Ignatius De Loyola
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
In the year 1521, a Spanish soldier lay on the field of Pompeluna, severely wounded. He was a noble-man of Guipuzcoa, brave and accomplished, but un-versed in letters. Tradition says that, as he lay, weakened and wounded, in his father's castle, to which his chivalrous captors sent him, a new purpose came into his life. He had been trained to the duty of a soldier, but he was now so wounded that he could do nothing for the good of his country. His mind, through the reading of some pious books, was directed to the church, its needs and its work. And the tradition is, that he then and there conceived the plan which was afterwards worked out into the society of the Jesuits. After a journey to Rome, and a pilgrim-age to Jerusalem, he returned to Spain and began the study of Latin, spending two years in study and missionary work. In 1526 he went to the University of Alcol€, where he first began to gather around him companies of the students for religious conference and conversation upon some of his ambitious schemes. Here, and afterwards at Salamanca, he was thrown into prison for heresy by the Spanish Inquisition. Upon recovering his freedom, in 1528, he went to Paris, and spent six years in study and preparation for missionary work. In 1534 he accomplished the regular organization of the first society of Jesuits. This organization was based on Loyola's military life. It had superior and inferior officers, and every member of the society was a soldier, who had taken a pledge, not only to obey discipline, but to become an aggressive warrior against the powers of evil in the world. The vows which bound the first society together were taken in the crypt of Notre Dame, on the fifteenth of August, 1534. The immediate plan of the company was to go to the Holy Land as missionaries in the cause of the Church of Rome. A war breaking out at this time between the Turks and one of the Italian states, made the project impracticable, and it was summarily abandoned. They then offered themselves to the Pope as special militia. The company, then numbering about twenty members, was scattered among the university towns of Europe, to work as home missionaries and gain recruits for the new cause ; but it was not until 1540 that the constitutions of the society were approved by the Pope, and the society of the Jesuits was fully established. Loyola was unanimously chosen Superior. His office was that of a Lieutenant-General. The Brigadier-Generals were such men as Francis Xavier, Bobadila, Peto Taber, and Alfonso Salmeron. These men were sent into different parts of Europe to organize new societies and put the order on a solid footing. In a few years the society numbered several thousand. Europe was traversed from end to end by men who were willing to give up their lives for the cause of Jesuitism. The society now extended its labors to the boundaries of the world. Its generals penetrated to India, to China, and the islands of the sea. Others breasted the storms of the Atlantic, pushed through the trackless forests,' along the rivers, over the lakes, to the most distant and hostile tribes of the American Indians.
They were persecuted, slain, burned, and tortured in every conceivable way by the red monsters of America ; but they pushed forward, nothing daunted. They established trading-posts from Quebec westward along the lakes to the Mississippi, and thence to its mouth. They preached the gospel to the Hurons and Iroquois, and all the tribes they could reach. The enterprise was a total failure ; but the heroic devotion, the self sacrifice and noble enthusiasm, the indescribable triumph over difficulties which the Jesuits exhibited in North America, is without a parallel in history.
The exploits of Francis Xavier in India show a devotion and utter disregard of self and worldly aims worthy of a better cause. Few men in the history of the world have undertaken such heroic labors in the face of such overmastering difficulties as this simple-minded missionary did at Goa, Cape Camorin, and Travancore. Walking on foot from village to village, he sounded his way along with a little hand-bell, summoning the people to listen to his teachings, blessing and baptizing them until his hands dropped in weariness, repeating his formulas until his voice became inaudible. In India, in Malacca, in Japan, the natives of the coast listened to the preaching of Francis Xavier.
Whether toiling among the teeming millions of Hindostan and China, laboring among the Hurons and Iroquois of North America, governing and civilizing the natives of Brazil and Paraguay, at the hourly risk of his life, in hunger, fatigue, and decrepitude, the Jesuit appeared devoted, indefatigable, cheerful, happy in life or death. Be his zeal mistaken or otherwise, be his a mission of success or failure, the Jesuit is worthy of the world's admiration. No such devotion to any cause has ever been exhibited as these men have shown among downtrodden people in the by ways of the world. Nevertheless, two prominent facts meet the student who pursues the history of this unique society. The first is, that it has met with universal suspicion and hostility. This opposition has not sprung from Protestantism alone, whose sworn foe Jesuitism has been, nor yet from the enemies of all religious dogmas, but from every Roman Catholic state and nation in the world it has met with the most determined hate. Probably no society of men has ever met with such determined opposition and malignant spite as the society of the Jesuits. Another very prominent fact is this, that all of its most promising schemes have ended in utter failure. It controlled the policy. of Spain when there was good hope that she would be the foremost European power ; but she came out last and least among the nations. Jesuitism secured the monopoly of religious teaching in France under Louis XIV. and XV., only to see an Atheistic revolution break out under Louis XVI. and sweep the nation, after a century of such teaching. It guided the action of James II., lost the crown of England to the House of Stuarts, and brought about the limitation of the throne to the Protestant succession. Its Japanese and American missions vanished, without leaving a trace behind. Its labors in Hindostan served only to prepare the way for the English Empire there, and the triumphal introduction of Protestantism. And, in our own day, having concentrated its efforts under the maintenance of the temporal power of the Pope, and having raised that idea to the rank of a religious dogma, it has seen Rome proclaimed the capital of United Italy. Various causes have conspired to bring about this result ; but chief among them has been the ambitious schemes of the Jesuits, and the total lack of able leaders to carry these schemes into execution. Of the twenty-two generals and four vicars who have been successively at the head of the Jesuit order, only two have been conspicuous as great men. These were Loyola and Francis Borgia. All the rest have been second or third rate men. To carry out such ambitious enterprises as were set on foot by the Jesuits, required men of the greatest powers and the greatest genius. These, outside of the two mentioned and Francis Xavier, the order never possessed. Hence, all its ambitious schemes have, thus far, resulted in failure. Whether the cause of Catholicism may not have been injured rather than advanced, is an open question. But, certainly, the collapse of the great Jesuit enterprises must have had disastrous consequences upon the church at large.
Loyola, after an active and victorious life, died at Rome on the thirty-first of July, 1556. He was beatified by Paul V. in 1609, and canonized along with Francis Xavier in 1623. His festival is still observed on the thirty-first of July.