Saints and Heroes Since the Middle Ages - George Hodges


St. Ignatius Loyola


The armies of France and Spain were fighting for the town of Pampeluna. The Spaniards were within, holding the place; the French were without, attacking it. Most of the garrison wished to surrender, being few in number and the enemy very strong; but they were restrained by a young knight named Ignatius of Loyola. The French, accordingly, assaulted the walls, and in the battle a cannon ball wounded Ignatius in both his legs. With his fall, the day was lost, and the French took the city. They were kind to the knight, whose bravery they admired, and carried him to his own home near by, that he might be cured of his hurt, and the war went on. The incident attracted no particular attention. Nevertheless, it was the most important thing which had happened in Europe since the thunderstorm which terrified Luther, and made him resolve to enter a monastery.

The cannon ball changed the whole course of young Loyola’s life. He had been a merry lad, whose chief desire in life was to enjoy the world. At home, in his father’s castle, he had had the company of twelve brothers and sisters, he being the thirteenth and the youngest of the family. Then he had gone, as the custom was, to be a page at the court of Ferdinand and Isabella, where he behaved like other such young gallants of that time, dancing with the ladies, fighting and gambling with the men. New he could dance no more. His leg had been badly set and had to be broken over again before the doctors could make it straight. Even then a bone protruded below the knee. When Loyola saw it, and realized that it would spoil the smoothness of his silk stocking, he ordered it sawed off. All this he endured without a groan, showing his pain only by the clenching of his fists. The shock, however, was so great that he fell into a sickness from which he seemed unlikely to recover. But the crisis passed, and there he lay, slowly regaining strength. It was plain that he could no longer live the gay life of a knight.

During the long weeks of his recovery he read two books, for lack of other occupation. He asked for novels, but there were none in the house. The best they could do was to bring him a Life of Christ, and a volume of brief biographies, called the "Flowers of the Saints." These he read, idly at first, often looking up and thinking of a certain young lady of the court, how he would presently see her again, and what he would say and do on that happy occasion, and so putting the book down. But gradually he became interested. He saw that the saints of the book were knights like the heroes of the romances, only they fought in a different war and in a different way. He saw that they did deeds of great danger with high courage, and that they suffered pain as if they liked it. The young knight said to himself, "What if I should do what St. Francis did?" "What if I should do what St. Dominic did?"

There was not, at first, much religion in these thoughts. Loyola’s ambition was stirred to see if he could not endure hardness as well as these saints had endured it. He noticed, however, that his thoughts made a difference in him. When he thought of the court, and the gaieties of the life there, he felt pleasure for the moment, but was afterwards depressed and sad. But when he thought of the saints, and planned to go on difficult pilgrimages, and to starve and scourge himself, he was conscious of a deep and continuing refreshment of spirit. This led him to watch his mind, and to note the effect of different thoughts. He perceived that his spiritual condition depended, not only on doing right, but on thinking right. It was like the discovery of a new medicine. He began to apply it to himself, and then to others, practicing what he afterwards called "spiritual exercises."

As soon as he was well again, he set out to go to Montserrat, where there was a great Benedictine monastery. On the way he was joined by a Moor, who was traveling in the same direction; for the Moors, who were of the religion of Mohammed, were still in great numbers in Spain. Loyola and the Moor talked together as they journeyed, and the conversation led on into theology, and they held a stout debate, in which the Christian, for lack of education and training, was worsted. Then they came to a place where a path turned from the main road to the monastery. On went the Moor, leaving Loyola defeated and distressed. At last he said, all his knightly impulses urging him, "I have lost one battle, but I will try another. I will ride after this Moor and kill him." Then he remembered the brotherly love of the saints whose lives he had been reading. Being perplexed what to do, he left it to the horse, and the horse happily took the road which ran to Montserrat.

Stopping in a village by the way, the pilgrim bought a piece of sackcloth, filled with prickly wooden fibers, which he made into a garment long enough to reach to his feet. He bought also a pair of shoes such as the poorest people wore. To these he added a pilgrim’s staff, and a gourd such as pilgrims carried to drink from. He tied his purchases to his saddle, and rode on.

Arriving at the monastery, he made a confession of all the sins which he could remember to have committed during his whole life. Then, like a knight, before a quest, he hung his sword before an altar of the Blessed Virgin, and kept a vigil, praying unceasingly till morning. That, he knew, was what Amadis de Gaul would have done, the favorite hero of the romances of chivalry. His horse he had given to the monastery; his fine clothes he had given to a beggar. Dressed in sackcloth, he walked in his rough shoes to the town of Manresa, where he found lodging in a Dominican convent. There he daily prayed and fasted and scourged himself. Once he went for a week without tasting food. He was trying to do what the saints in the books had done. Taking the old theory of the saints that the body is a vile and evil thing, and that we ought to pay no heed to it except to torment it, he ceased to comb his hair and to wash his hands. He was greatly troubled at this time about his past sins, trying to remember some which he had perhaps forgotten. Back and forth he went over his life, as one who searches the way for a lost coin, seeking for a lost sin.

