ST. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA
St. Ignatius of Loyola was born in 1491 in the municipality of Azpeitia at the castle of Loyola in what is today the Basque province of Guipúzcoa, in northern Spain. His name at birth was Íñigo López de Loyola. Ferdinand and Isabella were the King and Queen of Spain at the time. A year after the birth of Íñigo, they commissioned Columbus' voyage to the new world. Later in life when he began to travel and live in various locations around Europe, Íñigo adopted the name "Ignatius" because it was easily understood in places such as France and Italy, and "de Loyola" as a reference to his place of birth. He was the youngest of 13 children. It is recorded that his mother died either shortly after his birth or when he was seven years old. From birth to age six, Ignatius was raised by a peasant woman, and after that experience he never lost touch with the common people. He then moved to the home of an older brother and was raised primarily by his brother's wife, Magdalena. She was the most influential person in his younger years. Ignatius' family was very loyal to the King of Spain. At age 10, his father decided that Ignatius was too frail to be a good soldier. Therefore, in order for Ignatius to grow to be a notary in the Church, he needed to learn to read and write. To that end, he received instruction over the next five years.
Ignatius lived during a time of kings and wars and reformations. At fifteen he worked as a page in service to Don Juan Velasquez, the Royal Treasurer. During this time he met Catalina, who would be the love of his life. It was a time of chivalry. Ignatius was now part of the royalty, and he had learned a great deal in his travels with the Royal Treasurer. He lived a life of lower nobility.
Ignatius aspired to be a knight, and as he grew out of his teens, he became one. He developed his leadership capabilities in this role over the next several years. He was part of a force defending a fortress in Pamplona, in northern Spain, 1521, against the French when a cannonball wounded one of his legs and broke the other. He was treated by the French and because they admired his valor, they brought him to his family's home at Loyola to recover. Ignatius voluntarily underwent a series of painful surgeries, common to the medical standards of the day. Following that, he was required to undergo a long period of convalescence which, unknown to him, would lead to his finding his life's work. Small in stature and at times somewhat abrupt in his demeanor, Ignatius would not forget his days in service to the King.
During his convalescence Ignatius was confined to bed, and he was bored. He wanted to read. He searched for reading material that was common in his time, books that today would be called romance novels. None were available, but he came across a book entitled De Vita Christi by Ludolph of Saxony. The title translates to The Life of Christ. It had taken the author forty years to write it. Ignatius was fascinated by what he found in this book. While studying the life of Christ, he read about Ludolph's suggestion that the reader practice putting himself or herself in the scene as he or she read the Gospels; for example, visualizing the manger when reading about the Nativity. This is a process that is known today as Ignatian Contemplation. The other book that Ignatius found during his recovery was The Golden Legend by Jacopo de Voragin, a book on the lives of the saints. He was impressed by a number of the stories, particularly that of St. Francis of Assisi.
Ignatius' study of these two books during this time greatly influenced him. In March of 1522 he traveled to a Benedictine monastery in Montserrat, near the Mediterranean coast in eastern Spain. Here Ignatius began to formulate a new purpose for his life. He decided that rather than being a knight in service to the King of Spain, he had a higher calling to be a soldier in service to God. In Montserrat he abandoned his military garments, and laid down his sword and dagger in front of an image of the Virgin Mary. They would no longer be needed.
After this, Ignatius traveled to Manresa, not far from Barcelona in northeastern Spain. Here he lived in a cave for the next ten months. While he was living in this place, the women of the town tended to him, providing him with food and clothing. He restructured his lifestyle and began to lead a life of rigorous self-denial and austerity. The cave in which he lived was an area that had been carved out of a bluff overlooking the Cardoner River which runs through the town of Manresa. Here, Ignatius was alone with his thoughts, and he began to write. His writings during this period, from 1522 to 1524, would later be published as the Spiritual Exercises. They are a set of meditations, prayers, and other tasks intended to develop oneself spiritually, and they are designed to be carried out over a period of thirty days.
