What It’s All About: St. Ignatius Loyola’s Reason for Founding His Society of Jesus
Why did St. Ignatius Loyola found his Society?
His answer was transparently clear: the Compania is “founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the Faith”.
“Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the Name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a solemn vow of perpetual chastity, poverty and obedience, keep what follows in mind. He is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the Faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures and any other ministration whatsoever of the Word of God, and further by means of retreats, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ’s faithful through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments…” ( from the Formula of the Institute of Society of Jesus, July 21, 1550)
Father Jerome Nadal, one of Saint Ignatius Loyola’s closest associates, wrote:
“Regarding the end of the Society…the end is that which one does for the greater glory of God Our Lord. In the bull of approval, it is a question of “the defense and propagation of the faith”, that is to say, of our salvation and our perfection, as well as the salvation and perfection of the neighbor through divine grace . . . We understand this double end to be found in our striving for the greater glory of God and for all souls by aiding them in all things. Thus, we seek the same end for which Christ our savior came into the world: to die in order that no one may be lost. This is why we read “that the blood of Christ may not be spilled in vain”, that there be no one among you who, in order to attain this end, who would not be ready to die for the Indians or for Germany. To this we have been called.”
The history of his followers in the centuries that followed shows the members of the Society doing just that: living and dying with an unswerving dedication to spread the one true religion to the very ends of the earth.
Page after page of history shows the heroism and genius of thousands upon thousands of Europe’s youth who enlisted in the ranks of the Society hoping to pour out their lives on other continents to bring the Truth to those who knew it not.
From Jean de Brebeuf, Isaac Jogues and companions in North America to the initiators of the Reducciones in Paraguay, from Matteo Ricci in China to x in India and y in Persia.
But also those sons of St. Ignatius who did not live long enough to reach the priesthood burned with this zeal for souls. Notable among them was the young Aloysius Gonzaga.
The Reasoning Behind St. Ignatius Loyola’s Missionary Zeal for the Conversion of Souls to the Catholic Faith
The missionary thrust of St. Ignatius Loyola originates from the great principle that dominated his existence: “Man has been created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord and thus to save his soul”.
This he penned as the first sentence of the “Fundamental Principle” in his Spiritual Exercises. All, absolutely all else, he continued, must be seen in the light of this principle. With steely logic he draws out the implications one after the other:
“And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.
“From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.
“For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it.
“So that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.”
Like the wake of a mighty ship, the Constitutions of the Society he founded originated with this Principle.
The great missionary impetus, the worldwide network of universities, colleges and schools, the countless retreat centers, the numerous parishes, the ceaseless preaching of popular missions, the writing of so many books to defend and spread the Faith: all, all flowed from this single crucial principle.
St. Ignatius well knew that this principle could set the whole world on fire because in it is contained the fire that Our Lord Jesus Christ lit upon earth.
Only one enemy could destroy this principle’s effectiveness in the hearts of men and in the heart of society: sin.
That is why immediately following the text of the Fundamental Principle comes the sections on the examination of conscience “for self-purification” and the meditations on the triple sin and one’s own personal sins.
Then follows a reflection on the ultimate consequence of living in sin – Hell – in which St. Ignatius urges the retreatant to pray for “a deep-felt consciousness of the sufferings of those who are damned, so that, should my faults cause me to forget my love for the eternal Lord, at least the fear of these sufferings will help to keep me from sin”.
Only in the light of history conceived as one great battlefield in which good and evil clash for the conquest of individual souls with the ultimate outcome of either salvation or damnation, Heaven or Hell, can the rest of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises be understood.
For these remaining meditations were only to be offered, according to his instructions, to those exceptional souls who were open to hearing Christ the King’s call to fight with him as courageous soldiers in this warfare: “those who are anxious to show greater enthusiasm still and distinguish themselves in unstinted service of their eternal King”. St. Ignatius presents to them the “Meditation on the Two Flags” in which the army of “Christ our Lord, our Commander-in-Chief” confronts that of “Lucifer, our human nature’s deadly enemy”.
St. Ignatius envisioned the Society as a body of men selflessly devoted to this great spiritual combat. In the “Formula of the Institute of the Society of Jesus”, the foundational document, this conviction of being called to combat on the front lines for the Ecclesia Militans is present from the opening line: “Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross in our Society….founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defence and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine…”.
The Ignatian is therefore a man who has asked for “the favor of being admitted under Christ’s flag” and who, once enlisted in the army of the “supreme Commander-in-Chief of the forces of good, Christ our Lord”, dedicates his life to “understanding the life of truth exemplified by our true Commander-in Chief…and for imitating Him” fighting “throughout the whole world, sowing the seed of His [Christ’s] sacred teaching in the hearts of men of every rank and condition”. (Spiritual Exercises 145).