March 29, 2022 Editor

Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey Discussion Group with David Cayley

Illich/Cayley Friendship Circle

David Cayley is introduced on this website here.

This summer, he consented to meet with a group of us on Zoom, to discuss his new book on Ivan Illich. It is titled, as you can see: Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey.

We are delighted. Our meetings are the last Tuesdays of each month at 3:30 p.m. EST. (David is in Toronto.) They last two hours or so. Our first was September 28, 2021. We have skipped December, and resume January 25, 2022 (today, as I type).

We initially scheduled four sessions; but David is open to continue since interest remains high. I am posting a recording of each session below.

March 29, 2022. We completed our study together of the book today! It’s been a blessed journey together.

For a growing list of INTERVIEWS + REVIEWS on David’s website, please click on the highlighted same. It’s delightful to see so much interest generated! David introduces a review of his book by a participant in our discussions, thus:

Here’s a friendly new review of Intellectual Journey by Robert Inchausti. He is the author of Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries, and other Christians in Disguise, a survey of radical Christian thought in the modern era which included a section on Illich. The review appeared in Angelus, the “multi-media news platform” of the archdiocese of Los Angeles:

Is the digital age confirming Ivan Illich’s once radical ideas?

In the review (now here with an introduction on this website), Inchausti points us to this wonderful interview in French, but with English subtitles. Humble and engaged. Amazing! Inchausti writes:

Watching him being interviewed by a French journalist on YouTube, Illich comes across as a charming, humble, and self-effacing man. To hear him propose surprisingly radical and liberating ideas made it sometimes hard to believe my own ears.

Inchausti’s review states further:

This is why Cayley’s book is so necessary: It is important for us to know who Illich was and what he truly stood for before his genius is mis-appropriated again by those with a superficial understanding of what he stood for and who did not know him personally.

Former California Governor (and one-time Jesuit seminarian) Jerry Brown described Illich, his friend and adviser, as “not your standard intellectual.”

“His home,” Brown tells us, “was not in the academy and his work forms no part of an approved curriculum. He issued no manifestos and his utterly original writings both confound and clarify as they examine one modern assumption after another. He is radical in the most fundamental sense of the word and therefore not welcome on any reading list.”

An epigraph in the book above, that causes my spine to tingle, goes:

On the table . . . there is always a candle? Why?
Because the text that shaped my understanding
was . . . a treatise on spiritual friendship by the
twelfth-century abbot Aelred of Rievaulx . . . It
begins with the words “Here we are, you and I, and,
I hope, also a third who is Christ.” If you consider
his meaning carefully, you understand that it could
be Christ in the form of Brother Michael. In other
words, our conversation should always go on with
the certainty that there is somebody else who will
knock at the door, and the candle stands for him or
her. It is a constant reminder that the community is
never closed.–Ivan Illich

We can only live the changes we wish to see; we cannot think our way to humanity. Every one of us, and every group with which we live and work, must become the model of the era which we desire to create.…All of us are crippled – some physically, some mentally, some emotionally. We must therefore strive cooperatively to create the new world. There is no time left for destruction, for hatred, and for anger. We must build – in hope, and in joy, and in celebration.Ivan Illich; Celebration of Awareness

Further commentary on this and the book’s genesis is on page 9:

On December 2, 2002, he died in Bremen. I proceeded with what I had and, in 2005, published The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich.

The origins of the present book lie in that one. What I dared to call Illich’s testament—a name some thought presumptuous—was at the same time something vulnerable, exigent, and unfinished. There were reasons, after all, why Illich had maintained his discreet silence on the subject of the Church for so long, reasons why only his trust in me had finally allowed him, as he put it, to “stammer … what I have avoided saying for thirty years.” At various points he speaks of what he is telling me as no more than a “hypothesis” or, again, as a set of “possible research themes.” What I had asked for asked something of me in turn. A hypothesis needs testing; research themes need to be followed up. When Illich completed his “stammered” testament in 1997, he said, “I leave it in your hands to make sure that my intention … of speaking in gratitude and fidelity to the one behind this candle, which is burning here while I’m talking to you, was not a betrayal of his touching tenderness but a truthful statement, chosen once in my life.” The one behind the candle was always, finally, Christ. His charge was weighty, and in the intervening years, I have felt its insistent weight, even if with gratitude. With this book I offer my answer. In its pages I try to see Illich whole—understanding his various beginnings in the light of what he said to me at the end—and I try to say what I think the example of his life and thought means for our time.

