Saint Ignatius of Loyola - John Pollen

Studies and Companions

(1524 To 1535)

At the age of thirty-three, this uneducated soldier turned to study, and spent eleven years, more than one-third o the span of life remaining to him, in the laborious acquisition of book-learning. He had no natural zest or gift for literature; it was work against the grain; he never finally completed his course. Nevertheless the good, effect of his studies on his life-work is almost incalculable. He began with Latin grammar; among school boys of Barcelona, and in two years he knew enough to undertake his university course at Alcala, early in 1526. But here he found so many and such severe critics among the ecclesiastical dons, that he removed, at the end of 1527, to the University of Salamanca. Here, too, the interference continued, and he resolved to go to Paris and to complete his course there.

This was an important step for the development both of his studies and of his mental outlook. In one way it was less of a change then, than it would be now, for Paris was at that time the capital of universities, and there were various Spanish colleges in it. The Saint, too, came from near the French border; the idea of passing it must have been familiar to him. At Paris (February, 1528) with great method he began by recapitulating his course of Arts, and took his M. A. degree, on March 14, 1535. The course of theology had been begun before this, the date of his Licentiate being 1534. Health trouble compelled him to leave Paris after his M. A.; and though he meant to have proceeded to his Doctorate later, continued ailments and other obstacles prevented his realising this plan.

Thus, in spite of all his sacrifices, Ignatius never acquired great erudition. He had always to rely much on others for secretarial work; his style was obscure, he was not a facile speaker or writer either in Italian or in Latin. Nevertheless the advantages gained by reading deeply among the classical masters of his profession, by living for so long a time in the chief universities of Europe, can hardly be exaggerated. To say nothing of gaining a sufficient acquaintance with the sources of knowledge to enable him to find information when wanted, of being able to maintain his position in the company of the learned, and to govern men of learning, he became thoroughly versed in the ever-changing educational problem; he learned by experience how"' to combine a life of prayer and penance with one of teaching or of study—an invaluable acquisition for the future founder of the Society; of Jesus. He found his ablest followers among university men.

We must now go back a little to trace our Saint's relations with the ecclesiastical authorities and those who volunteered to work with him, and also to note his gradual relinquishment of the extreme practices of poverty and penance. When he first went to school at Barcelona, Isabel Roser, another kind woman who had taken him in for the love of God, prevailed upon him to give up wearing the pauper's sackcloth 'and going bare foot, and to wear shoes and the black gown of a clerigo. Ignatius, however, pulled such big holes in the soles of his boots that they were little better than mere "uppers"; the mortification was but little less than before. Even so, this was a step toward life in common with those whom he so much wished to benefit. He also gave up begging his daily bread from door to door; considering his occupations, he would be sufficiently dependent on Providence for his support if he now lived on the charity of certain friends. In Paris he even funded the alms received during vacations, when he went begging. On two or three of these journeys he came to London, and he records that he here received better alms than he did anywhere else. The probability, however, is that he begged chiefly of the Spanish and Portuguese merchants, to whom introduction would have been easy. He had met many of them in his visits to the Spanish Netherlands and his friends eventually gave him yearly contributions, which enabled him to study more regularly.

Of more importance were the inquiries held over his conduct by public authorities. Such proceedings took place at Alcala in 1526–1527; at Salamanca in 1528, at Paris in the period immediately following, at Venice in 1537, and at Rome in 1538. In four cases the actual record of the proceedings is extant, and has been printed (M.H.S.J., Scripta de S. Ignacio, pp. 580-620). At Alcala there was no small stir when this new student arrived, whose fervent piety and touching words moved many pious souls to fresh devotion. The university inquisitors (who corresponded more or less to our proctors) held a meeting and examined certain witnesses, whose evidence was strongly in Ignatius's favour. So they discontinued their proceedings, November 19, 1526, but appointed the Vicar Figueroa to watch the conduct of the new comer. Figueroa, a good but troublesome man, called certain women in March, 1527, who had been present at the homely talks which Ignatius used to hold on frequenting the sacraments. Their examinations told in Ignatius's favour; so proceedings again stopped, and again without Ignatius having been summoned. But a couple of months later he was summarily thrown into prison, where he lay forty-two days before he was called up. It seems that a certain lady and her daughter had suddenly disappeared, having started off one night without notice, barefoot, on a pilgrimage. They had sometimes been auditors at Ignatius's conferences, and Figueroa thought that if he kept the spiritual guide in durance, the ladies would surely return. They did so, and then it was found that they had gone despite the Saint's remonstrances. Figueroa, however, took full time to think the matter over and then, calling up the prisoner, on June 1, 1527, he found no fault whatever with him. Nevertheless he ordered him, first, to wear the gown of the university students, and secondly, to abstain from any sort of religious or catechetical instruction for three years, till he had made more progress in his divinity studies.

