Saint Ignatius of Loyola
Soldier, Poet, Mystic, Author, Defender of the Faith
and Founder of the Society of Jesus
Saint Ignatius was born in 1491, the year before Christopher Columbus was commissioned by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to go to the New World, in thanksgiving for Spain having been liberated from the yoke of the Saracens. For nearly 700 years, Spaniards could not worship in Catholic Churches; they were deprived from receiving the Sacraments; religious and clergy were exiled, imprisoned or killed; all mention of Jesus was forbidden under the penalty of death. How did the people from whom our Saint comes, preserve their faith with this persecution going on for most of seven centuries? How did Spain and the Catholic Church raise up such powerful soldiers as the much maligned Catholic Queen Isabella, Saints like Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Paschal Baylon and Ignatius of Loyola to mention a few? We believe the answer lies in the stories of Saints and Martyrs, and others not yet proclaimed.
Spain had survived this scourge of physical and spiritual domination which had covered her plains from North to South and East to West; it was a time for rejoicing and thanksgiving. What they did not know was that another attack would be leveled at this faithful nation of Saints, a new attempt to destroy the Church which Jesus founded. But God, all-Omnipotent, He Who is, was and always will be, He Who is beyond time and space, He Who sees all and knows all, and upon knowing all, does all to save His Church, raised up a powerful army of Defenders of the Faith, to save this faithful nation and others which would fall under another type of tyranny.
As the enemy of God’s holy Church is raising up men who would bring about a revolution called the Reformation, God is calling forth soldiers to counteract this revolt, an army which will bring about a true Reformation, a Counter-Reformation. This is the story of one such Saint!
A child is born who will change the course of history!
History brings us to the part of Spain, known as the Basque country, to the Castle of Loyola in Guipuzocoa. A child is born; Ignatius (baptized Ignio) was of noble blood, his family from a long line of nobles. His father was Don Bertram Tañez, lord of Oñaz and Loyola and head of one of the oldest families of Spain. The lineage of his mother Doña Marina of the House of Saenz, equalled that of his father. God had blessed his parents with eight daughters and three sons, Ignatius being the youngest of the sons.
Right from the beginning, God had a plan for this child. Ignatius was sent to his aunt’s castle where he received a solid Christian education and was prepared to enter King Ferdinand’s service initially as a page. It is in the King’s castle that Ignatius would lend his services to a young lady of the court as her knight. A gentleman, he never mentions her name in the poetry he writes at this time, but refers to her as “more than a Countess or Duchess.” Some historians have conjectured that possibly the lady was the very young widow of King Ferdinand. Of course, marriage was out of the question, so our young knight loved from afar, serving in the noble way befitting his and her station. He wrote his most beautiful poetry at this time.
He was an avid reader, his taste leaning toward books on chivalry, knights and ladies of the court, recounting tales of glorious times of valor and honor. So, it is no surprise, we find him, in 1517, at twenty-six years of age, leaving to engage in his first battle, the defense of Navarre of which his uncle was Viceroy. The attack was suppressed by the Spaniards; but the French renewed their offensiveand this time captured Navarre, and laid siege on Pamplona. Ignatius and the other Spanish soldiers were in the garrison, heavily outnumbered. Victory was impossible; but Ignatius was able to convince the others to remain with him and defend the fort.
The walls of the fortress began to crumble beneath the furious battery of cannon balls striking at its ramparts, quickly tearing down the soldiers’ defenses and with that their hope of victory. Knowing the end was near and they would die, Ignatius turned to a good friend and asked him to hear his confession. He fought courageously, right up to the moment a heavy cannon ball pierced the wall where Ignatius was fighting, shattered the bone of his right leg and seriously injured the other. When he fell, the others surrendered and the French soldiers captured the fort. But seeing how bravely he had fought, the French carried him to his rooms in town and had their physicians attend him for close to fifteen days. When they realized they were limited, the French had a litter made to carry the brave little soldier home. His small frame bobbing up and down on the litter (Ignatius was barely 5’2”), his red hair matted by the sweat pouring down his face from the intense pain, Ignatius never let out a cry!
It is not known why the bones did not set properly. Was it that he had been moved too soon or was it the arduous trip back home? Back at the Castle of Loyola, the doctors decided that the bones had to be broken again. Again, brave and noble knight, he asked for no form of anesthetic and went through the operation with his hands and teeth clenched. He grew weaker and weaker. The doctors advised him he was dying. Ignatius called for a priest and asked to receive the Last Rites of the Church. Ignatius would not last the night.
But again, God had another plan. The eve of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, at midnight, Ignatius passed the crisis. Now, he had always had a devotion to St. Peter, and historians all agree that Ignatius had an apparition of St. Peter who told him he would be cured, and he was!
The physicians messed up the operation and a bone was left protruding from his leg. Ignatius had it removed. His friends marveled at the courage and strength shown by Ignatius throughout the operation, insisting they could not have endured the excruciating pain. The bones were straightened out at last, no bones protruding, but the operation left him with one leg shorter than the other.
His recovery was slow and arduous. Ignatius had an active mind, but it was locked up inside a body which was betraying him. But he could read! His mind and heart never left the young lady he had left behind. Now, he waited for the time when he would return and tell her how she had occupied his every thought in battle and as he was recuperating. He practiced over and over again what he would wear and what he would say. To prepare himself, he requested books on knighthood and ladies of the court. But (as God would plan it), in the Castle of Loyola there were only books on the life of Jesus and of the Saints!
