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Loyola, Ignatius of

Category: Religious

Ignatius of Loyola (1491 –1556) is perhaps better known for his ‘Spiritual Exercises’, but the autobiography is possibly more useful and revealing, because it shows far better why he obtained the visions he did.

The text was dictated to Father Louis Gonzalez, S.J., in 1553 – so 3 years before he died - and some years after the experiences he describes.  It appears that St. Ignatius had been asked by Master Natalis and others of the Jesuits to give a narrative of his life, but for some time he had resisted.  But in 1553, Ignatius was ‘in very feeble health’ and felt himself to be dying, and this undoubtedly influenced his decision to proceed. The dictation was begun in the following September, as Father Gonzalez says “he called me, and began to relate his whole life clearly and distinctly with all the accompanying circumstances. Afterward, in the same month, he called me three or four times, and told me the history of his life up to the time of his dwelling at Manresa. The method followed by St. Ignatius is so clear that he places vividly before our eyes the events of the past”.

The account thus appears to be accurate as far as it can be, given the time lag between its telling and the events themselves.  Again Father Gonzalez says “I began to write down certain points immediately, and I afterward filled out the details. I endeavoured to write nothing that I did not hear from him. So closely did I adhere to his very words that afterwards I was unable to explain the meaning of some of them”.  This original Spanish account was then translated into Latin by Father Hannibal Codretto, S.J. It was subsequently translated to English some time later, so a little may have been lost in the successive translations.  It was completed by December, 1555 – only just in time.

In the following quotes you need to be aware that Ignatius always referred to himself in the third person, so it reads more like a story about him, rather than his explanation of his own life.  But his own life, by himself, it is.

About Ignatius

portrait by Zurburan

Ignatius of Loyola (1491 –1556) was a Spanish knight from a Basque noble family, who, as a consequence of his spiritual experiences, became first a hermit and from 1537, a priest.  He later became a theologian and founded the Jesuits (Society of Jesus).  I’m afraid I did not warm to Ignatio after reading his autobiography, but you can judge for yourself…………

Ignatius was unbelievably brave - as we shall see once we learn of his injury -  and an idealist, vain, confident, strong and wilful. 

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
UP to his twenty-sixth year the heart of Ignatius was enthralled by the vanities of the world. His special delight was in the military life, and he seemed led by a strong and empty desire of gaining for himself a great name……………
In former days he had been very careful of his hair, which he had worn, and, indeed, not unbecomingly, in the fashionable manner of the young men of his age ; but now he determined to cease to care for it, neither to comb it nor to cut it, and to dispense with all covering for his head both day and night. To punish himself for the too great nicety which he had formerly had in the care of his hands and feet, he now resolved to neglect them.

Very little of his character changed after his spiritual experience.  He had not been a religious or spiritual person before the experience and it left him utterly perplexed.  But so big an impact did it have, that instead of devoting all this energy, drive and aggression into military campaigns, he devotes the rest of his life to the Catholic church’s campaigns instead, and the founding of the Jesuits.

He approached his military campaigns with a fanatical devotion, but once converted, he approaches his religious life in exactly the same obsessive, slightly masochistic and fanatical way.

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
His next step was to find some Order where the primitive fervour had not relaxed, as he felt that there he would be more sure of satisfying his desire of suffering and assisting others spiritually by bearing, for the love of God, any injury or insult to which he might be subjected.

One telling remark in the autobiography shows his underlying character quite well………..

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
for though he had, as yet, little knowledge of spiritual things, still he spoke with great fervour on religious subjects, and incited his hearers to make greater progress in the way of God’s service.

So not humble, no willingness to accept his ignorance, self-confident and proud, and opinionated to boot.  He is also judgemental, critical, intolerant and interfering, here he is on a ship headed for Cyprus …………

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
The licentious conduct of those on board Ignatius severely censured. The Spaniards advised him not to do this, as the rest thought of abandoning him on an island.

Incidentally, the impression one gets throughout the whole book is that not many people liked him.  He receives endless kindness from people - women and men, - but shows little gratitude or understanding of what they have done for him.  He is given food, lodging, money, support, encouragement, tuition, but there is no recognition of this generosity by others – the real Christians.  The selfishness somewhat grates after a while.  Here is another telling confession…………..

