Saint Ignatius of Loyola - John Pollen

This short biography of Ignatius of Loyola gives the life of the saint, and tell the fascinating story of the founding and significance of the Jesuit order. It is greatly simplified and told in layman's terms, but still provides an accurate summary of his Spiritual Exercises, and explains the basis of many of the Jesuit disciplines and habits.

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[Book Cover] from Saint Ignatius of Loyola by John Pollen
St. Ignatius Loyola


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[Dedication] from Saint Ignatius of Loyola by John Pollen
[Contents] from Saint Ignatius of Loyola by John Pollen

To the Reader

I am attempting to sketch a large subject on a small canvas, and such a proceeding needs some justification. My explanation is, that I think many readers will prefer a conciseness commensurable with their restricted leisure. In this work-a-day world many people have time for rest in snatches only, for short alternations of reading with their work. Extensive views must therefore be represented on postcard pictures, and intricate movements of the thoughts of millions must be summarized in short paragraphs, even though it would be really more interesting to go into detail, to describe the charming intercourse of great souls, to portray the grand features of heroes.

Considerable sacrifices must therefore be made, and, to bring out better the features I wish to depict, I have resolved to reduce my portrait to a mere silhouette. I am thus compelled to choose my position so that you will recognize at a glance the feature which I here wish to make paramount, and that is Saintship.

But this too needs consideration, for different people see saintliness in different features. Some admire entire detachment from the world, some entire devotion to God's cause among men. Some think most of one virtue, some of another. There are many virtues, and eminence in any of them eventually means holiness in all. Still, some virtues are more fundamental than others and I do not think that any one will quarrel with me if, in this case, I take Christlikeness as the great virtue to be outlined. The imitation of Christ is a topic familiar to all, and everyone in his measure knows something, or even much, about the ideals which the word recalls.

Moreover, in the case of Saint Ignatius of Loyola this standard is especially appropriate. For although he had a thousand bright facets in his character, the imitation of Christ was with him a master-passion. The Sacred Name is the greeting formula of every letter, it reappears in almost every paragraph written by him. Christ-study was the kernel of Ignatian spirituality, the imitation of Him was the motive of His follower's life. Ignatius's life, therefore, when studied in the light of this virtue, ought to appear natural and consistent, and its different parts ought to hang together and to make up a lively, veracious whole.

Nevertheless I must not sound one string exclusively. The true picture of life always shows change and variation, and my first duty is to write the history of one whose life was notably full and active. He was a great organizer who sent his followers all over the world and ever kept in contact with them. Always interested in their reports, he never ceased to arrange for reinforcements and to send out messages of encouragement. It is not for me, therefore, to devote my book exclusively to the interior life of the Saint. On the contrary, after I have set forth his ideals, his methods, his characteristics, my object must be to show the labours, the organized efforts, the successes (and sometimes the want of success) to which his energies, guided sometimes by human, sometimes by divine, aspirations, led him. The major part of my pages must be devoted to explaining the external works of the Saint and of his followers, in which, when rightly analyzed, the Founder's aims are rightly recognized.

So much for the general principles by which I have been guided. As for the materials from which I have made my selection, they are now exceedingly numerous. To say nothing of many scores of biographies, several of which are excellent, there has lately appeared at Madrid a series which throws all earlier publications into the shade. In the Monumenta Historica Societatis Jesu, no less than thirteen stout volumes concerning Ignatius have appeared, comprising under "letters from Ignatius" well nigh 7,000 pieces; the letters and reports addressed to him being equally numerous. This great abundance of matter, however, does not illustrate the whole life equally. It is only in regard to his quasi-public, or official work as General, that the material is now so extremely plentiful. In regard to the religious side of his life, the illustrative matter, though sufficiently bulky, is not unwieldy. Further particulars will be found in the epilogue.