Ignatius of Loyola

gigatos | May 25, 2022


Ignatius of Loyola (Ignazio Loiolakoa in Basque, Íñigo López de Loyola in Spanish), born in 1491 in Loiola and died on July 31, 1556 in Rome, was a Basque-Spanish priest and theologian. He was one of the founders and the first Superior General of the Society of Jesus – in Latin abbreviated “SJ” for Societas Jesu – a Catholic congregation recognized by Pope Paul III in 1540 and which took on considerable importance in the reaction of the Roman Catholic Church in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to the upheaval caused by the Protestant reform.

Author of the Spiritual Exercises, he was a remarkable director of conscience. Ignatian spirituality is one of the main sources of religious introspection and vocational discernment in Catholicism. As head of the Jesuits, he became an ardent promoter of the Tridentine reform, also called the Counter-Reformation. He directed his congregation to missionary work, especially to the East Indies, Africa and the Spanish colonies in South America.

Canonized by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622, Ignatius of Loyola is liturgically commemorated on July 31.

Eneko (Íñigo in Castilian) was born in the castle of Loyola in the district of Loiola (Azpeitia), 25 kilometers southwest of San Sebastian in the province of Gipuzkoa, in the Basque Country (the name Ignatius was taken later when he resided in Rome.

The youngest of thirteen children, Ignatius grew up in a small Basque noble family, a traditional ally of the House of Castile. He was only seven years old when his mother, Marina Sáenz de Licona y Balda, died and he formed a strong relationship with his father, Don Beltrán Yáñez de Oñaz y Loyola. He experienced the education of the great Spanish century that was emerging at the end of the 15th century.

Fatherless at fifteen, Ignatius left Loyola and became a page at the court of the King of Aragon, Ferdinand the Catholic, in 1506. Later, as an adult gentleman, he worked as a secretary for his mother”s relative, Juan Velázquez de Cuéllar, the treasurer general (contador mayor) of the Queen of Castile, Isabella the Catholic. For ten years he lived a court life, as he says in his Autobiography: “Until the twenty-sixth year of his life he was a man devoted to the vanities of the world, and in particular he enjoyed the exercise of arms. He made friends with the Infanta Catherine of Castile, sister of Charles V, who was sequestered by her mother Joanna the Mad in Tordesillas.

In 1516, the death of Ferdinand of Aragon, who was succeeded by Charles V, led to the dismissal of Juan Velázquez and thus to Ignatius” departure. In 1517, Ignatius joined the army of the Duke of Lara, Viceroy of Navarre, which had recently been incorporated into the kingdom of Castile (1512). On May 20, 1521, at the age of thirty, he took part in the siege of Pamplona (Navarre), a city he defended against Franco-Navarran troops supported by Francis I, who was seeking to recover the crown of Navarre for the family of the Viscount of Bearn, Henry of Albret. Overwhelmed by the numbers, the Spaniards wanted to surrender, but Ignatius urged them to fight. One leg wounded and the other broken by a cannonball, he was brought back to his castle and “operated on”, but his right leg remained several centimeters shorter for the rest of his life, permanently preventing him from returning to the Spanish army.

The conversion

During his convalescence, unable to find the famous chivalry novels of the time, he read numerous religious books such as a Life of Jesus by Ludolph the Saxon in four volumes or the Golden Legend by Jacques de Voragine, richly illustrated and recounting the deeds of saints. In a mixture of fervor and anxiety, he saw in a dream “Our Lady with the Holy Child Jesus”, he rejected “his past life and especially the things of the flesh”.

After his recovery, he left the family home in February 1522 to go to Jerusalem. On the way, arriving at the Benedictine monastery of Montserrat, near Barcelona, he confessed to a French father, Father Chanon, and spent three days in prayer. On the night of March 24, 1522, in a gesture of rupture with his former life as a military man, he hung up his military clothes and weapons in front of the statue of the Black Virgin. And so, dressed in a simple cloth, a sort of canvas cassock, with a rope as a belt, he set out again for Barcelona.

But, bruised by his journey, his badly healed wounds, asceticism, and some would say blocked by the plague that raged in Barcelona, others to avoid the procession of the new pope Adrian VI who went from Madrid to Rome, he spent several months in a cave near the town of Manresa (Manrèse in French) in Catalonia where he practiced the most rigorous asceticism.