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
Among those holy persons who dwelt at Manresa, there was one lady well advanced in years … who was so well known … that his Catholic Majesty, the King of Spain, had … taken counsel with her about certain projects that he had in his mind. This lady, speaking one day to our new soldier of Christ, said to him:
" Would that the Lord Jesus might appear to you some day ! "
Ignatius, wondering at her words, understood in a literal sense, and asked her:
"What would He look like if He were to show Himself to me?"

So the real Christians around him, didn’t even think he was a Christian.

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
De Govea was wont to say that Amator, who remained in his college, had been brought by Ignatius to the verge of insanity. He therefore made up his mind that as soon as Ignatius came to the College of St. Barbara, he would give him a public whipping as a seducer of the pupils.

No, not popular at all.

He was also stubborn and inconsiderate.  Here he is in Jerusalem, causing the kindly fathers there a great deal of trouble………….

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
Then the Provincial, addressing him kindly, said he had heard of his pious determination to remain in the holy places, and had given it serious thought.
Many others had the same desire, some had died, others had been taken prisoners, and to his Order was left the work of ransoming captives.
Wherefore he [advised that] he should prepare himself to resume his journey with the pilgrims on the following day.
To this Ignatius answered that his resolution was very fixed, and he did not think that anything would keep him from executing it.

And his loyalty to his friends is deeply questionable………

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
When asked about his other companions, he told who and where they were. They were arrested also, and confined in separate apartments from that in which Ignatius was placed.

Interestingly, Ignatio liked women and day dreamt about women, but the day dreams seem to have been principally in idealistic terms.  The women were lofty, unattainable and pure, the sort of ladies that one could fight military campaigns over.

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
Among these there was one thought which, above the others, so filled his heart that he became, as it were, immersed and absorbed in it. Unconsciously, it engaged his attention for three and four hours at a time. He pictured to himself what he should do in honour of an illustrious lady, how he should journey to the city where she was, in what words he would address her, and what bright and pleasant sayings he would make use of, what manner of warlike exploits he should perform to please her. He was so carried away by this thought that he did not even perceive how far beyond his power it was to do what he proposed, for she was a lady exceedingly illustrious and of the highest nobility.

This liking for the ladies gets him into serious trouble later in life.  The Inquisitors in Toledo styled Ignatius and his associates, ‘Legati or Illuminati’, and threatened him with capital punishment. He escaped punishment, but then his liking for women got him in trouble 4 months later or as he says “influenced, as I think, by the fact that a certain married woman of rank, who chanced to be singularly devoted to the pilgrim, went in disguise at daybreak to visit Ignatius at the hospital where he was staying”.  However, he appears to have got away with this indiscretion too.  He was summoned to appear before the Inquisition; but no sentence was pronounced against him. Later he was put in prison for his indiscretions……….

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
Among those who had frequently come to see Ignatius were two persons, a mother and daughter, the latter of whom was young and beautiful. These, especially the daughter, had made great progress in the spiritual life, and although ladies of rank, had determined to make a pilgrim age alone and on foot, and beg their way to the shrine of Veronica, in the city of Jaen. This occasioned so great a sensation throughout the city of Alcala that Dr. Giruellus, who was the guardian of the two women, thinking that Ignatius was the cause of their action, ordered him to be cast into prison.

After his conversion and vision, despite all the problems with the women above, however, he transferred most of his loyalties to the Virgin Mary.

There is a very telling point where he meets a Saracen mounted on a horse who casually remarks that he could not believe that after the conception the Virgin Mary was still a virgin [not an unreasonable remark in the circumstances]. 

 

All Ignatio’s obsessive and aggressive instincts are aroused and “The longer his mind thought upon the matter, the more his soul was filled with indignation against himself for having allowed the Saracen to speak as he had done of the Blessed Virgin, and for the lack of courage he fancied he had shown in not at once resenting the insult. He consequently felt impelled by a strong impulse to hasten after him and slay the miscreant for the insulting language he had used”.

So no Christian then.  ‘Forgive your enemies’.  No killing.  The ten commandments.  They appear to mean very little to him.  He is still the old Ignatio with a new military mission.  Luckily his horse saved him and took him off away from the poor Saracen.