Soon he found that contemplating things of the world gave him momentary pleasure, which soon faded away in the light of what he was reading about the graces from Above! Through the lives of Jesus and the Saints he was discovering a new world and a new battlefield! The Saints taught him he had to make a choice between the kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God. Their lives became strategic maps revealing the great battles needed to be waged, in order to gain eternal victory. All the vain glory he had sought in the past went up like so much smoke, when he discovered the sweet fragrance that was his to give, the offering he was being called to make to God the Creator. He discovered there was only one true, lasting glory in that which makes the “soul pure and like unto God.”
He spent long hours grieving for the sins of his past, coupled with his deep resolve to lead a life resembling that of the Desert Fathers and the Saints. The struggles and battles, fought between powers and principalities, for his soul at this time, run through the pages of Ignatius’ book: Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius decided he would choose God and His ways; then God began to manifest Himself to him. One night, Ignatius was praying before the image of Our Lady, tears spilling from his eyes, pleading with God to show him He had accepted Ignatius, when a tremor shook the house, the walls began to crumble in his room; the window frames cracked. Ignatius rejoiced! He knew this was a sign - God was answering him and he would never be alone again; God was showing him that it was He Who was directing his life!
His Purgatory on earth coming to an end, Our Lady made an appearance and let him know how she had been interceding on his behalf. She was holding the Baby Jesus in Her arms; She said nothing; but Her presence filled his heart with a sweet peace unlike anything he had ever known. Before leaving, she bestowed another gift on him, one that would remain with him forever: He lost all desire for things and creatures of this world, as his soul was filled with the “purity of the angels,” and this gift would protect him, the rest of his life.
The Honeymoon begins between God and Ignatius
His days and nights were filled with grace upon grace from God; He was preparing Ignatius to share in His Passion, His rejection, His abandonment. Ignatius decided the only way he could know how to truly walk in Jesus’ Footsteps was to go to the Holy Land, to where He walked, lived and died. He believed with all his heart that this was the only path he could take, to prepare himself for a life of penance and mortification, by which he might make up for his sins and those of the world. Then he would enter the Carthusian Monastery in Seville upon his return.
Now, although he did not share his conversion and the thoughts that were going through his mind and heart, all around him sensed a tremendous change coming about. He raised his thoughts more and more to the eternal world. He later wrote, having beheld Heaven, he would weep, crying out, “Oh, how vile this earth seems when I look at Heaven.” This detachment from earth and its temptations, focusing on Heaven alone, would be the first of his Spiritual Exercises. It led him to understand that “the end of man is not to serve the creature but God the Creator, and Him alone.”
Ignatius defends his Lady against a Moor
Ignatius spoke to his older brother, of his desire to leave the castle, and all it represented, and begin a new life. His brother, believing that Ignatius would not knowingly do anything to bring dishonor on the family name, shared some of his concerns. Ignatius graciously listened and assured his brother he was aware of his duty; as a matter of fact, his first step would be to visit their relative, the Duke of Najera and apprise him of his plans. He stopped at his relative, shared briefly his new life with him, paid off a debt he had incurred, received a reluctant blessing and left for Montserrat.
Being too weak to walk, he mounted his mule and began his journey. He was meditating on the Blessed Mother when, who should he encounter but a converso. The two began traveling together, when his companion asked Ignatius his destination. When he replied he was going to visit Our Lady of Montserrat, the man shared that although he believed Mary was a Virgin at the time of Jesus’ Birth, she did not remain a Virgin. Ignatius insisted, he could not understand how, this man, as a Catholic, could choose to accept one truth and deny another. When his companion realized that he was trying to apostatize someone who knew his Faith and was not about to be dissuaded, he left Ignatius at the first fork in the road. Ignatius, the more incensed he became over what the follower of Mohammed had said, argued with himself if he should pursue the man and continue to try to convince him of his errors, or give him a good beating for so having maligned his Heavenly Mother. As this latter behavior would have suited the warrior and not the apostle he planned to become, Ignatius decided to continue his journey, with the idea of praying for this poor misguided man.
Now, Montserrat is an extremely high mountain; its ridges, like the teeth of a saw made the climb perilous, at best. It not only looked impenetrable, it was that and more, its cliffs rising sharply with little or no plateaus. The only way to get to the top was by climbing treacherous steps cut out in the rock, by those who had dared to go before. Before beginning his ascent, Ignatius stopped at the church, at the foot of the mountain. There was a monk there, known for his holiness. Ignatius confessed his sins and shared all that he believed the Lord was calling him to do. For three days, he poured out his heart! This completed, the monk directed him, as an act of total abandonment to leave his mule at the monastery,
These were either Moslems or Jews who had pretended to convert, but instead taught their own beliefs. Read more on this in Bob and Penny Lord’s chapter on Saint Teresa of Avila in their book: Saints and other Powerful Women in the Church. from which it got its name and Ignatius obeyed. Then asking him if he was truly committed to depending solely on the Lord, he asked Ignatius if he could leave the only means of defense he would have from attacks leveled by any of God’s creatures, two-legged as well as four-legged; would he leave his sword and dagger at the altar of Our Lady?
Our Lady’s knight keeps guard over her during the night.
God, by His perfect Divine Design placed Ignatius at the foot of Montserrat on the Feast of the Annunciation. He decided he would stand guard over his Lady, “keeping the night-watch of arms” as was the ancient practice of knights, before receiving their final war regalia. But instead of being attired in the resplendent coat of arms and regalia of a noble knight, he put aside his rich clothes and put on the robes of a poor penitent. He donned a pilgrim’s tattered robe of coarse fabric; removing his velvet and satin sash, he bound his waste with a rough cord; he replaced his boots of fine leather with hemp slip-ons. As his leg had not healed entirely, he had to balance himself precariously on one foot, propping himself on a roughly whittled walking-stick.
With the rising of a new day, the knight of the House of Loyola was no more; this knight would fight the impossible fight, only for the Lord and His Mother. Staff in hand and a shell with which to scoop water to drink from a brook, all was in order. Now off to conquer the unseen foe! Onward to Montserrat! He began his ascent.