Taken in the abstract, this was very good sense and Ignatius accepted it without protest. But in the concrete it was an absurd instance of paternal government, to give a man six weeks of close prison, as a mere preliminary to a little good advice. If Figueroa's second command was to be enforced by officiousness such as this, life at the University of Alcala would be unbearable. So, three weeks later Ignatius had set out for Valladolid to interview Alfonso de Fonseca, Archbishop of Toledo and Primate of Spain, who wisely advised him to begin his university studies again at Salamanca, and gave him "good alms to facilitate the transition." In one sense, Ignatius's first experience of university life had been rather a failure, for he had endeavoured to follow too many courses and had consequently made little progress with his studies; But it was at Alcala that he first began to attract followers; and though they did not persevere, several youths who saw his work there developed an attraction for him later. Indeed, a good proportion of his first companions originally made their acquaintance with him at Alcala.

Although Ignatius had come to Salamanca in order to study in peace, just the same sort of troubles as before began again (late in 1527). Our Saint and his companion Calixto were invited to supper at the Dominican convent of San Esteban, where the Father Superior was the distinguished Fra Pedro de Soto, afterwards theologian to the Council of Trent. After the meal Ignatius was questioned about his studies and made no secret of his want of knowledge. Hereupon the great theologian declared that if he claimed to teach, without having acquired knowledge, he must clearly pretend to a private revelation of his own. Ignatius demurred. The elementary subjects on which he talked, were no monopoly of the learned. But the theologians had the gates of the convent locked, till they had warned the bishop, who in terror committed Ignatius to prison until he was tried. On this occasion the book of Spiritual Exercises  was produced and discussed, and this is the first time that it is mentioned as in book form. After three weeks he was pronounced both innocent and orthodox, but he was forbidden to formulate a definition on such points as the difference between a mortal and a venial sin.

This episode again illustrates the excess of paternal government, which was rampant everywhere in Europe, joined in this case with that extravagant esteem for a priori  arguments, especially characteristic of Spain. Ignatius felt that he could not here lead the sort of life to which God was calling him, and he turned towards Paris. His companion Calixto was to have followed him when Ignatius had settled down and found out some stable way of living upon alms. But in the end he never went.

In Paris (February 2, 1528, to March, 1535) Ignatius was less disturbed. For one thing, he did less for his neighbours. While he cherished those souls whom he already knew to be desirous of the higher life, he restrained himself from influencing others. He also applied himself more and more to study.

During this period Ignatius was once condemned to be flogged in public but just before the time set for the punishment he went in to Dr. Govea, President of the College, who had ordered it, and spoke to him to such good effect that the Doctor, taking him by the hand, led him into the great hall of the College Ste. Barbe, where the flogging should have taken place, and there publicly asked Ignatius's pardon! Amongst the Masters between whose rods Ignatius was to have run the gauntlet, but did not, was John Calvin.

The book of The Exercises  was again denounced as unsound in doctrine but the Dominican Dr. Ori, to whom it was handed for investigation, found nothing but praise to say of it, and kept a copy for his own use.

Two later troubles of similar character may be mentioned here. At Venice Ignatius was denounced as a fugitive and vagabond of evil name and heretical tendencies, and these charges were made by men who were themselves under suspicion, and especially by one Miguel who had at first admired Ignatius and his followers. When the matter was brought to a test in the ecclesiastical law-courts Ignatius was fully acquitted (October 13, 1537).

Still the rumours were not entirely eliminated. Next year they were whispered even in Rome, and the unpleasant reports included the names of Ignatius's companions as well as his own. Again Ignatius insisted on an inquiry; and it so happened that various persons (as Ori and Figueroa) connected with his previous trials in Spain, France and Venice, were then in Rome, so that the court was exceptionally well-informed. The sentence, when it came, was strongly in the Saint's favour, and includes in its recommendations the names of his nine companions (November 18, 1538).

We notice a certain progress in Ignatius's bearing under these trials before public authorities. At first he merely rejoiced at having something notable to suffer for Christ. "There are not so many handcuffs and chains in Salamanca, but that I desire even more for the love of God." But in the later trials his object is always to obtain a public sentence. He does not even await trial, but demands an immediate decision. This was especially the case when the charge reflected in any way on his orthodoxy. Of this he was as generously sensitive, as a woman of her honour. And it was on that head that censorious words were chiefly to be expected; for the great calamities of the day, the civil and religious wars, the ever-growing divisions, arose chiefly from the great revolution which was beginning in matters of faith. Never was suspicion on this subject more common and inevitable, even though reformers and men who call upon others to make sacrifices, must always be ready for occasional remonstrances, for black looks and censure, from quarters where it is least to be looked for.

