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Ignatius of Loyola

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Ignatius of Loyola
Ignatius of Loyola

Saint Ignatius of Loyola (December 24, 1491? – July 31 1556), baptized Íñigo López de Loyola, was the founder of the Society of Jesus, a Roman Catholic religious order commonly known as the Jesuits that was established to strengthen the Church, initially against Protestantism.


Early life

Ignatius was born at the castle of Loyola, near Azpeitia , 16 miles southwest of San Sebastián in the Basque province of Guipúzcoa, Spain. The youngest of 13 children, Ignatius was only seven years old when his mother died. In 1506, Ignatius became a page in the service of a relative, Juan Velázquez de Cuéllar, treasurer (contador mayor) of the kingdom of Castile. As a courtier, he led a dissipated life.

In 1517, Ignatius took service in the army. Severely wounded at the Battle of Pampeluna (May 20, 1521); he spent months as an invalid in his father's castle.

Religious aspiration

During this period of recuperation he came to read a number of religious texts on the life of Jesus and the saints. He became fired with an ambition to lead a life of self-denying labor and to emulate the heroic deeds of Francis of Assisi and other great monastic leaders. He resolved to devote himself to the conversion of non-Christians in the Holy Land.

During this time he drafted his Ejercicios espirituales (Spiritual Exercises), which describes a series of meditations to be undertaken by future Jesuits. These were to exert a strong influence in changing the methods of propaganda in the Church; "the mill into which all Jesuits are cast; they emerge with characters and talents diverse; but the imprint remains ineffaceable" (Cretineau-Joly).

On recovering he visited the Dominican monastery of Montserrat (March 25, 1522), where he hung his military accouterments before an image of the Virgin. He soon entered the monastery of Manresa , Catalonia where he practised the most rigorous asceticism.

He is said to have had visions. The Virgin became the object of his chivalrous devotion . Military imagery played a prominent part in his religious contemplations.

Studies in Paris

In 1528 he entered the University of Paris where he remained over seven years, extending his literary and theological education and disturbing the students by attempting to interest them in the Spiritual Exercises.

By 1534 he had six key followers - Peter Faber, Francis Xavier, Alfonso Salmeron, Jacob Laines, and Nicholas Bobedilla (Spaniards), and Simon Rodrigues (a Portuguese).

Foundation of the Society of Jesus

On August 15, 1534, he and the other six in St. Mary's Church, Montmartre founded the Society of Jesus - "to enter upon hospital and missionary work in Jerusalem, or to go without questioning wherever the pope might direct". In 1537 they travelled to Italy to seek papal approval for their order. Pope Paul III gave them a commendation, and permitted them to be ordained priests. They were ordained at Venice by the bishop of Arbe (June 24). They devoted themselves to preaching and charitable work in Italy, the renewed war between the emperor, Venice, the pope and the Ottoman Empire rendered any journey to Jerusalem inadvisable.

With Faber and Lainez, Ignatius made his way to Rome in October, 1538, to have the pope approve the constitution of the new order. A congregation of cardinals reported favorably upon the constitution presented, and Paul III confirmed the order through the bull Regimini militantis (September 27, 1540), but limited the number of its members to sixty. This limitation was removed through the bull Injunctum nobis (March 14, 1543).

Superior-general of the Jesuits

Ignatius was chosen as the first superior-general. He sent his companions as missionaries around Europe to create schools, colleges, and seminaries.

In 1548 Spiritual Exercises was finally printed, and he was briefly brought before the Roman Inquisition, but was released.

Ignatius wrote the Jesuit Constitutions, adopted in 1554, which created a monarchical organization and stressed absolute self-abnegation and obedience to Pope and superiors (perinde ac cadaver, "[well-disciplined] like a corpse" as Ignatius put it). His main principle became the Jesuit motto: ad maiorem Dei gloriam ("for the greater glory of God").

The Jesuits were a major factor in the success of the Counter-Reformation.

During 1553-1555 Ignatius dictated his secretary father Gonçalves da Câmara his life. This autobiography is a valuable key for the understanding of his Spiritual Exercises. But this report has been kept in the archives until about 150 years, when the Bollandisten published the text in Acta Sanctorum. Meanwhile exists a critical edition in Vol.I (1943) of the Fontes Narrativi of the series Monumenta Historica Socieatatis Iesu.

He died in Rome and was canonized on March 12, 1622. His feast day is July 31. He is patron for Guipuzcoa and Biscay.

A neighbourhood in Bilbao and the corresponding Metro Bilbao station San Inazio are named after him.


St Ignatius is a principle character of the opera Four Saints in Three Acts by composer Virgil Thomson and librettist Gertrude Stein.

References and external links

Last updated: 05-06-2005 14:05:53
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04