"Ignatius of Loyola" by W. Meissner

Ignatius of Loyola The Psychology of a Saint W. Meissner

Publication date:
31 Aug 1994
Yale University Press
510 pages: 235 x 156mm
20 b-w illus.


Ignatius of Loyola—knight and saint, mystic and ascetic, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits)—was one of the greatest figures in Western Christianity. This book, written by a psychiatrist-psychoanalyst who is also a Jesuit, is the first work to look behind the events, accounts, and documents of Ignatius' life and religious experience in order to enter and understand his inner world.

W. W. Meissner writes compassionately about Ignatius' origins, early development, conversion, years of prayer and penance, mystical teaching and career, and finally his efforts to found and direct the Society of Jesus. Dr. Meissner not only places Ignatius' life against the background of the radical religious, social, and political upheaval of the sixteenth century but goes beyond this to explore the psychic and psychodynamic inner processes that transformed the man into the saint. Dr. Meissner discusses, for example, Ignatius' ordeals of body and spirit during his career as a soldier, his conversion experience, the evolution of his personality after conversion, his relationships with women, his lifelong struggles to overcome his aggressive, narcissistic, and libidinal impulses, and the psychology and pathology of his mysticism. The complex personality of this great saint and the profundity of his personal and spiritual struggles bring into focus significant questions about the complex interplay between human motivations and needs on the one hand and religious experience and spiritual motivation on the other. The book is not only a biography of a much-revered figure of the Roman Catholic Church but a unique contribution to both psychoanalysis and religious history.

Selected as a notable book of the year (1992) by The New York Times Book Review

"A rigorous psychoanalytic study of the life and mind of the first Jesuit. It is a fearless and scholarly work by an author confident in his faith and in his psychoanalytic discipline, elucidating specific points at the intersection of divine action and unconscious structures."?Stanley A. Leavy, M.D., author of In the Image of God: A Psychoanalyst's View

"An unusual biography with interesting and perceptive insights into the life and work of Ignatius."?Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame

"Very few people could write such a probing inquiry into the inner life of one of the greatest figures of Christianity. Fewer still could do it as well as Meissner. His portrait of Ignatius Loyola not only contributes to our understanding of his great achievement, but brings us nearer to him."?Vincent O'Keefe, Superior of the New York Provincial Residence, Society of Jesus

"A fascinating, lucidly written and structured biography that I can recommend without reservation."?America

"Meissner, University Professor of Psychoanalysis at Boston College and a training and supervising psychoanalyst at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute, has, as a Jesuit priest, the additional qualification of first-hand insight into the kind of life that Ignatius instituted. . . . The book is a rich and complex one. . . . The novelty of this biography lies in the psychoanalytic interpretation employed freely yet judiciously throughout."?Stanley A. Leavy, America

"The book of the year in Catholic biography. . . . A modest, sensible yet insightful reading that is never less than fascinating and endlessly informative. A must read."?George W. Hunt, S.J., Commonweal

"Meissner shows considerable biographical skill, ably laying out the major stages in Ignatius's life: early adventures as a soldier, gallant, and libertine conversion while recovering from a horrible cannonball wound; years of asceticism; visit to Jerusalem; founding of the Jesuits, etc. By excising the psychoanalytical material, readers will discover a first-rate biography, richly researched and elevated by the author's fierce admiration for his subject."?Kirkus Reviews

"A wise exploration of the twice-born, nearly omnicompetent Ignatius by a Jesuit who is a psychoanalytically trained psychiatrist as well."?New York Times Book Review

"Many biographies have been written of Ignatius, by Catholics and non-Catholics, but none by someone with the experience and authority of [Meissner] . . . who is both a Jesuit and a psychoanalytically trained psychiatrist. . . . A touching, poignant and straightforward biography, written with clarity and an erudition that rarely deteriorates into the pedantic."?Robert Coles, New York Times Book Review

"Meissner has met his stated goal admirably, even brilliantly, through careful scholarship and a deep sympathy for his chosen subject. In addition to writing a model psychobiography, he has produced something even more rare: a balanced, scientific study that acknowledges a spiritual reality."?Ellen Donohue Warwick, Wilson Library Bulletin

"Meissner. . . has succeeded in a formidable task. . . . The analysis accompanies every episode of the narrative, and in the final chapters it is pulled together in a masterly and coherent way. . . . It is an occasion for gratitude that we have lived to see such a work, done with reverence and scrupulous care."?Paul Andrews, S.J., Irish Theological Quarterly

"A sophisticated, intelligently argued, and on the whole convincing new portrait of Ignatius of Loyola."?Elisabeth G. Gleason, Renaissance Quarterly

"The author's psychoanalytic explication of the transvaluation of identity that changed Inigo de Loyola into St. Ignatius [is] convincing and satisfying. It deepens and adds to our understanding of one of the most remarkable figures in the history of Christianity. In successfully integrating the spirit and the intellect, the religious and psychoanalytic idiom, Meissner has produced a compelling reconciliation of the disparate and awesome influences within Ignatius. The insights from the study can also be applied in a general sense to understanding the phenomena of conversions of other heroic figures within and without the Christian tradition."?Peter J. Clagnaz, M.D., Bulletin of the Menninger Clinic

"[Meissner] is a Jesuit priest and a Professor of Psychoanalysis. . . . Without his profound immersion in both his disciplines, Meissner would never have brought off the achievement that this book is: with it, he has produced a vivid, detailed and scholarly . . . portrait of a remarkable and charismatic man."?Nina Coltart, Institute of Psycho-Analysis

"A detailed and appealing chronological description of the saint's life, work, and spiritual development. . . . A superb example of psychobiography: a consciously thought out psychological interpretation of Ignatius's personality."?Joseph J. Schner, S.J., Canadian Catholic Review

"This work makes for excellent reading. Meissner's erudition is well known, and his psychoanalytic inquiry into the life of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, probes with skill and perceptive acumen the workings of Ignatius's mind."?Charles Shelton, S.J., Theological Studies

"Meissner's book is a remarkable achievement and will be of interest to psychologists, theologians, spiritual directors and all those who are indebted through the Spiritual Exercises to Ignatius's conversion."?Michael J. Himes, Christian Century

"Highly recommended for both graduate and upper-level undergraduate students."?Choice

"An important contribution to Ignatian studies, and we can only hope that it becomes seminal."?Philip Endean SJ, David Lonsdale S.J., The Way

"More than just another biographical study of the founder of the Jesuits. . . . Written with grace and respect for the subject and reader. . . . This is a major work of psychobiography, a significant event in the modern understanding of the religious personality. . . Recommended."?The Reader's Review

"This reconstruction of the life of St. Ignatius, from the viewpoint of one schooled both in Ignatian spirituality and Freudian psychoanalytic theory and technique, suggests new insights into the Ignatian experience, which has influenced so many lives over the past four centuries. It also provokes challenging questions on the complex interaction between grace and nature in the lives of religious geniuses like Ignatius."?Joseph A. O'Hare, S.J., President, Fordham University