Until the beginning of 1523, he led a hermit”s life during which he began to write what would become the Spiritual Exercises. Since his “conversion”, Ignatius had taken the habit of writing down in notebooks the most striking extracts from the texts he read. During his stay in Manresa, he took the habit of recording his experiences in a notebook, a kind of diary that would become one of the key books of Ignatian spirituality.

The pilgrimage to the Holy Land

He then took the road to the Holy Land as a “pilgrim of God” and, on March 20, 1523, set sail for Italy. Blessed in Rome by Pope Adrian VI, he continued his journey to Venice, and reached Jerusalem, where he stayed for only three weeks in September 1523, before being asked by the Franciscan friars to leave the country. Back in Italy, crossed by the Spanish and French armies, he found himself in Venice and became convinced of the absolute necessity of studying to teach. After the religious method developed in the Exercises, the conviction of the role of studies would be another of the characteristics of the future Jesuit project. He returned to Barcelona in March 1524.

The studies

He devoted the next eleven years to study, more than a third of what he had left to live. He took basic courses (grammar and Latin) in Barcelona, and by 1526 he knew enough to take courses in philosophy and theology at the University of Alcalá de Henares. A brilliant intellectual center of Castile, this university brought together all the alumbrados and conversos who formed the spiritual climate of the time. At the end of 1527, encouraged by Alonso de Fonseca, Archbishop of Toledo, he joined the most prestigious of all: the University of Salamanca. But the fierce attacks he suffered, especially from the Inquisition and the Dominicans, led him to go to Paris in February 1528, where he lived for seven years.

His progress in the understanding of the mechanisms of teaching and his capacity to dominate intellectually even more erudite than him by the use of “discernment”, distinguish him. But his rigorous and whole personality and his reforming attitude created many enemies. In Barcelona, he was severely beaten and his companion was killed at the instigation of notables who were upset that he was no longer allowed to enter a convent that Ignatius had recently reformed. In Alcalá, an Inquisitor, the Grand Vicar Figueroa, constantly harassed him on suspicion of illuminism, going so far as to imprison him for a few weeks. In Paris, his ordeals were varied: poverty, illness, charity work, college discipline, particularly severe in the Montaigu College, where he lived because he was too poor and ignorant, before moving to the more “liberal” St. Barbara College, where he was publicly accused by Diogo de Gouveia (en), rector of the college, of breaking the rules, but he defended himself vigorously and obtained a public apology.

At the University of Paris, Ignatius found himself “in the cauldron of the Renaissance,” at the heart of what Jean Lacouture calls the prodigious decade that began in 1525 with the controversy between Erasmus (De libero arbitrio) and Luther (De servo arbitrio), followed by the creation of the Collège de France in 1530, the publication of Rabelais” Pantagruel (1532), and finally the publication of Calvin”s Institution of the Christian Religion (1536). He was received as Master of Arts on March 13, 1533. During this time, having begun his theological studies, he was licensed in 1534, but he could not be received as a doctor, his health problems leading him out of Paris in March 1535.

The vow of Montmartre

In France, Ignatius of Loyola gathered around him students of quality from diverse backgrounds, but all united by a common fascination for Ignatius. In particular, at the College of Saint Barbara, he met his first two companions, the Savoyard Pierre Favre and the Navarrese Francisco Iassu de Azpilcueta y Xavier, also known as Francis Xavier; then Diego Lainez and Alonso Salmerón joined him, knowing his reputation in Alcalà; and finally Nicolás Bobadilla and Simón Rodríguez de Azevedo, a Portuguese.

Ignatius gradually evolved his self-imposed attitude and discipline. Taking into account the criticisms received in Alcalà or Salamanca about the practices of extreme poverty and mortification, he adapted to life in the city, directing everyone”s efforts towards study and spiritual exercises. The bond became very strong with his companions, united in the great ideal of living in the Holy Land the same life as Christ.

On August 15, 1534, at the end of the mass celebrated at Montmartre in the crypt of the martyrdom of Saint Denis by Pierre Favre, ordained a priest three months earlier, the seven took the two vows of poverty and chastity and the third of going on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem within two years to convert the “infidels” at the end of their studies. United by the charism of Ignatius, the new friends decided not to separate. In 1535 and 1536 the seven renewed their vows and three new companions joined them: Claude Le Jay, Paschase Broët and Jean Codure.

