Like the Word Justice , the Word Indifference Is Not Taken in Its Commonly Accepted Sense

Like the Word Justice , the Word Indifference Is Not Taken in Its Commonly Accepted Sense



Like the word ‘justice’, the word indifference is not taken in its commonly accepted sense in Rosminian spirituality. Dictionaries variously describe indifference as ‘absence of interest or attention’, ‘neutrality’; ‘unimportance’, ‘lack of care or concern’; ‘lack of quality’; ‘mediocrity’; ‘insignificance’. Indifferent is given as; ‘neutral’; ‘impartial;’ having no inclination for or against’; ‘showing no care or concern’; ‘uninterested’; ‘unimportant or immaterial’ and so on. But one explanation, ‘showing or having no preferences’ will have a bearing on what follows. So in common parlance it really means a couldn’t-care-less’ attitude. “Ever heard of Rosminian indifference?” “No; and I couldn’t care less”!

As we shall see indifference, as practised in our relationship with God in the Institute of Charity, is anything but disinterested, for it consist in a readiness to do God’s will when this is made known. Rosmini wrote to Father Pietro Rigler regarding the contemplative life being a preparation for the active life, as follows, ‘We have always to bear in mind that our state of contemplation must never be a state of inertia. Rather it is a state of preparation in which we build up our fervour, our generosity, and grow in grace so that we shall be ready for and zealous in the works to which the Lord may call us. We have to remain hidden, like lions in their den, while we give ourselves to contemplation in our houses: we must be like drawn bows, like a vessel of corked wine, a force contained until the moment when it can burst out with all the greater power.’[1] More particularly, then, we can say that indifference is an active preparation and a state of availability, the disposition to do God’s will whenever this is made known to us.


In the Constitutions of the Institute Rosmini writes, ‘If the [postulant] really desires to strive after one thing only, to become more pleasing to God every day, he must make himself indifferent to all the means by which God may wish to bring about his salvation. This indifference extends to everything in the world, so that he may not love one thing more than another until he knows God’s will concerning it, when it will be clear how God, in his divine plan, intends him to strive for the height of perfection’[2]

Rosmini was greatly influenced in this matter by St Ignatius of Loyola. In his Spiritual Exercises Ignatius says:

The human person is created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by doing so to save his or her soul. The other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created. It follows from this that one must use other created things in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end. To do this we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no prohibition. Thus as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.[3]

In 1840 Antonio Rosmini published a book called Manuale dell’esercitatore [A Manual for the Retreat-giver]. In this book he included a series of spiritual exercises, Serie degli Esercizi and for the second day he wrote:

Man is created for happiness which he also finds in his union with God.

Because everything else is created for man, in order that it might help him to obtain the end for which he is created, he must use things only as much and in so far as they help him to obtain his end, and refrain from and free himself from them in so far a they impede him from obtaining it. To this end it is necessary that we establish our soul in a state of perfect indifference towards them, in such a way (as far as we can) not to wish for health rather than sickness, nor riches more than poverty, nor honour more than disgrace, nor a long life more than a short one and similarly for all the rest, desiring and choosing only that which better leads us to the end for which we are created.[4]

The underlining shows what is common to Ignatius and Rosmini. François Evain S.J., who edited the Critical Edition of Manuale dell’ esercitatore, points out that, notwithstanding the suppression of the Jesuit Order for 40 years (1773–1814), Ignatian spirituality had remained alive in the North of Italy. The Swiss ex-Jesuit Nicholas de Diesbach (1732–1798) had taken refuge in the North of Italy after the dissolution of the Order and kept on preaching the Exercises of St Ignatius and he was the spiritual father of Pio Brunone Lanteri, the founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary and also a promoter of the Exercises. He had written a Directory in 1803 for the use of those doing the Exercises of the same type as Rosmini would write. As we see, the restoration of the Company of Jesus in 1814 preceded only a little the period of Rosmini’s ecclesiastical studies.[5]

Rosmini had been interested in St Ignatius and the Society of Jesus from his earliest years. In 1814, when he was only 17, we find him rejoicing with his friends, Don Luigi Sonn and Don Simone Tevini, who were living at Trent, at the re-establishment of the Society of Jesus by Pius VII decreed by the Bull Sollecitudo 0mnium Ecclesiarum of 7 August 1814. He secretly procured the Ignatian Rules and all three expressed an inclination to become Jesuits. He did, however, express some reservations regarding Ignatian obedience.[6] In 1819 he recommended Imago Primi Saeculi Societatis Jesu [Picture of the First Century of the Society of Jesus] among the books for the Society of Friends which he envisaged forming.[7] In 1820 he made notes for a letter in praise of the Society of Jesus directed to his friend Don Giuseppe, probably Brunati, who was an admirer of the Jesuits and, later, a Jesuit himself. Rosmini suggested points for a document or a conference on the Order of St Ignatius.[8] In 1826 he replied to a letter from St Maddalena di Canossa on the subject of Ignatius not permitting his brethren to exercise ecclesiastical ministry,[9] In the same year Rosmini published his book, Sull’unità dell’educazione [On the unity of education]. In this book he says that young people should be taught that God alone is the absolute good. All other goods are of value only in so far as they help to make us a more holy and true adorer of God. St Ignatius, he says, taught this in his Spiritual Exercises.

