Saint Ignatius of Loyola - John Pollen


It had been Ignatius's prayer to see his Society effectively founded before he died; and he must have thankfully acknowledged in the last sixteen years that the progress made far exceeded expectations. If five out of the ten original fathers had already gone to their reward, thirty-seven had now passed through all the lower grades and had become professed, while the total number of younger men who had entered now reached almost a thousand in about 100 houses. And if we look below the surface, the prospect was more favourable still. The Society had been approved by the Pope, and not by one Pope only, but by three successive Popes, and that gave the rising Institute a stability which left little to be desired. These Popes had not only granted the Society the right of legislating for itself; they had confirmed by their sanction the legislation enacted. The Constitutions had been formulated, and all the received customs were now written down and stabilized. Moreover, the men who had joined Ignatius's ranks, were full of great promise, not in matters of spirit only, but also in letters, and already their conversions of sinners and their guidance of the faithful to higher and yet higher levels of sanctity were acknowledged and praised on every side. Already some had died as martyrs, and their places had been taken with alacrity by fresh men. The work of education had gone forward with surprising rapidity: his sons already directed several universities. The labour of the Society for education, besides working wonders for the rising generation, would also provide an abundant supply of recruits for the future.

The Saint was buried in the old Church of Madonna de la Strada, but by himself, not in the common grave. In the year 1569 structural alterations in the building necessitated the removal of the grave to another part of the church, and in 1587, when the new Church of the Gesu took the place of the little old structure, the relics were moved again, and placed in a leaden coffin. Parts of the head, however, were removed, and kept like relics, and later on were exposed for veneration in a silver head, the portrait of the Saint. For the time, as the beatification had not yet taken place, all had to be done with doors closed.

During these translations, as they are called, it was found that miraculous graces and cures had taken place in some abundance, and they continued to be granted to those who had begged the intercession of the Servant of God. After due investigation it was considered that these heavenly favours were an indication that Divine Providence desired his external honour. So the process of beatification was begun before 1585, and comprised numerous minor processes at different places in Spain and Italy, where witnesses of his life could be heard. It was solemnly completed on July 27, 1609, and as the granting of heavenly favours continued, the process of canonization was soon commenced, and was brought to a happy conclusion on May 22, 1622.

Since this life was written, a new page has been added to the history of the posthumous glory of Ignatius. The twentieth of May, 1921, was the fourth centenary of the wound of Inigo at the siege of Pampeluna, and the jubilee has been celebrated there, at Loyola and throughout the Basque provinces. A special opportunity for the demonstrations was afforded by the transfer to Loyola of an "insignis reliquia"  of the Saint, in order to lend special honour to the solemn triduum. For Ignatius having died in Rome, it has come about that all the greater relics are preserved at his shrine there. The relic of the skull-top was selected for transference, and to the Provincial of the Roman Jesuits, Padre Carlo Mincinelli, was given the honour of bearing the sacred burden.

It came by rail through France and by the time it reached Hendaya, on the Spanish frontier, it had already reversed history. Four centuries before the French were invading Spain. Now a French escort accompanied the relic of the sainted Spanish soldier, not as invaders, but as devoted followers, and pious clients. Already on the French side of the border the advanced vedettes of Spain (French courtesy having lifted every barrier) were ready to receive the sacred charge.

Entering Spain, the procession grew almost hourly in dignity and dimensions. It was now transferred to motor cars, and passed with constantly repeated demonstrations of religious veneration through Iran and San Sebastian, up to Azpeitia. Welcomed in every town by the municipality, the clergy, the parishes and their congregations, there were the constant salutes of hymns, of triumphal arches, of children at way-side altars. At Azpeitia the procession was joined by the Duque de Luna, as representative of the King of Spain, and so it moved on to Loyola. Another deeply venerated relic of the Saint was carried in procession from this point—his short sword, which he had dung up before the statue of our Lady at Montserrat, now preserved by the Jesuits of Barcelona.

The unusual feature in the religious triduum at the Santa Casa of Loyola would probably be, to our thinking, the great processions from the surrounding country. There was indeed nothing wanting in the other solemnities, pontifical Masses (celebrated by the Cardinal Archbishop of Bourgos), fine panegyrics, noble processions. But the serried ranks of Basque peasants, who poured in from the neighbouring hills and mountains, full of faith and of enthusiasm for their compatriot and patron, were indeed memorable. The Saint's missionary efforts in their midst during the years 1535, 1536, are not forgotten.

The fourth centenary of Pampeluna by its splendid spirit and enormous extension, forms a most remarkable contrast to the carelessness and neglect now so much in vogue; and affords a striking testimony to the zeal inspired by the Saint in whole populations of devoted followers.

It is not wonderful that a considerable literature has sprung up about the life of Ignatius. He left behind him numerous sons interested in history, letters and biography, and they have not been slow to make known their founder's achievements. Moreover, the rivalry of opponents, some of an opposite faith, has led to useful criticism and discussion. Hence numerous biographies, several warm controversies on more obscure questions, and studies which have illustrated either the whole life, or important parts of it.

The first and chief biographer was Father Pedro de Ribadeneira, who had been entrusted with the task of gathering the evidence necessary for the beatification, and who therefore spared neither time nor labour in ascertaining the truth at a time when witnesses were numerous and enquiry as to the facts strenuous. In our own days great progress has been made with the publication of correspondence and other contemporary memoirs. The Monumenta Historica Societatis Jesu  (Madrid, 1893, etc.) for Ignatius's period, have already reached 56 stalwart, well-edited volumes which enable us to watch the events of those days with the eyes of contemporaries. The most accomplished historical writer who has made use of the material thus accumulated, is Father Antonio Astrain, Historia de la Compania de Jesus en la Asistencia de Espana  (Madrid, 19o2, etc.). Of English writers the most notable is John Dryden, who in 1686 published a translation of Father Bouhour's Life of the Saint. A modern poet, Francis Thompson, has also written a Life, which has been deservedly appreciated. In Carayon's Bibliographie de la Compagnie de Jesu  (1864), 120 different Life's are enumerated, some in very numerous editions. It is a pity that there is no modern life carefully written from a Protestant point of view, but Isaac Taylor's Loyola and Jesuitism  (1849) is well worth reading. Perez, La Santa Casa de Loyola, 1891, gives many details about the family.

Ignatius was never painted during life, but after his death a cast was taken of the countenance, which, however, did not come out very successfully. Finally, after much consultation and advice, a fine picture, which is now at Madrid, was painted by the Spanish court painter, Alonzo Sanchez Coello. It has, however, been poorly restored. There are some very fine portraits by Rubens, but they lack the spirituality of the Spanish painter. Engravings, especially by Wierix and other Flemish masters, are numerous.