As God would have it, a future benefactor, Agnes Pasquale was to encounter Ignatius at Montserrat. As Montserrat was only nine miles from Manresa, where she was staying, it was not only her custom to go there, each Sunday, but as this was the Feast of the Assumption, to be there once again, to visit her Heavenly Mother. Mid-day, when she and her companions approached the Chapel of the Apostles, she could not help noticing a pilgrim who, although dressed as an indigent beggar, had an air of gentility about him. She was impressed by the piety which his eyes reflected the rare times he looked up; and his humility when they were cast down. Now, no longer able to walk, Ignatius inquired of the ladies if there was a hospital nearby. Agnes suggested he come with them to the one which he had purchased on the way to Montserrat in Manresa. Refusing a ride on a donkey, Ignatius slowly followed the young women to Manresa. It was then that an officer of the law stopped him, inquiring if it were true that he had given his fine clothes to a destitute beggar; as they had not believed him, they had placed him in jail. Ignatius was truly grieved that he had caused the man this pain, and admitted that it was true; but would answer no further questions about himself.
Always seeking anonymity, preferring the company of God alone, he was much upset when word got out of what he had done. Life in Manresa was simple; Ignatius attended Mass daily, participated in Vespers, and received Holy Communion once a week. He would pray on his knees as much as seven hours a day. He rarely slept, scourged himself, begged for a small dry piece of bread, and drank a bit of water. His pilgrim’s robe not penance enough, he wore a hair shirt next to his skin. He served the poor and the sick of the hospital, choosing those with the worst diseases. But although he kept the company of beggars, no one took him to be a beggar; consequently the children made fun of him; they chased him, calling him all sort of vile names. Only once, was he tempted to remove his humble attire, the abuse got so bad. Although he overcame that temptation, he felt it was time for him to seek more solitude, if he were to hear God speaking to him of His Will.
Ignatius discovers God in a cave
Ignatius discovered a dark cave, virtually unknown because it was so overgrown with brush. There, he would spend hours, sometimes all through the night, praying without interruption, except for the occasional sounds of God’s four-legged and winged creatures calling out to one another. The cave at Manresa was a battlefield, a lonely battlefield, with Ignatius battling one temptation, winning that battle only to be put to the test with another temptation and another battle. Among other struggles, he imagined himself guilty of all types of sins, mistaking venial sin for mortal sin, battling alleged scruples and scrupulosity to the point of near desperation. He did not know where to turn; it seemed to him that God had deserted him. Then, he remembered hearing that God would come to his aid, if he fasted until his petition was granted. He fasted from Sunday to the following Sunday. His Spiritual Director seeing him dangerously weakened by this excessiveness, near death, ordered him to eat some food or he would deny him absolution. Ignatius obeyed and his melancholy left him!
Temptations of one kind or the other persisted until his trial over, his doubts and anxieties were also at an end. It had been one of the severest duels of his life; it seemed as if he were fencing with the prince of darkness himself, with the devil thrusting and him parrying, Ignatius, God’s holy knight falling, appearing at times to be down for the last time, mortally wounded; but with the force of the Holy Spirit Who never left him, he would rise again to fight another battle. This time in the cave of Manresa would fill a spiritual well with teachings from which not only Jesuits would draw lifegiving water of knowledge and strength but those who in the future would read the Spiritual Exercises and follow Ignatius and his experiences to a deeper life with God.
He had fought! The lessons, received from both the powers of Heaven and hell would serve to form the vessel which God was shaping for His purpose. But it was not easy for Ignatius to follow what he called the “Finger of God!” He would say “that God had treated him as a wise master does a child, to whom He gives little to learn at a time, and before whom He does not place a second lesson until he has well understood the first.”
Ignatius is visited by the forces of Heaven and hell!
Without the battles fought and won in the cave of Manresa, Ignatius could not have begun writing his Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius had visions of the serpent early in his spiritual life, before he had any Heavenly ecstasies.
Day had settled into night, wiping away the slightest ray of light entering his room at the hospital in Manresa, when Ignatius saw a figure, glowing and almost incandescent; it boldly intruded into his thoughts and prayers. Strain as he might, he could not recognize the figure; it was hard to identify, it was so blurred; all he could make out was that it dimly resembled a serpent! As he was almost hypnotized by the sight, suddenly blinding lights shot forth from what appeared to be many eyes on the form. Then it would leave. The image would return over and over again; Ignatius began to look forward to its next reappearance, feeling an unexplainable attraction toward it. But the Lord is always balancing the odds, always providing us with the ammunition to fight the attacks of the devil.
Ignatius would later in life write that while he was immersed in ecstasy, God infused him with such knowledge and enlightenment that if he were to add all he had received his entire life, it would not equal what he had learned in that one moment. When he came out of the ecstasy, he ran to the cross, in front of which he always prayed, and began to share his feelings with Jesus Crucified, when all of a sudden the glistening figure appeared! But this time, in the True Light of the Cross, Ignatius could perceive clearly who the vision was; it was the father of deception himself who had been appearing to Ignatius. This vision persisted, appearing again in Manresa and then in Rome, and then in Paris; but now Ignatius was able to quickly discern who it was and he dispelled him, at times attacking the vision with his bare hands and at other times disdainfully shooing him away with his walking stick.