The editor of the book adds, in a note, that Rosmini would use this work in his Constitutions, Maxims of Christian Perfection and Manual for the Retreat-giver (see above).[10]

Evain states that the first, mention of the Exercises is in a letter to Loewenbruck 31 August 1827, be that as it may, it would seem that he has overlooked the above work of Rosmini. However, Rosmini says: ‘At present I am familiarising myself with the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. The more I meditate on this little book, the more it comes home to me that it is a great work, and I hope that it will be most useful to us, as it was of such value to the Company of Jesus in its early days. It has the power to lead the heart to virtue and even to the highest perfection.’[11] Perhaps more significantly apropos of the present article he wrote to don Giuseppe Brunati on 28 November of the same year , ‘The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius are truly effective in showing us what is the will of God concerning our state of life.’[12]

The years 1826–8 saw Rosmini at Milan composing his Directorium Spiritus which consisted of extensive notes and quotations, drawing on the Fathers and spiritual writers, a remote preparation for the writing of the Constitutions. I shall refer to this later. At the same time and for the same reason he was making a particular study of the writings of St Ignatius of Loyola. On 12 August 1827 he writes to Giacomo Mellerio, ‘I have kept with me two books, Gerbet and the Regulae Soc. Jesu [Rules of the Society of Jesus] to take to the Tyrol.[13] He gets Don Paolo Orsi to send him the Sancti Ignatii Exercitia [The Exercises of Saint Ignatius] and the Directorium in Exercitia Spiritualia B.P.N. Ignatii [The Directorium on the Spiritual Exercises of our Blessed Father Ignatius], ‘Two little books in Latin which are on the bookcase of my bedroom to the right of the window …they will both be together.’[14] Finally he tells Orsi that he and his secretary prepare for their lunch by reading a passage from the life of St Ignatius.[15] Thus at the time of writing the Constitutions at Monte Calvario during the Lent of 1828 he was thoroughly conversant with the writings of Ignatius for which he had a special love and incorporated Ignatius’ teaching on indifference into his own Constitutions and Rule.

Indifference in the Constitutions

Let us now take a look at the Constitutions and see what Rosmini writes there concerning indifference. From what I have already said it will not be surprising that it is very similar to what Ignatius teaches in the Spiritual Exercises and which Rosmini used in his own Exercises in the Manuale dell’ esercitatore. Indeed, he started preaching the Spiritual Exercises in 1830 and would continue to study them. In a letter to Loewenbruk on 25 June 1827 he had said, that as regards a love for one’s Institute we may err by excess of defect, but the latter may be obviated by the various rules which are intended to foster love for our Institute; ‘and nothing is more wonderfully calculated to bring this about than the rules of St Ignatius.’[16]

After describing the Institute of Charity.[17] Rosmini explains that the first probation for those asking to be admitted to the Society consists of examination, instruction, and exercise. The postulants must be examined to see if they have the qualities and endowments appropriate to persons entering the Society with its different permanent states. Next they must be instructed in the nature of the Society itself and finally undergo a period of exercise in the works of piety so that they may enter the noviciate or be approved for acceptance among the Ascribed Members. The first probation should vary according to the various states to which the postulants can be directed. For instance, those who wish to enter the noviciate will have a probation different from those intending to become Ascribed Members. The first examination which is really a registration of details of age, name, country etc. is common to all.[18] Rosmini then goes on to a second examination for those intending to become professed members of the Institute.

If the postulant is intent on becoming more and more pleasing to God each day, he must make himself indifferent to all the means which God may wish to use to bring this about. This extends to everything and he may not love one thing more than another until he knows what God’s will is regarding it. This because all is in God’s hands and he alone knows what is really good or bad for us until he makes it clear to us. So the postulant must make himself indifferent by using his free will, irrespective of his natural inclinations. Rosmini is talking not just of what the postulant likes and dislikes which must be subjected to the will of God, but also of the make-up of his personality, that is, what he is fitted for by his natural gifts and temperament. The postulant is to be examined to see if he is ready to beg God’s grace to maintain indifference of the will and in particular:

1. Would he be more willing to be despised and discredited rather to live highly esteemed by others if this is God’s will for him, even if he thinks that he could serve God by being highly thought of.

2. Would he prefer, or wish to prefer, to serve God by discomfort and suffering if he knew this to be more in accordance with God’s will, even though he thought he could serve him equally well among riches and pleasures?

3. Is he prepared, or does he wish to be prepared, to act with equal readiness health or sickness, whichever he finds more in accordance with God’s will?

4. Does he wish to remain indifferent to a long or short life, to a life shortened by labours of charity endured for the name of Jesus?

5. Is he prepared, or does he wish to prepare himself, to lay aside his personal likes and dislikes, and discharge any post or duty in this life, that is, whatever is more in keeping with God’s will?

Rosmini goes on to warn the postulants against making grand promises and yet not allowing themselves to be moved by the Holy Spirit! In other words, they need to have a disciple’s ear to hear what the Spirit is saying to them.[19] It is essential for them be prepared to lay aside completely their own will in exercising charitable works, to show themselves indifferent to everything.[20]

The aim is to make God’s will their own in every aspect of life and to be as closely united to him as far as possible in this life.

Later in the same chapter of the Constitutions the above questions are reduced to three:

1. Is the postulant willing to go to any place and live there as obedience requires?

(This does not mean just any house of the Order but any place in the world).

2. Does he wish to show complete indifference to any grade high or low according to the discretion of the superiors?

3. Does he wish to show himself ready to accept any post whatever given him through obedience as the will of God; in spite of his own longings and inclinations?

In volume II of the Directorium Spiritus Rosmini quotes from the Rule of Cesarius of Arles, and the Rule of St Benedict about indifference to works or professions and how these depend on obedience.[21]