Ignatius’s Chivalric Vision of Christ

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For Íñigo , whose world vision was colored by the ideal of chivalry, Jesus Christ was first and foremost Lord. Lordship had deep meaning for him for it was bound up with the nature of knighthood in the feudal society from which chivalry had sprung.

In the hierarchical feudal society every man inducted to knighthood bound himself to fight under another knight whom he recognized as his lord, whether that other knight was a local noble or the king or emperor. In the induction ceremony the one inducted placed his joined hands within the hands of his feudal lord, symbolizing his self-entrusting to the man to whom he now owed obedience.

However, it is important to note that although this was a system of vassalage by which one man bound himself in obedience to another, there was an aura of fraternity and indeed equality about it. Both men were knights; both shared the common ethos of chivalry by which they were both held to obey the laws of God and the Church, to respect each other, the weak, the poor and the defenseless and to war against evil. The king or noble who received another as his vassal became the other’s lord but was forbidden by chivalry from domineering over the other: he was called to stand beside his vassal, to defend him in his hour of danger, and to share life and fortune with him.

This is the background to the scene described in the meditation of the Spiritual Exercises where a king calls upon men to fight with him and thus, implicitly, to knighthood. The degree to which this scene stirred the very depths of Ignatius’ soul can be perceived even in the briefly sketched scene:

“I imagine a king of this world, chosen by our Lord God, revered and obeyed by the rulers and all the common men of Christendom. See how this king addresses all his followers, saying: I am determined to bring under my control the entire land of the unbeliever. Anyone, then, who wishes to join me must be satisfied to eat the food I eat, to drink what I drink, to dress as I dress; by day he will have to work alongside me, and take his turn with me at keeping a look-out by night; there will be other such things. But his share in my triumph will be proportionate to his share in my hardships.”

After describing the call of the king, Ignatius then hurls forth a rhetorical question in which the full significance of the response to this call is revealed:

“Think what response loyal subjects must make to a king so generous and so understanding: equally, were one to refuse the appeal of such a king, how he would incur the indignant reproach of all mankind and be regarded as a disgraceful coward…If we cannot ignore such a challenge, issued to his followers by an earthly king, how much more worthy of our attention is that of Christ our Lord, the Eternal King, as He confronts the whole world: to each and all he issues his summons in these words: I am determined to bring under my control the whole world and all my enemies, and so to come to the glory of my Father. To anyone, then, who chooses to join me, I offer nothing but a share in my hardships; but if he follows me in suffering he will assuredly follow me in glory.”

Ignatius then states that “all those who have judgment and reason will offer their entire selves to the labor…those who will want to be more devoted and distinguish themselves in all service of their King Eternal and universal Lord, not only will offer their persons to the labor, but even, acting against their own sensuality and against their carnal and worldly love, will make offerings of greater value and greater importance”

The prayer with which the soul who determines to give his life to fight alongside Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls, is reminiscent of the ceremony of induction to knighthood by which the man to be inducted knelt before the one he had determined to serve, placed his hands in his, and made his oath:

“Eternal Lord of all things, I make my oblation with Thy favor and help, in presence of Thy infinite goodness and in presence of Thy glorious Mother and of all the saints of the heavenly court; that I want and desire, and it is my deliberate determination, if only it be to Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all injuries and all abuse and all poverty of spirit, and actual poverty, too, if Thy most Holy Majesty wants to choose and receive me into such a life and state.”

Another of Ignatius’s prayers also expresses his chivalric sense of his relationship with the Lord Jesus:

“Dearest Lord,

Teach me to be generous,

Teach me to love and serve you as you deserve;

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labor and to look for no reward,

save that of knowing that I do your will. Amen.”