Heythrop’s 400th anniversary conference: Day 2

The second day of the Heythrop 400thanniversary celebrations started early on Friday morning with Mass at Farm St Church celebrated by Fr General Adolfo Nicolas SJ who had travelled from Rome for the occasion.  He preached to a very busy church a moving sermon on St Matthew 6:21 “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”, and observing that  the key to Ignatian spirituality is the continuous learning from experience to listen to the heart.

Fr General then opened the conference at Senate House by reminding those assembled of the significant contribution Heythrop College has made over the past four centuries, attributing its unique longevity  to the institution’s ability to adapt to radically changing circumstances in order to serve the greater glory of God and his people.  He picked out two particular features of Jesuit education: the spirit of collaboration; and the emphasis on the cura personalis – care of the whole person, which enables students to develop as reflective members of society.  These were themes which were developed in discussion throughout the day.

Michael Walsh of Heythrop College gave the first lecture, picking up on the history of the College from 1794, where Professor Whitehead left off yesterday, with the Jesuit refugees dusting themselves off and setting up in Stonyhurst.  Mr Walsh described the anomalous position of these Jesuits, not just banished from the continent but also the remnant of a suppressed order, and the struggles they had with recognition from frosty secular Catholic clergy, and a largely anti-Catholic population.  When Stonyhurst was outgrown, the equally remote location of St Beuno’s in north Wales was chosen for the new theologate in 1846.  Numbers were augmented in the late 1840s by Jesuit refugees from war torn mainland Europe.  When it was deemed to be necessary to move closer to the centres of academe, the move south to Heythrop Hall  in 1923 still left the College in deep countryside 17 miles from Oxford.  The move to London in 1970 embraced wider society, a greater diversity of students and collaboration with the University of London.  The final move to the current site in Kensington in 1993 responded to need for more space. Mr Walsh concluded that the Heythrop story is not principally about bricks and mortar: it is about Jesuits and lay students maintaining the forward momentum of their educational charism and overcoming a range of political and financial threats by holding fast to their clear ethos.

Dr Philip Endean SJ of the Centre Sèvres in Paris discussed the reception of Ignatian spirituality in Britain.  He pointed out that while British Jesuits are not typically British, nor are they typical Jesuits.   British Jesuits had to learn before those of mainland Europe, that they must develop an open path to God, independent of the favour of princes.  British Jesuits during the penal years had focussed more on disseminating the spiritual exercises through lay networks, often among those imprisoned for their faith.  He referred to texts by English Jesuits of different centuries: Edmund Campion, Richard Clarke and Gerry W Hughes, to show how they have striven to make relationships and bring people closer to God in a wider culture and in a way which can stand apart from but alongside a different dominant tradition.  They related spirituality to a lived reality which more lately has had great appeal to protestant and even non-Christian adherents.

Professor Karen Kilby and respondee Gwen Griffiths-Dixon VP of Heythrop CollegeProfessor Karen Kilby of Durham University questioned if there could be said to be a Jesuit tradition of theology.  She argued that while many of the greatest theologians of the last century were Jesuits, they did not offer a single coherent vision.  Jesuits have no great founding theologian around whose Summa all subsequent thinking must revolve.  Ignatius left only practical handbooks, so Jesuits’ theology was free to be creative and questioning .  However she did identify an important common thread among Jesuit theologians of widely varying styles and orientations: the integration of theology with reality and experience i.e. finding God in all things.

Professor Michael Barnes SJ of Heythrop College discussed the work of sixteenth century Jesuit missionary Thomas Stephens, on the frontiers of the Portuguese Goan mission.  Stephens was responsible for printing some of the first books in Indian languages.  His greatest achievement was the Kristapurana, an extraordinary account in Marathi of the Old and New Testaments, adapted for Christians in the Hindu devotional epic style.  His is perhaps the first example of “interculturation”: his missionary style to transform from within without destroying.  His Jesuit training enabled him and others (notably Ricci and De Nobili) to discern what was of God in local culture, and to adapt their evangelization to the needs of those they served.

The final lecture was given by Dr Rowan Williams, Master of Magdalene College Cambridge.  His topic: Liberal education, the Jesuit response to a theological imperative.  Dr Williams echoed themes introduced by previous speakers: Jesuit education as an extension of the process of formation in community and in humanity; education, not as a commodity but as a ministry; the importance, in education, to balance universal or strategic priorities and goals with local custom and practice.  He pointed to Ignatius’ concern to produce responsible and responsive citizens through a broad curriculum addressing arts and sciences as well as theology.  “Thinking theologically is the same as thinking”.