These compromises seemed to placate the atheists and agnostics and made wide the gate leading to acceptance by many people of all races, religions, gender, financial position, social standing,, etc.,,, of the twelve steps. Bill’s desire was to make the steps acceptable to agnostics, atheists, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Catholics, Masons, or any religious organization and non- believers. The title, Alcoholics Anonymous, was chosen after many name considerations.
With the success for alcoholics using 12 step principles many other programs for various addictions, i.e., smoking, obesity, etc., incorporated and adapted the 12 step tactics into their programs. Many churches have utilized this approach in recovery classes they have sponsored.
Let us return to the time that Bill W. was in Towns hospital and had the hot flash conversion, the room filled with a great white light and Bill experienced a feeling of a great Presence. Was it the same power that inspired him as he relaxed and asked for guidance? To whom was the request for “guidance” directed to? Was it to the Christian God— Jesus Christ the Divine Son of God? Was it to some unknown god or no god? To a pantheistic god? None of the books containing the story of this event including Bill’s own words give us a direct answer. Bill has previously stated that he was not able to accept a King on High who he could have a relationship with, yet he could accept a Universal mind, Nature Spirit type god, a pantheistic style god—The Great Reality deep down within.
This question, not yet answered, is very important because if the 12 step fellowship method goes to the whole world, the power source of Bill’s inspiration in developing the 12 steps will be the power of influence exerted over the world. A result of sobriety cannot of itself be the criteria we use to determine the source of power, as Satan is given great power to heal. He may come as an angel of light in the form of man, even a minister, and deceive even the very elect. The Bible tells us we cannot serve two masters; we must determine if the power is of Jesus Christ our Creator God or of His adversary.
Would I expect the power of Jesus Christ the Divine Son of God to be manifest in a person who denies Him, who has been active as a medium contacting spirits of the dead; visited with embodied spirits; who played the Ouija board in a vigorous manner; promoted books written by notorious spiritualist mediums and/or a minister who denies the Divinity of Christ and teaches that we have divinity within to bring spirituality to an individual seeking change? If Bill’s inspiration was not from the Christian God of a 6 day Creation, then how could the 12 step method be so beneficial, so effective? As we continue to follow the story of the popularity and growth of AA and the 12 steps in recovery programs this question, “what is the source of power of the spirituality of these steps?” This should be uppermost in our mind.
In 1938, Alcoholics Anonymous was published and began to be the written guide used in the fellowship meetings. Progress in increasing numbers of groups and of people continued but slowly. When Father Edward Dowling, the Jesuit priest, from St. Louis, visited Bill W. he said:
…we have been looking at this book, “Alcoholic Anonymous.”
Roman Catholic Church. He is also known as a Christian mystic. A comment from author Ed-mund Paris, in his book, The Secret History of the Jesuits, follows:
Ignatius of Loyola was a first-class example of that “active mysticism” and “distortion of the will.” Never the less, the transformation of the gentlemen-warrior into the “general” of the most militant order in the Roman Church was very slow; there were many faltering steps before he found his true vocation….
Blissful visions and illuminations were constant companions of this mystic throughout his life.
He never doubted the reality of these revelations. He chased Satan with a stick as he would have done a mad dog; he talked to the Holy Spirit as one does to another person actually; he asked for the approval of God, the Trinity and the Madonna on all his projects and would burst into tears of joy when they appeared to him. On those occasions, he had a foretaste of celestial bliss; the heavens were open to him, and the Godhead was visible and perceptible to him.
…From the start, medieval mysticism has prevailed in the Society of Jesus; it is still the great animator, in spite of its readily assumed worldly, intellectual and learned aspects.
What is the origin of his spiritual exercises? A comment is made contrasting the direction that Luther chose in his drive to follow God in comparison to Ignatius’ choice is presented.
Inigo, instead of feeling that his remorse was sent to drive him to the foot of the cross, persuaded himself that these inward reproaches proceeded not from God, but from the devil; and he resolved never more to think of his sins, to erase them from his memory, and bury them in eternal oblivion. Luther turned toward Christ, Loyola only fell upon himself…visions came erelong to confirm Inigo in the convictions in which he had arrived…Inigo did not seek truth in the Holy Scriptures but imagined in their place immediate communication with the world of spirits…Luther, on taking his Doctors degree, had pledged his oath to holy scripture … Loyola at his time, bound himself to dreams and visions; and chimerical (fantasy plots) apparitions became the principle of his life and his faith.
