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To Overcome Oneself

To Overcome Oneself: The Jesuit Ethic and Spirit of Global Expansion, 1520–1767

J. Michelle Molina
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 292
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt2tt92n
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  • Book Info
    To Overcome Oneself
    Book Description:

    To Overcome Oneselfoffers a novel retelling of the emergence of the Western concept of "modern self," demonstrating how the struggle to forge a self was enmeshed in early modern Catholic missionary expansion. Examining the practices of Catholics in Europe and New Spain from the 1520s through the 1760s, the book treats Jesuit techniques of self-formation, namely spiritual exercises and confessional practices, and the relationships between spiritual directors and their subjects. Catholics on both sides of the Atlantic were folded into a dynamic that shaped new concepts of self and, in the process, fueled the global Catholic missionary movement. Molina historicizes Jesuit meditation and narrative self-reflection as modes of self-formation that would ultimately contribute to a new understanding of religion as something private and personal, thereby overturning long-held concepts of personhood, time, space, and social reality.To Overcome Oneselfdemonstrates that it was through embodied processes that humans have come to experience themselves as split into mind and body. Notwithstanding the self-congratulatory role assigned to "consciousness" in the Western intellectual tradition, early moderns did notthinkthemselves into thinking selves. Rather, "the self" was forged from embodied efforts to transcend self. Yet despite a discourse that situates self as interior, the actual fuel for continued self-transformation required an object-cum-subject-someone else to transform. Two constant questions throughout the book are: Why does the effort to know and transcend self require so many others? And what can we learn about the inherent intersubjectivity of missionary colonialism?

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95504-2
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction: “To Overcome Oneself”
    (pp. 1-23)

    Alone. Ignatius of Loyola was alone in Manresa, Spain, in 1522.² From this solitary period of meditative introspection, the sixteenth-century Spaniard wrote the Spiritual Exercises to share with others a method of self-evaluation that could lead to personal and spiritual transformation. But what was it about interior movement of the soul that set in motion prayers and persons around the expanse of the globe? Why didn’t Ignatius join a monastery, become a hermit, and inspire others to a life of prayerful contemplation? Instead, by the time of Ignatius’s death in 1556, there were thirty-five Jesuit colleges in Europe alone and,...

  6. 1 The Jesuit Spiritual Exercises: Conquest of the Self, Conquest of the World
    (pp. 24-49)

    As Ignatius declared in the opening pages of the Spiritual Exercises, the variety of mental exercises and sage observations found in the Exercises offered an individualized technique to conquer the self and regulate one’s life.

    The First Explanation.By the term Spiritual Exercises we mean every method of examination of conscience, meditation, contemplation, vocal and mental prayer, and other spiritual activities, such as will be mentioned later. For, just as taking a walk, traveling on foot, and running are physical exercises, so is the name of spiritual exercises given to any means of preparing and disposing our soul to rid...

  7. 2 Women’s Devotional Labor
    (pp. 50-66)

    While the key to self-mastery lay in ordering the minutiae of everyday life, the Spiritual Exercises promoted self-knowledge against the backdrop of a world that, at this time, was imagined, traversed, and mapped by European Christians. The Ignatian Exercises compelled the practitioner to develop a view of herself as active in a world whose contours were rapidly transforming, at a moment when the concept of “the world” adopted the shape of a globe. “Self” and “other” were vitally linked in this series of meditative techniques that fostered a dynamic, active spirituality that linked its practitioner to the spiritual and material...

  8. 3 Consolation Philosophy: Or, How Prayer Moved People in an Age of Global Expansion
    (pp. 67-103)

    In his anguished search for God, Augustine of Hippo found that his desire to ascend toward the divine was thwarted by the weight of his own sin. Worse yet, God rebuked the sinner. Fearing total abandonment, Augustine called out, like Christ on the cross, to a God who had potentially forsaken him. The sole position available to him—and the only attainable earthly reward to be had in the continuous search for God—was humility, the profound humility attained when confronted with the impossibility of the task that nonetheless must be undertaken. For Augustine, the Christian was, by nature, a...

  9. 4 Evangelization and Consolation: Or, Philosophy in the Mission Field
    (pp. 104-130)

    In this chapter, we situate ourselves on the Mexican side of the Atlantic to resume this story about the embodied formation of self, but this time I focus on the role that Jesuit evangelical methods played in the transformation of bodies, souls, and selves. I continue to probe “consolation,” both as a concept and as a fleeting sensory experience. Although I move my analysis closer to the ground, so to speak, my aim is to answer the following questions: How do epistemological shifts happen? How are concepts transformed? For conceptual changes to become meaningful—for paradigmatic shifts in ways of...

  10. 5 Facts: Houses, Books, and Other Remains
    (pp. 131-149)

    In the last chapter we saw how the Jesuit itinerant missionary introduced key aspects of Ignatian spirituality such as the act of contrition, the examination of conscience, and, most important, the general confession. The itinerant missionaries reached Catholic laity in locales that were usually beyond the reach of the Jesuit’s everyday purview. The Society’s quotidian ministries were largely confined to the urban centers where the order had established its churches and colleges, or to the mission stations in northern Mexico. In this chapter I look to other ways in which Jesuit spiritual practices were made available to and taken up...

  11. 6 Colonial Indifference? Another Approach to the Colonial Other
    (pp. 150-170)

    We have heard Father Zappa preach and describe his spiritual triumphs, and, in Chapter 4, I suggested that his concerns and techniques, as he portrayed them, would not have differed much from those of Jesuits conducting itinerant missions in Italy, France, or Spain. But Father Zappa was in the New World. Does that fact matter? If the goal is to assess the influence of Jesuit spirituality in the lives of Indians, attempting to utilize Father Zappa’s writings as a vantage point will make that difficult: he was interested in souls; thus, whether in city or country, he painted a very...

  12. 7 A Heart-Shaped World
    (pp. 171-196)

    While browsing through Jesuit materials in the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City, I called up a box marked “miscellaneous.” Among other items in this folder, I chanced upon a set of letters written by a number of Mexican women to a Jesuit priest named Augustín Antonio Márquez (1714–68).¹ Convent writing, according to Asuncion Lavrín, has been “hidden, subverted, plagiarized, and forgotten.”² Left unmarked and unremarked upon, this body of correspondence was the product of the very close relationships that these women had with Padre Márquez, the director at the Jesuit Casa de Ejercicios de Araceli, the...

  13. Conclusion: Re-membering the Past
    (pp. 197-210)

    I have called the Spiritual Exercises a “selfish” experience. Although they were structured as meditations on the life, passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, they also compelled the exercitant to work very hard to know himself and to attain those glimmers of consolation, to sense (quite literally) how his whole way of being could be made to resonate with God’s will. The exercitant’s narrative view of self was a moving target, as self-understanding had to be continually recalibrated to remain attuned to God’s will in the face of changing situations, locales, the passage of time, and his own relationships with...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 211-254)
  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 255-270)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 271-278)