In this article, Ong looks at St. Ignatius' prison-cage image, found in the first week of Spiritual Exercises.  This image, in which the soul is characterized as being trapped in the body as though it were in a prison and both the soul and the body are exiled among wild animals, is an image that people often find confusing; the confusion is indeed so great that most people writing about St. Ignatius and the Spiritual Exercises pass over this image for the most part.

Those who do approach the problem presented by the image, that the body functions as both a protector of the soul and an obstacle for the soul when engaging the outside world, do not really get to the root of the problem.  Ong offers three interpretations of the image advanced by others (that the soul in the body is an analogy for exile among the animals, that the two parts of the image must be taken separately, and that the two parts can simply be "lumped together" without specific discussion of their own existence as separate images), all of which he finds unsatisfactory because of their orthodox nature.

Ong then offers his own interpretation of the image, which entails looking at symbolism in a less orthodox way, through the approach of contemporary psychoanalysts such as Jung.  The reason for the use of this more contemporary approach (Ong shows through an explanation of the symbolism of water through an orthodox Christian approach and then through the Jungian approach), is that the more orthodox approach simply states that a symbol is a symbol because it is, rather than showing how a symbol springs from something primordial in human consciousness.

In the case of St. Ignatius' prison-cage image, the image is related to the partaking of the sacraments but it is also related to symbols of the mind and the self, specifically the idea of separation between the self and others.  The prison-cage/body acts as a "transit" between two worlds, the interior world of the soul (that cannot be understood by other people but can be understood by God) and the exterior world which the soul is always engaging but is unable to make a complete connection with (unlike its connection with God, which can easily be completed).

The prison-cage/body can fairly easily be understood as something which is both a protector for the soul from the exterior world and a hindrance when the soul wants to connect with that world.  Given this interpretation of the prison-cage/body, the realm of the wild animals into which the soul and body are exiled comes to represent the isolation of the self.  The animals might also be thought of as dark passions or "the other," but all interpretations represent how the self remains separate from others.

Finally, Ong connects the prison-cage image to the mandala, an image found in many different cultures and analyzed by Jung as a symbol for the self's relationship to the world.  While Ong does not believe that St. Ignatius' prison-cage is a mandala (the preference for four-sided figures over three-sided ones common to mandalas is not present in the prison-cage image), he does believe that the portable enclosure suggested by the prison-cage functions much like the mandala does.

In the conclusion to this article, Ong also makes some suggestions about how the prison-cage image could be discussed further, particularly in an interdisciplinary way (Ong's approach in the article does exactly this by combining psychology and theology to analyze the image).  For example, Ong believes much more could be said about the relationship between theology and physics in St. Ignatius' time, a comment that reminds readers of other articles by Ong, particularly "Renaissance Ideas and the Catholic Mind" and "Ramus:  Rhetoric and the Pre-Newtonian Mind."

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