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
Ignatius, wearied by his inward struggle and not arriving at any determination, decided to settle all his doubts in the following novel way : he would give free rein to his horse, and if, on coming to the cross-road, his horse should turn into the path that led to the destination of the Moor, he would pursue him and kill him ; but if his horse kept to the highroad he would allow the wretch to escape. Having done as he had decided, it happened through the Providence of God that his horse kept to the highroad.

Presumably the horse was a Christian.

And the autobiography continues in much the same way.  Ignatio was a man of dramatic gestures and extremes.  He wears sackcloth  “poorly woven, and filled with prickly wooden fibres”. He also wore  “a pair of shoes of coarse stuff that is often used in making brooms” and started to wear a cord tied below the knee “by way of mortification”.  This should explain a lot …………….

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
he had formerly read the stories of Amadeus of Gaul and other such writers, who told how the Christian knights of the past were accustomed to spend the entire night, preceding the day on which they were to receive knighthood, on guard before an altar of the Blessed Virgin, he was filled with these chivalric fancies, and resolved to prepare himself for a noble knighthood by passing a night in vigil before an altar of Our Lady at Montserrat.

And here we have the key phrase he was filled with these chivalric fancies.

The injury

 

Ignatius was born, in 1491, at the chateau of Loyola, and at fifteen years of age he was a page in the court of King Ferdinand, and then became a soldier under the Duke of Navarre, his relative.  The army of Francis I penetrated into Navarre, and, at the siege of Pampeluna, Ignatius, had the job of Captain of Infantry.

The one event that catapulted Ignatius into the spiritual realm was a quite horrific injury received during the siege of Pampeluna.  The extract below describes both what he was like before the injury and what happened to him as a result of the injury………….

 

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
The citadel of Pampeluna was held in siege by the French. All the other soldiers were unanimous in wishing to surrender on condition of freedom to leave, since it was impossible to hold out any longer; but Ignatius so persuaded the commander, that, against the views of all the other nobles, he decided to hold the citadel against the enemy.
When the day of assault came, Ignatius made his confession to one of the nobles, his companion in arms. The soldier also made his to Ignatius. After the walls were destroyed, Ignatius stood fighting bravely until a cannon ball of the enemy broke one of his legs and seriously injured the other.
When he fell, the citadel was surrendered. When the French took possession of the town, they showed great admiration for Ignatius. After twelve or fifteen days at Pampeluna, where he received the best care from the physicians of the French army, he was borne on a litter to Loyola. His recovery was very slow, and doctors and surgeons were summoned from all parts for a consultation.
They decided that the leg should be broken again, that the bones, which had knit badly, might be properly reset ; for they had not been properly set in the beginning, or else had been so jostled on the journey that a cure was impossible. He submitted to have his flesh cut again. During the operation, as in all he suffered before and after, he uttered no word and gave no sign of suffering save that of tightly clenching his fists.
In the meantime his strength was failing. He could take no food, and showed other symptoms of approaching death. On the feast of St. John the doctors gave up hope of his recovery, and he was advised to make his confession. Having received the sacraments on the eve of the feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul, toward evening the doctors said that if by the middle of the night there were no change for the better, he would surely die. He had great devotion to St. Peter, and it so happened by the goodness of God that in the middle of the night he began to grow better.
His recovery was so rapid that in a few days he was out of danger. As the bones of his leg settled and pressed upon each other, one bone protruded below the knee. The result was that one leg was shorter than the other, and the bone causing a lump there, made the leg seem quite deformed. As he could not bear this, since he intended to live a life at court, he asked the doctors whether the bone could be cut away. They replied that it could, but it would cause him more suffering than all that had preceded, as everything was healed, and they would need space in order to cut it. He determined, however, to undergo this torture.
His elder brother looked on with astonishment and admiration. He said he could never have had the fortitude to suffer the pain which the sick man bore with his usual patience. When the flesh and the bone that protruded were cut away, means were taken to prevent the leg from becoming shorter than the other. For this purpose, in spite of sharp and constant pain, the leg was kept stretched for many days. Finally the Lord gave him health. He came out of the danger safe and strong with the exception that he could not easily stand on his leg, but was forced to lie in bed.
As Ignatius had a love for fiction, when he found himself out of danger he asked for some romances to pass away the time. In that house there was no book of the kind. They gave him, instead, "The Life of Christ," by Rudolph, the Carthusian, and another book called the "Flowers of the Saints," both in Spanish. By frequent reading of these books he began to get some love for spiritual things.

