A Soldier of the Lord
Saint Ignatius - a founder of one of the most influential orders in the Catholic church. But what do we really know about this former soldier with an unlikely career change?
15 Facts About Saint Ignatius Loyola
- Saint Ignatius was born on 23 October 1491 in the castle of Loyola in the Basque country in Spain. His baptism name was Íñigo (Innicus) – a Basque medieval name meaning “My little one”. It seems that he started to use Ignatius as a simpler version later on.
- He was the youngest of thirteen children. His mom died soon after his birth and he was brought up by a blacksmith`s wife
- From young age he was interested in military, exercise and fame. He joined army at 17. He was also a fancy dresser, dancer and womanizer, prone to duels and overall not a law-abiding citizen. Fame and courtly love were his major interests.
- After many successes in battles in 1521 he was gravely injured at the fortress of Paloma. After many operations his right leg ended up shorter than left. He would limp for the rest of his life. His military career was over.
- While he was in the hospital, he didn’t have access to his favorite romantic books. Instead he ended up reading books on life of Jesus and the Saints.
- This reading caused him to experience a deep spiritual conversion. During this time he also noticed that while thoughts and dreams about his fame a lady in the court he liked were pleasant they left him feeling desolated and dissatisfied. The thoughts of the saints, however, made him feel calm and peaceful. This observation became important in his teaching of discernment.
- After he healed enough to be able to walk, Íñigo resolved to go to the Holy Land. On the way he stopped at a monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat. He examined his sins, confessed, gave away his possessions to the poor, and hang his dagger and the sword at the altar of Virgin Mary.
- He spent a year in a town nearby, working in a local hospital for food and lodging. He also spent a lot of time in the cave nearby, praying and practicing ascetism. Here he also started his work on his Spiritual exercise.
- He reached the Holy land on September 3, 1523. He planned on staying there, but Franciscans sent him home on 23rd of September.
- Íñigo went back to Spain and joined a free grammar school to prepare himself to the University. He had to begin almost from a child`s level. Then he studied theology and Latin from 1524 to 1534 – that is for 10 years! He got his Master`s degree at the age of 44!
- During this time he was briefly arrested by the Inquisition for preaching without a degree in theology, but was soon released.
- In 1529 he moved to Paris College of Saint Barbe of the University of Paris. While at school in Paris, Ignatius roomed with Peter Faber and Francis Xavier. Faber was French and Xavier was Basque. The men became friends and Ignatius led them in his spiritual exercises. Other men soon joined their exercises and became followers of Ignatius. The group began to refer to themselves as "Friends in the Lord".
- In 1540 the Pope approved the society. Despite his protests, Ignatius was elected as a leader. They called themselves the Society of Jesus. Using his experience as a soldier, Ignatius imposed strict almost military discipline in his order. That did not deter people from joining. The order grew.
- In 1548 Ignatius was briefly brought before the Roman Inquisition for examination of his book of Spiritual Exercises. But he was released and the book was finally given papal permission to be printed. It was published in a format such that the exercises were designed to be carried out over a period of 28–30 days
- Before Ignatius died in 1556, his order established 35 schools and boasted 1,000 members. The Society advocated the use of reason to persuade others and combat heresy. Ignatius' passed away on July 31, 1556, at the age of 64. He was beatified by Pope Paul V on July 27, 1609 and canonized on March 12, 1622. His feast day is July 31. He is the patron saint of the Society of Jesus, soldiers, educators and education.
The original, complete form of the Exercises is a retreat of about 30 days in silence and solitude. The Exercises are divided into four "weeks" of varying length with four major themes: sin and God's mercy, episodes in the life of Jesus, the passion of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus together with a contemplation on God's love. This last is often seen as the goal of Ignatian spirituality, to find God in all things. The "weeks" represent stages in a process of wholehearted commitment to the service of God. Today the Spiritual exercises are still popular among the priests and lay people, both Catholics and other denominations.