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

The Last Fight

In the year 1548, the long-postponed Council of Trent, so ardently desired by all loyal lovers of the Church, held its first assembly. Its object was the definition of those doctrines which had been assailed by the sects of Luther and Calvin, and the renovation of the inner life of the Church by the reform of certain abuses that had crept in unawares during the years of relaxation. The Council was held in the cathedral of Trent, two future Popes, Cardinals del Monte and Cervini, assisted by a famous Englishman, Cardinal Pole, presiding as Papal Legates.

All Christian princes were begged to send prelates from their different dominions to the Council; and no less than thirty-six ambassadors, eleven Archbishops, sixty-nine Bishops, seven Generals of religious orders and over eighty theologians and doctors were present. It was hardly to be expected that the members of the Company of Jesus, who held neither rank nor dignity in the Church, would form part of such an illustrious assembly. Yet in Germany, Belgium, and Austria, the sons of St. Ignatius were chosen by princes and prelates as their theologians. The Pope himself named Salmeron and Lainez as Papal theologians, perhaps a little to the dismay of Ignatius; for Salmeron was but thirty years of age and absurdly boyish in appearance, while Lainez was only some four years older. It was true that both were carefully trained, learned and eloquent; still, the responsibility was great.

The General laid down careful rules for their conduct. They were to set forth the arguments on both sides of a question, to avoid sharp or wounding words, and to speak with calmness, peace and modesty. In all they did in the Council as well as outside of it, their sole motive was to be the glory of God and the goal of the Church. Nor were they, on account of their onerous duties, to consider themselves free from the Jesuit rule of visiting the hospitals, preaching to the poor, and teaching the catechism to children. With these injunctions he blessed them both and bade them go in the name of Christ. It was the influence of Ignatius himself that was to emanate from his sons, and his spirit that was to speak in them.

The assembly in the cathedral was magnificent indeed and worthy of the brush of the great painter Titian. The scarlet robes of the Cardinals, the golden mitres and the purple of the bishops the white, brown and grey of the friars' habits, mingled with the black of the Benedictine monks and of the secular clergy its a rich harmony of colour. The vaulted roof and the fluted columns of the cathedral made a background at once sombre and rich.

Amongst all this splendour the patched cassocks of the Pope's theologians excited some comment. Several of the clergy went so far as to say that it was scarcely respectful to appear at such a great assembly so shabbily clad. Lainez and Salmeron therefore accepted the new cassocks provided for them by their countrymen, but were careful to wear them only when at the sessions of the Council. It was not long before those present were to see the wisdom of the Pope's choice. The discourses of Salmeron won general admiration; but when Lainez rose to speak, the wonder and enthusiasm were unbounded, for his learning was only equaled by his extraordinary memory. In his discourse on the Blessed Eucharist he quoted by heart thirty-six doctors of the Church, in all of whose writings he was thoroughly at home, and on being asked with some surprise if he had read all the works of one of these authors, voluminous as the were, he answered: "I have read them. re-read them, and read them again" On account of his convincing and unanswerable arguments the best theologians accepted his decision as final. The orators present were seldom as a rule permitted to speak for an hour at a time, but Lainez was allowed three and no one tired of listening to him. His task it was to recapitulate the discussions at the end of the day, and as his voice was weak, a special place was reserved for him in the midst of the bishops. The Council was to be interrupted several times, but Lainez to the end remained one of its brightest lights, and the remark of an ecclesiastic present that he was glad to live in an age when he might listen to such men, who were as learned as they were good, expressed the sentiments of many others.

In the year 1555 the German College was founded in Rome, and throve prosperously, as did its companion the Roman College under the administration of the Jesuits. One of the dreams of Ignatius' heart had been the more careful training of young men destined for the priesthood, and it was now fulfilled. The foundation of these two colleges was his greatest work. The Roman College had been begun with donations from several people, amongst them Francis Borgia, the Duke of Gandia. The Pope bestowed on it the privilege of a university, and in 1555 it numbered two hundred pupils who had come from all parts of the world. The professors were Jesuits, chosen amongst the most learned men of the Society. The classes were attended by students from fourteen colleges in Rome, as well as by those of the Jesuits themselves who were going through their training.

Ignatius took the greatest interest in their progress, and arranged that public disputations should take place from time to time amongst the students, to which he would invite Cardinals and distinguished theologians. Amongst its students have been seven Pope and many Saints.

The German College was founded to raise the tone of the German clergy, who were often ignorant and wanting in zeal for souls. Our old friend Ribadeneira was amongst its first professors.

The year 1552 saw the death of Francis Xavier, the most saintly and gifted of Ignatius' sons. After a long and successful apostolate in India, he resolved to preach the faith to the natives of China. Embarking at Malacca, he landed on the island of Sancian, a desolate rock lying off the Chinese coast. On his arrival he was attacked by a violent fever and was soon at the paint of death. Alone and deserted, abandoned by the crew of the ship in which he had sailed, the man who had gained nations and kingdoms to Christ lay exposed to the scorching sun of the day and the piercing blasts of the night, homeless and a wanderer on the earth.