Ignatius, because of the spiritual work God had planned for him to do, and the seeds of wisdom he would be called to sow, received the same infused knowledge from the Holy Spirit which other great Saints of his time, Spanish ones like Saints Teresa and John of the Cross had, of the Divine Mysteries of our Faith. One day, in the church of the Dominicans, while reciting the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, he had a vision of the Holy Trinity. It had such a profound effect on him, he began to cry; from that day he entered into such intimacy with the Triune God that later in life this Divine Mystery would be the center of his prayer life and revelations. Another time, he was filled with the mystery of how God created the universe. Although he spoke of this, he, along with others who have seen Heaven, could not put into words what it was like being in the Kingdom and in the presence of those who dwelled therein. In this same church, when the Host was raised in consecration, he had a vision of the Child Jesus Who revealed how He was present in the Sacred Host after the consecration.
He had interior visions of the God-Man Jesus, seeing Him with the eyes of his heart, between 20-40 times. He had visions of the Blessed Mother as well, in the same way. When hospitalized in the Hospital of St. Lucy, he went into ecstasy for a whole week, beginning with Saturday lasting until the following Saturday. He lay as if dead, with the faintest heartbeat. When he came to, as if awakening from a deep sleep, he cried out over and over again, “O Jesus! Jesus!” This was reported by eye-witnesses who had been at his bedside. Ignatius never spoke of what had transpired during that ecstasy. There are those who ascertain that it was then that he received the word to establish the “Company of Jesus,” for when he was writing the Constitution of the Jesuits, he would say that he was including certain passages that were given to him at Manresa. The Jesuits say one thing is definite, Ignatius was given the idea of the Company of Jesus while meditating on the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Before leaving Manresa, Ignatius would have more serious bouts with his health, each time almost succumbing to the angel of death; but God was not finished using him. Ignatius, this selfless, caring vessel of God so touched young men, they flocked to him. But for as many as loved him and hung on his every word, there were those who hated him and the change that was coming about among the people; and so they began maligning not only Ignatius but all those holy families who were befriending him. He had no recourse but to leave Manresa. His ten month stay at Manresa over, he left with only the patched clothes of a pauper on his back; but he was accompanied by the love and prayers of all whom he had touched. As he did not speak Latin, they begged him to take a companion who could assist him in Italy. He refused saying, all he needed was faith, hope and charity:
“If he took a companion, he would be looking to him for food when hungry, and if he fell would look to him to lift him up, and would thus be learning to rest in him, whereas he desired only to love and look up to God, and put all his hope and confidence in Him. `And the pilgrim,’ said St. Ignatius of himself, `spoke from his heart.’”
Ignatius leaves for Barcelona, his sites on the Holy Land
His heart saddened at leaving so many dear ones, his soul soared at the prospect of being one step closer to the Holy Land and his dream to convert the unbelievers. Ignatius arrived in Barcelona, and there met Doña Isabel Roser, who saw him encircled in light while he was praying. She helped him gain free passage to Italy on a ship, with the condition he would furnish his own provisions for the trip. Ignatius begged, and for the most part was given alms, but as always there are those who abuse the down-and-out. Afraid they would deny him if he said he was ultimately going to the Holy Land, considering the trip too dangerous, he begged just enough alms to get him to Rome, his first stop. One person, hearing he was going to Rome, answered “Those who go to Rome, seldom come back the better for their visit.”
Ignatius landed in Naples five days later, and traveled by foot with three other people, who like himself were begging for alms for their journey to Rome. One was a young man, and the other two a mother and daughter (disguised as a young man to protect her from being attacked). They were given food and a place to stay by some villagers, the mother and daughter a room on the top floor and Ignatius and the young man a place to sleep in the barn. At midnight, Ignatius became alarmed at the crying and screams coming from the rooms above. Hearing Ignatius shouting as he bolted up the stairs to defend the women, the attacker fled. Ignatius believed it must have been the young man, as he was not to be found when they set out for Rome.
Fearing they were carrying the plague, the little band of three were refused admission when they arrived at the gates of Rome. Especially Ignatius looked suspect, but when he explained he was not ill, but exhausted from his long trip, he was allowed to enter Rome. It was Palm Sunday, when Ignatius arrived; he spent Holy Week visiting churches and making the Stations of the Cross, and that completed, left for Venice with a passport to the Holy Land, after having received the Pope’s blessing. His poor clothes and equally poor health caused him much pain and problems as he traveled throughout Italy. Judging he had the plague, they would not allow him to enter Venice without a certificate affirming he had a clean bill of health. Alone, too tired to go on, he spent the night out in the cold. But although his human companions left him stranded, his Lord had not; God told Ignatius He would be with him and protect him. The next day, the guards at the gates of Venice did not notice Ignatius and he entered without the required papers.
Although too ill to make the voyage, Ignatius boarded the ship, and after having the customary sea-sickness was relieved of his raging fever. The sailors used the language of the gutter, never once considering the pilgrims aboard, especially women. When Ignatius scolded, they began to plot against him; they planned to leave him on a deserted island. But when they approached the island a furious wind whipped the ship toward the Isle of Cyprus, where other pilgrims were waiting. They walked thirty miles to the ship which would carry them to the Holy Land.
Ignatius arrived and rushed to tell the Franciscans (who were the custodians of the Holy Land), that his purpose in coming to the Holy Land was to park himself near the Holy Sepulcher of Our Lord and labor there to spread the Kingdom of Christ. He shared his plan to found a Company of Jesus committed to bringing the Word of God to the followers of Mohammed. The Franciscans agreed he could go about evangelizing, as long as he could provide for himself; but to await their Provincial for the final word. Ignatius went about his way, alone and with the other pilgrims, visiting all the holy places where his Savior had walked, right up to His last Walk to the Cross. The day before the other pilgrims were to depart, Ignatius was called before the Provincial, who ordered him to leave tomorrow with the other pilgrims. Ignatius was confused! The Provincial accused him of endangering himself and the other pilgrims. He said that if the Moslems had caught them they would have killed them or held them for ransom, and that Ignatius, remaining in the Holy Land, would not only be a threat to himself but to all the Franciscans.
