The youngest of 13 siblings, Iñigo Lopez de Oñaz y Loyola was born in 1491. He spent his youth in Guipúzcoa in northern Spain where he lived with his family. His mother, Doña Maria Saenz, died while he was still an infant, so Iñigo was raised primarily by Magdalena de Araoz, his brother's wife.
As a child, Iñigo was enthralled with stories of Spain's 600-year-war with the Moors. Having themselves fought in this war, his father and brothers brought home to him details of heroic acts that ignited in Iñigo a deep-seated loyalty to the crown and a fiery passion for defending his "kingdom."
At the age of 16, Inigo began his service to the king by becoming a page boy at Arevalo, the king's summer residence. In the course of those ten years, he came to enjoy the splendor and pageantry of court life. His role was to serve Germaine de Foix, the 15-year-old bride of King Ferdinand of Aragon. Hormones being what they are, it wasn't long before he found himself helplessly in love.
From his duties as a page, Iñigo moved into the ranks of young knight at the Spanish royal court. His days involved training for battle, including the use of pistol, sword and lance. Evenings, however, were purely social, filled with drinking, brawling, dancing, and "wenching."
Iñigo was sewing his wild oats.
That all came to an end when, at the age of twenty-six, a French cannonball shattered his right leg and wounded the left. After several surgeries, he was left with what he regarded as a repulsive limp. No longer able to maintain the physical grace of a knight, Iñigo lost all hope of ever winning the admiration of his love.
During his convalescence Iñigo he passed the time reading the lives of the saints and underwent a profound conversion.
In Catholic theology and belief, Iñigo was the recipient of divine grace—special, supernatural communications of strength in will, enlightenment in mind, and orientation of spirit. It was an initial purification. As soon as he was well enough, early in the New Year of 1522, he left Casa Torre of Loyola forever to find a new life. (1)
THE SPIRITUAL EXERCISES
Iñigo spent the next six years in contemplation and atonement for his sins, recording his thoughts in a book that has since become known as the "Spiritual Exercises." (2)
During those years he an internal supernatural battle waged. He found himself on a spiritual roller coaster, first devoured with depression, then exalted with ecstasy. Doubts about God, Christ and the Church attacked his very sanity as he struggled to understand the changes evolving within his spirit, tempting him, at times, to take his own life.
These trials ultimately resulted in the birth in Iñigo of a level of mystical contemplation that came to be known as "Ignatian."
Through the very humanity of Christ, Iñigo was introduced into the bodiless, eternal being of the Trinity—apparently ascending, like Paul of Tarsus in his out-of-body ecstasy, to the Third Heaven, to participate in the most hidden secrets of divinity for which human language has no words. God the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, as Three and as One, admitted Iñigo to an intimacy that few mortals ever approach while alive on this earth. (3)
In 1527, Iñigo left for Paris to study in preparation for the priesthood. It was here that he took on the name "Ignatius," the Latin equivalent of "Iñigo." His demeanor by that time was unrecognizable to those who had known him in the past. Once proud and filled with arrogance, he looked old and gaunt with an unkempt appearance, as if preoccupied with more important things.
Iñigo finished his studies in 1535 and was ordained in 1537. His allegiance by then had turned from the Kingdom of Spain to the Kingdom of Christ; his fight was no longer for the possession of land, but for the possession of souls. He gathered together seven of his companions from his years in Paris and began instructing them in his Spiritual Exercises.
As his followers grew in numbers, Iñigo searched for a common link that would maintain unity among those who lived and worked in different parts of the world. That link, he decided, was unquestioning obedience to the pope, as if to Christ, himself.
THE RENAISSANCE ERA
The combination of the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, and the blossoming of the Renaissance Era had a direct impact on the Roman Catholic Church. Constantinople had been the keeper of Christian traditions that linked back to ancient Greece and the Byzantine Empire for over1000 years. Christians of those times lived in a comfortable womb of sorts, protected from the temptations of the outside world and guided solely by a world centered around God and eternity.
Suddenly, Europeans were exposed to the arts, literature, science, philosophy, architecture and theology of the modern world. They embraced the newness of the Renaissance with a curious excitement and a hunger for freedom to explore. The Church found itself faced with a new mentality with which they felt incapable of communicating. Millions of Catholics turned away from the old and embraced the new.
Meanwhile, the Protestant revolution was spreading throughout Europe like a cancer, devouring solid Catholic beliefs such as papal authority, the priesthood, the sacraments, and grace. Thousands of convents and monasteries emptied as religious turned toward a new faith that aimed at total destruction of Paul III's papacy.
The danger in which the Church found itself rendered Paul III open to Iñigo's request to begin an Order that could reach out to the world, with complete and unquestionable loyalty to the Pope as its mainstay.
THE FORMULA OF THE INSTITUTE
Iñigo's plan would free them from their monastic life with its traditional existence and allow them to go anywhere in the world where the pope so deemed as necessary to defend the faith. He drew up an outline of the proposed structure of his organization, naming it the "Formula of the Institute." It was this "formula" that became the basis for the eventual Constitutions of the Jesuit Order.
In the third paragraph of his Formula, Iñigo clearly defined the irrefutable need for absolute loyalty to the papacy:
All who make the profession in this Society should understand at the time, and furthermore keep in mind as long as they live, that this entire Society and the individual members who make their profession in it are campaigning for God under faithful obedience to His Holiness Pope Paul III and his successors in the Roman Pontificate. The Gospel does indeed teach us, and we know from the orthodox faith and firmly hold, that all of Christ's faithful are subject to the Roman Pontiff as their head and as the Vicar of Jesus Christ. But we have judged nevertheless that the following procedure will be supremely profitable to each of us and to any others who will pronounce the same profession in the future, for the sake of our greater devotion in obedience to the Apostolic See, of greater abnegation of our own wills, and of surer direction from the Holy Spirit. (4)
Entitling it "Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae" (5) ("The Church Militant), Pope Paul III approved Iñigo's "formula" on September 27, 1540, establishing the Society of Jesus and authorizing the recruitment of up to 62 new members.
The first Jesuit house in Rome was established in 1542 in the center of Rome, just a short distance from the Apostolic Palace. Ignatius worked tirelessly to develop a Constitution applicable to the many changes going on in the Renaissance world. The first draft was completed in 1551 and approved by a quorum of Jesuits in 1552 and Iñigo continued to revise it up until his death in 1556.
As the Jesuit Order spread across the globe, so did Ignatius's responsibilities. Decisions had to be made in view of international conditions of his day, which often influenced Jesuit policy. The Jesuits were now operating in India, Japan, China, Ethiopia, the Congo and Brazil. Because of the Jesuits, the Roman Church was finally becoming universal. The Jesuits were considered by all Orders throughout the world to be authentic voices of the Roman Catholic Pope's doctrine and authority
In spite of his own deeply contemplative spirituality, Iñigo preferred not to focus on the merits of mystical theology to his subordinates. He felt that it was not a gift given to everyone and such aspirations would drain those called to an active ministry. "The inherent attraction of mystical contemplation and absorption in God can paralyze and do away with all desire and inclination to have anything to do with the material world." (6)
Iñigo died on Friday, July 31, 1557 and is buried in what is now known as the Jesuit Church of the Gesù.
One cannot help but wonder if his failure to first instill in his Jesuits a solid spiritual life, encouraged the faithless, Communistic philosophy which they embrace today. Was he led astray by his own desire to expand his Order at all cost, forgetting its initial purpose?
(1) Martin, Malachi, "The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church," 1987, New York: Simon & Schuster p. 155.
(3) Martin, p. 156.
(4) Ibid., p. 161.
(6) Martin, p. 165.