Ignatius Loyola

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IGNATIUS LOYOLA (c. 14911556) was the author of Spiritual Exercises, founder and first superior general of the Jesuits, and a Christian saint. Iñigo López de Loyola was born to noble, wealthy Basque parents in the castle at Loyola, near Azpeitia, Guipúzcoa province, in northernmost Spain. Beginning in the mid-1530s he more and more frequently called himself Ignatius, although he also used his baptismal name Iñigo (Enecus in Latin). Up to 1521 his career gave no premonition of his subsequent development into one of the most influential religious figures of the sixteenth and later centuries.

Early Life and Education

In the patriarchal family in which Iñigo spent his boyhood, loyalty to Roman Catholic doctrines was unquestioning, and observance of religious practices and moral standards was about average for its social class. At about the age of twelve Iñigo received the tonsure; but his father may well have intended this not to mark the start of a clerical vocation, but merely to be the means of procuring the income from a local benefice at his disposal.

A momentous change in the youngster's life occurred when he was between twelve and sixteen years of age. His father (who died in 1507, long after his wife) accepted the invitation of Juan Velázquez de Cuéllar to receive the boy into his home at Arévalo in Castile, and there raise him as if he were his own son, while preparing him for a career in politics, public administration, and arms. The wealthy and famous Velázquez would act as the boy's patron at the royal court, while utilizing his services as a page. Velázquez was the master of the royal treasury and a confidant of King Ferdinand the Catholic; his wife was an intimate friend of the queen. Baldassare Castiglione's famous Book of the Courtier (1528), a manual for the training of the polished gentleman and model courtier, details the type of education furnished to the young page, with emphasis on courtly manners and conversation, proficiency in music and dancing, fastidiousness about dress and personal appearance, devotion to the ruler, and skill in arms. Iñigo's literary schooling proved superficial, consisting mainly of avid reading of tales of chivalry, then very popular. As he later admitted, his mind was filled with the military and amorous adventures of Amadis of Gaul and other fictional heroes. These novels proved an important formative influence, however, for they fired an ambition to gain fame by great feats of arms.

As Iñigo developed into manhoodshort (about five feet, two inches tall) but robust, well-formed, fair-haired with long lockshis activities included gaming, dueling, and amorous affairs. In 1515 he and his brother Pero, a priest, were hailed before a secular court for some unspecified deeds of premeditated violence perpetrated at night during the carnival at Azpeitia. They escaped sentence by appealing to an ecclesiastical court, whose judgment remains unknown. Another revealing incident took place a few years later in Pamplona. While Iñigo was walking along a street, a group of men headed in the opposite direction shoved him against a wall. Drawing his sword, he chased them and would have run them through had he not been restrained.

When Velázquez died in 1517, his page promptly entered the service of the duke of Nájera, viceroy of Navarre, as a courtier, with obligations to military duty if needed. During the revolt of the Comuneros, Iñigo fought in the forefront of the duke's forces in the victorious storming of Nájera (September 1520), but he refused to participate in the customary sack of the town as an act unworthy of a Christian or a gentleman. When the French invaded Navarre in 1521 and attacked Pamplona, its capital, the townsfolk surrendered without a struggle. Almost alone at a council of war, Iñigo advocated resistance to death in the fortress above the city. In the absence of a priest, he prepared for the end by following a medieval custom of confessing his sins nonsacramentally to a comrade-in-arms. During the six-hour bombardment of the citadel on May 21, a cannonball struck Iñigo, injuring his left leg and breaking his right one below the knee. This calamity moved the small garrison to surrender; it also effected a metamorphosis in the wounded man's life.

Chivalrously but inexpertly, the French tended Iñigo's injuries and then permitted their vanquished enemy to be carried back to his family home on a litter. In resetting the limb there, the surgeon shortened the broken leg and left a large, unsightly protrusion on the kneecap. Impelled by vanity, by a determination to return to his former lifestyle, and by romantic notions about impressing a lady of very high, perhaps royal, lineage, whose name is still the subject of conjectures and who may have been an imaginary figure, Iñigo insisted on further surgery. The lump was sawed off and the leg was stretched almost to normal length. During all these excruciatingly painful operations, performed without anesthesia, the iron-willed patient voiced no complaint.

