My issue with Roman Catholicism


Can you explain why it is ok to use imagination to write an icon (which is prayer), but it isn’t ok to use imagination to pray the scriptures, for instance?

If you can, then I might be able to address your question.


I spent the first 30 years of my Catholic faith in a Ukrainian Catholic church. It was an over load of sensory! Icons icons icons everywhere, the scent of candles, the sound of bells, even on the insensor. The prostrations. The beautiful imagery of angels as posted by Vico within the Liturgy itself. I always thought the Divine Liturgy engaged all the senses.

Now I am in an RC church and it’s the polar opposite. Stripped of all these things. It’s like poverty to me. I guess I don’t get your question.


Sure, but in this regard your situation isn’t any different from other (prospective) Catholics. Within the RCC one finds a large variety of practices and a large number of religious orders, movements, institutions, etc., each with their own style and emphasis. Some you’ll like, some you won’t. If it just so happens that the church and monastery near you engage in spiritual practices that don’t appeal to you, that’s minor bad luck, but there’s nothing unusual about it. You’ll just have to make your way to another RCC parish, church, monastery, order, etc. where they do things in a way that appeals to you. Countless other Catholics do the same.


I can’t help but wonder: if you’re so convinced you are where you are supposed to be, why do you want us to persuade you that you are wrong?


Prayer with the imagination is only one part of Ignatian Spirituality.

The Spiritual Exercises can be a life-changing thing, if you let it.

I think that you are getting too caught up in terminology and semantics.


Honestly OP, your interactions here sounds like this to me:
“I’m Orthodox and I firmly believe that the Orthodox Churches are right and that the Roman Catholic Church is wrong, but try to convince me otherwise.”

I stand with @Angel_Bradford


I have struggled with which church to belong too.

I guess I ended up sticking with Catholicism because I would rather be apart of a unified Church and not a Church so divided against itself like most of the Orthodox Bishops. Orthodoxy seems to break from each other over silly things.

Also, have you checked out Eastern Catholicism? I’m sure it would satisfy the desire for Eastern Orthodox worship and theology while at the same time being in union with Rome.


You are Oriental Orthodox, not Eastern Orthodox - two completely different communions - but I assume you are deliberately conflating them in this thread as you feel this is an issue where both the OO and EO are aligned and the CC departs?

I too wonder about icons. How can an Orthodox Christian pray before icons without imagination? Is not the image entering one’s mind?
When I pray the Rosary, I usually fix in my mind the scene of the mystery - like Christ on the cross - but it’s basically just a mental icon.


Your return to Catholicism need not be to the Latin (or Roman) Church. There are Oriental Catholic churches whose praxis would be similar to the Coptic (Oriental) Orthodox praxis. I do not claim one would be easy to find in the West; I simply don’t know. However, your question mentions the Eastern Orthodox a lot and most of the Eastern Catholic churches are similar in praxis to the Eastern Orthodox churches. They are easier to find in the West.

If you originally left the Latin Church canon law may prescribe your return to it. I don’t know; I’m not a canon lawyer. However, that would be only your technical, canonical status. There would be nothing to stop you making an Eastern or Oriental* Catholic church your regular place of worship.

*I can only tell you there are Eastern and Oriental Catholic churches. My knowledge is insufficient to explain their differences and which of the 20-odd Eastern/Oriental churches in the Catholic communion are which. Perhaps other members can assist with that.


I have a very vivid and sometimes over reactive imagination. I always have mental images when I pray and read. As I read, sacred scripture included, the words that I read play out like a movie in my mind. When I say the rosary the mysteries also play out like a movie in my mind. Is this wrong?


Along the lines of what twf posted above, isn’t the Orthodox discouragement of mental imagery hypocritical since they use physical imagery called icons which could not be created without the original artist using mental imagery.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with pondering things in your heart. Scripture says, “But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)


The Orthodox pray the rosary do they not? What of the mysteries?


This illustrates the problem in my above post. What is “mental imagery”, if you take the time to read the linked article of the OP, your concerns are answered. But that is the point, we as Catholics do not have this well defined concept of “mental imagery”. Indeed, I cannot help but think that the orthodox definition of it has evolved over the years to become rather nuanced so as not to include iconoclasm in their prohibition of the practice. But, if I understand their rather nuanced definition, mental imagery is not widely practiced at all in the Catholic Church, certainly not really encouraged.


A few of my comments.

Firstly, the Spiritual Exercises by St Ignatius Loyola are not a treatise on the spiritual life nor were they meant to be. St Ignatius himself experienced some very powerful mystical graces and illuminations from God which mystical graces generally affect the soul permanently in one way but are transient in another way. Most people don’t experience these kinds of graces which are pure gifts from God and St Ignatius received these graces for specific purposes and to help ordinary Christians to be better Christians in doing God’s will such as discerning a vocation in life or fulfilling God’s will more perfectly on a daily basis in a vocation they are already in.

Secondly, Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We are Christians because we follow Christ, his teaching, the way he lived on earth. Jesus is our example and Way to heaven and eternal life with God. So we study his life as we know it from the gospels, the writings of the Apostles who knew him so as to conform ourselves to the incarnate Jesus who is a God-Man and be united to him in truth and love. We may also study and imitate the lives of the saints who were conformed to Jesus. But, there are many paths to God just as there are many saints with various charisms. To imitate Jesus’ life on earth and to meditate on it so to conform our lives to his is going to naturally involve the use of the imagination and picturing to ourselves various gospel scenes. Jesus is not a pure spirit as neither are we but he has a human body like we do.

Thirdly, various desert fathers of early Christianity, monks, and the early church fathers whom we call saints are not the only Christians throughout the history of the Church that were saints. We have saints in every age of Christianity and with a variety of charisms. The early saints are not necessarily greater or more holy saints than those that came after them. Later saints had the advantage of building as it were on the teaching of earlier saints and making corrections if necessary. Divine revelation and various doctrines of the Church have become better known and understood through time through the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.

