Saint Ignatius of Loyola - John Pollen

Family and Youth

St. Paul warns us against "vain genealogies." No little snobbery and worldliness may blossom on genealogical trees. The gospel, indeed, is careful to outline one in Christ's case, but for reasons peculiar to His birth—to show a prophecy fulfilled. Suffice it for us to refer those who wish for fuller accounts of Ignatius's descent, to Perez, Astrain and others, and to say that he was the youngest son of Don Beltran Yanez de Onaz y Loyola, and Marina Saenz de Licona y Balda, and that he was born in I491 in the still standing castle of Loyola, above Aspeitia in the Biscayan town of Guipuscoa. The family belonged to the local nobility, of the rank called "parientes maiores." Their heraldic arms were—or, seven bends gules, for Onaz; argent, pot and chain sable between two grey wolves rampant, for Loyola. By convention Onaz here appears before Loyola, though the right to carry their arms was only acquired by marriage. De Loyola is the true family name, but by a strange copyist's error (unfortunately accepted by the learned Bollandist Pien in the eighteenth century, and from him also by the British Museum Catalogue) it sometimes appears as Lopez de Recalde. The origin of this mistake is explained in a note at the end of this chapter.

Our Saint was named Inigo in baptism, after Saint Enecus (Innicas), a Benedictine abbot of not far distant Ona. His earlier letters are signed "Inigo," without any surname; but in later years, when residing in Rome, he fell in with the fashion of the day, and latinized his name, taking the form Ignatius, at first occasionally for Latin and Italian correspondence, and soon exclusively for all purposes.

At an early age he was ordained a cleric, but was afterwards released from his obligations, though when or why is no longer known. He was brought up in the household of Velasquez de Cuellar, contado mayor to Ferdinand and Isabella. In the suite of this noble and wealthy lord, he presumably visited the Spanish court from time to time, though it is not accurate to say that he was ever in the royal service.

This time of service in the retinue of a great noble, which lasted till about 1517, when he was twenty-five years of age, covers the period of his education. True, the amount of learning considered necessary in that age for the profession of arms, to which Inigo aspired, was very small indeed; still it claims our notice, because of what will follow. At the close of the fifteenth century, before schools were common, boys at home and pages at court were placed under some gentleman tutor, who would see to it that they learned to read and write, and knew such hymns and Latin prayers as would enable them to attend becomingly the longish services then in fashion. So much at least of letters the boy Inigo acquired in youth, and learned it well. He loved to read the Romanceros  of his day, which, in a way, correspond with the novels of ours. Especially was he fond of Amadis de Gaula, The Chronicle of the Cid, and the books of Caballeria. From these he learned To love the code of chivalry with enthusiasm, "to dread a stain more than a wound." To win glory as a knight became to him the only object worth living for.

In 1517 his feudal patron Velasquez died, and he became a soldier under the Duke of Najera. The French, who then held Navarre, were warring on the northern marches of Castile, and in this campaign Inigo saw some service, though with few chances of distinguishing himself in arms. But he did well as a leader of men, and once restored discipline in a mutinous battalion under difficult circumstances. The episode of the defense of Pampeluna is rally the chief event of Inigo's short military career, and we must consider it under its still more important aspect, as the occasion of his conversion.

That word indicates that Ignatius, living in castle and camp, had lapsed from the Christlikeness of childhood. In fact, though details are wanting, the evidence now seems sufficient for us to say that this virtue had, during this period suffered some eclipse. In later life he would accuse himself in general terms of having been a very great sinner, but in the absence of particulars, and knowing how humbly God's Saints are wont to speak of their failings, we can draw on certain conclusion from these confessions. In the past, hostile writers have imagined that he was sunk in vice; panegyrists took his humble words as texts to prove his great victories over pride. But modern Spanish inquirers have come upon evidence with brings us some steps nearer the truth, though we are still too far off to see the issues plainly.

First of all, three writs have been found belonging to a hitherto unknown process held in 1515 against Ignatius and his brother Pedro y Lopez, charging them, in general terms, with "enormous delicts." But again, our documents, being but preliminaries on the trial, do not go into details, and no other reference has been found to the proceedings. Still, as Father Astrain, the latest Spanish biographer, says, such strong charges would not in those days have been brought against members of the local nobility and in their own neighbourhood, without cogent reason. While it is true that legal charges are usually couched in vigorous and sounding terms, the probability is now clear that Inigo was involved in some open offense which could not be passed over. From the fact that his brother appears in the charge, one may suspect some family feud leading to a breach of the law.

