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




The Battlefield

"The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it," said Our Lord speaking of His kingdom—that Church of His which He had come on earth to found. He did not say that the Gates of Hell should not fight against it; He knew, on the contrary, how bitter the warfare was to be, and how unceasing. He knew that it was a warfare that would last while the world lasted, and that sometimes the hearts of His faithful would sink within them, while they asked themselves, as the Apostles had done before them, whether their Lord and Master were not asleep, that He seemed to take so little hued of the storm that was raging round them.

There were to be the enemies from without—did not Our Lord Himself foretell it? "You shall be hated by all men for My name's sake"—but more bitter still, there were to be the enemies from within. It could not he otherwise. While the world lasted human nature would be human nature still, with its possibilities for good or evil; and many would choose the evil and leave the good—the pleasanter because the easier course. Of the twelve Apostles one was a traitor—one that had lived in the very presence of the Son of God, and heard with his own ears the teaching that was to draw men's souls to heaven. Could it be otherwise with the Church of Christ? Was it meant to he otherwise? The wheat and the tares were to grow together, said the Master, till the harvest, and the harvest was the end of the world.

Through all the centuries we see it still the same—the powers of good and evil fighting even within the Church, the cockle and the wheat growing side by side. Among the wise and strong, the saints and martyrs who have sat on the throne of Peter, there have been wicked men, imbued with a worldly spirit. "Have I not chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" It is the unfaithful children of the Church that have inflicted on her the cruellest wounds—"mine own familiar friend in whom I trusted; if it had been another I could have borne it."

Yet stands the promise, and the premise shall not fail. The Gates of Hell shall not prevail against the Church of Christ. He will be with her all days even to the end of the world; and, as a mighty king sends forth his generals to tight against his foes, so has Our Lord raised up to Himself in all ages mighty champions to fight for His truth.

St. Augustine of Hippo, who stands with St. Mary Magdalene at the head of the army of the glorious penitents of Christ, was the chosen champion of the Church in Africa. "Too late have I loved Thee, O Beauty ever ancient and ever new," was the cry of his heart, as he laboured with all the strength of his great soul against his Master's enemies.

When the corruption of the Rome of the Caesars had distilled its poison throughout the civilized countries of Europe, and even the clergy were not untainted by the vices which they were powerless to check, Benedict, a young Roman patrician, fled from that world where self-indulgence reigned supreme, to found in prayer, labour, and self-denial, that order which was to be the regenerating force of the centuries which followed,

Later, when the world was growing cold again, under the passion for pomp and splendour, which was such a characteristic of the Middle Ages, Francis, the Poor Man of Assisi, went out from his father's home to preach the love of poverty; drawing multitudes to forsake their sinful lives and follow that Master of whom he was so attractive a representative.

While he was preaching in the mountains of Umbria, St. Dominic was founding his order of preachers—"the Dogs of the Lord"—who were to stand so staunchly by the Church of Christ, able defenders of truth and teachers of doctrine.

With the Renaissance a new danger had arisen. The revival of learning was an excellent thing in its way; but like many other excellent things it had its drawbacks. In the first place let us understand that the word "learning" when used in connection with the Renaissance, meant one branch of learning ***only the ** study of classical authors and of classical art. Now the ancient writers of Greece and Rome were pagans, and lived for the most part in an age when the corruption of the civilized world was proverbial. They wrote for a corrupt age, and side by side with great and noble thoughts is much that appeals only to the basest and lowest in man. The rage for everything that was classical became a passion in Southern Europe, and spread even to the Northern countries. No one was esteemed of any worth unless he were a good Greek and Latin scholar; and if he were a "humanist," it did not matter how evil a life he might lead, or how shameful his writings might be—he was everywhere courted and admired.

So the pagan spirit crept in with the pagan authors. The tales of heathen gods and goddesses were read more eagerly than the lives of the saints or their writings Ovid and Horace were preferred to the Holy Scriptures. The poison spread through all classes. Many of the clergy took the infection. Faith had grown dim; fervour had relaxed; splendour and luxury reigned supreme; and that fatal love of pleasure and unbridled self-indulgence that had dragged the world down so many times before was dragging it down again, The Venus of Titian had taken the place of the Madonnas of Fra Angelico.

There was need of reform. No one saw it more clearly than the Church herself, as the writings and lives of the holy men of the time bear witness. But where the reform was needed was in the lives and morals of the clergy and the people, in the more faithful following of that noble ideal which the Church of Christ sets, and has always set before her children; not in the pulling down of that ideal to a lower level, nor in the assailing of those doctrines of which Christ has made His holy Church the guardian.

Not so thought Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk of Saxony, who, casting off the restraints of the monastic life with his monk's habit, had married an apostate nun, attacked openly nearly every dogma of the Catholic Church, and was preaching his own doctrine throughout Germany. The easy-going took readily to the new teaching. Luther's doctrine of "Justification by Faith" was essentially a comfortable one, doing away as it did with all necessity for penance and mortification. "Believe, and take it easy," is a pleasanter maxim for flesh and blood than "Deny thyself, and take up the Cross." The tide of an advancing Protestantism could only have been checked by devoted self-sacrifice, noble endeavour and purity of life amongst the clergy. Alas! the poison of the Renaissance hail done its work too well; its pagan teaching had stolen away from many their manliness and their strength.

"Lord, is it nothing to Thee that we perish?" went up as of old the cry of God's people. The storm raged pitilessly indeed round the bark of Peter. . .

His promise shall not fail . . . .

On the threshold of the castle of Loyola stood Ignatius, the soldier, the champion of Christ; and the words of another great saint, whose conversion was as marvellous as his own, were on his lips.

"Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?"

The answer was not long to be withheld.