Knowing Christ as Chivalric Hero: the Source of Energy for Ignatius of Loyola’s Transformation
The knowledge of the heroism of the saints triggered an explosion that destroyed the walls of shallowness preventing the Holy Spirit’s action in Íñigo’s soul. It was a beginning, a first step but one that needed to be followed by many others in order to purify his aspirations from self-aggrandizement. From greater closeness to the saints he was led inevitably to their source of inspiration: the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, true God but also true man, indeed the most perfect man who has ever existed.
Ignatius’s conversion had been prepared for by the spirituality of his upbringing, one that he naturally breathed as a scion of an aristocratic medieval family: the chivalric vision of Christ. But the life-changing event that transformed the heart of the ambitious young military officer into the passionate soldier of God, was the experience of Christ after his wounding at the Battle of Pamplona. It was during his convalescence that Ignatius’s experience of the “eternal King and Lord of the Universe” (Spiritual Exercises, n. 97), reached new heights. In those months, he kept two books by his bedside, Ludolph’s Life of Christ and Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend. On the title page of the latter there was an image of the crucified Savior accompanied by the following text:
“It is understood that we should fix our gaze upon the sublime power, the incomparable, incomprehensible, more than kingly magnanimity shining forth from the Passion and death of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, who is a portal, so to speak, through which we enter into the saintly and glorious life of the blessed. Whoever reads this book should grasp the crucifix with his right hand and hold it aloft as a royal standard bringing with it victory and happiness, as an incentive spurring generous souls to an eternal triumph, as an emblem which armed the chivalrous hearts of the saints for a courageous conquest of the world, the flesh, and the devil, who, together with all his infernal satellites, far outstrips all the damned in astuteness and adroitness.” (Quoted in Hugo Rahner, The Spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, p. 27)
Inigo did indeed fix his gaze upon the Crucified God-Man and it became the doorway through which he became St. Ignatius. For the rest of his life he gripped the crucifix and held it close to his heart, so close that his heart was transformed. He wanted to become a knight of the Cross. The words of St. Paul now became his own: “…So that I may live to God; with Christ I hang upon the cross, and yet I am alive; or rather, not I; it is Christ that lives in me. True, I am living, here and now, this mortal life; but my real life is the faith I have in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gals 2: 19-21) As a result Ignatius wanted to be able to say: “Even now I rejoice in the midst of my sufferings on your behalf. And in my own person I am making up whatever is still lacking and remains to be completed [on our part] of Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His body, which is the church” (Cols 1:24).