Ignatius's care for his good name was accentuated by his concern for the companions of his choice. It was one thing to endure voluntary hardships when he stood alone; another thing to submit to them when he had around him companions, some of whom were but beginners. For their sakes much greater caution became necessary. To appreciate this we must consider Ignatius more closely as a leader.

We have seen that work for others was always an intimate part of the Saint's spirituality. Even from the first he would strive in conversation to promote regularity, to encourage a generous responsiveness towards God and the desire of progress in prayer and meditation, which he promoted by his Spiritual Exercises. He always had a circle of well-wishers and benefactors, many of them women. At least from his days at Barcelona, he always found men ready to stand at his side and join in his work. The first was Calixto de Sa, then Juan Lopez de Arteaga, Lope de Caceres and Jean de Reinauld, a Frenchman.

In his early days, Ignatius measured the aptitude of a follower simply by the fervour of his faith, and by his zeal in good works. One that was strong enough, he sent off on the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Himself and all his friends lived, begged, dressed like paupers and worked together at their humanities with the greatest unanimity.

But when the time came for going to France, and all that that stool for, separation gradually took place. Life among strangers would mean diminished alms and greater hardships; the struggle for scholastic success would be intensified and prolonged. So, instead of following their leader to Paris, these first disciples remained at home and slowly fell away from their old ambitions. If none went to the bad, at least they drifted into posts of little importance.

At Paris, too, Ignatius attracted companions, but they did not at first bring him great consolation. After about six months, however in May or June of 1529, another group of followers began to assemble around him. He gave the "spiritual exercises" to three young Spanish students, De Castro, Peralta, and Amador. Deeply impressed by the heavenly truths they had meditated, they resolved to follow the Christ-like virtues which shone in Ignatius's conduct. Being university men of promise, their adhesion was of much greater importance than the companionship of Calixto, and his friends, whose education was but slight. But since they were still young, their parents held over them a strong and not very gentle hand and according to the fashion of the day, force was used. They were seized, compelled to return to ordinary student life, and forbidden to change during the time of their course. And so Ignatius again saw himself cut off from the hope of finding others to help him in carrying out his apostolic ideas, ideas which could only be realized by the co-operation of many. Seven years had passed since he had received the call at Manresa, amid graces and consolations so powerful that he could never question their heavenly origin. But the realization of his plans still seemed so distant. He himself had as yet, no degree. As yet there was no one to stand at his side, no one to voice his thoughts, as Aaron did for Moses.

About a year later, however, he began again to attract followers, and of this third group, not one failed; indeed not one fell short of excellence. The first was Peter Faber, a Savoyard, a singularly modest, retiring youth, of poor parents and good talents. The two became intimate at lectures, which they used to repeat together.

The second disciple was the most notable of all Ignatius's followers, Francis Xavier, of noble, though not wealthy family, his father being President of the Royal Council of Navarre. Being the youngest son, he was expected to make his way chiefly by his wits, either through the Church or at the Bar, and he was, in fact, very successful in his university career. All of the same college, these three young men were friends but not, at first intimates, for Francis would not at once enter into intercourse on spiritual matters. Ignatius, always unfailing in friendly words and works, at last won his attention in the midst of his academical triumphs, by quoting the text, "What doth it profit a man, if he gain then whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?" Xavier was struck, and in time converted; but he was too occupied to make the "exercises" until later. The conversion probably came in 1532 or 1533.

The next two to join the band were Lainez: and Salmeron: both excellent scholars and admirable characters. Lainez was to succeed Ignatius as General of the Society. Both were papal theologians at the Council of Trent. Salmeron also became a writer of reputation. Simon Rodriguez de Azevedo was a Portuguese and well endowed with gifts of head and heart which made him eventually extremely successful with his countrymen. But as we shall see, these unusual favours reacted adversely on Simon's mind and in later years he took steps which caused very serious anxiety to Ignatius. Though a way out of the trouble was found, Simon came nearer than any other of the early companions to causing a fiasco. Nicholas Bobadilla, the last of this group, was of lesser gifts, or shall we say, of lesser talents.

When the meetings of the friends began (1532 to 1534) they thought little for the future. They still had their studies to complete and that sufficed for the moment. They helped each other with funds and they looked forward to becoming ecclesiastics and to imitating exactly the life of Christ in the Holy Land. They met on the fifteenth of August, 1534, on Montmartre, probably in the chapel of St. Denys, and confirmed their project by taking a vow covering three points: poverty, chastity, and the journey to Jerusalem. Faber, the only priest, said the Mass and received the vows, which were pronounced magna animorum laetitia et exultatione. They now lived and worked together with constantly increasing devotion, meeting every year on the same day and at the same place to renew their pledge to become steadfast and whole-hearted imitators of Christ.