Life of St. Ignatius of Loyola - F. A. Forbes




The General and His Army

The little Company of Jesus had now taken its stand amongst the "regulars" of the Church. It was a religious order, lately approved by the Pope, of which Ignatius had been elected General for life by every vote in the Society but his own. Failing utterly to convince his companions by the protest that any man of them all would have made a better General than himself, he proceeded to inaugurate the new honour by working for a week in the kitchen. It was now time to look abroad and see what was to be done for Gad.

Up to the present time the religious orders had concerned themselves chiefly with missions to the people. These were not to be neglected, but Ignatius could not fail to see that as yet little bad been done for these of a higher rank. His apostolate at the Universities had been fruitful; here the Society, whose members were drawn largely like. Ignatius himself from the upper classes, was destined to influence strongly the intellectual life of the world. The "humanists" of the Renaissance, who held that piety and learning could hardly exist together, were to find men as learned and cultured as themselves, strong and steadfast in the Faith. The reformers, who urged the worldliness of the clergy as a reason for forsaking the Creed of their fathers, were to find priests and religious teachers, the holiness and simplicity of whose lives put their own utterly to shame. Two by two, the little army went forth once more, this time to the centres of unfaith. Siena, Parma, Worms, Regensburg, Innsbruck, Vienna, in turn felt their influence, Colleges were founded everywhere for the secular as well as the religious training of boys and young men; for no one knew better than Ignatius the importance of an education for the rising generation that should be both wise aid thorough.

The year 1541 saw the birth of the first great missionary enterprise of the Society to the heathen. The King of Portugal, John III, who had great possessions in the Indies, was seeking for men to preach Christianity to the natives of India. The new Society was recommended to him as likely to furnish what he required, and Ignatius' long-desired opportunity of preaching to the heathen was at last within his grasp. Fain would he have led the little band himself, but this ill-health and advancing years prevented. Bobadilla and Rodriguez were offered for the work, but Bobadilla was down with rheumatism and unable for the journey. Ignatius turned to Francis Xavier, who had been working at Bologna with the combined zeal and sweetness that made his apostolate as fruitful at home as it was to be later in heathen lands.

"God wills to use you for this mission," Ignatius said.

"Father, I am ready," was the reply.

The outfit of the future apostle of the Indies consisted of an old worn-out cassock, carefully mended by his own hands, and a breviary.

Ignatius, who was ill at the time, and wearing a warmer garment than usual, took it oft and wrapped it round him. Next day the little party started.

On the voyage, the Admiral would have had the Jesuits to dine with him at his own table, but this they would not do, so he was forced to content himself with sending them part of what was served for his own use. This Francis distributed amongst the sick poor on board, whom he had collected in his own cabin to tend and care for. The fragments left by the passengers were thought by the missioners to be good enough for them.

Of Francis' labours in India this is not the place to tell; he died as he had lived, amidst hardships and dangers, having won thousands to the knowledge and love of Christ.

Ignatius had now passed his fiftieth year. The austerities of earlier days had told so severely on his health, that, grown wiser by experience, he watched carefully lest his younger companions should go beyond their strength in these matters. The sackcloth gown of Manresa had also been discarded long ago, as unsuitable to the work of the Society. The Jesuits were to go neat and clean, though poverty was to be strictly observed. Ignatius was of one mind with his great compatriot, St. Theresa, in his hatred of slovenliness and dirt. Yet he would mend the rents in his garments carefully and lovingly, saying of them, "These are the livery of my Lord."

Equally great was his hatred of anything that savoured of untruthfulness or deceit; he considered such things, he used to say, unworthy of a well-born and educated man, still more of a Christian.

He strove to impress on his sons the nobility of any kind of work that was done for God, from the labours of the brother in the kitchen to those of the preacher in the church.

"For whom are you working?" he asked one day of a lay-brother, who was sweeping in a very half-hearted manner.

"For God," was the answer.

"Then you deserve a good penance," replied the General sternly. "If you were working for men, it would not so much matter, but work for God should be better done than that."

The life of Jesus was to be their example, said the Jesuit rule; the sinner should be dear to every one in the Society. Never were they to neglect an opportunity of doing good, but if it should please God to work great things through their means, they were to count themselves as nothing. Prayer and humility were to be the backbone of their spiritual life; and studies were to be deep and thorough.

The General moreover demanded a very perfect obedience from his men. His experience as a soldier had taught him that herein lies all the strength of an army.