To reach Ignatius in Venice, his nine companions set out in November 1536.

The foundation of the Order

After leaving Paris, he spent six months in Spain and then in Bologna where, unable to return to his studies, he devoted himself to works of charity, waiting for his nine companions to join him in Venice (January 6, 1537) on the road to Jerusalem. But the war with the Turks prevented them from continuing. They decided to postpone their commitment for a year, after which they would make themselves available to the Pope. Ignatius of Loyola, like most of his companions, was ordained a priest in Venice on June 24, 1537. Afterwards, they left for neighboring university cities, and in October 1537 Ignatius, together with Pierre Favre and Diego Laínez, set out for Rome. Ignatius, in sight of the city, at the place called La Storta (where the chapel Visione di Sant”Ignazio di Loyola will be erected), had a vision of God addressing him after having placed him at the side of Christ: “I will be favourable to you in Rome”.

In Rome, capital of the Papal States, Alexander Farnese had just been elected pope in 1534, under the name of Paul III. He reigned over a capital in crisis, barely recovered from the sack of Rome by the Emperor”s troops in 1527, plagued by widespread corruption and the seat of a church in crisis, deeply shaken by the lightning progress of the Reformation. Paul III quickly seemed to see the benefits to be gained from this new society of learned, rigorous and honest priests with a strong will to reform. In November 1538, Paul III, after numerous contacts with Lainez, received Ignatius and his companions who had come to make their “oblation” to the pope. He ordered them to work in Rome, which would be their Jerusalem. From then on, the Society of Jesus or the Jesuit order was born.

From March to June 1539, according to the minutes written by Pierre Favre, they discussed the form to be given to their action, the duty of obedience, the cohesion of the group while the missionary activity dispersed the Jesuits, the role in education… In August 1539, Ignatius, Codure and Favre wrote the prima Societatis Jesu instituti summa, a sketch of the constitutions of the Society with some strong points: obedience to a Prepositor General, the exaltation of poverty, the refusal of monastic ceremonial, and in particular of collective prayer and mortifications. Ignatius of Loyola submitted this text, through Cardinal Contarini, to Paul III who resided during the summer at the Rocca Pia in Tivoli and approved its content on September 3, 1539.

Despite some opposition from the Curia, the creation of the Society of Jesus was accepted by Pope Paul III on September 27, 1540, in his bull Regimini militantis ecclesiae, which took up the formula instituti while limiting the number of professed to sixty. This restriction was quickly eliminated with the promulgation of the bull Injunctum nobis on March 14, 1543.

On April 22, 1541, Ignatius was elected, in spite of his reluctance, the first Superior General of the Society of Jesus and then made his profession with his companions in the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls. The Order was then constituted.

In 1542 Ignatius founded the Saint Martha House to welcome and rehabilitate prostitutes. He had to defend his foundation against slander. He went through the streets of Rome to recruit candidates from the places of prostitution of the time. Contrary to the convents of repentant women, he let the prostitutes choose to get married.

The structuring of the Order

In 1541, Ignatius was given the task of drawing up the rules of organization for the new company, the Constitutions, but he did not begin work on them until 1547, gradually introducing customs that would eventually become laws. In 1547, Juan de Polanco became his secretary, and with his help he produced a first draft of the Constitutions between 1547 and 1550, while simultaneously seeking papal approval to produce a new edition of the Formula Instituti. Pope Julius III accepted it in the bull Exposcit Debitum, on July 21, 1550.

At the same time, a large number of fathers revised the first text, but although it proposed few changes, the next version produced by Ignatius in 1552 was quite different. This version was published and became the law of the Society. Slight amendments were introduced by Ignatius until his death.

Under the new General Jacques Lainez, the First General Congregation of the Company decided to print the text, which remained unchanged until the modifications introduced by the XXXIV Congregation in 1995.

He sent his companions as missionaries to Europe to create a network of schools, colleges and seminaries. Juan de Vega, Charles V”s ambassador to Rome, had known Ignatius there. When he was appointed viceroy of Sicily, he drew the Jesuits there because he thought highly of him and his Jesuits. A first college was founded in 1548 in Messina; it quickly became very successful and its rules and methods were later reproduced everywhere.

