ST. IGNATIUS of LOYOLA:
Founder of the Society of Jesus
First Period – 1491-1521
A Knight and Soldier
Christened Iñigo Lopez de Loyola he was born in the ancestral castle of Loyola at Azpeitia in the Basque province of Guipuzcoa, Spain in 1491 the youngest of 13 (some say11) children of an ancient noble and wealthy family. His father Don Beltran was lord of Oñaz and Loyola.
As a youth he first served as a page in several courts where he was trained in the code of honor and chivalry. Taking his profession as a soldier very seriously at the age of 25 he entered the military service and determined to be an outstanding soldier of the Duke of Nagara. In the unsuccessful defense of Pamplona against the French he suffered a grievous injury when he was struck in the leg by a cannonball that broke his right shin and tore open his left calf. This marked the turning point in his life. At the young age of 30 his ambition of pursuing a military career and his dreams of glory came to an abrupt and crashing end.
This ends the first period of his life when he describes himself in his Autobiography as “a man given to the vanities of the world whose chief delight consisted in martial exercises with a great and vain desire to win renown” in spite of his short stature (under five feet two inches in height).
Second Period – 1521-1524
A Soldier of Christ
This second period could well be called the most decisive and critical stage of his life. Back home in the family castle his condition became so serious that he was given the last sacraments after he had undergone several excruciating painful operations on his leg that was badly set. Fortunately he recovered but it left him with a permanent limp followed by a prolonged and painful convalescence.
To combat sheer boredom he requested for something to read like the books of chivalrous romances he was fond of. Unfortunately he had to settle on the only two books available – a Carthusian Life of Christ and the other The Golden Legend, a collection of the biographies of saints.
He became so fascinated and impressed by the life of Christ that he decided to devote himself to Him thereby becoming a knight and soldier of the Cross instead of the Crown. Since the book of saints by an anonymous writer contained prologues to the biographies that conceived the Service of God as holy chivalry – this view of life profoundly moved and attracted him that he vowed to imitate their lives imagining what a great honor it must be to serve to the greater glory of God (this became his motto later in life). He asked himself: “These men were of the same frame as I why then should I not do what they have done?”
Spurred on by a vision he had of the Mother of God surrounded with light holding baby Jesus in her arms and full of zeal to start his holy life he decided that as soon as possible he would do penance for his sins by imitating the holy austerities practiced by the saints.
As soon as he sufficiently recovered he mounted a mule, and went to Our Lady of Montserrat, a Catalonian shrine of pilgrimage in the mountains above Barcelona in northeastern Spain. It was on the way here that he traded his rich robes for a beggar’s sackcloth, and then made an all-night vigil pledging himself as a knight in God’s service before the famous statue of the Virgin Mary.
After 3 days confessing his sins in the Benedictine abbey of Monserrat he hung near the statue his sword and dagger as symbols of his abandoned military ambitions. Thus did he instead become a soldier of Christ.
The following day he went to the nearby small town of Manresa where he lived ten months in a cave on the banks of the river in solitary reflection living as a hermit-beggar, scourging himself of sinful attachments, fasting and praying.
While on the banks of the Cardoner river while searching for God’s will God gave him knowledge of himself aided by several mystical visions such as the sight of a blinding light emanating from the Eucharist. He came to understand and know many spiritual things as things of the faith.
But after enjoying much peace of mind and heavenly consolation he was soon affected by the most terrible trial of fears and scruples. He found no comfort in prayer, fasting nor even from the sacraments. Overwhelmed with sadness he felt himself on the brink of despair.
It was at this time that he began to jot down notes of what was happening to him and what he was doing to cure his scrupulous conscience. As he wrote his notes for what was to become his famous book of Spiritual Exercises his soul once more began to overflow with spiritual joy and his tranquility of mind was eventually restored.
The Spiritual Exercises
He trained his mind to get mentally fit by praying seven hours a day. He kept notes of what he was doing describing it as his spiritual exercises. He later wrote down his religious experiences of his own conversion and this became the fundamentals of his famous manual The Spiritual Exercises. This how-to book, which was not published until 1548 is still used for spiritual retreats and for spiritual formation of his followers and has had a profound effect on the lives of Christians. In fact one author described it as “the book that shook the Catholic world.”
It remained one of the most famous and fruitful work of Ignatius.
