Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
Meissner emphasizes that this book is fundamentally a psychoanalytic study of a profoundly meaningful spiritual subject matter, but its intention is to seek a deeper understanding of Ignatian spirituality in psychoanalytic perspectives. This book is no more than a psychoanalytic study that means only to enter into dialogue with the spiritual teaching of one of the greatest contributors to spiritual lore in Western Christendom with the goal of seeking greater understanding of the nature of his spiritual adventure, and by extension to achieve some fuller, if not more psychologically meaningful, apprehension of the relation between the spiritual dimension of human experience and the realm of psychic actualization through which it is realized and achieved.
Such an enterprise is not without its risks and problems. One of the first we encounter is the culturally embedded difficulty of a dialogue taking place across historical barriers of centuries and across the cultural barriers separating a medieval religious mentality from a more modern or even postmodern understanding of religious experience. The primary story plot involves several related subplots. The first subplot is the connection of Ignatius’ spirituality with his own spiritual pilgrimage and the range of personal experiences that involved. A second subplot in this absorbing drama reaches beyond a focus on Ignatius and the psychological determinants of his doctrine to a more contemporary dialogue between some of the specifics of the Ignatian perspective and the understanding of human psychodynamics in the psychoanalytic perspective. In a somewhat broader perspective, another significant subplot pertains to the interface between psychoanalysis and religious experience. There is one final subplot the author suggests. Although it remains more or less a background consideration in this book, it is a matter consistently indicated by Ignatius himself and a factor constantly at issue in all aspects of the discussion.
Meissner’s hope is that the exploration of Ignatian spirituality in psychoanalytic terms will not only serve to advance the discussion of the interface between psychoanalysis and religion on one hand, but also on the other that it may offer some thoughtful perceptions and understandings of aspects of Ignatian thinking that will serve the purposes and endeavors of spiritual directors and retreat masters, if not those who seek further personal spiritual development, to better understand the human material with which they deal and to help souls to find their individual way to God.
Meissner’s clarity and purpose for writing makes the book easily readable and thoughtful. The story of Ignatius’ conversion, the difficulty of religious obedience, the call to write the Exercises, the missionary work, the development of the mystical life are all important parts of the story. It is a tremendous book to read and gives the reader fuel for further knowledge/contemplation and prayer.