The spiritual experiences

Then came the turning point.  The one event that completely changed him and placed him on the spiritual path was a vision of the Virgin Mary [see observations].

Now all this happened whilst he was in hospital and recovering from his injuries, as such it was principally the huge and extreme pain that he went through that gave him the experience.  There may also have been a contribution from leeches, correctly applied in this case to ensure there were no blood clots formed and to help the healing process.

Now as I have mentioned, the effects of the leeches could be exacerbated by things such as fasting or heaven help us, such truly extreme practises as flagellation and here we have in Ignatius’s own words what he did next…………

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
After his recovery his one wish was to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He fasted frequently and scourged himself to satisfy the desire of penance that ruled in a soul filled with the spirit of God.

 

So we now have a young impressionable idealistic, slightly fanatical and obsessive man, who has received a vision and from the books he is given to read he is now deeply immersed in the teachings of the Catholic Church.  He is in a highly suggestive state from the vision and the pain – reason has long since taken a back seat.  He has now read and believes the theological story on penance and sins and all the other man made paraphernalia that became part of the belief system.  So in this highly suggestive state he starts down the route of mortification…………..

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
Although filled with an ardent desire of serving God, yet his knowledge of spiritual things was still very obscure. He had undertaken to perform extraordinary penances, not so much with a view to satisfy for his sins as with the intention of doing something pleasing to his Lord. …………To do something great for the glory of his God, to emulate saintly men in all that they had done before him, this was the only object of Ignatius in his practices of external mortification.

From that point on it is not the leeches that produce the experiences, it is these extreme forms of mortification, the fasting, the flagellation, [all mechanisms and techniques I have described on the website] and what he gets as a result are hallucinations [see observations]

The final stages

The autobiography gradually ends up being  a sad and sorry tale of constant deprivation,  - hypothermia, lack of sleep, lack of nourishment, fasting, starvation, flagellation, and in essence terrible abuses of the body.  It becomes clear that after a while Ignatio starts to suffer from permanent mental problems – his memory goes - and of course if your memory goes the spiritual experiences will increase, though if you have damaged your brain, the likelihood of you understanding them is highly remote.

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
In his studies, the principles of grammar caused new spiritual thoughts and tastes to arise so abundantly, as to render him incapable of committing anything to memory, and though he strove hard, he could not dispel these thoughts.

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
As he had not experienced interior spiritual suffering for almost five years, he mortified himself by austere fasts and penances. After he had spent some time in this way, living in the hospital and begging his food, he noticed that his progress in letters was not rapid.

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
During the lectures he was troubled by so many spiritual thoughts that he could not listen attentively. Accordingly, as he saw he was making but little progress in his studies, he spoke to his preceptor and promised to attend the lectures, as long as he could find bread and water enough to keep him alive.

The Autobiography of Saint Ignatius Loyola
Outside of the city they found a house that had neither door nor windows. Here they lived, sleeping on a little straw which they had brought with them. Two of the three entered the city twice daily, in the morning and evening, to ask for alms. They returned with so little that it hardly sufficed for their nourishment. Their usual food was bread, when they could get it. The one who chanced to remain at home did the baking. In this way they spent forty days, intent upon nothing but prayer. ………..
While the pilgrim was at Vicenza, he had many spiritual visions. Consolations were sent to him in great number. …On all his journeys, he received great supernatural visitations, like those which he had been wont to receive at Manresa.

It is worth adding that little liked though he appeared to be, he was a great leader of men, and appeared to inspire great devotion in his followers.  And it is his followers to whom we owe the colleges and the schools, as well as the school curriculum.

Although, the outline of the course of education was given by St. Ignatius, it was completed and developed by Aquaviva. The work was still more perfected by Father Laynez, of whom it is said,

" St. Ignatius praised him not only on account of other great merits, but particularly for devising and arranging the system of colleges."

So it is the quiet men in the background who really founded the Jesuits and made it what it was.  And the growth in the Jesuit movement took place after his death. 

In Rome in 1584, the twenty colleges attending classes in the Roman College numbered 2108 students, in Poland there were 10,000 young men chiefly of the nobility, at Rome 2000, at La Fleche 1700. In the seventeenth century at the College of Louis le Grand, in Paris, the number varied between 2000 and 3000. In 1627 the Province of Paris had in fourteen colleges 13,195 students.

Observations

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