To while away the tedium of convalescence, the sick man turned to reading. Because the meager family library lacked his preferred tales of chivalry, he accepted Spanish versions of Ludolph of Saxony's life of Christ and Jacobus de Voragine's Golden Legend, a collection of saints' lives. As he kept rereading and reflecting on these two famous works of edification, Iñigo developed an aversion for his worldly ideals and ways. He resolved to serve and imitate Christ alone and to emulate the deeds of the saints, although in a manner as yet undetermined.

Spiritual Life and Leadership

Early in 1522 Iñigo left home and started on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Soon he took a vow of perpetual chastity, dismissed his two servants, and disposed of all his money. At the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat on March 2225, he gave away his mule and his fine clothes, donning a coarse pilgrim's garb of sackcloth. Then he made a knightly vigil of arms, praying all night before the altar of Our Lady, where he discarded his sword and dagger. From Montserrat he proceeded to the nearby town of Manresa, where his stay, originally intended to last only a few days, extended to eleven fateful months. At Manresa, the pilgrim, as he now termed himself, refused to divulge his true identity. He led a life of great austerity and underwent bodily penances so severe that they permanently impaired his rugged constitution. Unkempt in appearance, he obtained food and lodging by begging, a practice he was to follow for years. At times he dwelt in a cave. Besides devoting seven hours daily to prayer on his knees, he read pious books, especially the Imitation of Christ, and performed works of charity.

At Manresa Iñigo also composed the substance of Spiritual Exercises, although he continued revising and expanding the text until 1541. In its opening paragraph the slender book describes spiritual exercises as "every method of examination of conscience, of vocal and mental prayer, and of other spiritual activities that will be mentioned later to prepare and dispose the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments; and after their removal, to seek and find God's will concerning the disposition of one's life for the salvation of the soul." Along with a number of annotations, rules, and notes, the text proposes points for methodical meditations and contemplations on various Christian doctrines and on some key topics original to the author, but mostly on incidents in the life of Christ.

Divided into four stages, called weeks, the exercises in their fullness are meant to occupy the memory, imagination, understanding, and will of a retreatant, under a director and secluded from temporal affairs, for thirty days, although considerable elasticity in length is permitted. Primarily the book is a manual of practical directives for a retreat director. Highly compressed and lacking in literary embellishments, the text is not designed for continued pious reading in the usual sense. The book was mainly the product of the author's own experiences within himself and with others. It soon won acclaim as a spiritual masterpiece, original, unified, outstanding for its sound religious psychology and pedagogy, and remarkably well organized. Its contents manifest the essence of Ignatian and Jesuit spirituality, and it has exerted an enormous influence throughout the Catholic world down to the present day. As early as 1548, Paul III's Pastoralis officii gave what has been termed the most explicit and honorable papal approval ever accorded a book. A long list of popes have added their own commendations, culminating with Pius XI, who in 1922 officially designated Ignatius as the patron saint of spiritual exercises.

From Manresa the pilgrim traveled by foot and by ship to Jerusalem, arriving on September 4, 1523, by way of Barcelona, Gaeta, and Rome and Venice. Only because he was denied permission to reside permanently in the Holy City, where he had hoped to spend his days visiting the sacred places and evangelizing, did he decide to return to Spain. He set sail for Venice on October 3, 1523, and arrived in Barcelona in February 1524.

Study, motivated by a desire to help souls, preoccupied the next eleven years. After applying himself to Latin in Barcelona (15241526), Iñigo undertook university courses in philosophy at Alcalá (March 1525June 1527) and Salamanca (JulySeptember 1527). Extracurricular apostolic activities won the student a number of followers, mostly women, and aroused official suspicions regarding his apparent adherence to the heretical Alumbrados. During their investigations, diocesan officials at Alcalá imprisoned the uncomplaining suspect for forty-two days and those at Salamanca for an additional twenty-two, but in both cases Iñigo was exonerated. To escape the restrictions attached to his freedom, he migrated to the University of Paris (15281535), where he gained a master of arts degree in philosophy in 1534 and then studied philosophy for a year and a half.