Out of this condition he was brought, partly by the advice of a good friend, and partly by the instincts of his own nature; two ways whereby God speaks to men. His adviser counseled him to let past things be past, and to trouble himself no more about them. His common sense taught him that the best thing he could do with his life was to use it, like a good knight, for the good of others; he would tell his neighbors that secret of right thinking which he had learned for himself. It was plain, therefore, that he could not be a hermit, living in a cave; neither could he be an ascetic, so neglectful of his body and his clothing that people would hate the sight of him. Already, he began to get a dim vision of a new kind of sainthood, among men, in the active world.

Starting out from Manresa, Ignatius Loyola begged his way to Rome, and thence to Venice, and thence by ship to Jerusalem. There he intended to remain, saying his prayers daily at the holy places, and helping pilgrims. The Franciscans, however, who were in charge of the Christian services in Jerusalem, discouraged him, partly because they were too poor to add another beggar to their family, and partly because they were afraid that Loyola, by his zeal, would anger the Turks.

It was now clear to Loyola that God intended him to save souls. He was to be neither a hermit, nor a monk, nor a pilgrim, but a teacher of religion. He was to be a physician of the spirit. It was the wise rule of the church, however, that nobody should undertake the cure of souls until he had prepared himself by careful study. So Loyola went to school. He settled down at Barcelona and began taking lessons in Latin grammar. It was very hard for him, being now thirty-three years of age, and having spent his life thus far in the pleasures of the court, in the excitements of war, in spiritual combats, and in the adventures of a journey to the East; and having always in his mind the secret process of the spiritual exercises by which he hoped to convert the world. He tried hard, but, for a long time, in vain, to commit the declensions and conjugations to memory. He could not keep his attention on his books. Two years of effort, however, made a difference in his habits of mind, and he was advanced enough to go to Alcala, where there was a university.

At Alcala he began to teach privately. He was like one who had discovered a wonderful medicine, and who cannot wait until he has been made a doctor. He tried the spiritual exercises on his fellow students, and presently gathered such crowds about him that the Church, fearing the effects of the teaching of such an imperfectly educated person, put him in prison, and then, after some months, setting him free, forbade him to teach again till he had studied four years more.

Leaving Alcala, after this treatment, he went to another university, at Salamanca. There again he was imprisoned as a dangerous person. He and a companion were chained foot to foot, and fastened to a stake. The Church authorities, in those days, were very nervous on account of the new ideas of Luther. They were afraid that Loyola was a heretic. Nothing, however, was proved against him, but he was again forbidden to teach till after four years’ preparation. All this he endured with patience, making no complaint, but on his release, he went to still another university, in Paris. There again he came under suspicion of the authorities, but he continued his studies, fighting hard with inattention and with the sickness which frequently beset him, and gathering about him a little group of kindred spirits.

At Paris, he began his lessons over again, and entered a class of boys. He hated to study, but compelled himself to it. One time, he said to himself, "I will think of the master as Christ, and will obey him as I would obey Christ." Thus, as he had already overcome the temptations of his body, he now overcame the temptations of his mind. In 1534, having completed his studies, he was given the degree of Master of Arts. He had learned also the supreme art of conquering himself.

In that year a group of seven young men met in a church in Paris, and under the leadership of Loyola, solemnly devoted themselves to the work of the ministry, according to the new way which he had discovered. They were like a group of young doctors devoting themselves to a new way of practicing medicine. They resolved to meet again after a time in Venice, and thence to go on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, or, in case that was found impossible, to offer their services to the pope. The Jerusalem journey had to be given up, and in 1537 the companions were in Rome. There they were ordained to the priesthood. And there they formed themselves into a society, which Loyola named the Company of Jesus. In 1540, the society was formally recognized by the pope, and Loyola was unanimously chosen its first general.

The method of the new society was set forth in the Spiritual Exercises. It was a new way of dealing with the soul. Loyola had found it a cure for his sins, and had devoted himself to applying it to the sins of his neighbors. One time, being in the house of a friendly nobleman, he had been invited to join him in a game of billiards, but the custom was to play for some stake, and Loyola, being a poor student, had no money. So he said, "If you win, I will be your servant for a month; but if I win you shall be my servant for a month." So they played, and Loyola won. And he made the nobleman go through the Spiritual Exercises, at the end of which he was a converted man, filled with penitence and faith, and resolved to live a better life. It is an illustration of the way in which the founder of the Company of Jesus lost no opportunity to put his ideas into practice.