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do or die,

is true heroism, and Ignatius knew it. There is profound wisdom in the truth that "he who ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city," One of the chief characteristics of the Society was to be its perfect discipline; its organization was to be that of an army. At sixty years of age Ignatius declared that the slightest sign from the Pope would send him aboard the first ship in the harbour, bound for any port in the world.

"That would not be very prudent," observed a nobleman who was present.

"Prudence, my lord," said the hero of Pamplona, "is the virtue for those who, command, not for those who obey."

He required from his men a self-devotion that considered nothing impossible that was bidden them. All great generals have required the same, and it has been one of the secrets of their success.

For men of a mutinous and discontented spirit the saint had no use. Such was not the stuff of which the soldiers of Christ were to be made. Grumbling at orders given was a bad note. It was once reported to him that a novice, who was displeased at something he had been told to do, was going about saying that he would leave the Society the very next day.

"That shall he not," said Ignatius, "he shall go to-night."

And go that night he did.

On the other hand he was full of sympathy for the difficulties of fiery, hot-tempered natures. He liked them, and believed, as in the ease of Ribadeneira, that self-mastery once obtained, they would often go farther and do better work for God than their gentler brethren. "Conquer thyself," he would often repeat to such firebrands, encouraging and helping them in moments of difficulty; and many there were who owed their perseverance to his understanding sympathy.

Another great characteristic of Ignatius was his tender care for the sick. He used to say that he believed that God had sent him so much sickness that he might help and sympathize with others. If any were ill in the house, he would visit them frequently, watching by them if necessary at night, making their beds, and tending them in all things with a father's care. He wrote kind letters to those of his sons who were ill in other lands. If any dainty was ordered for an invalid, Ignatius insisted that he should have it, even though the community should have to dine on bread in consequence, or beg their food in the streets.

To endure affliction for Christ's sake, he would say, was the highest gain, and to love God with all one's heart, one's soul, and one's will, the greatest good. He had a great love for plants and flowers, and all that beauty of the outside world so suggestive to pure and thoughtful minds of the beauty which is eternal. To him indeed earth was

crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God.

A friend who knew him well described him thus:

"His very appearance seemed to make every one who saw him better, and so reproved all meanness and wickedness that no one with a bad conscience could have looked him in the face."

On his first arrival in Rome, Ignatius had made a vow to accept for himself and his companions neither honours nor dignity; but the success of his sons in their apostolic work bade fair to be an obstacle to the determination. Over and over again one or other of the Society would be proposed by princes or rulers for a bishopric; more especially was this the case in Germany. The vow was to accept no honours save at the direct command of the Pope; and now crowned heads were appealing to the Vicar of Christ to compel the reluctant fathers to submit. Ignatius was alarmed, and himself appealed to the Pope.

"It would be a danger to the very spirit of the Company. The other orders in the Church," argued the old soldier, "were like squadrons of cuirassiers, whose duty was to stand fast in their appointed places and face the enemy. For them such honours were meet. But the Company of Jesus was a body of light horsemen always ready to go in any direction in skirmishing order at the sign of the Vicar of Christ. It was not in their nature to be fixed in one place."

"This is the first time that I have heard such a petition," said the Pope, but he gave way. The danger, however, was to arise again later.

The reader remembers the meeting of Ignatius, on his way to prison in Alcala, with young Francis Borgia, son of the Duke of Gandia. The world had prospered with Borgia since the meeting; he had won fame for himself on the field of battle, married the wife of his heart, and was the trusted friend and confidant of the Emperor Charles V. On the death of the Empress Isabella he was chosen to accompany the funeral procession to Granada, and to identify the body when there.

The coffin was opened, and Francis was confronted with the remains of the beautiful woman whom he had known so well. Death had made terrible havoc with those fair features, and the sight made such a profound impression on Borgia of the emptiness of the things of this world, that he resolved, as soon as it should be possible, to enter religion. Not long after, his beloved wife died, and Francis Borgia was admitted to the Society of Jesus.

The event made a great stir in Spain, and the Emperor wrote to the Pope, requesting that his friend might be made a Cardinal. Borgia fled from Rome to avoid the unwelcome dignity, and Ignatius again appealed to Christ's Vicar for protection. It was agreed that to please the Emperor the hat should be offered, but on the refusal of Francis, the matter should be dropped, and Ignatius breathed again.

The mission of this new son of the Society was to be to Spain. There his great influence did much for the Jesuits. Colleges and churches were built, and the work of evangelization made great progress.

After the death of Lainez, who succeeded Ignatius, St. Francis Borgia was made General of the Society of Jesus, which he governed with a holiness and wisdom second only to that of the great founder himself.