by Randall Hillebrand

Ignatius Loyola was the founder and first general of the Society

of Jesus, better known today as the Jesuits. Loyola was the youngest

son of eight boys of a wealthy family of thirteen children. He was

born either in the year of 1491 or 1495 in the province of Basque near

the town of Azpeitia in Spain. This area was known for its brave and

hardy race of people that excelled in its ship building, sailing and

military spirit. Loyola was a brave soldier himself who had seen a

number of battles, but on May 20, 1521, a cannon ball fractured his

right leg and injured his left. During recovery, he asked for books

to read on romance, but all that could be found was a book on the life

of Christ and a book of different saints.

With distaste he started reading them, but soon they so gripped

him that from within him a desire arose to follow the steps of Christ

and such saints as Dominic and Francis. In May of the following year

after he had finished healing it is said that he went and spent three

days in confession with a priest for his sins. After that he went to

the altar of our Lady where he spent the night in prayer and came away

with the conviction that Christ was calling him as the captain of His

sacred army. (Harvey 1, 10-14).

Soon after this Loyola went to the outskirts of a town called

Manresa to spend time in a cave for penance and prayer. The little

town accepted him and he found lodging in the hospital of St. Lucia.

During this time at Manresa, Loyola went through a time of dryness,

weariness, sadness and bitterness. Times became very hard for him and

he could find no peace. The Dominicans of the Manresa felt sorry for

him and took him into their convent. There he fasted and prayed

almost till death until he finally came to a point where his spiritual

storm had passed and he found the peace for which he had searched.

During the time spent at the convent it is said that he had many

mysteries revealed to him and that great spiritual illumination took

place. One of the outcomes of this spiritual awakening for Loyola was

the beginnings of a book. As Loyola had thoughts that he felt might

profit others, he made note of them, and these notes later grew into

his book which he called "Spiritual Exercises." (Harney 27-30). This

book is said to have a powerful appeal to one's imagination and

emphasizes greatly the obedience one is to have to Christ and to the

church (Catholic Church).

This would be the book that would become the cornerstone of the

Jesuit order. (Linder 412). A main section in Spiritual Exercises is

a four-week course that the new recruit would have to go through. The

first week dealt with purging oneself. The second week is a crucial

week in the exercise where one would meditate on the life of Christ up

to the passion week and the kingdom of Christ. This is also the week

in which one would give himself to Christ (Election stage - climax).

The third week is when the passion week of Christ from Bethany to the

cross is discussed with an emphasis on following the footsteps of

their humble Master. The fourth week is when the recruit is prepared

to rise with the risen Christ as a knight-errant roving about, ready

to fight the good fight of faith. (Harvey 27-31).

The last part of the book, which was added later, gives eighteen

rules for thinking and acting to be in conformity with the Catholic

Church. These rules were probably in response to the reformation

taking place at that time and were meant to be protection against

heresy. (Harney 62-63).

Between the years of 1524 to 1534, Ignatius Loyola studied at

Barcelona, Alcala, Salamanca and Paris to prepare for his service to

the church. (Linder 411). It was during his student days in Paris

that Loyola started the Society of Jesus. He gathered six young men

together with him, all following his example and taking a vow of

poverty, chastity and the spiritual service of their neighbors. Not

only would they make these three vows on their own, but later they

would again take the first two vows of poverty and chastity in

addition to two others of obedience to the church, and obedience to

the Pope in accordance to their involvement with the church. The

first three of these vows were typical within the church, but the vow

of total and complete obedience to the Pope to go and do whatever he

said was unknown to the church and would become a Jesuit distinctive.

(Young 8)

The six men that would join Loyola were Francis Xavier, Pierre Le

Favre, James Laynez, Alphonsus Salmeron, Nicholas Bobadilla and Simon

Rodriguez. These seven men soon became well-known in Italy as

preachers, leaders of retreats and hospital chaplains. In 1539 they

formed a group called the "Company of Jesus" in Rome, which was

totally dedicated to teaching children and illiterates in the law of

God. (Catherall 531).

Because of these and other efforts to help the poor and needy,

the Society of Jesus was well accepted in Europe. They not only were

concerned with the physical being of a person, but also with their

spiritual being seen in their constant evangelization of the people.

(Harvey 42).

Many young men wished to join the Jesuits, but since they were

not as of yet a true organization within the Catholic Church, Ignatius

and his companions decided to draw up a constitution for the Society

to present to Pope Paul III. Because of the special vow of total

obedience to the Pope by each member, it was clear to Pope Paul III

that this Society would be of value to the Holy See. So on the

twenty-seventh of September, 1540, the Bull, Regimini Militantis

Ecclesiae was issued and the Society of Jesus was officially launched.

One provision was made in this Bull which was that the Society could

have only sixty members in its ranks. But by 1544 another Bull,

Injunctum Nobis was issued that gave the Society an unlimited number

of members.

The Society grew rapidly and soon Loyola secured permission for

the Jesuits to preach, hear confession and to fulfill all of the other

offices of the priestly office. (Harvey 60-61, 63). Also around the

beginnings of the Society, there was no one to watch over the safety

of the Pope and to help him from straying to secularism and

identification with the government. So the Jesuits were the first

group to take this position in the church as the Pope's spiritual

elite and militia. (Peeler 420)

By the end of Loyola's death in 1556, there were over a thousand

Jesuits mainly in Spain, Portugal and Italy. They were also in

France, Germany, the Low Countries, India, Brazil and Africa.

(Donnelly 413). The Society by this time made a turn in its

philosophy. No longer was it a group whose emphasis was to the poor

and needy, but now its influences would be seen and felt among the

aristocracy. This change came about because of Loyola's dedication to

the modern methods of education of his time. Jesuit schools were

founded, the first in 1548 in Messina, and the Jesuits became the

teaching order and the leading movement in Catholic higher education.

They were known for having the most effective teaching methods in

contemporary Europe. They became the Pope's strongest supporters and

were the spearhead of the intellectual attack on the Reformation.

They also became the foremost Catholic apologists. The Society became

very strong, but was suppressed in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV, but was

later restored by Pope Pius VII in 1814.


Catherall, Gordon A. "Jesuits (Society of Jesus)." The New

International Dictionary of the Christian Church. 1978 ed.

Donnelly, John P. "The Jesuits." Eerdmans' Handbook to the History of

Christianity. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.

Gontard, Friedrich. The Chair of Peter: A History of the Papacy. New

York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.

Harney, Martin P. The Jesuits in History. New York: The America Press,


Harvey, Robert. Ignatius Loyola. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing

Company, 1936.

Linder, Robert D. "Rome Responds." Eerdmans' Handbook to the History

of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.

Young, William J. "Jesuits." Encyclopedia International. 1967 ed.

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