Ignatius wanted to travel to the Holy Land in order to convert non-Christians to Christianity. He made a pilgrimage to Rome and then to Jerusalem. Returning to Spain, in 1526 he was detained and examined by the Inquisition at Alcala. The following year he was arrested at Salamanca for suspicion of being a visionary, and later released.
In 1528 Ignatius left Spain and moved to Paris, to attend the College de Montaigu at the University of Paris, a place where asceticism was practiced in keeping with his devotion to self-denial and austerity. He lived in Paris for seven years. He was filled with a profound devotion to God and wished only to serve God. When Ignatius began to tell others about his views, he drew the attention of the French Inquisition, but was not arrested. Ironically, during his years in Paris, he would on occasion play billiards for relaxation, and to this day pool tables may be found in some of the institutions which honor his memory.
While studying at the University of Paris, Ignatius formed a circle of what he called his companions, all of them fellow students at the University, which initially numbered six in addition to Ignatius himself. One of these was Peter Faber, a Frenchman, and another was Francis Xavier, a fellow Spaniard. Ignatius discussed his views and passed on his Spiritual Exercises by word of mouth to them. On August 15, 1534, these seven men met in a crypt of the Chapel of St. Denis at Montmartre in Paris, and founded a group they called the Society of Jesus. Their stated purpose was "to enter upon hospital and missionary work in Jerusalem, or to go without questioning wherever the pope might direct."
In 1537 this group traveled to Venice, Italy, to attend to the many people who had been afflicted by the Plague that was spreading across Europe at the time. They then traveled to Rome for an audience with Pope Paul III for the purpose of gaining official papal recognition for their new religious order. In 1540 such recognition was granted with the restriction that their numbers be limited to no more than 60 members, a restriction which was rescinded two-and-a-half years later.
In 1541 Ignatius was chosen by his companions in the order as the first Superior General of the Society of Jesus, a distinction which he at first resisted. By this time Ignatius had moved his residence to Rome, and Rome became the headquarters of the Society of Jesus. Ignatius set about sending his companions to various parts of Europe to set up schools and seminaries. The order came to be known as the Jesuits, a name that is still in use today, although its official name is the Society of Jesus. As their name and their methods began to spread, they began to both gain esteem and attract criticism. A Jesuit college was established at Messina, on the island of Sicily in Italy. As the Jesuit ideals began to spread this school became a model for other colleges.
During the sixteenth century Ignatius and the Society of Jesus fought vigorously against the Protestant Reformation that was begun in Europe by Martin Luther. His life spanned roughly the same years as that of Ignatius. He and the Jesuits became a leading voice in the Counter-Reformation.
In 1548 the Spiritual Exercises were approved by Pope Paul III and printed for the first time. Shortly thereafter Ignatius was brought before the Inquisition, and soon released. In 1554 Ignatius wrote the Jesuit Constitutions, which established the Jesuits as a society based on monarchical principles, and emphasized strict loyalty by members of the order to the Pope, and to superiors. Ignatius preached the principle of Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, which means "for the greater glory of God." Ignatius and the Jesuit order believe that everything comes from God, and everything one does should be directed toward the greater glory of God. The concept of AMDG became a motto for the Jesuits.
In his later years Ignatius, at the urging of his fellow Jesuits, dictated his memoirs to reflect on some of the things that influenced him and some of the events that occurred during his life. Although it is not a complete account of the life of Ignatius, nonetheless it has been published as his autobiography and is recommended reading for those who are familiar with his Spiritual Exercises.
On July 31, 1556, Ignatius died at the age of 64 after suffering from chronic stomach ailments for some time. He had wanted to build a Church in Rome and one was eventually completed there fifty years after his death. Known as the Church of the Gesu, it still stands as the mother church of the Society of Jesus, and Ignatius' remains are buried under its altar.
Ignatius of Loyola was beatified in 1609 and canonized a saint by Pope Gregory XV in 1622. His feast day is celebrated on July 31. Today, the Society of Jesus is the largest male religious order in the Catholic Church, with over 18,000 members in 112 countries.