Pilgrimage to the Holy Land
In February 1523 Ignatius started on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land by begging and walking all the way in spite of a permanent limp caused by his war injury. However his plans to stay in Jerusalem was foiled when the Franciscan guardian of the Holy Places commanded him to leave Palestine for his own safety. This was because his reckless attempts to convert the Muslims there could cause him to be kidnapped and held to ransom.
He thus returned to Barcelona, Spain in 1524 determined to become a priest in order to help souls. So he forced himself to enter school and study when what he really wanted to do was to go out in the streets preaching about God and teaching catechism.
Third Period – 1524-38
Years of Belated Studies
Because he was convinced that a well-trained man would accomplish more in God’s service, Ignatius spent the next 11 years diligently applying himself to his studies in Barcelona, Alcala, Salamanca and Paris. In Barcelona at the age of 33 years he sat in a class of eleven-year olds to learn Latin stoically bearing the jeers and taunts of the little boys. Financially he was assisted by the charities of a pious lady of that city called Isabel Roser.
But because he exhorted his fellow students to live a life of heroic piety he gathered around him a band of followers who even wore a distinctive coarse grey garb. He was imprisoned and tried on suspicion of heresy. Found innocent he was forbidden to teach until he had finished his studies.
Founds the Society of Jesus
Leaving his disciples behind Ignatius went to the University of Paris where living on alms he finally got his coveted master of arts degree at the age of 43 in 1534.
At that time six students in divinity associated themselves with Ignatius in his spiritual exercise. They were: Francis Xavier, a Basque like Ignatius (who would become the great missionary to the East), Simon Rodriguez a Portuguese, Peter Faber a Sauoyard, Laynez and Salmeron, both fine scholars and Nicholas Babadilla.
In a chapel on Montmarte on August 15 of the same year Ignatius together with his six fervent fellow students founded the Society of Jesus (or the Jesuits as they were popularly known) whose members vowed to live in poverty and chastity and to return to the Holy Land (but still without the express purpose of founding a religious order). However, for reasons of health he left the band to finish his theological studies by studying privately while on pilgrimage through Spain and Italy.
On January 8, 1537 his Parisian “companions” joined him in Venice eager to make the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It was here that they (just ten men) were finally ordained and the formal title of Society of Jesus adopted. Then using his own innovative spiritual manual, Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius began instructing his new “soldiers of Christ.”
Fourth Period 1539-1556
Governing the Society
Unable to go as planned on pilgrimage to Jerusalem as the war between Venice and the Turkish empire made it an impossibility they went to Rome as they had earlier vowed and offered their services to Pope Paul III. It was while in Rome that our saint changed his name of Iñigo to Ignatius after St. Ignatius of Antioch. But they called themselves simply as “Companions of Jesus” because they were united to “overcome worldliness and ignorance and counteract the untruths being spread by the Church’s enemies.
It was also on the way to Rome that he had the famous vision of La Storta in which Christ promised him that all would go well in Rome.
On September 27, 1540 Paul III solemnly approved their venture. The Society (or Company) of Jesus became a new form of apostolic religious life. Unlike other religious orders they had no monastic choir, no fixed religious garb and a strong emphasis on mobility and flexibility in the service of the church as a whole. Their battle cry was Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam – For the Greater Glory of God.
To achieve this, the organizational structure was highly centralized with the superior general elected for life and the professed Jesuits taking besides the vows of poverty and chastity an additional vow of obedience. The first vowed to obey the order not to aspire to become superiors. However their Constitution composed by Ignatius required easy communication with higher superiors.
The group took their final vows in 1541 and Ignatius was elected against his will as their first Superior General. However he immediately took on the job of cook (maybe to show his humility). Under his able hand the Society developed very rapidly so that in the fifteen years that he served as general of the order the Jesuits increased from 10 to 1000 Jesuits scattered in 12 provinces from Italy to India. At the same time his order became one of the most dynamic in the Church.
He had 3 goals for the church using his method of “contemplation in action:”
1) reform especially through education and more frequent use of the sacraments;
2) widespread activity in the missionary field; and
3) fight against heresy.
Ignatius took for his motto “To the greater glory of God” as he often said, “Lord, what do I desire, or what can I desire, besides thee?” Because he believed that true love is never idle, always to labor for God, or to suffer for His sake was all his happiness.
