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

In the King's Service

Sorrowfully, yet not sorrowfully, since God's ways are always best, our pilgrim turned his back on the land of his desires, and set out for Spain. The hope still remained in his heart, that some day in the future they would be allowed to return to work for souls in Palestine. At Cyprus he begged a free passage on a Venetian ship that was about to sail, but the captain refused him rudely. "He asks a passage for the love of God; let him walk on the water for the love of God," said he, "for no passage shall he get from me."

Alongside lay a Turkish ship, which also refused d the saint's petition; he then turned to a crazy little balk, hound likewise for Venice, the captain of which bade him come on board at once. Next day the three vessels put out to sea.

The Turkish ship perished with all hands on board; the fine Italian beat stranded off the coast of Cyprus, narrowly escaping shipwreck. The miserable craft that had given Ignatius passage, alone of the three made its way safely through storms to Venice, having taken two months to the voyage.

Then followed a long journey on foot. France and Spain were at war. Our pilgrim, after falling first into the hands of the Spaniards, who took him for a spy, and then into those of the French, by whom he was better treated than by his own countrymen, at last reached Genoa, where he embarked for Barcelona. It was the spring of 1524. Ignatius had been thinking deeply, and the work of the immediate future lay definitely before him. More than once already the misgiving had crossed his mind that his own lack of education might form a serious obstacle to the Master's work, for he was no scholar. The new learning had not been in vogue amongst young men of fashion in the days of his boyhood, and the lively and unruly disposition of the young Inigo had made it a harder thing than usual to keep him to his books. Courtesy and knightly honour he had learnt as a page in the court of Ferdinand the Catholic; under his uncle the Duke of Najera he had studied the art of war; but Greek and Latin had formed part of the programme in neither court nor camp.

With the determined will that went straight at every obstacle and overcame it, this man of thirty-three resolved to begin his education at the very beginning. At Barcelona he found a schoolmaster, and taking his place on the school benches among children and half-grown lads, set himself to the task before him.

For two years he laboured at verbs and declensions, living meanwhile in a room lent him by the charity of Dona Ines Pascual. Up to the door of this room at night would creep Juan, the young son of Dona Ines, to peep awe-stricken through the keyhole at the saint, who spent most of the night in prayer, and was often to be seen, the boy declared, surrounded by a strange and beautiful light. He begged his daily bread, and since on account of the veneration in which he was held by the good people of Barcelona he had always more than he could use, the best of everything was given to the poor. Dona Ines used often to object to this arrangement, but her holy guest would answer, "Senora, if our Lord Jesus Christ were to ask you for an alms, would you give Him the worst of what you had?"

Nor did Ignatius confine his apostleship to the poor alone. Many young men who were leading bad lives were won over by his gentle persuasiveness to nobler and better things.

The two years at Barcelona at last drew to a close. At the University of Alcala, owing to the charity of its noble founder, Cardinal Ximenes, provision had been made for the training of poor scholars. Thither Ignatius was advised to go, and thither he went in the beginning of August 1526. Here also he determined to beg for what he needed for himself and his poor; for wherever he went the poor were wont to hail him as a friend raised up to them by God. The needs of the sick in the hospitals, of the children in the streets, of the young men in the schools, appealed irresistibly to his apostolic zeal.

The bad life of a certain young ecclesiastic was scandalizing the town. Ignatius went to visit him, and gently but firmly showed him the harm he was doing to himself and to others. For all answer the angry young man threatened to throw his unwelcome guest out of the window. Ignatius, with his usual winning charity, persisted, and in the end prevailed. The exercises were made, and a changed life was the result. This sudden and complete conversion caused a nine days' wonder in Alcala. The young students flocked round Ignatius begging for help and advice, and his extraordinary influence was talked of everywhere.

The authorities began to be suspicious. Who was this student, they asked, whose power over others was such that sorcery or magic had been suggested as the only explanation? Here was a man who had come to learn and was taking upon himself to teach. A secret disciple of Luther probably, if not worse. It would be well to be careful. Strange rumours even reached the headquarters of the Inquisition at Toledo, and Don Juan de Figueroa, the Vicar-General at Alcala, was asked to investigate the matter. The climax came in a complaint from a person of influence in the town, that two ladies under his guardianship had gone alone on a dangerous pilgrimage without his consent. He was certain that it was by Ignatius' direction.

Loyola was seized and carried off to prison. On the way the poor beggar-student and his custodians had to stand aside to let pass the imposing cortege of the grandees of Alcala, who were doing the honours of the town to the young Marquis of Lombay, a boy of seventeen. The eyes of the prisoner and those of the Marquis met, as Ignatius courteously doffed his cap. Little did the boy dream that the poor beggar before him was one day to be the General of the Society of Jesus, and his own father in Christ; for the Marquis of Lombay was none other than Francis Borgia.

In prison Ignatius was visited by Figueroa, who treated him kindly.

"If you could only do things like other people," he said, "it would be all right. But you go in for such novelties."

"Could you call it a novelty, my lord, to speak of Christ to Christians?" replied Ignatius.

In all things he said he was ready to submit himself to the Church; if his doctrines were unorthodox, let them be condemned.

He was set free and completely absolved from all blame; but he was not to preach till his four years of study were completed.

Ignatius' mission at Alcala was at an end. He went to seek advice of the Archbishop of Toledo, who counselled him to go to the University of Salamanca, where he could continue his studies and his apostolate together. To Salamanca therefore he went, but only to find that his fame had preceded him. He had not been there a fortnight before he was cited to appear before the authorities.

Why did he preach, and on what subjects?

He preached on virtue and vice, was the answer, to induce men to practise the one and avoid the other.

How could he speak of such things without being learned?

The matter was laid before the Grand Vicar, who demanded that all papers, particularly the exercises, should be delivered into his hands, Ignatius declaring as usual that he was ready to submit himself to rightful authority.

A formal examination took place, and Ignatius answered subtle theological questions with a directness and skill that astonished his examiners.

"Preach," they said, "and let us hear how you do it—speak to us on the First Commandment."

Ignatius spoke with his usual fire and eloquence. The judges listened enraptured. There could be no doubt of the sincerity of such a man.

They were satisfied at all points, they said, but it would be better not to speak on certain subjects until the four years' course was finished.

The prohibition meant complete silence. Ignatius resolved to depart. Spain with her formalism and conservatism was not destined to be the birthplace of the Society of Jesus.

Sts. Ignatius and Francis Xavier


Alone Ignatius set out for Paris. The little band of disciples who had gathered round him at Alcala were to remain behind and continue their studies. Did Ignatius know that once the presence of their master withdrawn, not one of them was to persevere? It was not long before they began to ask themselves if the life they had undertaken was not beyond their strength. Theirs was the comfortable humility of Sir Gawain when the quest of the Holy Grail was proposed with all its dangers and hardships to the knights of Arthur's court.

"This quest is not for me," they said, and dropped off one by one, to find some easier road to heaven.