By André Brouillette, SJ
Magis is a key word in Ignatian spirituality. It is a Latin term that means “more.” St. Ignatius of Loyola used the Spanish más to express the same idea, especially in his Spiritual Exercises. The risk of a mere quantitative reading of this spiritual exhortation is obvious: more, more, always more. More activity, more prayer, more work. Activism can be unhealthy, leaving us exhausted. So, what is the Ignatian magis?
First of all, we can look at it from the perspective of movement—from satis to magis. Satis can be translated as “enough,” “adequate,” or “sufficient”; for example, being satisfied with a job, or satisfying or fulfilling requirements. We have done enough. We can stop now. There is no need to go any further. Maybe we can even rest on our laurels! The movement stops. We settle down. It can sometimes mean that we have simply done the minimum.
The magis, however, disrupts this state of complacency. It awakens consciousness, enabling us to imagine something else. It broadens the horizon of movement and growth. It does not contradict the satis but invites us to transcend it, using another kind of logic, the logic of growth and even of generosity.
In the Gospel according to St. Matthew (19:16–22), the encounter between Jesus and a young man opens us to a new way of seeing. This person comes to Jesus to ask him what good thing he must do to have eternal life. He wants to know what is required; not necessarily the minimum, but what should be done. Jesus reminds him of the importance of the commandments, of what is forbidden: murder, adultery, theft, false testimony. He reiterates the importance of honoring one’s parents and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. In this way, Jesus confirms what every good Jew already knew; he describes a path toward God that is shaped by attention to others in a very incarnate way. To truly love and care for the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor person is already huge! But the young man wants to go even further. He is already doing all this. He wants more, he wants to go further, he wants to know if there is another path that goes beyond this already exceptional way of being.
Jesus responds to his request by proposing such a “more”: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, give it to the poor […]. Then come, follow me.” This invitation is not an obligation, it responds to the young man’s desire. If you want, you can give away everything and follow me. Beyond justice and goodness, there is gratuitous generosity.
Ignatius presents a similar logic in the Kingdom meditation of the Spiritual Exercises (§ 91–100). When Christ invites us to work with him, to commit ourselves to following him, all good Christians are invited to say “yes,” to offer ourselves to the work that is to come. Such a response is expected of all of us, regardless of our state of life. Ignatius then opens a window onto another horizon: If some people wish to distinguish themselves more (más) in how they serve Christ, they can make an even more radical offering, committing themselves to accept even insults, if the Lord calls them to do so. Such an offering is not an obligation. It is not “necessary”; it arises from the generosity of those who desire to offer themselves to Christ. It is interesting to note that for the young man of the Gospel, like the sincere Christian who makes the Spiritual Exercises, the invitation to a “more” is part of a personal relationship with Jesus and the consequent offering of self in response.
In fact, the Ignatian magis is best understood through this logic of growth in love. It’s not about doing enough or not doing enough or doing more. It’s not a question of quantifying anything. It’s about entering into the logic of an incarnate love—through deeds more than through words—that will grow increasingly deeper (Spiritual Exercises, § 230-231).
The lover wants to share everything with the beloved and vice versa. This mutual self-giving is dynamic, always wanting to give more; the relationship deepens, love becomes more unitive, purer, truer, greater. Love always keeps us moving, growing. This is the heart of the experience of the Ignatian magis—a love that continuously opens us to the possibility of renewed incarnation.