IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA by W.W. Meissner

IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA

The Psychology of a Saint
Age Range: 1491 - 1556
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Far-reaching, sometimes far-fetched psychobiography of the Catholic mystic, saint, and founder of the Jesuits. Ignatius (1491-1556) has been the subject of hundreds of biographies, but Meissner (Psychoanalysis/Boston College), a Jesuit himself, is the first to attempt a full-scale psychoanalytic life. His model is Freud's psychobiography of Leonardo da Vinci, and the Viennese master's thought is much in evidence here. For instance, after noting the premature death of Ignatius's mother, Meissner reports not only Ignatius's reactions as indicated by the historical record but also the thoughts of a herd of psychiatrists (Spitz, Solnit, Rochlin, Fleming, Lewin, Birtchnell, et al.) on early maternal loss. This approach permeates, and sometimes suffocates, the text. At the same time, Meissner shows considerable biographical skill, ably laying out the major stages in Ignatius's life: early adventures as soldier, gallant, and libertine (Meissner finds evidence here of ``phallic narcissism''); conversion while recovering from a horrible cannonball wound; years of asceticism; visit to Jerusalem; founding of the Jesuits, etc. By excising the psychoanalytical material, readers will discover a first-rate biography, richly researched and elevated by the author's fierce admiration for his subject. Those preferring to keep their book intact will find a full spectrum of psychological insights, some obvious (that the name-change from Inigo to Ignatius signaled a new spiritual identity); some tantalizing (that Ignatius's Marian devotion sprang from ``libidinal attraction'' to his brother's wife); some common-sensical (that Ignatius's ``zeal was inexhaustible''); some nonsensical (interpreting ``water from the side of Christ,'' a classic biblical image found in a line of Ignatius's poetry, as amniotic fluid). An ambitious attempt to join the couch and the prie-dieu, this reveals much about the saint as a man, almost nothing about the man as a saint. (Twenty-four illustrations.)

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1992
ISBN: 0-300-05156-5
Page count: 528pp
Publisher: Yale Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1992