Both of these background pieces on Gallicanism and Regicide (see previous) , bring into sharp focus a real issue for many Jesuits. What are the limits of political activism? Canon Law forbids all priests to hold public political office (Canon 285). Many politicians would rather not have the church interfering with affairs of the state. However at its best religious leadership should supply an effective voice of conscience to those in power, especially on behalf of the poor and marginalised. This, speaking truth to power, is very uncomfortable for the rulers of this world. From John the Baptist to St Thomas a Becket – ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?’
In the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius – Jesuits are asked to respond to the Call of the King, but the Spiritual Kingship of Christ the King is contrasted with a Temporal King. We are also reminded in the reflection of the Two Standards – how the snares of wealth, power and honour are used by the enemy of human nature to lead us astray. So we are called to help build the Kingdom of God, but to resist it becoming our Kingdom. We are asked to be influential in the corridors of power without be influenced and seduced by the glamour of power.
This is a difficult tight-rope to walk. It is well worth remembering Ignatius strong stance against Clerical Ambition. Ignatius saw the ambition of clerics to be named bishops and cardinals, as a clear path to corruption. Many of the bishoprics and titles of the church were accompanied by considerable wealth and influence. This was directly opposed to apostolic poverty – which for Ignatius was a bulwark of religious life. Ironically the checks and balances that were placed in the Constitutions to counteract these tendencies for many has led to an effective apostolic life – which can being considerable influence. The heart of the matter for Ignatius was to safeguard a freedom and indifference to the honours of the world. This freedom increases the likelihood that God’s will is being discerned – a difficult freedom to maintain amidst the seductions of power