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

The "Free Company"

Amongst the students who came flocking to the. University of Paris in the sixteenth century were men of all classes and of all nations. The beggar-student brushed elbows with the young nobleman the Spaniard sat down with the Greek. Ignatius had been prevailed upon by his friends in Spain to accept a small sum of money, sufficient to relieve him from the constant necessity of begging. In company with two of three poor students like himself he took a humble lodging, but the arrangement was to be of short duration. One of the young roommates suddenly disappeared, and Ignatius' money with him. He was thus forced to retire to the hospital of St. James, where the poor were lodged free of cost.

Meanwhile his influence was already making itself felt. Three young Spanish students, after having gone through the exercises, had sold all their possessions, given the proceeds to the poor, and followed Ignatius to the hospital. The authorities were thoroughly irate, particularly the rectors of the colleges to which the young men belonged, Ortiz of Montaigu, and Gouvea of Ste. Barbe. They denounced Ignatius to the Inquisition as a heretic and a mischief-maker, adding that he had shown his guilt by flight. A certain colour was lent to this story by the fact that Ignatius was not to be found. The young man who had stolen his money had fallen ill on the way home; and, friendless and in want, had written for help to the very man he had injured. Ignatius' vengeance was swift and saint-like. Barefoot and fasting, he set out in search of the prodigal, offering the hardships of the journey for the young man's soul. He found the thief both sick and sorry. With a mother's tenderness he nursed him back to health; and sent him, healed in soul and body, to his home in Salamanca. Then for the first time he heard through a friend of the hue and cry in Paris.

Hastening back to the capital, be presented himself before the Grand Inquisitor, explained his conduct, and begged him to let the trial take place as soon as possible, as the winter session was about to begin. The Inquisitor replied that a trial was unnecessary; he was completely satisfied.

The preliminary studies at Montaigu ended, Ignatius began his course of philosophy at Ste. Barbe, under the rectorship of the very Gouvea who had but lately been so hot against him. He shared a room with Peter Favre, a young Genevan, who had begun life as a shepherd boy on the Swiss mountains, and whose brilliant intellectual gifts had brought to Paris where lie had already taken his doctor's degree. He undertook to help Ignatius with his studies, and it was not long before the Spaniard realized that his young companion was destined to do great work in the world for God. Pure and holy in the midst of surrounding that were often neither the one nor the other, he needed only the spiritual guidance of Ignatius to bring out all that was latent in his sweet and noble nature.

In two years the young man was ordained priest, after having gone through the exercises under Ignatius' direction, who then confided to him his hopes for the future.

"I will follow you," said Favre, "through life and death."

Ignatius advised him to visit his parents and obtain their consent; but on his arrival at home he found that his mother was dead. His father had nothing to give him but his blessing, but Peter's desire was to be poor; he was thenceforward dependent on the alms which Ignatius and he obtained by begging. By nature humble and timid, Favre had yet to learn his own powers. At his master's bidding he was ready to attempt difficult and dangerous enterprises, and to dare all things to win souls to Christ.

Nor was Favre the only student of Ste. Barbs \rho succumbed to the charm of Ignatius. As usual the young men gathered round him, and the public disputations that were held on Sundays began soon to be forsaken for prayer and the reception of the Sacraments.

The professors complained to the rector, Guovea, who lent them a sympathetic ear. A law existed by which unruly students could be flogged—it should be put in force at once. The needful steps were taken, and all preparations made. The news, however, reached the ears of a friend of Loyola, and he was at once warned of what was on foot. The noble Spanish blood in Ignatius' veins boiled at the thought of the insult; no man who had undergone that ordeal could ever hope to hold up his head again—and yet—had not his Master borne worse things for him? The struggle was sharp but short. If his Lord would have it so—so let it be.

Down to the college with his own gentle dignity he went. Masters and students were gathered together in the great hall; all was in readiness. Ignatius asked to see the rector and was taken to him at once.

The minutes passed slowly by in a silence that could be felt; the crowds in the great hall held their breath.

At last the door opened, and judge and culprit entered together. But what was this?

The eyes of the angry Gouvea were wet with tears, and suddenly he knelt at the delinquent's feet. Before the whole assembly he humbly asked forgiveness of Ignatius and of God for the wrong that had been done to an innocent man.

The result of this strange scene was a complete reaction in favour of Ignatius, and for a time all went well. In March 1534 he tool; the degree of Master of Arts, and came forth at the age of forty-four a scholar of the schools.

Amongst the young Spaniards at the University of Paris was one who looked with a certain contempt on the poor student whose name was on every lip. Of blood as noble as Ignatius' own, young Francis Xavier was as gifted as he was ambitious, and was destined by his father for a brilliant career in the Church. Appointed after only four years' study lecturer at the college of Beauvais, the young professor was already charming all critics by his power and eloquence.

Coming out one evening from the college, elated with success, and dreaming of the glorious career before him, his eyes fell on the unwelcome figure of the beggar-student, who stood in the shadow of the street watching him with dark intent eves. Annoyed at the meeting, Francis would have hurried by, but from out the shadows spoke a voice low and distinct: "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?

If Xavier had been annoyed before, he was thoroughly angry now.

What had he and a beggar like Ignatius in common? He had no wish for his company nor his advice. The remark moreover was altogether wide of the mark. He had no intention of losing his soul, and as for gaining the world, well, the world and its honours were for those who deserved them.

So argued the young man resentfully; but the words of the poor student haunted his thoughts with an intolerable persistency. At night they would shine out in letters of fire on the darkness, and sleepless, he would toss wearily to their refrain: "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?" In the daytime, at the most brilliant point in his lecture, they would obtrude their unwelcome presence: "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?

The fight was long, but the day came when the young professor sought out Ignatius and asked him desperately what he was to do. In humble prayer and dependence he learnt what was God's will for him. He might have been rector of the University of Beauvais—he was to be the greatest missioner the world has ever known.

So the first members of the Company of Jesus began to gather round their chief. Diego Lainez and. Alfonso Salmeron, two young students of Alcala, hearing of the fame of their countryman, came to Paris to seek him out and enlist under his standard. Nicholas Bobadilla, poor but of noble birth like Ignatius himself, threw in his lot with Loyola, as did Simon Rodriguez, gentle, handsome and amiable, but as yet without the active resourcefulness that he was later to develop.

In July 1534 the little band, seven in number, were invited to meet their chief. After they had prayed together, Ignatius spoke.

His intention, he said, was to consecrate himself to God by vows of poverty, chastity, and service in Palestine. He invited those who were of one mind with him to do likewise. Failing the chance of apostolic work in the Holy Land, they would go at a given time to Rome and place themselves at the Pope's service. Meanwhile, they were to pass the time in prayer, frequent reception of the Sacraments, and study of the two books that were to remain always dearest to the heart of Ignatius, the Bible and the "Imitation of Christ."

By these vows the seven companions bound themselves before the altar in the crypt of the chapel of St. Denis at Montmartre on the Feast of the Assumption 1534, the Mass being said by Peter Favre, the only priest amongst them. Such was the foundation of the Company of Jesus.

St. Ignatius


But a fresh trial awaited the little band. This time it was not their preaching that excited suspicion, but their mysterious retirement. They were said to use a book—could it be an exposition of some of the new doctrines condemned by the Church? Ignatius was preparing to leave Paris, but he postponed his departure, and prayed for a speedy inquiry. Laurent, the Inquisitor, requested that the "Exercises "should be shown to him; and after reading the little work was so delighted with it that he begged a copy for himself. Ignatius having asked and obtained a formal attestation of his innocence, left Paris for Spain.