The Phenomenology of Jesuit Obedience: A Brief Study of Its Intersubjective Elements

Josef Raoul Paras Rodriguez, Fordham University


On March 26, 1553, Ignatius of Loyola, founder and Superior General of the Roman Catholic religious order of the Society of Jesus, addressed a letter of exhortation to the Fathers and Brothers of the Portuguese province. Having heard about the insubordination of its members, Ignatius laid out principles of obedience that all Jesuits were to live by: conformity of understanding, submission of judgment, conformity of will, blind obedience, and ultimately, seeing the superior as Christ. These principles soon became famous (and infamous) among Jesuits and non-Jesuits, receiving both praise and criticism. There were even under the scrutiny of popes despite this spirit of obedience eventually being enumerated in the Order’s Constitutions. Centuries later Fr Manuel María Espinosa Pólit, SJ, wrote an extensive commentary on the famed Letter on Obedience. His book titled Perfect Obedience was an apologia for Jesuit obedience that explicated its principles in a neo-Scholastic manner. It also offered much theological and historical insight. However, with Jesuit obedience still under scrutiny today by members of the Catholic Church, as well as by post-religious secular culture, an explication is to be offered that can be appreciated by both perspectives. The aim of this study is to approach the principles of Jesuit obedience through Phenomenology. By doing so, it can be seen that obedience, within the context of Jesuit government structure and approach to authority, actually entails an intersubjective relation between three—not just two—subjects: the collective of persons that constitutes the single ‘we’-subject; the superior who receives his authority from the ‘we’; and the subordinate who is the obeying subject receiving the command. Recourse is made to the work of Edmund Husserl, Max Scheler and Hans-Georg Gadamer. Each of these thinkers have made their contributions to the topics of personal associations, community, authority and horizons, all of which are discussed in order to explicate the principles of Jesuit obedience.

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Recommended Citation

Rodriguez, Josef Raoul Paras, "The Phenomenology of Jesuit Obedience: A Brief Study of Its Intersubjective Elements" (2020). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI27959087.