A Chinese convert in company with a Portuguese merchant who had just landed on the island, discovered the saint lying on the ground with his crucifix clasped to his breast, murmuring even in the delirium of fever the words that through life had been most often on his lips, "My God and my All." They bore him to a little hut, and watched by his side until with words of love and confidence he lifted his radiant face to heaven, and passed into the presence of the Lord whom he had served so faithfully.

For many years after, the vessels that passed the island of Sancian would lower their flags and salute the spot where the Apostle of India breathed his last.

Ignatius was now over sixty years of age, and so weak in body that he knew that his days were numbered. The prospect of a speedy death filled him with joy. The light of the other world already shone in his eyes; his was, as his sons used to say, "a face for Paradise." So worn was he with fasting and penance joined to continual ill-health, that it seemed a wonder that he had lived so long. Nevertheless, he would spare himself in nothing, going through his daily duties in spite of weakness and fatigue. His room was poor, and the little furniture that was in it was of the meanest description. His whole library consisted of the Bible, the breviary, and the "Imitation of Christ."

His heart was with God even when he was at work, and he would constantly raise his eyes to heaven, as if to seek rest for a moment in the presence of his Lord. That bright face, "radiant with divine beauty," as said the Cardinal Archbishop of Toledo, made a deep impression of sanctity on all who saw it. It was at this time that he remarked to a friend that the three desires of his heart had been granted. His order was officially recognized by the Pope; the book of the "Spiritual Exercises" was approved; and the Constitutions completed and observed by the Society all the world over. Those who heard him guessed at his meaning. It was time for him to say his Nunc Dimittis; his life was nearing its end. Yet his interest and his zeal for souls never slackened.

A short time before his death, he heard that when during the carnival of Macerata a play was to be acted that might do harm to young people, the fathers of the Society had ordered exposition of the Blessed Sacrament during three days, with the result that the people had flocked to the church and given up the play. Ignatius was so pleased with this idea that he ordered that the devotion of the Quarant' Ore should take place in all the houses of the Society during the carnival. The practice has since extended to the whole Church.

His health, however, was rapidly failing. During the hot summer days of 1556, he retired to the country-house of the Society, outside the walls of Rome, but soon returned to the city that he might be with his beloved sons. Several fathers in the house were ill, amongst them Lainez. Ignatius had slight fever, but he had been ailing so long that no immediate danger was feared; indeed, some of the patients seemed in worse case than he.

One afternoon he sent for Father Polanco, and asked him to go to St. Peter's to tell the Pope that he was near his end and to beg his prayers and blessing. Polanco replied that the doctor had insisted that Ignatius was in no danger, and that they hoped God would preserve him to the Society for many years to come.

"Do you feel so ill?" he said.

"So ill," replied the saint, "that nothing remains for me but to give up my soul to God."

Still Polanco maintained that he was mistaken. Might he wait for a day or two, he asked, before taking the message, as he had important letter's to write for Spain, and desired to catch the post. Ignatius answered wistfully that he had rather it were done at once, but Polanco was to do what he thought best. Once more the latter besought the doctor to tell him if Ignatius were in danger of death.

"I cannot pronounce to-day," was the answer; "I will tell you to-morrow."

Polanco resolved to wait. That evening the saint seemed better; he took supper as usual, and talked brightly to those who were with him. The infirmarian who watched by him at night reported that he had been restless till midnight, but then became quiet, only murmuring from time to time a short prayer.

At daybreak the doctors arrived. They found him weak, but had no idea that the end was near. "Give him some strengthening food," they ordered, but while the infirmarian was preparing it, one of the fathers, who had just entered, saw that the saint was at the point of death. He went to call the others, but before he returned Ignatius was no more. He had passed away in peace and calmness with the Holy Name on his lips.

His sons wept for their father with aching hearts, but they firmly believed that he would continue to guide and intercede for his Society in heaven. Lainez, who was still ill, and unable to rise from his bed, read the sad truth in the faces of those around him. He implored of God to take him too, and besought the saint to obtain this grace by his prayers. But such was not God's will. Lainez recovered, to be elected General in his beloved father's place.

Still in death lay that great heart that had given up all dreams of earthly glory for love of the Crucified, to embrace a life of poverty and suffering.

The great intellect that had organized an army that was to fight the battles of Christ in every country of the world, was face to face with the Wisdom which is Eternal.

Soldier, rest, thy warfare o'er,

Sleep the sleep that knows no waking.

He had fought the good fight and conquered. Henceforward there was laid up for him a crown of glory.

Ignatius was beatified by Pope Paul V in the year 1609, and in 1622 was raised to the altar, of the Church by Pope Gregory XV. The prosperity of his order, for it has  prospered in spite of persecution and calumny, is due to the fact that the qualities of its holy founder are to this day its life and soul. The army of St. Ignatius has outlasted the armies of Spain, and has made greater conquests than those of Cortez or Pizarro.