St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1566)


Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, an intellectual and missionary congregation of men better known as the Jesuits.

There is no question that the Society bears in its structure and apostolate the marks of early modernity, the period in which it was founded, but that should not hinder us from appreciating the deep roots St. Ignatius himself had planted in the late Middle Ages.  Born a year before the discovery of America, the soldier-saint from Spain manifested in his life and writings the spiritual instincts of his medieval forebears.  For example, famous is the story of Ignatius’ conversion, which took place while he was convalescing in a hospital.  As Luis Gonzalez tells the story, whose account we read in today’s Office of Readings, Ignatius was convicted by the spiritual reading he was given, a collection of the lives of the saints written in Spanish.  Stirred by a new interior spirit, he began to ask himself, “What if I should do what Saint Francis or Saint Dominic did?”  These two thirteenth-century giants of religious life served to guide Ignatius’ own religious instincts and the spiritual exercises he developed from them.

To be sure, Ignatius did not draw strength solely from the spiritual tradition of the Middle Ages.  He also appropriated its intellectual heritage, particularly as articulated by St. Thomas Aquinas.  When founding the Society of Jesus, Ignatius directed his young disciples to study the doctrines of the Common Doctor, and the Society’s 1599 Ratio Studiorum (plan of studies) repeated this instruction for all of the Society’s teachers. For example, this direction was given to provincials:

The provincial is to be especially careful that no one be appointed to teach theology who is not well disposed to the teaching of St. Thomas. Those who do not approve of his doctrine or take little interest in it, should not be allowed to teach theology.

These directives certainly bore fruit for the Society and for the Church.  After their foundation the Jesuits immersed themselves in the Thomistic tradition of philosophy and theology that gained magisterial sanction during the Council of Trent, and they imbued the Tridentine Church, often better than the Dominicans did, with the spirit and wisdom of St. Thomas.

Much has been made of the centuries-old intellectual rivalry between the Dominicans and the Jesuits.  As is well known, disagreements arose between them over the authentic interpretation of St. Thomas, and Dominicans and Jesuits today continue the friendly intellectual contest that has shaped their shared history.  One might argue that Ignatius himself helped to set up this competition by rooting the Society in the medieval intellectual and spiritual tradition.  Without getting into specific disputes, it suffices to say that the Jesuits should be remembered well today.  Through the beginning of the twentieth century, Jesuit intellectuals were on the ecclesial and cultural front lines promoting and defending the principles of Thomism.  For that, we Dominicans can gratefully tip our capuces to our Jesuit brothers.

For more on the life of St. Ignatius, including details of his conversion and his founding of the Jesuits, click here.  For the homepage of the Society of Jesus in the United States, click here.

you gave Saint Ignatius of Loyola to your Church
to bring greater glory to your name.
May we follow his example on earth
and share the crown of life in heaven.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.

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