Ignatius, in choosing to follow the god revealed to him in his visions and apparitions did not choose the same God of Luther but chose a pantheistic god as revealed in the following statement presented by the Catholic Brentwood Religious Education Service, April 2005:
Then perhaps we begin to see the examen (prayer and meditation) as so intimately connected to our growing identity and so important to our finding God in all things at all times that it becomes our central daily experience of prayer. For Ignatius finding God in all things is what life is all about. Near the end of his life, he said that ‘Whenever he wished, at whatever hour, he could find God.’ (Autobiography, p. 99) (Emphasis added)
Being able to find God whenever he wanted, Ignatius was now able to find that God of love in all things through a test for congruence of any interior impulse, mood or feeling with his true self. “For now my place is in him, and I am not dependent upon any of the self-achieved righteousness of the Law.” (Philippians 3:9) (Emphasis added)
Early in his career Ignatius was arrested three times and imprisoned twice by the Inquisition because of his teachings. He had a special ability to attract young people and this he did on university campuses. What was it that made him so attractive?
…It was his ideal and a little charm he carried on himself: a small book, in fact a very minute book which is, in spite of its smallness amongst those which have influenced the fate of humanity. This volume has been printed so many times that the number of copies is unknown; it was also the object of more than four hundred commentaries. It is the textbook of their master: the spiritual exercises.
Edmund Paris sums up the value and effect of these Spiritual Exercises:
It is understandable that after four weeks devoted to these intensive Exercises, with a director as his only companion, the candidate would be ripe for the subsequent training and breaking. … Imposing on his disciples actions which, to him, were spontaneous, he needed just thirty days to break, with this method, the will and reasoning, in the manner in which a rider breaks his horse. He only needed thirty days triginta dies to subdue a soul. (Emphasis added)
In the book, Ignatius of Loyola, The Psychology of a Saint, by W.W. Meissner, S.J., M.D., p. 87 gives us a glimpse of the influence of Ignatius’ Exercises upon the Church for the last four and one half centuries.
Spiritual Exercises is one of the most influential works in Western civilization. It became a guide for spiritual renewal in the Roman church during the entire counter-Reformation and has been a primary influence in the spiritual life of the church ever since, particularly through the efforts of Ignatius’ followers in the Society of Jesus. It remains a powerful influence and is the basis for much of the contemporary retreat movement.
…It contains a series of practical directives—methods of examining one’s conscience, engaging in prayer of various kinds, deliberating or making life choices, and meditating. This program of spiritual development, if you will, is interspersed with outlines and directives for various meditations and contemplations….
Later in the year of 1940, Bill W. traveled to St. Louis to visit Fr. Dowling. Bill noticed in the office of the Queen’s Work, the outline of the similarities between AA’s 12 Steps and Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. John Markoe a Jesuit priest and an alcoholic had prepared the outline. Bill W. and Ed Dowling continued a close friendship for the following 20 years until the death of Dowling. There were around 150 letters written between these two men during those years as well as many visits with each other. Robert Fitzgerald, S.J. , a member of the order of Jesuits that Ed Dowling belonged to, gathered together the letters spoken of above and published in 1995 the book, The Soul of Sponsorship, illustrating their friendship. From this book some following paragraphs share some of their correspondence.
In 1952 Bill W. began to work on a small book which he purposed to be an addition to the literature for Alcoholics Anonymous, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions. Bill wrote to Ed Dowling in May 1952, requesting a copy of the Spiritual Exercises of Loyola, for he wished to study them so as to help him in composing the rest of his essays. Along with the letter requesting a copy of the Spiritual Exercises Bill had sent to Dowling copies of his essays, two of the 12 Steps. The book was to consist of an essay of at least 2000 words for each of the 12 Steps and likewise for each of the Twelve Traditions. Bill asked Fr. Ed Dowling who was the Editor of the Catholic journal Queens’ Work to critique the copies that were sent to him.
