Ignatius of Loyola

(Inigo Lopez de Loyola)


Saint Ignatius was the founder of the Jesuit Order, and was one of the most prominent figures during the Catholic Counter-reformation. In an age when many religious orders and convents were under unhealthy influences of politics and corruption, the Jesuits were founded as a new order, strictly dedicated to Catholic principles, and responsible directly to the Pope rather than to local bishops. From the first, the Jesuits were committed to education, both of themselves, and of others, and they were also the first to explicitly dedicate themselves to foreign missions at a time when opportunities for evanglizing outside of Europe were greater than ever. There were few developments as important as the formation of the Jesuit order in countering the Protestant sentiment of the age.

Ignatius was born to a well-off family in Northern Spain, and at 18 entered the service of the Duke of Navarre. Until age thirty, at which time he was severely injured, he had no thought of the spiritual life, and considered himself a worldly soldier. During a long recovery, however, he read works on the Life of Christ and underwent a terrific spiritual conversion. After embarking on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he chose rather to educate himself than to join an existing order. He studied first at the University of Alcala in Spain, but eventually transfered to the University of Paris. His extra-curricular activities, however, which involved service to others, and discussion of current religious controversies, got him in trouble with authorities at every turn. They did, however, win him a dedicated following.

After spending over a decade in studies, Ignatius and seven followers took vows of chastity and poverty. The principles upon which the Jesuit order were founded evolved slowly over time. One of the most characteristic features of the order is an extraordinarily long period of formation. Its members are assumed to take many years to develop the dedication, spiritual discipline, and broad knowledge of theology required of the order. In 1540, the order was recognized by Pope Paul III, and Ignatius became secretary General. Many of the earliest Jesuits became extremely influential figures in the Counter-reformation, including St. Francis Xavier, the famous missionary of Asia, Peter Faber a counselor to Charles V, and Diego Laynez, a leading theolgion at the Council of Trent.

The genius of Saint Ignatius lay in his ability to found an order which would have the discipline, and interior spiritual commitment to withstand the extreme hardships, calumny, and temptations that accompany true Christian service. Its members were required to educate princes and associate with wealthy nobles without presumption or conceit, and to serve ignorant natives in distant, impoverished lands without self-pity or complaint. To this end he authored two important books. The Spiritual Excercises was written to instruct novices in spiritual formation. The Jesuit Constitutions was published in 1554 shortly before he died, and codified the principles on which the Jesuit Order is governed. It combines the principles of a long period formation, with extreme discipline once final vows are taken.

As administrator of the Jesuits, Ignatius dedicated himself to founding schools and Universities, and working with both the very wealthy and the very poor. He worked tirelessly until his death in 1556.

Key events during the life of Saint Ignatius Loyola:

Born the youngest of 13 children to a well-off family in the Basque region of Northern Spain.
Went into military service for the Duke of Navarre.
Legs were severely injured by a cannonball.
Undergoes intense spiritual conversion after reading De Vita Christi during his recuperation
Went on a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Wrote The Spiritual Excercises while working on his own spiritual formation.
Began his studes at the University of Alcala in Toledo.
Transfered to the University of Paris to study theology and philosophy.
Ignatius and his followers take vows of poverty and chastity.
Ignatius and his followers are ordained after failing to complete a pilgrimage to the holy land.
Order of the Jesuits sanctioned by the Pope.
Ignatius elected first General Secretary of the Jesuits.
The Spiritual Excercises was published and promulgated.
Wrote the Jesuit Constitutions.
Death of Ignatius.

Book Links
Saint Ignatius of Loyola  by  John Pollen

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Men Who Obey Orders  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
Loyola, 1491-1556  in  Saints and Heroes Since the Middle Ages  by  George Hodges
Spain Under the Hapsburgs  in  Story of the Greatest Nations: Spain  by  Charles F. Horne
Reformation: Spain, Portugal, and Netherlands  in  The Story of Europe  by  Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall

Image Links

St. Ignatius greeting St. Francis Borgia on his arrival in Rome
 in  Life of St. Ignatius

Sts. Ignatius and Francis Xavier at the University of Paris
 in  Life of St. Ignatius

The first vows at Montmartre
 in  Life of St. Ignatius

Sts. Ignatius and Francis Borgia before the alter of Sta. Maria Della Strada
 in  Life of St. Ignatius

St. Ignatius Loyola
 in Saints and Heroes Since the Middle Ages

Saint Ignatius of Loyola.
 in Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Conversion on the sick-bed
 in Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Ignatius leaves home
 in Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Ignatius returns from Paris
 in Saint Ignatius of Loyola

St. Ignatius of Loyola
 in History of the Church: Early Modern Times

Short Biography
Francis Xavier Jesuit Missionary to India. Said to have converted thousands to Christianity.
Charles V 16th century Hapsburg Emperor who ruled Austria, the Netherlands, Spain and parts of Italy.
St. Peter Faber One of the earliest followers of St. Ignatius a counselor to Charles V.
Pope Paul III Important counter-reformation Pope. Recognized the Jesuit Order and called the Council of Trent.
Diego Laynez Early Jesuit theologian who was very influential during the Council of Trent.
John Calvin Protestant Theologian. Influenced French Huguenots, Presbyterian Scots, and English Puritans.