The Provincial stated he had a Bull from the Pope declaring he had full authority, and to disobey him was to be excommunicated. Ignatius, believing this was the Will of the Lord, told the provincial it was not necessary to show him the Bull, he would obey! Ignatius departed for Venice. God was with him all the way! The ships which denied him passage were ship-wrecked and the poor ship he was on landed safely in Venice.
Ignatius takes the long road back to Spain
Ignatius traveled from Venice to Genoa; and war raging, first was taken prisoner by the Spanish as a spy for the French, and convincing them he was not, by the French as a spy for the Spanish. In Genoa he met a friend who gave him passage on his ship, and Ignatius reached Barcelona the early part of 1524. He rushed to Manresa to begin studying with a Cistercian monk he had known, but upon finding he had died, Ignatius returned to Barcelona. He was admitted into a public school where he would study Latin. His old friend Doña Isabel Roser and others helped him, providing him a place to stay and food. The servants learning he was of the nobility treated him cruelly, accusing him of being a bum who ran away from his duties. He prayed for them, and they were converted before he left. To further his walk to the Cross, here he was thirty-three years old struggling to learn among much younger, brilliant students who breezed through their Latin lessons.
John Pasquale, son of one of his benefactors, said that he would look in on Ignatius and would see him, deep in prayer, his knees bent, levitated, exclaiming “O Lord, if men only knew Thee!” To his embarassment, this would also happen in public. At a convent, after having prayed for over three hours, he was seen rising, levitating for a long time.
Ignatius never compromised his mission and commitment to God. There was a convent of Nuns who had gone so far from their vow of closure, they even had men visiting them in the parlor. Ignatius heard of this and began visiting the convent, praying hours on end for the conversion of the Nuns. Noting the piety of Ignatius, they asked him to speak to them. He spoke to them of their vocation, the vows they had taken, shared his Spiritual Exercises and before you know it, conversion came about. But not everyone was converted; there were those who liked the freedom they had; and in an effort to discourage him from returning, had him beaten several times on the road. That failing to deter him, they hired two Moorish slaves to kill him. They were waiting for him at the gate of the convent and beat him and his priest companion, so brutally, the priest died a few days later and Ignatius was close to death. As soon as he recovered, he went to the convent, over the pleading of his many friends who knew what had transpired. One of the men who had beaten him, begged his forgiveness and was converted.
Returning home from the convent, he came upon a man who had hanged himself. Ignatius drew near to the body which had been cut down from the tree. Not being able to revive him, Ignatius began praying and crying, begging God to have mercy on one who had died such a horrible death, condemning himself to eternal damnation.
The man opened his eyes and expressed sorrow for all his sins, and having done so closed his eyes for the last time.
Ignatius was tested and consequently informed he was ready to study at the illustrious University of Alcala. Young men began to join his company; he had four by this time; like him they all lived on alms, wore the same long grey habit and a cap of matching color, gaining the name, the ensacados or men in sacks. Life for Ignatius was not only an interior walk, but one very much involved with the spiritual and physical well-being of his brothers and sisters, the poor of all kinds.
At the University, Ignatius saw a canon who, upon making the acquaintance of wild young men, began living a life unworthy of his vow. Ignatius prayed and then went to the home of the canon, who reluctantly let him in. After hours of Ignatius praying and reminding him of the gift he had been given by God, and the price Jesus paid for the salvation of his soul and those he was ordained to save, the canon’s disdain and anger turned to deep respect and he was converted and resumed living up to his vocation.
Ignatius is called before the Inquisition!
Like with Jesus, although Ignatius desired to remain anonymous, helping others unnoticed and unrewarded, he came to the attention of the authorities and was brought before the Inquisition, for the first time. At the time of Ignatius and those other Spanish mystics Teresa and John of the Cross, there were many false prophets and alleged mystics flying around. There was a group of extremists who called themselves the “Illuminati” or enlightened ones. These Alumbrados were pseudo-mystic Spaniards who claimed to act always under illumination received directly and immediately from the Holy Spirit, and independently of the means of grace dispensed by the Church. These Alumbrados had infiltrated parts of Spain and were brought before the Tribunal of Toledo. Happenings like these, coupled with very few spiritual directors understanding the mystics of that day’s spirituality made them suspect, and they all were called before the Tribunals or the Inquisition.
Ignatius’ friends and acquaintances were questioned; the judge found nothing irregular in Ignatius behavior and turned him over to a Doctor of Theology who, after examining Ignatius and his companions, found no blame in them of faith or morals, and advised 20
them they could continue their spiritual practices. The only proviso was that since they were not a recognized Religious Order, they alter their habits, if not in design in color. Ignatius and his little band of four obeyed!
The following year, another charge was leveled against Ignatius. The police came to his room and arrested him, never telling him the crime he was accused of. It turned out, the problem was that two women, a mother and daughter, under his spiritual direction, had wandered far afield from the limits he had placed on them and began to dress as paupers, going from one hospital to another, caring for the poor and sick. When they told Ignatius of their practice he cautioned them, pointing out the danger they opened themselves up to, as well as possible scandal; he ordered them to cease immediately and they obeyed. But toward the end of Lent they thought it would do no harm if they went on pilgrimage, begging alms on the way to various shrines. They brought one maid and told only a few close friends. But when their absence drew attention, and their friends were questioned, they had to reveal what the ladies were doing. As the two were from nobility and had an illustrious guardian, rather than allow this be a blemish on his and their reputation, poor Ignatius was blamed and imprisoned!
