Sunday, July 31, 2011

Saint Ignatius of Loyola

July 31st is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the soldier who turned to a religious life while recuperating from a cannon shot that injured his leg.  Ignatius, along with Francis Xavier and four others founded the Society of Jesus in 1534.  Ignatius died on July 31, 1556.

Several writers on Ignatius employ some of Walter Scott’s words to discuss a test Ignatius faced early on in his spiritual development -  “A Churchman should refute heresy with argument; a Knight with his dagger”.  The test is related in Stewart Rose’s “Ignatius Loyola and the Early Jesuits”:

‘He had passed through the town of Cervera, and was proceeding slowly along the high road to Barcelona, when he was overtaken by a man like himself, mounted upon a mule, The whom he perceived to be of the unhappy race of the Moriscoes (as the Moors, or Spanish Arabs, had now begun to be called), still numerous in the south-west of Spain, especially in Aragon and Valencia. Many hundreds of them had left the country rather than comply with the conditions imposed by Ferdinand; but the vast majority, being loath to abandon their native land, had made profession of Christianity; and of these, as was inevitable, a large proportion remained Mahometans at heart. The man who now joined Ignatius seems to have made no attempt to djsguise his misbelief; for, on learning that his fellow-traveller was on his way to Our Lady of Monserrato, he began disputing with him about the Blessed Virgin; admitting that she was a virgin when she conceived and gave birth to the Redeemer, but denying that she had retained her right to the title afterwards. In this opinion he persisted, in spite of all the arguments which Ignatius, in his faith and zeal, could urge against him. The dispute soon waxed hot and vehement on both sides; till the infidel, whether incensed at his opponent's retorts, or alarmed at the warmth of feeling he displayed, suddenly put spurs to his mule, and, without any word of leave-taking, galloped off at full speed. He was scarcely out of sight before Ignatius began to take blame to himself, as well for having failed to convince him of his errors, as for having allowed the follower of the false prophet to depart unscathed. The fierce spirit of -the zealot was roused within his breast, and so bore down and stifled, for the time, every sentiment of Christian charity and pity, that he seriously debated with himself whether he ought not, as a knight and gentleman,1 to follow the blasphemer and wash out the stain cast on Our Lady's honour in the offender's blood. But then, the fear arose lest, by so ruthless a proceeding, he should be angering both her and her Divine Son; and, unable in the heat of his excited feelings to decide between right and wrong, he determined to refer the matter to the judgment of God. Coming, therefore, to a point where the road divided, leading on the one hand to the place, about fifty paces further on, to which the man had told him he was going, and on the other to a steep and stony mountain-pass, he threw the bridle on his mule's neck, and left her to take which way she pleased. 'If,' thought he, 'she follows in the direction in which the infidel has gone, it is a sign that I am to pursue and despatch him with my poniard; but if she takes the other rode, Heaven does not intend that he should perish by my hand.' In His mercy, God had regard rather to the untutored zeal than to the rash resolution of His champion; for, strange to say, although the road along which the Morisco had gone was broad and smooth, the mule turned up the rough ascent, and Ignatius was saved from the commission of a great crime.’

1 'A Churchman should refute heresy with argument; a Knight with his dagger.'—Quoted by Sir Walter Scott.

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