Dowling returned a letter to Bill on June 20, 1952, expressing his delight that Bill was going to do an interpretation of each of the 12 steps. He commented that he was sending the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to Bill. July 17, 1952. Bill’s return letter speaks of his impression of the Spiritual Exercises received.
…Please have my immense thanks for that wonderful volume on the Ignatian Exercises. I’m already well into it, and what an adventure it is! Excepting for a sketchy outline you folks had posted on the Sodality wall years back, I had never seen anything of the Exercises at all. Consequently I am astonished and not a little awed by what comes into sight. Again, thanks a lot.
Bill spoke of the problem he had in writing the essays about the steps. He felt he needed to broaden and deepen the steps for new members as well as those of long term. He had to make them acceptable for atheists, agnostics, believers, depressives, paranoid, psychiatrists, clergThe author of The Soul of Sponsorship, Fitzgerald, on reporting about this letter says “over there” refers to the spirit world. Fitzgerald further comments that the voice from the other world, as Bill stated it, came out as if it was an unremarkable comment. Bill was writing about the help he was getting in his writing from Boniface, a spirit entity that was purported to be an Apostle or priest from England that went to Germany, Bavaria, and France as a missionary in the 1600’s. Fitzgerald continues his comments about Bill W. and the spirit—Boniface. Bill had chosen not to join the Catholic Church after a year of study because he could not see a Pope having infallibility. Fitzgerald, a Jesuit priest, is puzzled because Bill refuses to join the hierarchical church but was open to receiving help from a dead bishop via his spirit entity. Bill tells his story of Boniface:
One turned up the other day calling himself Boniface, Said he was Benedictine missionary and English….I’d never heard of this gentleman but he checked out pretty well in the Encyclopedia.
Bill asked Fr. Dowling to check Boniface out for him. Ed Dowling was able to identify Boniface as an apostle of Germany of the 1600’s. Dowling cautions Bill with the following words speaking of spirits:
…that these folks tell us truth in small matters in order to fool us in larger….
Dowling continued to give caution to Bill concerning the spirits and their messages. He refers to the play Macbeth wherein spirit voices—otherworld voices bring temptation to Macbeth to murder the king, Duncan. He tells Bill to read the Spiritual Exercises on page 100, the Longridge edition; on this page Two Standards Meditation appear in italics. In this text Ignatius views the devil on a throne high above yet surrounded by chaos and smoke, drawing all under his control. To this group will be granted riches, enticements to pride, and other vices. In contrast on a low plain, is seen Christ, inviting any who will come join under His flag and accept humility, poverty and all other blessings. Once each year Father Dowling attended a retreat where he would pray the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which contain rules for discernment of spirits, as well as rules for discerning God’s will. St. Ignatius was visited by, he believed, spirits of the devil as well as members of the Divinity, and he formed these rules to help himself discern which he was being visited by. It is not probable that all of the spirits visiting Ignatius were of the devil?
A response to the advice of Dowling to Bill W. came in a letter from Bill dated August 8, 1952. He said he had read the requested passage and accepted the need for caution when communicating with spirits from the otherworld. Yet, he was reluctant to have the church limit his connections with the otherworld. He reasoned that it did not make sense that the devil’s spirits could gain access to our world but the saints discarnate spirits did not seem to make it through. Why he reasoned is the opening so wide for the devil’s spirits but so restricted for all the good folks. He mentions that he no longer had a compulsion toward the spook business but occasionally one gets through without invitation, such as Boniface. In 1955, at a celebration of AA’s 20th year anniversary a symbol was displayed which had been chosen to be the logo for Alcoholic Anonymous. The symbol, a circle enclosing a triangle with the words Recovery, Unity, and Service written on each arm of the triangle, was mounted on a banner which floated above the audience. The symbol’s meaning is explained:
…The circle stands for the whole world of AA, and the triangle stands for AA’s Three Legacies of Recovery, Unity, and Service. Within our wonderful new world, we have found freedom from our fatal obsession. That we have chosen this particular symbol is perhaps no accident. The priests and seers of antiquity regarded the circle enclosing the triangle as a means of warding off spirits of evil, and AA’s circle and triangle of Recovery, Unity, and Service has certainly meant all of that to us and much more.