His incarceration did allow visitors, so many hearing of the good samaritan’s fate, came and left saying things like, “I have seen Paul in chains.” Forty-two days passed, and at last Ignatius was questioned. They found nothing against him and he was free to leave, under the condition (now he is innocent, right?) that he and his companions remove their habits and dress as the other students, and that he do no teaching in public or private before having completed his four years of philosophy. Should he disobey, he would be excommunicated! Ignatius agreed. But it was not that easy; so many had been enriched by his wisdom and teachings, for him to adopt the life of an ordinary student in Alcala, was impossible, and so Ignatius left for the University of Salamanca to resume his studies.
Ignatius arrived in Salamanca and since this was a different diocese and the restriction placed on him in the diocese of Alcala did not apply, Ignatius began giving spiritual help to those who came to him. It came to the attention of the Dominicans who invited him to their convent and drilled him about things of the Faith, he answered brilliantly. The Vicar asked him how, with such a limited education in Theology, he was able to preach on vice and sin; and then trying to trap him (as the temple priests attempted with Jesus) he continued that since he had not been schooled in such matters of faith, he had to have been instructed by the Holy Spirit. Ignatius, after answering a battery of questions was placed, along with one of his company, in prison, again. Although he was again found innocent of any wrong-doing, Ignatius and his company were ordered to cease teaching the difference between venial and mortal sin, until their education was completed.
As Ignatius believed and rightly so, if you cannot preach about sin, you cannot call men to conversion; so although many begged him to stay, Ignatius knew he had to leave for the University of Paris. He arrived in Paris, but because of a lack of funds he had to go to begging once again, to some Spanish merchants. That accomplished he studied rhetoric for a year and a half, philosophy for three and a half years at which time he received the degree Doctor of Philosophy, and Theology for a year and a half, but he would not complete his studies in the University of Paris, because once again Ignatius would come under attack and have to eventually leave for Venice! It was 1535 and Ignatius was forty four years old.
However, while he was still in Paris, Ignatius sought and found men for his company. Three young men of prestigious backgrounds and advanced education renounced the world, consecrating themselves to this new life of poverty for the Lord. They sold all they had and gave it to the poor, beginning a life dependent on alms. Now, when this became known to their friends and a professor in particular, they formally accused Ignatius of witchcraft, and once again Ignatius is brought before the Inquisition. Now, couple this with the documents they retrieved from the various Tribunals held in Spain and we can see Ignatius is in trouble!
While this was all happening, a young man lodging with Ignatius, took what little alms Ignatius had to maintain himself and spent it frivolously. Then he left for Spain; but on the way became so ill he had to stop in Rouen. He wrote to Ignatius begging for help. Now, Ignatius was weakened by all the attacks he had sustained; his health was very poor; the idea of making this journey was abhorrent to him, but then he went into the church of the Dominicans and prayed.
The next day, before the sun rose, although he could barely stand, Ignatius was on his way to help the errant young man. It took him three days! Arriving in Rouen, he tended the young man, and no sooner had he recovered, a messenger brought Ignatius a letter from Paris advising him he had been brought before the Inquisition! Ignatius immediately went to a Notary with the messenger to obtain a document certifying that he had just received the word and had responded immediately; in this way to show that he had not gone to Rouen to escape appearing at the Inquisition.
Arriving in Paris, he immediately appeared before the Inquisitor! The Inquisitor found nothing against Ignatius and dismissed him, assuring him he had nothing to fear. But the damage was done; the three students who had joined him, left him. But other students resumed coming to Ignatius, and soon there were more at his conferences than at the professors’ sessions; they were up in arms. One in particular went to Govéa, Rector of the university. Instead of sending a warning to Ignatius, if he did not cease his conferences, he would be subject to the “aula,”10 they sent word to Ignatius to present himself in the public hall where he would be chastised and condemned by the masters in front of the whole student body. At first, Ignatius was happy to submit to this unjustified treatment, believing he would be sharing in his Lord’s humiliation; but after praying he realized that this would bring scandal, not so much on him, but on the Spiritual Exercises which were being used to feed the students spiritually.
Ignatius insisted he be brought before the Rector, before being punished. When Govéa heard Ignatius speak, he was so moved by his reasoning, he took him by the hand, walked him into the center of the hall and crying, begged his forgiveness. Now not only students, but professors came to Ignatius to learn about the Spiritual life.
Ignatius and his followers take their vows at Montmartre
Six students in the School of Divinity would join Ignatius; they were: Peter Faber, Francis Xavier, Laynez, Salmarom, Simon Rodriguez, and Nicholas Bobadilla
Peter Faber was a brilliant student preparing for his ordination as a priest; he tried to work out all his temptations and doubts by himself, even hiding them from his Spiritual Director. Now, as God would have it, Peter and Ignatius shared the same room. Peter tried everything, fasting, harsh penances; finally one day with tears flowing down his flushed cheeks, he revealed the state of his soul. Suddenly he felt a wave of relief flow over him. Ignatius then began walking him through the Spiritual Exercises one day at at time, as the Lord had advised him, “not teaching him the second, until the first was understood.” Peter Faber was ordained and became one of Ignatius’ first disciples.
Ignatius went to lodge at St. Barbara’s College where he would meet the young reluctant disciple Francis Xavier. Like Ignatius, Francis Xavier came from nobility, an old and illustrious family from the Basque country. He was a professor, specializing in Aristotle and philosophy. Whereas he had different plans, filled as he was with aspirations of the world, and rightfully judging they had nothing to do with Ignatius, he would find himself giving into God and His Will for him, and become known as co-founder of the Company of Jesus. He would go where Ignatius dreamed to go, but couldn’t, to India and convert the unbelievers.
Others flocked to join Ignatius; but not everyone loved him! This one night, knowing he would be alone, a friend of Francis Xavier who hated Ignatius for the change that had come about in his friend and others, decided to steal into his room and assassinate him. A voice which remonstrated him, not only froze him to the spot and he did not complete his horrible sin, but he threw himself at Ignatius’ feet and begged his forgiveness. Later, this same man will accuse Ignatius before an Inquisition.
