10 September 2008

St. Ignatius of Loyola - Soldier of Christ

I missed the feast of St. Ignatius and getting this posted but there is a nice biography that is relevant to the goal of this blog that I didn't want to wait until next year to post on. It was written by the late Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira of Brazil a Catholic thinker, writer, university professor, journalist, lecturer who founded the organization Tradition, Family, and Property. The decline of chivalry as was occuring in St. Ignatius' time has continued down until are own so that now not even the idea of a romantic chivalry exists in the hearts of men. Let us pray for the intercession of St. Ignatius that his vision of a knighthood will be realized by both the lay and religious vocations.

This selection does not sufficiently describe the key note of St. Ignatius’ work, the most profound sense of his conversion, which would determine the rest of his life. Let me try to fill this void.

St. Ignatius lived at a time when the tradition of medieval Chivalry still existed and had a strong influence. In his Spiritual Exercises one notes the presence of this tradition. For example, looking at the parable of the king who is a great general and invites his knights to fight with him, St. Ignatius asks this question: “Who would be so base and vile as to refuse such an invitation?”

It is a valid question and a well made argument to spiritually move the person who is making the Exercises. But what I would like to point out is the backdrop of the scene, which is the feudal ambience. St. Ignatius was describing the feudal system of vassalage, whereby a knight owes allegiance to his lord, and he was pointing out the disloyalty of the noble who does not follow his king. St. Ignatius presupposes the knight he addresses to be a medieval knight. Another confirmation of this can be found in his meditation on the two standards, the one of Christ, our Commander-in-chief, and the other of Lucifer, mortal enemy of our human nature, which also makes up a part of his Spiritual Exercises.

At the time of St. Ignatius, Chivalry had become decadent. Much of its style and many rituals remained the same, but an essential part had changed. I am referring to the dedication of the knight to the service of God, Our Lady, and the Holy Church. The ideal of a complete renunciation of the world in order to dedicate one’s life completely to the supernatural fight had passed away. The knight of that time was no longer a knight for the Catholic Church. His life was dedicated to serving his king and his lady. The notion of a sacred knighthood was dying.

The conversion of St. Ignatius took place during this period. During his convalescence his first desire was to read books on this romantic Chivalry, but none were available in the castle. He read the lives of saints to pass time because that is what was at hand. As he read, however, he realized the great ideal of the saints as warriors of God and a sublime notion of Chivalry took hold of his spirit. This sublimation represented on one hand, a return to the previous supernatural ideal of medieval Chivalry, and on the other hand, an even more perfect ideal than the medieval Chivalry.

When he decided to found the Society of Jesus, he was thinking of making an order of Chivalry, a military order. Compañia de Jesus is the Spanish name he chose for his work. Compañia means company, or army. He wanted to found an order exclusively turned to the fight for the Church, putting aside any other temporal concern. What he did was to restore the sacral knighthood.

The chivalry he founded did not have the sacramental of knighthood; it had the priesthood, that is, a participation in the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The new priest-warriors he envisioned would be a new style of warrior, warriors who did not shed blood, but entered the battle in response to a new type of attack inaugurated by the enemies. They would fight by means of the word: preaching, teaching, hearing confessions, and converting people in order to conquer the world for Our Lord Jesus Christ.

To make a religious order with a military spirit and way of being was the idea of St. Ignatius. The Society of Jesus is an army, its head is a general, the hierarchy is military, the obedience is military, the action is combative and carried out in a militant style.

This was the reason why the Society of Jesus was so combative - and also so combated by the enemies.

We can understand today how different the Society of Jesus has become when we see it promoting all kinds of reconciliation with the enemies of the Church.

What should we ask St. Ignatius on his feast day? To restore his work, to help to restore the whole Church immersed in this enormous crisis she has fallen into since Vatican II, to give us his spirit of combativeness and love for the Catholic cause.

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