Paper: Renewing Memory: Francis, Ignatius and Mystical Seeds of Reform, by Elizabeth Dreyer

In March, Elizabeth Dreyer, (Professor Emerita, Religious Studies, Fairfield University) gave a paper at a conference held at Fordham University. The conference theme was “Franciscans, Jesuits, and a New Pope: Medieval Lessons for Modern Reform.” A copy of her paper can be requested from the moderator. Here is an introduction to her presentation:

Two formative strains in the life of Francis, the Bishop of Rome, include the Franciscan and Jesuit traditions.  Our trust that Tradition is a living, breathing Spirit-inspired reality leads us to examine it anew, with new questions, needs and curiosities. An honest, open, critical appropriation of the past has the potential to renew and enrich Christian identity as well as create a healthy “decentering” effect due to the amazingly broad and diverse range of Christian experience and expression. Rowan Williams suggests that being open to the “strange and recognizable ‘otherness’ of the past may help us” be open to, and deal with, what is strange in the present.”

The desire to become a constantly renewing church in the 21st century led to the the topics of poverty and humility, central to both Franciscan and Jesuit traditions. These topics are addressed through a fourfold schema. The first is historical. What is important about poverty and humility in the lives and times of Francis of Assisi (13th century) and Ignatius of Loyola (sixteenth century)? Part II turns to theology. Francis and Ignatius followed a poor Christ, whose life and especially death, made visible a kenotic, self-emptying God. Part III explores how art  contributes to our theological understanding of the Trinity’s kenotic love. To this end, we will view a series of images of the Trinity at the cross from a range of historical periods from the 12th to the 17th centuries.  In Part IV, I point to ways we might renew the church by mirroring Francis and Ignatius as they were inspired to humility and poverty by a poor Christ who, in the power of the Creator and Holy Spirit, did not cling to his divine status within the Trinity (Phil 2.6).

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