The little Company of Jesus gathered and agreed to leave the matter up to the Lord: If they could not go to Palestine nor preach where they were, they should venture to other countries and preach there. The plan was they should go to Jerusalem and place the problem before God. If there, the majority should decide to stay in the Holy Land, then the others would obey, taking it as the Will of God. But should the opposite be true, they would place themselves at the service of the Pope. They decided to leave for Venice the 25th of January, 1537, after all their classes were completed, and chose the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin to take their vows in a little Church of Our Lady of Montmartre. Father Peter Faber, who was the only priest in their company, celebrated the Mass.
Ignatius is ordained
Ignatius went by foot to his parent’s home in Aspeitia; although they desired to give him a royal welcome, sensitive to his new life, they chose a humble one befitting his calling. He remained there three months during which time many miraculous healings came about. He went to the neighboring villages and settled the estates of his followers. And then all matters resolved, it was time for him to leave his friends and family; he struggled with the love he felt for them, as they tearfully begged him to remain. He traveled by sea back to Italy.
Weathering a treacherous voyage, he finally arrived in Genoa; and braving the icy cold winter, he walked across the Alps to Venice. There he was met by others of his company who had to leave Paris because a war had broken out. Always focusing on the positive, and on his mission, he and his companions planned to go to the Pope to get his permission to go to the Holy Land and receive “Holy Orders under the title of voluntary poverty.”11As it was winter, they would not be able to set out for Rome till Lent began. Ignatius chose to remain behind, as there were men in Rome, opposed to him in the past, who might be prejudiced against their cause because of him. But one of these men, having laid aside his former bias, highly praised Ignatius and the work of his Company. Pope Paul III invited Ignatius’ followers to partake in discussions on the tenets of the Faith, with some of his eminent theologians. He listened attentively and then said, “I am truly so happy to find so much learning joined to so much humility; if I can assist you in anything, I will do so willingly.” The brothers had represented their founder well! The Pope gave his permission but added he doubted they would go, a war was about to break out.
Nevertheless the Pope gave Father Faber and his twelve companions permission, along with money to pay for their journey (which they repaid when as the Pope predicted, the journey became impossible). On the 24th of June, 1537 Ignatius, now 45 years old, and those of his company who had as not yet received Holy Orders were ordained priests forever according to the Order of Melchisedech. Ignatius, hoping to celebrate his first Mass on Calvary, waited a year and a half before celebrating his first Mass at the Chapel of the Holy Crib in the Church of St. Mary Major in Rome, sighing it was the closest he could come to Bethlehem.
The little band broke up into small groups and went preaching into the neighboring towns of northern Italy. Ignatius and his company were given a dilapidated, deserted convent without windows or any furnishings, where they slept on the floor. Ignatius began speaking of God, and the faithful always hungering for the Divine, the numbers grew and so did the avarice and jealousy! So once more Ignatius is called before the Inquisition. The Vicar General Legate in Venice came against him. Although the accusations had already been discredited by the findings of the Inquisition in Paris, Ignatius insisted on having a certificate drawn which would formally affirm his innocence. He got his wish, was again exonerated, and his doctrine declared irreproachable! They met in Vicenza and Ignatius gave them the name of the Society of Jesus; he told them that taking Jesus as their Chief and Model they were to go out and bring the Good News to all the world.
Father Ignatius, Father Faber and Father Laynez went to Rome, where Ignatius had a vision at La Storta, a village six miles from Rome. Ignatius shared with Father Faber that “God had imprinted on his mind, `I will be favorable to you in Rome.’” He said that he did not know what God meant; he thought maybe it was that they were to be crucified there. Then he said that Jesus appeared to him carrying the Cross and beside Him was God the Father Who said to Our Lord, “I will that Thou take this man for Thy servant.” Then Ignatius said that Jesus took him and said, “I will that thou serve Me.”
Once again Ignatius is accused of heresy, found innocent and after appealing to Pope Paul III is officially exonerated! Famine devastates Rome, and Ignatius and his followers pick up the dying and the starving people of Rome from out of the gutters, bring them into their modest convent and share what little they have to eat. The rich, seeing how these men feed the poor in body and spirit, bringing them the love of Jesus, were moved to pity and began generously contributing to the cause. Through this, many charitable institutions were begun in Rome which till today care for orphans and all those who cannot care for themselves.
The Company of Jesus takes their solemn vows
The first draft of their Constitution was approved and it was time for the little company to elect a superior. Ignatius called all the members in Italy, to come together for this holy purpose, during the holiest times of the year, Lent. Those who were far away in foreign lands, sent their votes back in sealed envelopes. The only one who abstained from voting was Ignatius, who did not want to show favor for one above the others. He said he would abide by their decision. Little did he realize he would want to eat those words. To his deep consternation he was unanimously elected as superior (of course with one abstention, his own)! He had never wished to be looked up to, as founder; he was just one of the Company of Jesus; Jesus was the Founder, the Lord of all.
He begged; he pleaded, to no avail! They were adamant! When he implored them to vote again, taking in consideration his desire to be just one of them, with one of the other brothers taking the reins, they did; and the results were the same! Ignatius turned to his confessor for help; he appealed to him to explain why he could not accept the position of leadership, that he felt himself totally unworthy and unqualified for such a responsibility. After much prayer, his confessor returned to Ignatius with a sealed envelope containing the results of his prayerful meditations.
The envelope was opened and read before the entire assembly: Ignatius must submit to the wishes of his community and accept the responsibility of superior. The cheering finally subsiding, it was time for them to gather together and take their solemn vows at the church of St. Paul outside the walls. They made the Stations of the Cross in other churches in Rome and then celebrated the Sacrifice of the Mass in Our Lady’s chapel in St. Paul’s Basilica, which was also the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament.