Loyola made the Spiritual Exercises into a book, a drill-book of the soul. It was intended to make saints, as a military drill-book is intended to make soldiers. It became the most influential book in Europe. It changed the lives of multitudes of men. It dealt with sin as a disease, and cured sinners. One of the strong arguments of Luther against the church of that day was the immorality of priests and people. No honest person could deny that there was urgent need of a Reformation. The only question was whether this reform should be conducted outside or inside the Church. Luther went out, and summoned all good people to follow him. But Loyola’s plan was to reform the Church from within. The result of it was to establish a counter-reformation. It was Ignatius Loyola, more than any other man, who kept Spain and Italy and France from following Germany and England in their religious revolutions. He saved the Roman Church.

This he did by the medicine of the Spiritual Exercises. Loyola had found in his own experience that human nature is profoundly affected by the act of thinking. Our thoughts make a difference in our lives. What the sinner needs, therefore, in order to overcome his sins is to think steadily and continuously for a good while about truth and right. Thus Loyola arranged a series of meditations to cover the space of four weeks. During the first week the thoughts were directed to the consideration of sin, death, judgment, and hell. The subject in the second week was the Kingdom of Christ, and the soul’s choice of the service of God. In the third week the thoughts were fixed upon the passion and death of Jesus, and in the fourth week, upon His resurrection.

In order to make these meditations the more effective, the patient must withdraw from the world during these twenty-eight days, and put himself in charge of a director. It is like going to a hospital and putting oneself in the care of a physician. The director examines the penitent regularly and often, and prescribes what is to be done.

Each meditation begins with an act of imagination. The penitent is to take some incident of the Gospel, or some such fact as death or hell, and make it real to all his senses. He is "to see  the vast fires of hell, and the souls inclosed in certain fiery bodies, as it were in dungeons; and to hear  the lamentations, the hardships, the exclamations, the blasphemies against Christ and His Saints, thence break forth; and to perceive by the smell  also of the imagination the smoke, the brimstone, and the stench of a kind of stink or filth, and of putrefaction; and to taste  in like manner those bitter things, as the tears, the rottenness, and the worm of conscience; and to touch in a manner those fires, by the touch  of which their souls themselves are burnt."

Each meditation ends with a conversation between the penitent and Christ or the Virgin Mary, full of resolution and affection.

Sometimes the four weeks were lengthened into six; sometimes they were shortened; but the idea was that for most persons a course of twenty-eight days would be sufficient to rid them effectually of all sin and doubt. Each penitent began in the solitude and absolute stillness of a darkened room, and when, near the end, amidst thoughts of the resurrection, the shutters were opened, and the sun streamed in, the sun of righteousness was expected to have dawned in the soul.

A further condition of success was a giving up of the will of the penitent to the will of the director. All directions must be followed without delay or question. This became a general principle of the new society. Nobody could enter it except by the initiation of the Spiritual Exercises, and the effect of the exercises was to exalt the virtue of obedience. The Jesuit was to have no more mind of his own than a dead body. He was to do what his superior commanded him, and all superiors were to obey the general of the order.

Thus Loyola brought into being a society which was unlike any other. Benedict, long before, had brought men together to live under a religious rule in monasteries. Francis and Dominic had sent them out from their prayers to preach to the people, but they carried the monastery on their backs, being dressed in garments which showed at once what manner of men they were. Ignatius Loyola prescribed for his companions only the ordinary dress of a clergyman. They were to go into the world freely, to be ministers of parishes, to be professors in colleges, to gain the confidence and so direct the plans of princes. They were to use all possible means of influence. They were to bring to the help of souls the Spiritual Exercises which they practised themselves, and they were to live under the rule of immediate obedience.

It is easy to see how such a society aroused the suspicion and dislike, not only of Protestants, but of Catholics. It was a secret society: nobody knew who belonged to it. Making its way unobserved into politics and education, and having the strength which comes with unquestioning obedience to the word of command, the Company of Jesus alarmed Europe. The Jesuits were blamed for teaching these evil doctrines: the doctrine of probabilism, which means that if you can find an act commended of any writer of repute, you may assume that it is right, and so it with a clear conscience; the doctrine of mental reservation, which means that you may say one thing aloud, and another and very different thing under your breath; and the doctrine that the end justifies the means, so that if the main purpose is to do a good thing, for the glory of God and the welfare of the Church, and a lie will help, you may lie, and not be blamed. The Jesuits said that these were slanders. It is certain that they had no place in the life of Loyola. It is certain also that Jesuit fathers, in India on the one side, and in Canada on the other, among the savages, showed a missionary zeal, and a courage in facing dangers and death, which have never been surpassed in all the records of martyrdom.