Besides founding the Roman college and the Germanicum, a seminary for German candidates for the priesthood, Ignatius laid the foundations of the system of schools (like the Ateneo) which was to earmark his order as primarily a teaching order. The Jesuits were in time “renowned for their prowess in the intellectual sphere and in the field of education” as well as their zeal and military discipline.
Ignatius and his men of action and learning played a leading role in the preserving and renewing of Catholic Reformation or Counter Reformation during the sixteenth and subsequent centuries. Thus it was the Jesuit Order that started Europe back toward the Church having finally turned the tide against the Protestant Reformers.
They were even among the first to bring the faith to North America. In fact the first bishop there was John Carroll, a Jesuit.
Ignatius decreed that the Society was to be above all a missionary order of apostles “ready to live in any part of the world where there was hope of God’s greater glory and the good of souls.” Long and thorough and arduous training of his followers was a MUST as was their special vow of obedience to the pope. However the Society’s main thrust under Ignatius was to establish missions in Asia and South America. Thus no sooner had they been established did many of the original Jesuits leave on perilous missions to India, Brazil, China and the Congo as well as Asia, New Spain and Protestant England. Sadly Ignatius had to remain behind in Rome where he spent the rest of his life.
Probably the most important work of the later life of Ignatius was his composition of the Constitution of the Society of Jesus which is still used today to regulate the lives and aspiration of Jesuits scattered all over the world.
Besides founding one of the most powerful and dynamic orders in the Church noted for their commitment to education and social justice Ignatius for fifteen years directed the battles of his Society. He even established a home for fallen women and one for converted Jews. The Jesuits have also been in the forefront of the modern ecumenical movement. However he resolutely excluded a female branch of the order because he believed that women are better ruled by women.
His writing and teaching were able to draw believers back to the Roman Catholic Church after the Reformation.
The Jesuits’ battle of transforming society was fought not only in the pulpit and in the fields of mass media and education but in culture, the arts, which they patronized and even in the political arena.
Frequently sick Ignatius begged to be allowed to resign but his petition fell on deaf ears. He directed the order till the summer of 1556 when he suffered from fever. While his doctors did not think it serious Ignatius knew that he was near death. Almost blind at 65 he asked for a last blessing but his request was ignored as he didn’t seem to be in any imminent danger. He died the next day on July 31, 1556 so suddenly and so unexpectedly that he did not even get to receive the last sacraments he had asked for.
Ignatius was beatified by Pope Paul V in 1609 and canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622.
He was declared patron of all spiritual exercises and retreats in 1922 by Pope Pius XI who described Ignatius’ most important single writing The Spiritual Exercises as “the wisest and most universal spiritual code for guiding the soul on the path of salvation.” This manual molded 27 canonized saints including 3 intimates of Ignatius – Francis Xavier, Peter Canisius and Francis Borgia.
His feast is celebrated on July 31, the day he died.
St. Ignatius leaves to us his prayer which he often said:
Dearest Jesus, teach us to be generous;
To serve Thee as Thou deserves;
To give, and not to count the cost;
To fight, and not to heed the wounds;
To toil, and not to seek for rest
To labor, and to seek for no reward
Save that of knowing that we do Thy
SOURCES of REFERENCE
ST. IGNATIUS of LOYOLA
Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Vol. 3 – pp 221-227
The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Saints – pp 176 – 177
Pocket Dictionary of Saints – pp 251 – 252
The Watkins Dictionary of Saints – pp 118 – 119
A Calendar of Saints – p 144
All Saints – pp 327 – 328
A Year With the Saints – July 31
Butler’s Saint for the Day – pp 355 – 357
Illustrated Lives of the Saints Vol. 1 – pp 337 – 339
My First Book of Saints – p. 165
Saint Companions – pp 277-279
Saints for Our Time – pp 159 – 160
Saint of the Day – pp 183 – 184
Children’s Book of Saints – pp. 211 – 214
Saints – A Visual Guide – pp. 250 – 251
Saints and Heroes Speak – Volume 3 – pp 100 – 114
The Way of the Saints – pp.208-209
Saints – pp. 176 – 177
Voices of the Saints – pp. 470 – 471
Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives – Group 6 Card 3
The Everything Saints Book – pp. 113 – 116
The Lion Treasury of Saints – p 214, 162 – 163
The Flying Friar – pp. 46 – 49
Servants of God – pp. 38 – 39
Best – Loved Saints – pp 107 – 110
The Way of the Saints – pp 208 – 209
Book of Saints – Part 5 – pp 18 – 19