At that moment when it was time for Ignatius to give Holy Communion to his brothers, he raised the Host above the paten and intoned aloud their vows. Then he repeated this for each of his brothers before they received their Beloved Lord in the Eucharist. With this act of love and adoration, they were pledging their lives to their Lord Present among them. It was to Him they were making their vows, and it was fitting it be in this chapel where He reigned, for all to come and adore, and where His Most Precious Mother was also present. All having joined in this holy endeavor, the Army of Jesus was ready to serve and die for their Church and her Vicar if need be. When the Mass was over, all of the Company came onto the Altar, embraced Ignatius and one another, tears unashamedly spilling from their eyes. The vow they took is the following:
“I, the undersigned, promise to God Almighty, and to the Pope, His Vicar upon earth, in the presence of the Blessed Virgin, His Mother, and in the presence of the Society, perpetual poverty, chastity, and obedience, according to the form contained in the Bull of the Society of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Constitutions already published, or which shall be published afterwards. I promise, moreover, particular obedience to the Pope with regard to the mission spoken of in the Bull. I promise likewise to take care that the youth be instructed in the doctrines of the Faith according to the same Bull and the Constitutions. Given at Rome, Friday, the 22nd of April, in the Church of St. Paul beyond the walls.”
Ignatius opens a house for penitents and former prostitutes.
Ignatius is again falsely accused and brought before the Tribunal. Ignatius opened St. Martha, a house for penitents and former prostitutes. Now there was a man who had corrupted the wife of another and was living in sin, with her in Rome. Through Ignatius, she repented and entered the House of St. Martha. Matthias, the man in question was furious and brought charges against Ignatius. He was a man of influence and he soon turned many of Ignatius’ benefactors against him. Ignatius insisted the matter be investigated. The Pope’s Vicar came to the house of St. Martha and again Ignatius’ teachings were investigated and all found in order. The woman in question and her husband, being of the nobility, asked Ignatius to quietly accept Matthias’ apology, and let the matter rest. But Ignatius insisted the Tribunal judge the matter. And again, all allegations against Ignatius were found false; Matthias was chastised by the court and made to absorb the costs of the Tribunal. Then, even he was converted and became one of the Society of Jesus’ benefactors.
Ignatius founded a house for catechumens or Jewish converts. Now, because the authorities had taken advice from Ignatius, the priest in charge of the house, in a rage of jealousy filed false charges against Ignatius, accusing him of heresy and breaking the seal of confession. He insisted on the matter being scrupulously investigated. What resulted was that the priest was investigated and found guilty of wrongdoing, which he had been able to hide, and by his own confession, calumny. He lost his faculties and all his benefices, as well as his place and goods were confiscated. The court condemned him to life imprisonment, which through the intercession of Ignatius was reduced to exile.
Ignatius prepares to go Home, at last Sweet Jesus, Home!
Early in 1555, Ignatius began showing signs of going Home! Although most of his life he was on the edge, holding onto life with his fingernails, as if saying to the Lord, Not now, I have too much to do! Now, this was different; there was nothing left; he had no more to give, but give he would till he closed his eyes for the last time. In 1556, his days now numbered, he wrote to his dear friend and benefactor, Doña Elenora Mascarena. Answering her request he pray for Prince Philip, whom she had nursed as a baby, he wrote that he had prayed for him when he was a young prince, but since ascending to the throne, he prayed for him twice as much. And now that he was dying Ignatius said he would pray for him and for her in Heaven.
As if leaving his last will and testament, he said,
“I have desired above all others three things, and thanks to God, I see them all accomplished-that the Company should be confirmed by the Pope, that the book of the Spiritual exercises should be approved by the Holy See, and thirdly that the Constitutions should be completed and observed in the whole Society.”15
Ignatius predicted his death
Thursday, the day before he died, he asked Father Polanco to send a message to his Holiness that he was dying, and to ask him for a blessing for himself and for Father Olave who was also dying.16
He said to tell his Holiness that if he had the grace to go to Heaven, he would pray for him, as he did on earth while alive. Thinking he was not seriously ill as he talked with them and ate a good meal that evening, Father Polanco thought it best to wait till Friday to notify the Holy See. The next morning, it was obvious the holy knight Ignatius was dying. His agony lasted a short time; the Pope was notified and with much grief gave him the Apostolic Blessing for his last voyage Home. Ignatius went peacefully to his Beloved Mother Mary and Her Son Jesus. It was the last day of July, 1556.
Ignatius, priest, founder and knight was canonized in 1622.
Sleep well, loyal and holy knight of the Papacy.
Sadly, there is not enough room to go into all his struggles, being accepted and then rejected, being accused and then exonerated to be accused again. But through it all, he remained a loyal son of the Church! Born at the same time as one of the deadliest movements to attack Mother Church, God raised up a giant! He truly was a servant of Jesus. I know of no one in the history of the Church who had more reason to give up, but Ignatius persisted; a soldier he fought the impossible fight and his sons have had this heritage to challenge them and fortify them. Writing about Ignatius of Loyola has brought us to deeper understanding of our brothers, the Society of Jesus. Family of Jesus, we have fallen in love with your founder. There is a popular saying, What would Jesus do? Now, when making decisions, ask yourselves, What would Ignatius do? 6th and died shortly after.
About the Authors:
Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors of many best selling books about the Catholic Faith. They are hosts on EWTN Global Television and have written over 25 books. They are best known as the authors of “Miracles of the Eucharist books.” Many of the ebooks are now available at Smashwords.com. They have been dubbed, “Experts on the Saints.”
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