Ignatius’s Spiritual Roots
In order to understand how the Basque soldier Inigo became the saint and founder Ignatius it is necessary to understand the passionate ideal that like the North Star guided his childhood, youth and adulthood.
For a saint does not come from nowhere: like all of us he is earthy, shaped and molded from the personality, background and circumstances given him by nature. Ignatius of Loyola is no exception. He can only be understood by understanding the spirituality that he breathed from the moment of his birth in the castle of Loyola, through his days as a squire at court, to the moment when the cannon ball ripped through his leg at the Battle of Pamplona: chivalry!
St. Ignatius Loyola’s Chivalric Spirit
For chivalry Ignatius Loyola had trained himself as a youth; for chivalry he had fought furiously risking his very life; of ever higher degrees of chivalry he had dreamed. Divine light irrupted into his soul through his fascination with the chivalric ideal while he was convalescing. It was the chivalric code of honor that empowered Inigo to see that dedicating his energies to the honor of God was not against his noblest aspirations but was their sublime fulfillment. The Honor of God! The Glory of God!
It was as a chivalric nobleman that Inigo de Loyola became St. Ignatius Loyola: all for God, no mediocrity, no compromise, “to give and not to count the cost”. Passion, fire, the ignis that Inigo saw in the “saint of fire”, Ignatius of Antioch, would characterize his self-giving for God and the Cause of God. And, naturally, Ignatius’s chivalric spirit influenced the creation of the militant spirit of the Society he founded. As one of the first members wrote: “We are like light-armed soldiers ready for sudden battles” (Pedro de Ribadeneira, The Life of Ignatius of Loyola, III, xv)
For Iñigo de Loyola and the first members of the Compania de Jesus the decision to consecrate their lives to God for the salvation of souls meant no break with their chivalric ideals. When, amid the silence of that night in the church of Montserrat the soldier laid down his knight’s sword in the presence of Christ he was well aware that it meant taking up another one. He was not leaving chivalry behind; rather, he was entering upon a higher order of chivalry. And he well knew that he was not the first to do this. Although the young men of medieval times who entered the order of knighthood felt a noble pride at the heights to which they were called not infrequently some later decided to become priests either in the diocesan clergy or in the monastic life. They regarded it as no break with their chivalric identity: it was a matter of a call to a yet higher chivalry. One of them,Walewan, made the transfer as follows:
“Arrayed in all his armor and riding upon his charger [warhorse], and thus armed entered the monastery… He went….down the middle of the choir to the altar of the Blessed Virgin and there, with the entire monastery looking on, he laid down his arms and took up the monk’s habit. It seemed to him fitting and proper that he should lay down the warlike trappings of the world there, where he proposed to assume the garments of a soldier of Christ.” (CAESARIUS OF HEISTERBACH, The Dialogue on Miracles)
The Chivalric Mystique channels the tri-fold ethos of the Society of Ignatians (Traditional, Ignatian, Thomistic) for daily living through the quintessentially Catholic male spirituality of chivalry which was born from Catholic Tradition, expressed itself as an ascetic program in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and is intellectually explained both as regards its source and its content by the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas