoke Aquinas and some of his commentators for approval of this theory. However, the passage cited[25] happens to say the opposite: In the context of the question whether we need to assume an agent intellect, Aquinas draws the comparison with sense experience and declares without further argument that it is not necessary to assume there is an “agent sense” (sensus agens; i.e., an operative power in the senses), because all potentials of the senses are passive. (Not that there is anything noble about being active: the digestive powers of the soul are, obviously, active.) But the Conimbricenses invoke as their main authority the Church Father Nemesius of Emesa, who in his De natura hominis treated the ‘phantastic’ power of the soul as something operative through the senses.[26] Nemesius further elaborates on the mechanism of perception, which is quite interesting because he also refers to the “animal spirit”, which Descartes would still employ to explain the operation of sense perception on the body.[27] The Jesuits must have been aware that the Exercises worked at the core of current epistemology and physiology.
The Conimbricenses confirm their interpretation in their commentary on De anima, book III. But they also insert some remarks about truth and falsehood. It is obvious that in 'phantastic' imaginations there can be deception. On the other hand, we might think that truth and falsehood are beyond sensual experience, since it is only judgment and predication that can be misled. But if sensation is an operation, or a movement of the soul, it may be wrong. Aristotle said, indeed, that imagination combines the souls and the senses; and it is only true, if this operation works together with the senses.[28] The Jesuits elaborate on that by warning: imagination is a sort of cognition that is generated by the representation of the image that is produced by it; consequently, imaginations may be false; and such truth and falsehood may depend on the presence or absence in space and time of the things imagined.[29]
For our purpose, the literary references offered by the Jesuit commentators on Aristotle’s understanding of the senses are helpful because they lead us back to the potential sources Ignatius might have known. Whereas Aquinas represents the officially approved stream of Aristotelian philosophy, Nemesius leads us to Platonism. While we saw that the Jesuits misappropriate the Aristotelian account, it is obviously the Platonic tradition that yields a theory of perception, in which the senses are active, or rather, in which operational activity is the fundamental principle of the mind that naturally branches out into perception.
The easiest accessible Neoplatonic source, at least to us, but perhaps also to Ignatius and his teachers, is Marsilio Ficino.[30] In his Platonic Theology, intended as a defense of the immortality of the soul against certain Aristotelians, he unmistakably emphasizes the activity of the soul in the process of sense cognition:
Sensation is concerned with bodies, imagination with the images of bodies perceived. … The phantasy has at least an inkling of substance … [The] particular concepts of the phantasy are … bodiless intentions of bodies.[31]
Ficino also takes into account the volitional component of cognition:
… Nothing appears to me to demonstrate more that the nature of the human mind is midway than its natural inclination towards both [goals]. If this inclination is via the intellect then either begins from bodies and thence straightway transfers itself into things incorporeal, or it arises now and then from things incorporeal and descends in turn to bodies’ images. If it is via the will, then either it chooses things eternal … or … it desires things temporal, and in turn is often kept back from them by its reverence for things eternal.[32]
Neoplatonism held that sense perception and imagination are areas of intellectual competence that are not passively dependent on external input (as empiricists would have it); rather, they are creative modes of being of the soul. From there it is only a small step towards producing images deliberately and freely. In his dialogues on Plato's Symposium Ficino explains summarily: Between the soul and the body mediates a spirit; and the soul adopts from the spirit the bodily images thus cognizing the corporeal world. However, in observing those images it conceives (concipit) of itself and in itself much purer images—this he calls imagination or phantasy.[33] Ficino's classification of senses seems ad odds with Ignatius's appreciation of sensual perception, because the Platonist occasionally advocates a dualism between the bodily senses touch, taste, and smell and the intellectual senses reason, sight, and hearing.[34] On the other hand, he does agree with the Exercises in presupposing that the soul is active in finding it's orientation in the hierarchy of beings while, as he quotes from Plato, "she is eager (affectat) to intuit the divine seeing in it what is cognate to her."[35] Since this dialogue is about love, we hardly will find descriptions of compassion and suffering; and yet, emotions are at the core of the activity of the human soul: Pleasure is the key term when Ficino describes the incorporeality of beauty.[36]  Even God's face, the source of beauty, is termed gratia in the sense of 'pleasantness' insofar as it shines through the corporeal eyes, making them capable of affections.[37]
One main feature of the Platonic tradition, relevant for our interpretation of the Exercises, is the fact that human beings gauge themselves in relation to the world and God. Ficino and other Platonists speak about the divinization through contemplation, meaning the passage from the earth towards salvation. Ficino even concludes his interpretation of Diotima's speech by stating: "first we appear to revere God in things, while revering the things in God, and we appear to revere things in God in order to embrace ourselves in Him; eventually, in loving God we must have loved ourselves."[38]  Therefore, for historians of Platonism welcome evidence for the Platonic mentality of the Exercises is the objective number 3 of the Second Exercise; here the person is confronted with the hypostases of the world:
I look at who I am, diminishing myself by means of comparisons: (i) What am I compared to all human beings? (ii) What are all human beings compared to all the angels and saints in Paradise? (iii) What can I alone be, as I look at what the whole of creation amounts to in comparison with God? (iv) I look upon all the corruption and foulness of my body. (v) I look at myself as though I were an ulcer or an abscess, the source of many sins and evils, and of great infection. (58)
Raimundus Sabundus would have nodded first, and cringed towards the end because he, too, had made self-positioning in the hierarchy of beings the key to piety without making self-effacement a requirement.[39] Nicolaus Cusanus, Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico, and Giordano Bruno would have all applauded to this renewed appeal for the dignity of man searching the human position among the hypostases, although regretting that Ignatius had joined the ranks of the pessimist strain of the Protestants. Bruno’s Eroici furori (1584) might even be read as a response to the Exercises.[40]

3.       The emplotment of images
The procedure will be repeated with every further exercise: prayer, composition of place, begging for emotions, and concluding colloquy. But to round out our irreverent look at Ignatius’ master piece, we need to discover one more feature that will definitely lead us into the history of iconology. In the Second Week, the object of visual and speculative contemplation, the secular king, should lead to the Eternal King, and to that effect the visual images are to be “synagogues, towns and villages where Christ Our Lord went preaching.” (91) From there, it is a small step to animate the stationary imagery with dynamic action. We observed already that the guide of the exercises will tell the exercitant the history/story to be made object of contemplation. There, in the Second Annotation, it was “the history of this meditation or contemplation” that was made self-referential for the purpose of savoring its lasting meaning. Now, from the second week on “proponere historiam” means expanding the imaginary field and therefore it precedes the compositio loci. The first instance that occurs in the book suggests that in order to contemplate the Trinity one should imagine the perspective of God on the history of salvation (102). This is the ‘historic’ background of the composition of the place that consists in imagining first the vast world and then St. Mary’s cubicle (103). In the next instance the history/story is Mary’s and Joseph’s travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem, followed by the imagery of the same event (111-112). In another case historia is Christ’s calling to gather under his flag (vexillum) against Lucifer and his army, with the images of the battle fields of Jerusalem and Babylon (137-138). It is not anymore surprising that detailed scenes of the life of Christ become material for further contemplations (161; 191 ff., 261 ff.). The familiar scenes of the life of Christ and of salvation become part of a narrative plot. Ignatius recommends the technique of emplotment.[41]
An advice for the Seventh Day of the Third Week sheds more light on the epistemological meaning of the composition of stories and images: Ignatius suggests that “anyone who wants to spend more time on the Passion should take fewer mysteries in each contemplation, e.g. in the first, only the Last Supper, in the second, the washing of the feet”, and so on (209). The exercitant shall have full control of the spiritual experience and the free disposition over the material that is to be transformed into a spiritual activity.
It is a commonplace that imagery was one of the foremost homiletic, literary, and artistic productions of the Jesuits.[42] Theater performances, both for didactic purposes and for public display, were also meant to impress the lower faculties of the mind for higher goals.[43]
Antonio Possevino, the encyclopedist of the early Jesuits, defended the use of images, especially sacred images and those of God with the argument that visual representations have a status of education and elevation: They do not prove that God exists, but in which form he suggests himself to vision. Images do not express the essence of the thing but make the thing visual. Images present the invisible by means of the visible.[44] In his chapter on poetry and pictorial art he stresses the meaning of imitation by identifying the emotional meaning of a story and a representation with 'the thing itself.'[45] In this vein Possevino gives advice on how to create an image of Christ that evokes passion: the artist has to pray and to conceive not just the "idea of the future artwork" but a sense of the pain (sensum dolorum). The painter has to live the magnitude of the emotion internally, and it is from there that suffering in the viewer can erupt: "If you want me to weep, you, artist, have to weep first."[46] The thing itself, as noted in section 2 of the Exercises, is its sentimental meaning.
Most conspicuous among the many artistic achievement of the Jesutis are the programmatic architectural paintings, like the vault of Sant Ignazio in Rome;[47] the Vita Beati Ignatii Loiolae (1609), illustrated by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) and others with the purpose of empathizing with the struggles and torments of the author of the Exercises;[48] the Pia desideria of Hermann Hugo; the spiritual chants by Friedrich von Spee, which are exuberant in imagery;[49] yet here I should make some observations on the illustrations of the New Testament by Hieronymus Nadal (1507- 1580).
Nadal planned and wrote the book of Annotations and Meditations on the Gospel with illustrations by various artists.[50] The work was commissioned by Ignatius himself and appeared eventually in 1593.[51] The luxurious layout and the artistry of the illustrations culminate in the illustration no. 131 that shows Christ’s descent into the Limbo, which is at the same time an illustration of Dante’s Inferno.[52] However, the majority of the illustrations are more modest and they perfectly fulfill the requirements of the compositio loci, because they focus on a major event (e.g., the Annunciation) and offer the emplotment through organically added side scenes in the background. Nadal’s work has every image adorned with notes that explain the factual details on the plate. Then follow the relevant reading from the Bible, more extensive explanations of the details, and a meditative prayer.[53] Nothing is left unorganized. In other words, this book is the execution of the transition from the purposefully guided imagination to visible images.  
Ignatius is reported to have collected himself images that would enhance his personal meditations.[54] In commissioning the commented illustrations to the Bible he initiated the decisive transition from the imaginarily construed locus to the artfully designed visual help for the composition of the object of meditation and its emplotment. Therefore it has been said that Nadal's spiritual reading of the Bible differs from antecedents "thanks to the system of annotations..., which serves the purpose of embedding the historical truth of the Scripture. Nadal's meditation thus avoids the danger of dissolving the reality of the Gospel into mystical meanings ..."[55] This form of combined image and text, art work and inspirational reading, became very popular among the Jesuits, when their spirituality merged with, or adopted, the Renaissance emblem book tradition.[56]  Hermann Hugo’s Pia desideria are an example of the emblematic tradition turned into mediation.[57] As the Exercises recommend, it is the pictorial narrative of the soul in search of God, told in images that are suggestive through their plainness.

To sum up: Iconology, understood as the artful, educated, and purposeful construction of pictorial images, not only relies on canons of representation and their ingenious application and transformation; Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises suggest that it also requires a peculiar epistemology that aims at gathering and coordinating a host of psychic faculties and processes: memory, imagination or vision, rational discourse, projection, empathy, abstraction, and conceptualizing. Furthermore, at least in the ascetic context, the ultimate aim is not the external object of a painting or a narrative, but the formation and self-regulation of the psychic faculties. Hence I dare to conclude my contribution by speculating that Baroque spiritual art was at the origin of the modern understanding of art as arousing rationalized emotions. "Aesthetischer Genuss ist objektivierter Selbstgenuss," as Wilhelm Worringer phrased it.[58] Against such secularized piety he reclaimed art as primarily decorative and diagrammatic (graphisch). When Mel Gibson reenacted the Passion of Christ in graphic[59] movie pictures, he relied on the self-indulging function of images and invited the audience to suffer with Christ and to feel guilty with his murderers. The success according to the program of the Spiritual Exercises or the degree of secularization should be measured by number of viewers who experienced a conversion.

[1] Ignatius de Loyola, Exercitia spiritualia, ed. Iosephus Calveras and Candidus de Dalmases (Romae: Institutum historicum Societatis Iesu, 1969) (Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu, vol. 100); plain numbers will refer to the sections of this edition; modern editions offer the same numbering system. Quotations and my translations are from the original Spanish and the literal Latin versions in this edition.
[2] Roland Barthes. Sade, Fourier, Loyola. Translated by Richard Miller (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 52.
[3] Barthes, 54.
[4] Barthes, 55.
[5] Paul Richard Blum, Philosophenphilosophie und Schulphilosophie. Typen des Philosophierens in der Neuzeit (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1998), chapter 4: Schulphilosophie.
[6] Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, in Ignatius of Loyola, Personal Writings, ed. Joseph A. Munitz and Philip Endean (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996), 281-328. This translation is based on the Spanish so called Autograph. Quotations without further additions refer to this translation. In this case I corrected "for the body" to "of the body".
[7] For instance, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, book II, which elaborates on the exercise as performative virtue with examples from athletics. Heinrich Bacht, "Early Monastic Elements in Ignatian Spirituality," in Ignatius of Loyola. His Personality and Spiritual Heritage, 1556-1956: Studies on the 400th Anniversary of His Death, ed. Friedrich Wulf  (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1977), 200-236, underscores the "ascetic-active component" (p. 214).
[8] Nr. 2; my translation, my emphases. 
[9] The translation by Munitz and Endean took refuge to pale fashions of speech, like: "throw light" and "bring home."
[10] On the history and development of the book see Candidus de Dalmases, "Introductio" in Ignatius 1969, 27-33.
[11] Marsilio Ficino, Theologia Platonica/Platonic Theology, ed. James Hankins and Michael J. B. Allen (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2002-2006), 6 vols., vol.4,  book 14, esp. chapter 8, 279-289. Cf. Paul Richard Blum, Philosophy of Religion in the Renaissance (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010), 124.
[12] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Herrlichkeit: Eine theologische Ästhetik, vol. 3/I (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1965), 456.
[13] An exhaustive assessment of the Exercises in the mystical tradition in Bacht 1977.
[14] Josef Sudbrack, S.J., „Die ‚Anwendung der Sinne‘ als Angelpunkt der Exerzitien,“ in Ignatianisch. Eigenart und Methode der Gesellschaft Jesu, ed. Michael Sievernich and Günter Switek (Freiburg: Herder, 1990), 96-119, with discussion of various interpretations.
[15] Translators suggest that "composition" has to do with modern American ‘composure’ or composing oneself. Unfortunately the text does not allow for that at all. Cf. Ignatius 1996 (Munitz/Endean), xv f.: “composition (composición) A preliminary to prayer, as one ‘composes’ oneself by ‘composing’ (= recalling to mind) the locale of the scene being contemplated or by imagining a suitable setting for a topic, e.g. a happy, or a shameful, or an awesome situation.” Similarly Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, ed. George E. Ganss (New York: Paulist Press, 1991), 397.
[16] Lambert Classen, „The ‘Exercise with the Three Powers of the Soul’ in the Exercises as a Whole“, in Ignatius of Loyola, His Personality and Spiritual Heritage, 1556-1956: Studies on the 400th Anniversary of His Death, ed. Friedrich Wulf  (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1977), 237- 271; 241. A comparison with Saint Bonaventure is suggested by Ewert H. Cousins, "Franciscan Roots of Ignatian Meditation," in Ignatian Spirituality in a Secular Age, ed. George P. Schner (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1984), 51-64; common ground could be devotion to the humanity of Christ (p. 51) and the method of re-presenting the life of Christ (58-61).
[17] Hans Urs von Balthasar, Herrlichkeit: Eine theologische Ästhetik, vol. 1, (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1961), 361. On early Jesuit interpretations and sources in Bonaventure and Augustine see pp. 361 ff.
[18] Cf. Wietse de Boer, "Invisible Contemplation: A Paradox in the Spiritual Exercises," in Meditatio – Refashioning the Self: Theory and Practice in Late Medieval and Early Modern Intellectual Culture, ed. Walter Melion and Karl Enenkel (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 235-256.
[19] Cf. sections 121, 129, 134, 159, 204, 208 a and f.
[20] Candidus de Dalmases, "Introductio" in Ignatius 1969, 118-119 (the first edition was printed in Rome 1548).
[21] Candidus de Dalmases, "Introductio" in Ignatius 1969, 110: "Textus hispanus seape utitur verbo traer ad indicandum usum potentiarum vel sensuum."
[22] Reverence is not exactly the purpose of the colloquy as Munitz/Endean suggest (p. xv), but it is not excluded.
[23] A brief overview on Jesuit teachings on the soul: Alison Simmons, "Jesuit Aristotelian Education. The De anima Commentaries," in The Jesuits: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773, ed. John W. O'Malley et al. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999), 522-537. – It may be helpful to recapitulate standard school teaching on the parts of the soul: the five senses; the sensus communis (to which the information from the external senses are transmitted), which is the first cognitive faculty of the soul; phantasy which transforms the images into immaterial concepts; the lower and the higher judgment (aestimatio, cogitatio); reason (ratio) which ponders the information; intellect which understands. This is paraphrased from a Jesuit encyclopedia of learning: Antonius Possevinus, Bibliotheca selecta de ratione studiorum, 2nd edition (Venetiis: Salicatius, 1603), lib. 12, cap.43, vol. 2, p. 13.
[24] Commentarii Collegii Conimbricensis Societatis Iesu In tres libros Aristotelis De anima [Coimbra 1598]  (Coloniae: Zetzner, 1617), II, cap. 6, q. 1, art. 2, col. 186.
[25] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, I. 79. art. 3: “Ad primum ergo dicendum quod sensibilia inveniuntur actu extra animam, et ideo non oportuit ponere sensum agentem. Et sic patet quod in parte nutritiva omnes potentiae sunt activae; in parte autem sensitiva, omnes passivae; in parte vero intellectiva est aliquid activum, et aliquid passivum."
[26] Nemesii Episcopi Premnon physicon, ed. Carolus Burkhard (Leipzig: Teubner, 1917), chapter 6, p. 72: “Phantastica igitur est virtus irrationalis animae per sensus operativa; phantaston autem, hoc est imaginabile, est quod phantasiae subiacet, ut sensus et sensibile; phantasia vero, id est imaginatio, est passio irrationalis animae ab aliquo imaginabili facta.” According to Tusculum-Lexicon griechischer und lateinischer Autoren (Munich/Zurich: Artemis, 1982), 549, this work was popular in the Middle Ages.
[27] Ibid. 73: "Instrumenta vero eius sunt anteriores cerebri ventres et animalis spiritus, qui in ipsis est, et nervi, qui sunt ex ipsis rorantes animalem spiritum et compositio sensuum.”
[28] Conimbricenses text. 160-161.
[29] This is probably a precaution on behalf of the "discernment of the spirits" (313-336), the concern to distinguish God's inspiration from evil insinuations, a topic that exceeds the scope of this paper.
[30] Cf. Karen-Claire Voss, "Imagination in Mysticism and Esotericism: Marsilio Ficino, Ignatius de Loyola, and Alchemy," Studies in Spirituality 6 (1996): 106-130, This paper casts a net far too wide to be useful in our context; the author enrolls Ignatius in the magic tradition and focuses on Ficino's cosmology in De vita.
[31] Ficino, Platonic Theology, vol. 2, book 8. 1.2-3, pp. 263/265.
[32] Ibid. vol. 5, book 15. 10.2, p. 111.
[33] Marsilio Ficino, De amore VI 6; edition used: Commentaire sur le Banquet de Platon, ed. Raymond Marcel (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1956), 207. Translations from this work are mine.
[34] Ibid. V 2, p. 180.
[35] Ibid. IV 5, p. 173. Cf. Plato's Second Letter 313a.
[36] Se the anaphoric "Placet …" in De amore V 3, p. 183.
[37] Ibid. V 5, p. 18: "admiratione commoti diligimus." At this point it should be noted that Ficino develops the affective quality of contemplation into his theory of divine furor (VII 13-15). Although he declares that love is another word for sincerity, piety, and worship (VII 15, p. 260), I do not see a viable connection with Ignatius' spirituality.
[38] Ibid. VI 19, p. 239.
[39] Raimundus Sabundus, Theologia naturalis seu liber creaturarum, ed. Friedrich Stegmüller (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Frommann, 1966), titulus 63, p. 81; cf. Blum 2010, 16.
[40] Voss 1996, footnote 52, mentiones in passing that "Bruno had produced the same techniques found in The Spiritual Exercises."
[41] A term from the philosophy of history of Paul Ricoeur: data are gathered and made understandable in a narrative plot.
[42] Just one example out of the plethora of literature: John W. O'Malley et al., ed., The Jesuits II: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773 (Toronto, Buffalo: University of Toronto Press, 2006), part 2: The visual arts and the arts of persuasion. An extensive overview on Jesuit spirituality in printed and decorative arts offers Friedrich Polleross, “Nuestro Modo de Proceder: Betrachtungen aus Anlaß der Tagung ‘Die Jesuiten in Wien’ vom 19. Bis 21 Oktober 2000,” Frühneuzeit-Info 12.7 (2001) 93-128.
[43] For an example see Jacobus Pontanus, S.J., Soldier or Scholar: Stratocles or War, ed. Thomas D. McCreight and Paul Richard Blum (Baltimore: Apprentice House, 2009), with an introductory section on theater as a spiritual exercise and bibliography.
[44] Possevinus, Bibliotheca selecta (1603), lib. 8, cap. 16-17, vol. 1, p. 413-418. He names as his source the fellow Jesuit Petrus Thyraeus.
[45] Ibid., lib. 17, cap. 35, vol. 2, p. 454: "At ego summam esse artem constantissime assero, quae rem ipsam imitetur, martyria in martyribus, fletum in flentibus, dolorem in patientibus, gloriam, et laetitiam in resurgentibus exprimat, et in animis figat."
[46] Ibid. cap. 36, p. 546: "Ut igitur funestissimus Christi … interitus admirationem, et acerbum dolorem in aliis pariat, necesse est ut in Pictoris animo insit, unde existat admirationis magnitudo, et impetus doloris erumpat. Si vis enim me flere, prius flendum est tibi, inquit Poeta." Cf. Horace, Ars poetica, 102-103. On the decoration of churches with scenes of martyrdom "that spared the viewer none of the brutality" see Evonne Levy, "'A Noble Medley and Concert of Materials and Artifice': Jesuit Church Interiors in Rome, 1567-1700," in Saint, Site, and Sacred Strategy. Ignatius, Rome, and Jesuit Urbanism. Catalogue of the Exhibition Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, ed. Thomas M. Lucas (Città del Vaticano: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, 1990), 47-61; 49.   
[47] Levy 1990.
[48] Antonio M. Navas Gutiérrez, ed., Jean Baptiste Barbé and Peter Paul Rubens, artists, Vida de San Ignacio de Loyola en imágenes (Granada: Universidad de Granada, 1992). Cf. John W. O'Malley, ed., Constructing a Saint through Images: The 1609 Illustrated Biography of Ignatius of Loyola (Philadelphia: Saint Joseph's University Press, 2008).
[49] Cf. Michael Sievernich, S.J., „En todo amar y servir. Die ignatianische Spiritualität als Formprinzip des Lebens und des Werkes von Friedrich von Spee", in Ignacio de Loyola, Magister Artium en Paris 1528-1535, ed. Julio Caro Baroja et al.  (Donostia-San Sebastián: Kutxa, 1991), 615-634; 620-623.
[50] Hieronymus Natalis, Evangelicae historiae imagines, ex ordine Evangeliorum, quae toto anno in missae sacrificio recitantur ... (Antverpiae: N.N., 1593); Idem, Annotationes et meditations in Evangelia … (Antverpiae: Martinus Nutius, 1595). Gerónimo Nadal, Annotations and Meditations on the Gospels, ed. Frederick A. Homann, and Walter S. Melion (Philadelphia: Saint Joseph's University Press, 2003-2007), 3 vols. On the history of the book see Maj-Brit Wadell, Evangelicae historiae imagines. Entstehungsgeschichte und Vorlagen (Göteborg: Acta Universitatis Gothobugensis, 1985).
[51] Thomas Buser, "Jerome Nadal and Early Jesuit Art in Rome," The Art Bulletin 58 (1976): 424-433; 424-426. On Nadal's acquaintance with Ignatius' spirit see Hugo Rahner, The Spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola (Westminster, Maryland: Newman, 1953), 88-108.
[52] This illustration is missing in the reprint, where it should have been on p. 271 of vol. 2, but it is available on the CD that accompanies the print. The illustration is present in the Antwerp 1595 edition, as seen at image nr. 631.
[53] A thorough study of Nadal’s theory and practice of imagination and prayer is the “Introductory Study: The Art of Vision in Jerome Nadal’s Annotationes et meditationes in Evangelia” by Walter S. Melion in Nadal, 2003-2007, vol. 1, pp. 1-96. Cf. Walter S. Melion, "Parabolic Analogy and Spiritual Discernment in Jéronimo Nadal's Adnotationes et Meditationes in Evangelia of 1595," in The Turn of the Soul: Representations of Religious Conversion in Early Modern Art and Literature, ed. Lieke Stelling, Harald Hendrix, and Todd M. Richardson (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 299-338. Walter S. Melion, "Aritifice, Memory, and Reformatio in Hiernoymus Natalis's Adnotationes et meditationes in Evangelia," Renaissance and Reformation 22 (1998) 5-33.
[54] Buser 1976, 425
[55] Ralph Dekoninck, "The International Genesis and Fate of two Biblical Picture Books (Hiël and Nadal) Conceived in Antwerp at the End of the Sixteenth Century," in The Low Countries as a Crossroads of Religious Beliefs, ed. Arie-Jan Gelderblom, Jan L. de Jong, and Marc van Vaeck (Leiden: Brill, 2004), 49-63; 61.
[56] From the host of literature, here some examples: Pedro F. Campa and Peter M. Daly (eds.), Emblematic Images and Religious Texts. Studies in Honor of G. Richard Dimler, S.J. (Philadelphia: St. John’s University Press, 2010); K. A. E. Enenkel and A. S. Q. Visser, ed., Mundus Emblematicus: Studies in Neo-Latin Emblem Books (Turnhout: Brepols, 2003); Peter M. Daly et al., ed., Emblematik und Kunst der Jesuiten in Bayern: Einfluß und Wirkung (Turnhout: Brepols, 2000). Possevino does not mention Nadal's work when he treats emblematic art (Bibliotheca selecta, lib. 17, cap. 38-39), and he only cites it in his Apparatus Sacer (Coloniae: Gymnich, 1608), 522 and 743.
[57] Hermann, Hugo, Pia desideria emblematis, elegiis & affectibus SS. patrum illustrata (Antwerp: Aertssen, 1624). Cf. Gabriele Dorothea Rödter, Via piae animae: Grundlagenuntersuchung zur emblematischen Verknüpfung von Bild und Wort in den "Pia desideria" (1624) des Herman Hugo S.J. (1588-1629) (Frankfurt: Lang, 1992).
[58] Wilhelm Worringer, Abstraktion und Einfühlung. Ein Beitrag zur Stilpsychologie [originally Phil. Diss. Bern, 1906-07], 11th edition (Munich: Piper, 1921). His paradigmatic opponent was Theodor Lipps, whose classification of empathy and emotion in art, as quoted by Worringer (7, but cf. the entire introduction) sounds like a secularized summary of Ignatian sensuality: "Indem [das sinnlich gegebene Objekt] für mich existiert …, ist es von meiner Tätigkeit, von meinem inneren Leben durchdrungen."
[59] The modern understanding of ‚graphic‘ as (sexually, violently) explicit (first occurrence 1856, Oxford English Dictionary, Draft Additions December 2002,  appears to be yet another derivative of the compositio loci.