Alongside the Society of Jesus, Ignatius founded in Rome in 1547 the Society of the Blessed Sacrament of the Church of the Twelve Apostles around a group of lay people.

The posterity of Ignatius

When he died on July 31, 1556 in Rome, the Society of Jesus already had more than a thousand members in twelve provinces, seventy-two residences and seventy-nine houses and colleges.

Ignatius of Loyola was beatified on April 19, 1609, Easter Day (the announcement had been made on December 3 of the previous year).

Ignatius of Loyola was canonized on March 12, 1622, along with Francis Xavier, Teresa of Avila, Philip Neri and Isidore the Worker.

The Spiritual Exercises are a work of meditation and prayer that is considered to be the spiritual masterpiece of Ignatius of Loyola, based on his own spiritual experience, particularly at Manresa. The entire teaching of Ignatius of Loyola is oriented towards discernment, because for him, every human decision is the place of an encounter with the Lord. The book is about 200 pages long. It is intended to be the “master”s book” that guides the spiritual guide during a retreat of about 30 days.

The meditations have been written to authentically reflect Catholic spirituality, but the emphasis on the retreatant”s personal encounter with God also attracts Christians of other faiths.

St. Ignatius is not a “great writer” in the usual sense. His writings are functional (spiritual direction or government of the Society) or personal (spiritual diary). A critical edition of all his writings can be found in the MHSI: the Monumenta Ignatiana (22 volumes).

The Spiritual Exercises

The Spiritual Exercises propose meditations and contemplations organized in four weeks, allowing for progress in understanding oneself and the mysteries of Christ”s life in order to assimilate them. For each meditation, only a few “points” are given, each time with great sobriety. In the spirit of St. Ignatius, the “spiritual exercises” are always done with a guide whose role must be unobtrusive, for “he must let the Creator act without intermediary with the creature, and the creature with his Creator and Lord” (ES, no. 15)

The Spiritual Diary

It is a strictly personal diary kept in the years 1544 and 1545 in which he notes daily the inner movements of his soul during and after the celebration of Mass (experiences of consolation and desolation). Only a part of this diary has come down to us. This notebook was published for the first time in the 19th century.

The Autobiography

The Pilgrim”s Tale (as Ignatius identifies himself in this account) is the autobiographical story of Ignatius of Loyola as he told it, between 1553 and 1555, to another Jesuit, Father Luis Gonçalvès da Câmara. At the end of his life, he was responding to the request of several companions for a spiritual testament in the form of a narrative. Ignatius hesitated for a long time before telling his story, even though he had promised to do so in 1551.

According to Luis Gonçalvès da Câmara, it was on August 4, 1553, that Ignatius made the decision to fulfill his promise. After a conversation on the subject of vainglory, Father da Câmara relates, “while eating with Juan de Polanco and me, our Father said that many times Master Nadal and others of the Company had asked him for something and that he had never decided to do it; but that, after talking with me and recollecting himself in his room, he had a great devotion and inclination to do it and had totally decided to do it.

This text was then kept in the Jesuit archives for 150 years, until the 18th century. The Bollandists then published it in the Acta Sanctorum of July 31, the day of the liturgical commemoration of the saint.

The Letters

6,815 letters and instructions are known, written by himself or – in his name – by his secretary, Juan de Polanco. Letters of spiritual direction (the oldest dates from 1524) and of government, of encouragement and of reprimand. Instructions for those who are going to found a college or participate in the Council of Trent. These letters are addressed to fellow Jesuits, important people, benefactors of the Society, or parents of novices, spiritual sons or daughters.

The Constitutions

The Constitutions are the first fundamental legislative text of the Society of Jesus, prepared with the help of Juan de Polanco and regularly revised in the light of the experience of the first Jesuits. Strictly speaking, Loyola was not the author of the Constitutions, since he left the promulgation of the Constitutions to the first General Congregation (which met in 1558, after his death).


Music: L”apothéose de saint Ignace et de saint François Xavier, opera in Latin, created in Rome (1622) on the occasion of his canonization.

External links


  1. Ignace de Loyola
  2. Ignatius of Loyola
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