One participant is author Marcus Peter Rempel. His book, Life at the End of Us Versus Them: Cross Culture Stories, powerfully applies both the thought of Ivan Illich and René Girard in telling his stories. (Ivan Illich and Girard are also brought together in this fine essay by Jorge Márquez Muñoz: Ivan Illich and René Girard: The End of Modernity.)1

Marcus also wrote the first of the following Book Reviews of the above. The second, a powerful rethinking of the meaning of “apocalypse” in light of Illich, is by noted author, Brother John2 of the Taizé Community. The third is by Robert Inchausti (part of the Friendship Circle), and though limited by where first published to 1,000 words, is an enticing invation into the thought of Ivan Illich for the 21st century.

Love on a Human Scale: The Gospel According to Ivan Illich–review by Marcus Rempel

Apocalypse Now!: A Revaluation of the Thought of Ivan Illich–review by Brother John of Taizé

Is the digital age confirming Ivan Illich’s once radical ideas?–review by Robert Inchausti

Marcus also is a singer-songwriter. In part inspired by Ivan Illich, in response to the death of a good friend, in the season of falling leaves, Marcus explains how he came to compose the following, gently-meditative song, Conspiratio:

NOTE: A clickable list of many Illich resources is here. The new Ivan Illich series of publications is here. David Cayley’s is the second of the series.

You may also appreciate the following excellent interview by noted theologian William T. Cavanaugh3, October 2021, recorded at the Center for World Catholicism & Intercultural Theology, by clicking below or here. Cayley addresses amongst other issues what Illich’s response to the Pandemic might have been.

Zoom Recordings:

     1. September 28, 2021

Much of this was discussing Illich as priest, his wanderer lifestyle, his formation, his relationship to David and genesis of recorded discussions and books with/by/about him.

     2. October 26, 2021

Much of this was David’s discussing Illich and the Church: his faithfulness to, but variance from it; eventual cessation of performing duties as a priest; but perhaps consequently making the world his parish. Hebrews 11:4b reads:

. . . and by [faith] he being dead yet speaketh. (KJV)

Please also see Ivan Illich’s The Powerless Church and Other Selected Writings, 1955–1985.

     3. November 30, 2021

     4. January 25, 2022

     5. February 22, 2022

     6. March 29, 2022

Thank you all!

Thank you David!

Thank you, Ivan Illich!

Views: 313

  1. One reads in it:

    Ivan Illich and René Girard: The Dream of Modernity Ends, Jorge Márquez Muñoz, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture, vol. 23, 2016, pp.155–186, ISSN 1075-7201.


    In the year 2002, I came across a manuscript by Jean-Pierre Dupuy that linked the work of Ivan Illich with that of René Girard. I immediately set about translating the text, which was published in Spanish as part of the essay collection: El Otro Titán/The Other Titan: Ivan Illich.

    The original “Detour and Sacrifice” can be found in two books that pay tribute to the authors. The first was compiled by Lee Hoinacki and Carl Mitcham, Illich’s disciples; the second is a book edited by Sandor Goodhart, Jorgen Jorgensen, Tom Ryba, and James G. Williams that celebrates Girard’s work.

    It is noteworthy that while, as Dupuy pointed out, Illich and Girard did not inspire each other, they were clearly well versed in the other’s approach. The two met at the beginning of [the 21st] century in Palo Alto; while there is no written account of what transpired, José María Sbert spoke to Illich shortly thereafter and reported that “Ivan was amazed at how well Girard knew his work. Apparently, he had read all of it.” There is also some evidence of mutuality, as Illich quoted Girard on more than one occasion. We can thank Dupuy for establishing this connection   . . .[]

  2. A native of Philadelphia, Brother John has been a member of the Taizé Community since 1974. He spends much of his time speaking about the Bible to participants in the international meetings held in Taizé, France. For part of each year he travels to the United States and Italy for meetings and retreats. He has written some ten books on biblical topics translated into a dozen languages.[]
  3. My review of two of his books may be found here: The Myth of Religious Violence: Secular Ideology and the Roots of Modern Conflict and Migrations of the Holy. Incidentally, David Cayley’s great interview with William Cavanaugh may be found here: After Atheism Part Three.[]


Wayne Northey was Director of Man-to-Man/Woman-to-Woman – Restorative Christian Ministries (M2/W2) in British Columbia, Canada from 1998 to 2014, when he retired. He has been active in the criminal justice arena and a keen promoter of Restorative Justice since 1974. He has published widely on peacemaking and justice themes. You will find more about that on this website: a work in progress.

Always appreciate constructive feedback! Thanks.