Fourthly, Christian mysticism has a long tradition in the Church and there are representatives of it throughout the Church’s history in various ways and among many saints. Some difficulties involved with the mystical experiences of the mystics and contemplative prayer in the Church’s tradition was trying to put in human language that which is beyond human language as well as relating their experiences to Church doctrine and sound philosophy. Two great masters and doctors of the Catholic Church in more recent times of the spiritual life and the mystical life or infused contemplation are St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross (16th century).



To make a long story short, both of these mystics would not agree that we need or ought to do away with corporeal or sensible images such as in the imagination in prayer unless God leads a soul such, such as in infused contemplation or in other mystical graces of prayer which in this life are not continuous to the extent that they suspend all the faculties of the soul at all times so that the soul is unable to perform earthly and ordinary daily tasks while still in their bodies. In fact, St Teresa of Avila says that she was told by various spiritual directors that as she was being led to more advanced stages of mystical prayer that she no longer ought to dwell on sensible images including the humanity of Christ or his Passion, the Blessed Virgin, various gospel scenes and mysteries, or the lives of the saints. However, she says, she learned by experience that this idea did her more harm than good and so she expressly advises against it no matter what stage of prayer a soul may be in including the mystical stages.

St Teresa says the incarnate Jesus is our Way, the Truth, and the Life and as such his humanity nor our Blessed Mother are hindrances but rather a great help to us to which we can always turn especially if a soul is not experiencing infused contemplation which in this life is not continuous to such an extent that even in the transforming union a soul cannot or should not turn to them.

Both St Teresa and St John of the Cross teach that under the influence of infused contemplation we ought not by ourselves force the activities of our faculties but passively follow the lead of the Holy Spirit who is engaging or suspending the activity of the faculties or one or two of them by himself. Infused contemplation which St John calls a ‘loving knowledge’ is a pure supernatural gift, it is not something that we can acquire by our own efforts even under the influence of ‘ordinary’ graces of prayer. St John of the Cross says that one of the signs of infused contemplation is that a person is habitually unable to discursively meditate using their reason and imagination although this can also be due to the natural dispositions of various people. They counsel however that unless one is under the influence of infused contemplation, he/she ought to engage in a peaceful manner their faculties in prayer or meditation as best they can without wearing themselves out. Sometimes a person might want to just sit before the Lord such as in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in a peaceful manner and talk to him with whatever comes to mind as well as listen to the Lord without doing much work with the faculties especially if they are already tired like from work.


One thing to consider about your cautious feeling regarding the Spiritual Exercises, is it could stem from a more natural aptitude for trusting in the intellect over experience. Satan can work his way into both intellect and imagination in different ways. Catholic wisdom proscribes doing any spiritual work in a vacuum. We need direction.


You’re proceeding from a false premise here.

Icons are not art, unlike religious statues and paintings. They very much do not express actual features of specific persons, for example. Everything that makes it into an icon has meaning.

In the early days, when most were illiterate, they were a primary means of instructions.

Anyway, if it has the author’s artistic flair in it, it’s not an icon, even if it was modeled after one.

As Willy Wonka put it: strike that; reverse it.

It is the mind attempting to enter the prayer that the icon already is. They are “written”, not painted, and windows between heaving and earth.

There are similar Eastern devotions that even predate the roars, but generally (always?) without the mysteries attached to the decades. The Rosary is very much a western devotion, and not a universal one–much like the west doesn’t use the Marian akathists.


Yet you do see a physical image. That physical image is reflected in your eyes. Your brain interprets that physical image. I don’t get it… are you saying that, from an Eastern perspective, to have any sort of image in your mind is dangerous / sinful? Where do you draw the line? When you pray, there is never ever any sort of image, pattern, colour, etc. that enters into your brain? How do you approach the Eastern Divine Liturgy, which for me as a Westerner is like SENSORY OVERLOAD…I mean the Eastern liturgy STIMULATES every sense to the extreme. Its wonderful, its beautiful… but for me to attend an Eastern Divine Liturgy and not stimulate my imagination is beyond my comprehension. Please help me understand.

I’ll give you an example. If I’m praying the Rosary and the mystery happens to be the presentation in the temple, I usually fix in my mind a mental image of Our Lady hold the Christ child before Simeon. It doesn’t move. It doesn’t evolve past that. Its a static mental image of that scene. From an Eastern perspective is that dangerous, wrong, sinful as the OP seems to imply?


This is a very interesting discussion. I go to a Jesuit Parish, and I have done imagination prayer in a retreat. I really took to it. It was a very good experienced that helped me. I can’t clear my mind like in centering prayer.

After being around Jesuits a while, going to their parish, and reading writings of their members, I honestly think you are asking the wrong question.

First, they would fully acknowledge, that if you are “open” you are open to both good and bad influences. They would say that if you have a great spiritual experience, you must expect a counter attack…they literally say this in some of the more recent writings on Ignatian spirituality. Part of the spiritual exercises is how you deal with that…for starters you don’t discern alone…so they’d say this part was not an issue.

More importantly, I think there would not be understanding as to why you are asking the question in the first place. So imagination prayer is not like prayer of the early church fathers…so what?! Things change…if there is anything that I’ve learned about Jesuit spirituality is that they think things change.

I mean if you have a problem with spiritual exercises (nearly a half of a millennia old)…that is kinda just the tip of the iceberg.


All human argumentation is academic, if not sophomoric. Nothing that you desire has been condemned or disallowed by the Church.

Go before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and lay your doubts out before Him. Then, be as patient with Him as He has been with you.

When you receive your answer, your consolation, you will be changed.

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