1491 -- 1556
Hundreds of them were crucified in Nagasaki, 1597. Ironically,
crucifixion as a means of execution was unknown to the Japanese prior to the Jesuit
missions that acquainted them with the story of Jesus. Still, the Jesuit missioners were
undeterred. They returned to Japan, only to be beheaded and burnt in 1622. Two members of
the order, Fathers Brebeuf and Lalemant, would suffer a similar death (1649) as missioners
in southern Ontario.
Loyola's student days left him with a reputation for little more
than gambling, womanizing, brawling. Student frivolity soon gave way to near-lethal
seriousness, however, when French forces assaulted the Spanish city of Pamplona. Loyola
was crumbled by gunshot wounds that smashed his right leg and left gaping flesh wounds in
the left. French surgeons dressed his wounds and set the leg. Nine months later his limb
was found to have healed improperly. The leg was broken and re-set -- all without benefit
of anaesthesia. Soon a grotesque projection appeared at the site of the break. Loyola knew
that such a disfigurement would disqualify him for all the knightly pursuits necessary for
wooing upper-class women. (At the very least he couldn't wear the skin-tight breeches and
boots favoured by courtiers.) Whereupon the vain man agreed to a third operation despite
the warning that the pain of having the projection sawn off would be indescribable.
As he recovered he cast around for the adventure-tales he had
always devoured. Finding none, he put up with the two books given him: a life of Jesus and
the lives of the saints. Among the latter Francis of Assisi electrified him, especially
Francis's love of singing and dancing, the fact that a major illness had been the occasion
of God's changing him from vain worldling to cheerful evangelist, his transparent life
embodying his announcement of grace. All of it enthralled the pain-ridden convalescent.
Gradually Loyola's vocation seeped into him -- and then surged
over him as a vision (the first of many he was to have) surrounded him with a presence, the
presence, and filled him with loathing for his dissolute life. There would be no turning
back. Out of his new-found peace and his reflection on the life-altering event came the
seeds of his Spiritual Exercises, the small book that would thereafter lend shape
and substance to the spiritual direction (discerning and magnifying the work and will of
God in a fellow-Christian) for which Jesuits are known everywhere. Loyola had demonstrated
his uncanny perception of the subtleties and subterfuges of humankind's heart, as well as
means to exploring, exposing and neutralising them.
His heart aflame now, Loyola knew he must also attend to his head
if he were going to be of greatest Kingdom-service. He enrolled at the University of
Barcelona, supported by wealthy women who recognized his vocation and wanted to assist him
with it. (Their precedent was the wealthy women in Jerusalem who funded Jesus and the
twelve in their apostolic endeavours. Luke 8:3)
In view of his frequent visions he was suspected of being among
the "illuminists" whose private scintillations lifted them (they thought) above
scripture, the tradition of the church, and even elemental morality. The Inquisition had
him imprisoned until he could be tried. Four months later he was acquitted, yet told as
well not to gather people publicly for instruction until he had completed another four
years of study.
Invariably he attracted to himself men of extraordinary gifts and
dedication. In addition his unselfconscious godliness ignited his fellows
("Ignatius" means "born of fire") as they found him larger, greater,
more impressive, and vastly more influential than anything he penned. In the words of the
apostle Paul, Loyola himself was the letter the Spirit wrote.
At the age of 31 he graduated 30th in a class of 100 at the
University of Paris. He would never be a theological giant. A spiritual colossus, however,
his major gift was his laser-penetration of the heart of those offering themselves for the
company of the Jesuits. His motivation was simply the salvation of men and women anywhere.
His method included outdoor preaching to large crowds who found the Spaniard unpolished,
speaking poor Italian, yet simple, direct, transparent as he fused the Word of God to the
word of earth. Never one to preen himself, he worked quietly in the hospitals sweeping
floors, making beds, emptying bedpans and burying the dead. (The hospitals were stretched
on account of two "new" diseases, typhus and syphilis.) Disgusted at the
church's practice of licensing brothels, he struggled to rehabilitate as many prostitutes
as possible, accommodating them in a house where they could be educated and prepared for
marriage. Alarmed at the vulnerability of Jews in Rome, he protected them relentlessly and
endured the wrath of the anti-semites.
When he was 50 the pope (after years of
recognized the "Society of Jesus". Loyola was elected unanimously as its
superior. As head he insisted on a four-year university course in the humanities followed
by seven years of intense study in philosophy and theology, together with rigorous
physical training (since Jesuits would face the severest physical challenges), and before
any of this a searching assessment of candidates' suitability.
Before he died six years later there were 240 Jesuit missioners
in India, Brazil and Africa, as well as five Jesuit centres in Japan. Sixty years after
his death there were 15,000 Jesuits at work throughout the world.
Protestants who are perplexed at the many visitation-visions that
formed him, informed him and sustained him have yet to come to terms with the same in
St.Paul: the Damascus road episode, his being "caught up to the third heaven"
where he heard and saw "what may not be uttered", his vision of the man from
Macedonia requesting help, his trance in Jerusalem in which he was told to leave the city.
Nothing was dearer to Ignatius than the Jesuit order. Yet when he
was asked how he would react if a hostile pope were to disband it he replied, "Two
hours on my knees and I should never think of it again."
The little Spaniard known for his laughing eyes exemplified the
apostle's word, "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."