In the sixteenth century the University of Paris was a fair-sized town. It had fifty colleges and schools and some sixteen thousand students thronged its numerous buildings. They were divided into four “nations”: the French, Picards, Normans, and Germans. The French included the three Latin nations of France, Spain and Italy and also Greece. Here came Ignatius Loyola, from Spain.
A few years before, at Manresa, it had been revealed to him that he was to found an apostolic order, that was to take part in intellectual as well as spiritual combats. So he set himself the task of becoming a scholar. At thirty-three he sat down with young boys and began his education from the bottom.
During all this time while he was concentrating on his studies, he kept up his work as a fisher of men. His was the method of St. Paul who made himself all things to all men. He says: “In order to make acquaintance with great persons, and to gain their affection for the greater glory of God, Our Lord, first study their character, and act accordingly. If, for example, a man be of hasty temper and speaks rapidly and much, then assume with him something of a familiar tone, adopt his way but let it be about things good and holy, and be not too serious, or reserved, or melancholy. But with those of a more phlegmatic character, who are slow of speech, grave and measured in discourse, adopt a manner similar to theirs; this is sure to propitiate them. But if a man be tempted and melancholy, then in order to edify and console him, it is desirable to adopt a disposition contrary to his own. You then should be kind and good, converse much with him and show him both at home and abroad much complaisance and cheerfulness.”
One day the fisher of men called on a French doctor of theology and found him “rolling billiard balls about.” The doctor, an expert player, challenged him to a game. Ignatius had never played billiards before but he accepted the challenge. He had no money so he proposed his own stakes. If Ignatius lost he would be the doctor’s servant for a month, if he won the doctor should do only one thing, which should be to the doctor’s advantage. The doctor accepted and Ignatius won every point. The doctor’s forfeit was to go through the “Spiritual Exercises.” He did so for a month and underwent a complete change of heart, and Ignatius had made another conversion.
Disciples continued to gather around Ignatius but his good work got him in such trouble with the authorities that he resolved to avoid further proselytism until he had received his degree. The authorities became peaceful for a time; Ignatius said, “They leave me at rest because I do so little now for my neighbor’s salvation, wait till I am at work again and see then what will happen.” But he could not long refrain from speaking to his fellow-students of divine things and again disciples began to gather about him, and enemies to plot against him. He was again denounced to the Inquisition as a heretical teacher and a villainous misleader of youth, and was again found innocent.
The first of his disciples was Peter Faber, Ignatius’ room-mate from the time he entered the university. Humble and timid, lacking in sell-reliance, he gave little apparent promise of the bold and prominent part he would afterwards play in the Society. The second was Francis Xavier. After but four years of study, he had begun to lecture on Aristotle and was applauded on all sides, and delighted in his reputation. Ignatius joined the applause, spread Xavier’s reputation, increased his following, and soon won Xavier’s confidence. “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” Ignatius constantly asked him. Xavier was finally converted and came to share Ignatius’ room.
Two young students from Spain, Diego Lainez and Alfonso Salmeron, already distinguished in Greek and Hebrew, heard of Ignatius’s fame and came to join him. Then Nicholas Bobadillo, a successful teacher of philosophy, fell under Ignatius’s sway as did also another scholar, Simon Rodriguez. These men were the saint’s first disciples.
St. Ignatius had room for all kinds of minds and tempers in his Company provided that they had zeal. Under his direction these men soon became his true children. His discipline was severe and he set up strict rules. “When conversing with their sinful fellow-creatures, they are to use such precautions as would be reasonable in regard to a drowning man, so that two might not perish together. The sinner should be dear to every one of the Society; not only as the child of their common Father, but each should love him as himself. In argument, the greatest vigilance must be used to banish all desire of triumph. There is but one rational end to be proposed in discussion, the establishment of truth; the spirit as well as the words must be guided by this only.
“If it please God to work great things through their means, they must count themselves as nothing but a worthless instrument, such as was the jaw-bone of an ass in the hand of Samson. To be satisfied with their judgment, or wisdom, or prudence, would be a folly. A religious must consider himself best rewarded for what he does for his neighbor when he receives reproach and contumely, such as the world gave to the labors of Our Divine Lord.
When Lainez said he would gladly take the offer of immediate Heaven, Ignatius declared, “I would elect rather to stay and work on for the glory of God; I am sure He is a generous Master, and would not suffer harm to a soul that had delayed its own fruition of Heaven to increase His glory here.” He said, “If God sends you great sufferings, it is a sign He will make you a great saint; if you wish Him to make you a great saint ask Him to send you great sufferings.” Where his disciples prospered without check, he diagnosed relaxation.
While he did not place too heavy burdens on any, he would have his followers see God in all they did, “for it is most true that the Divine Majesty is present in all things.” With this he insisted on humility. “Humility is truth.” To attain it, he said, “Hate what the world seeks and seek what it avoids.” He frowned on the seeking of visions, and thought prayer itself a danger, since it could foster a conceit of spirituality. He did not, however, have prayer used less, but cultivated self-denial, humility, and charity, more.
Under this direction his children were soon ready for great work. Xavier went to India. Ite, omnia inflammate et accendite. (“Go,” Ignatius said to him, “set all afire and alight”).
Faber went to Germany to combat the real enemy, heresy. The German towns were hot-beds of Lutheranism, but Faber’s inspired preaching soon began to make headway with the people. The clergy responded with violent anger against Faber, and made common cause against him with the heretics. Faber invoked the guardian angel of each town he entered, and of each person he spoke to, that the angel might find for him the right words. The angel of Mainz heard his prayer and he gained there Peter Canisius, who would become a great Doctor of the Church. Later, again at Barcelona, he gained another recruit Francis Borgia, who too would become a great saint and a General of the Order.
When the Council of Trent was called, Lainez and Salmeron were appointed theologians of the pope. Peter Canisius later came from Cologne to represent the prince-bishop. Ignatius gave his two children instructions how they should bear themselves at the Council. Salmeron was then thirty and Lainez thirty-four. They were to guide their own speech by attentive observation of previous speeches; to set forth arguments on either side of a question; to avoid living authorities; to deliver their views “with great peace calm and modesty,” and use a quiet unhurried delivery. Their duties at the Council were not to absolve them from their customary duties: they were to visit the hospitals at least every fourth day; to preach to the people; even to catechize little children. God’s glory and the Church’s good must be the sole motive of their actions at the Council. They would plan their course for the day in the morning, and in the evening review together what had happened during the day.
The two papal delegates’ cassocks were so patched and worn, that other priests at the Council supplied them with new ones. The debate in September 1551 was on the sacraments and Lainez’s defense of the Eucharist evoked universal admiration. He declared that he would quote no authority whose works he had not read through. He quoted thirty-six, reciting long passages by heart. The audience was profoundly impressed by the manner no less than the matter; and when Salmeron had been heard in the evening, the Council affirmed the day memorable.
There is little to record of miracles and the obviously supernatural in St. Ignatius’ life. His achievements and those of his children are enough. It was in no small sense he who fought the Reformation in the German towns, swayed the decisions of the Council of Trent, and cast fire in India. His children were the first to proclaim this. Francis Thompson says of him, “His ambition was of the highest; he chose to be great in both worlds.”
(This article was originally published in From the Housetops, Volume III, No.1, September, 1948.)