Under these circumstances it would be clearly illogical to treat his humble confessions of past sin as the mere flowers of humility, the imitations of other self-accusers. While there is no sound basis for believing him to have been sunk in vice or shameless excesses, it would seem that in the heat of youth and amid the fires of temptation, he was sometimes carried into sins of lust, pride and passion.

The earliest biographers make statements which obtain a new significance when compared with these early documents. Polanco, a contemporary, puts it thus: "The life he then led was far from being spiritual. Like other young men living at court or intent on a soldier's career, he was distinctly free in making love to women, and was devoted to sports and sword-play over points of honour." Such failings are common enough in gilded youth in every age, but especially at the beginning of the sixteenth century. That was not a generation hardened in vice; yet it cannot, alas! be called pure. And the chief centers of decadence were the circles amid which Inigo lived.

Often something may be gathered concerning a young man's character, if one knows the young lady of his choice. But while Ignatius was not unwilling to say some strong things about his past peccadilloes, he would never say anything directly about his lady. Her name remains a secret; but he owned that he would often dream of her by the hour, and make elaborate plans for her service and entertainment. "By what means he would journey to the land where she lived, what mottoes, what words he would speak, what deeds of arms he would accomplish in her service!" And he was so obsessed with this idea that he did not heed the quasi-impossibility of executing it. For this lady was not one of the lesser nobility: "no countess she, nor duchess, but of an estate higher than any of these." Visionary and impracticable this lover may be, but his dreams reflect no discredit on his youthful heart.

Such was Ignatius the sinner. No imitator of 'Christ in this, however like to numberless other human souls. Christ alone was not only free from all stain, but set apart to take away the sins of the whole world. In doing this it is His wont to work with human agents; to use sinful men, in order to accomplish salvation from sin. He threw down Saul, in order to raise up Paul. Nothing predisposes us sinners more to accept an apostle than to know that he is full of personal sympathy for sinners, that he knows our case intimately, and by experience. We cannot question that Ignatius knew the world, its pleasures, its fascinations, its glamour—everyone sees that he knew, even by bitter experience, the dark mysteries of sin.

Let us see how Providence will deal with this strong and daring man, whom the world had already claimed as its own.

* * * * *

Note on the Erroneous Name "Lopez de Recalde."

The name Inigo Lopez de Recalde arose as a misreading of an old manuscript made in the year 1613. The manner of it was set forth critically in 1898 by Father Fidel Fita, S.J., in the Boletin de la Academia de la Historia, Madrid, vol. xxxiii. See also Astrain, 3, and Monumenta Historica  S.J.: Scripta de S. Ignatio, i, 623, where the ms. is reproduced in facsimile.

The ms. is the original record of the proceedings held against Ignatius and his companions at Alcala in 1527 (see below, chap. v). It has a long conclusion or endorsement in which the names of the four companions are enumerated. They were Juan Lopez de Arteaga, Jean de Reinauld (a Frenchman), Calixto de Sa, Lope de Carceres. The Spanish notary, however, cites the names much more briefly, and he has to prefix to each his ampersand and the preposition "a". No capitals or stops are used, and he writes in his often abbreviated, very difficult script: a juan lopez & a recalde & a calisto & a cacres. How difficult the deciphering of the passage is, may be seen in the Scripta de S. Ignatius, where seven skilled transcriptions are printed, all varying not inconsiderably one from another.

The earliest copyist was the notary Quintanarnaya in 1613. We may presume that he was looking out for the name Inigo, which had occurred in the body of the document, and he thought he recognized it as an abbreviation in the first name "juan". Hence he got "Inigo Lopez". Then again slightly misinterpreting the abbreviated form, "& a recalde", he got "de Recalde". The last two names he got right The result of this was that our notary seemed to have detected a new form of the Saint's name, Inigo Lopez de Recalde, in a record of a very early date: perhaps the earliest record of his name then accessible.

Not very long afterwards a learned Jesuit antiquarian, Father Henao, came upon this transcript. Rightly appreciating the great value of the document in itself, he published it too quickly, as it stood, without further collation, perhaps without having discovered the obscurity of the original, Backed by his authority it was then accepted by the Bollandist. Father Pien, S.J., and so the erroneous name found its way into the Acta Sanctorum. Hence it has been, again too quickly, assumed by great authorities like the British Museum Catalogue, though the correct form of the name has as always been accepted among less eminent writers.

However, now that the genesis of the error is so very clear, the fictitious form should not be repeated without a note as to its falsity.