In Paris, new followers were attracted by Iñigo's spiritual exercises. On August 15, 1534, in a chapel on Montmartre, he and six companions vowed to dedicate their lives to the good of their neighbors, while observing strict poverty, and to journey to Jerusalem on pilgrimage or, if this proved impossible (as it did because of war), to place themselves at the disposal of the pope. Three others joined in the renewal of this vow a year later, bringing to ten the original membership of the as yet unforeseen Society of Jesus.

Heading for Jerusalem, Ignatius traveled in December 1535 to Venice, where his nine companions joined him in January 1537. He and six of the nine were ordained priests there the following June. After long deliberations with the whole group, Ignatius resolved to make their association a permanent, structured one, to be called the Society of Jesus. His First Formula of the Institute, a brief draft of a constitution, received solemn confirmation from Paul III on September 27, 1540, canonically establishing it as a religious order. The new order aimed at the salvation and perfection of its members, popularly known as Jesuits, and of all humankind. To this end it incorporated a number of innovations in its organization, manner of life, and scope of ministries.

In 1541 the other nine cofounders of the Society of Jesus unanimously elected Ignatius superior general for life. Under his leadership, membership increased rapidly, reaching about 940 at the time of his death, on July 31, 1556. Members dispersed throughout Europe and penetrated Africa, Asia, and the Western Hemisphere. They engaged in numerous pastoral, educational, and missionary labors, while moving to the forefront of the work of the Catholic revival and Counter-Reformation. As head of the highly centralized society, Ignatius played the key role in all this activity, as well as in the internal development of the order. He it was who devised, organized, supervised, or at least approved all these ministries, keeping in close contact with them through an enormous correspondence; some seven thousand of his letters have since been published. Besides admitting new members, choosing superiors, and regulating the spiritual life of his fellow religious, he composed the Jesuit Constitutions, along with other religious instructions and rules. In Rome he founded the tuition-free Roman College (now the Gregorian University) and the German College to train priests for Germany. In addition he founded and won support for several charitable institutions.

Because of his rare combination of talents, Ignatius influenced modern religious life as few have done. He was at once a man of prayer, a contemplative, a mystic who reported many visions, a man of action, and a born leader not only in individual spiritual direction but also in practical projects of great magnitude. He was zealous in promoting the greater glory of God, and he was a sharp judge of persons and events: reflective, imperturbable, prudent, decisive, and wise in adjusting means to ends. His mode of government, while stressing obedience, was paternal, not at all military, as is sometimes argued. In personal contacts he was inevitably courteous, tactful, grave but pleasant and genial. He was beatified in 1609 and canonized in 1622.

See Also



For editions of the writings by Ignatius in their original languages and in translations, as well as for the enormous secondary literature about him, see Bibliographie ignatienne (18941957), edited by Jean-François Gilmont, S.J., and Paul Daman, S.J. (Paris, 1958), containing 2,872 entries; Orientaciones bibliográficas sobre San Ignacio de Loyola, edited by Ignacio Iparraguirre, S.J., vol. 1, 2d ed. (Rome, 1965), with 651 items; and Orientaciones bibliográficas sobre San Ignacio de Loyola, edited by Manuel Ruiz Jurado, S.J., vol. 2 (Rome, 1977), adding another 580 items (both volumes contain evaluative comments and references to important book reviews). Complete annual bibliographies appear in Archivum Historicum Societatis Iesu, published since 1932 in Rome. An important source, although incomplete, brief, and ending in 1538, is The Autobiography of St. Ignatius Loyola, with Related Documents, translated by Joseph F. O'Callaghan and edited with an introduction and notes by John C. Olin (New York, 1974). Ignatius's best-known work is available in several English translations; a particularly good version is The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius by Louis J. Puhl, S.J. (Westminster, Md., 1952), reprinted many times. The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus has been translated, with an introduction and commentary by George E. Ganss, S.J. (Saint Louis, Mo., 1970). The best biography available in English is by Paul Dudon, S.J.: St. Ignatius of Loyola (Milwaukee, 1949). Saint Ignatius Loyola: The Pilgrim Years (London, 1956), by James Brodrick, S.J., covers the years 14911538 only and is written by a superior stylist. The Jesuits, Their Spiritual Doctrine and Practice: A Historical Study (Chicago, 1964), by Joseph de Guibert, S.J., is an authoritative study.

John F. Broderick (1987)