Ignatius The Founder
My little book, Ignatius Loyola and You: Learning to Become a Reflective Christian, (Novalis, 2018), deals with six transformations of Ignatius, that is, from youth to courtier, to knight, to penitent, to pilgrim, to student, to mystic. My friend Jean-Marc Laporte pointed out that I said nothing about Ignatius’ transformation as an administrator.
When I learned that the book was to be translated into Chinese by a Jesuit publisher in Taiwan, I took the occasion to insert a new chapter into the text. Since many of us in North America will not read the Chinese edition when it appears, and a revised English version is not likely to be published, I thought I would offer this brief excerpt below.
V: Ignatius the Founder and the Years in Rome (1535–1556)
Founding a new religious order involves more than writing its constitutions, and a founder is more than an administrator. While administration is regarded as one of the gifts of the Spirit (1 Cor. 12:5, usually translated as “service”), there was, in the early days of the Society, less what might be called administering and more responding to the demands of the pope, as God led Ignatius through the many events that were taking place in the world around him. I
t was the pope who decided where he wanted Jesuit missionaries sent – to East Asia, Brazil, Ethiopia – while Ignatius himself did his best to meet the needs of bishops in Europe.
In the early years, the Society of Jesus was evolving under the pressures of everyday life, and rules, such as they were, had to be flexible. The first colleges were established during these years, in Goa, Louvain, and Padua, and were intended to welcome young Jesuits in studies (known as scholastics). Later the colleges were opened also to other students as well.
There was no master plan to focus on education; rather, it was in response to a growing need that education eventually became the Society’s major field of action, and Jesuits became the schoolmasters of Europe. Ignatius himself oversaw the formation of the first recruits, preferably men already possessing a good academic background, and his own formative experiences gave shape to the life of the novices.
They were required to spend an extended time of pilgrimage, to work with the poor in hospitals, to teach catechism to little children, and, of course, to make the full Spiritual Exercises, which Ignatius himself usually directed. Thus, in the beginning, the full responsibility for the Society came to rest upon Ignatius, and the task of drafting the Constitutions fell to him alone.
In working on the final drafts of the constitutions, Ignatius seems to have spent much of his time writing at a little table in his garden, but the sections on poverty he placed on the altar during his celebration of the Eucharist, and sought confirmation in the consolation of tears.
Though others helped him earlier as secretaries, it was the arrival of Juan Alfonso de Polanco in 1547 that made all the difference. He understood the mind of Ignatius and how he wanted things done, and was of enormous help in his voluminous correspondence.
He also researched the rules of other religious orders, but the Society of Jesus was not an order of monks, like the Benedictines, or of friars, like the Dominicans and Franciscans. It was primarily a missionary order of men without any vow of stability (not attached to one foundation or house), and ready to go wherever the pope felt there was a special need.
Polanco was quick to recognize questions that only Ignatius could answer, and problems that needed his attention. Early drafts of the Constitutions were approved by Laínez and some of the remaining first companions in 1548, and two more drafts were produced in 1550 and 1552.
Jerónimo Nadal was appointed in 1552 to help promulgate the latest draft in Sicily, Portugal, northern Italy, Austria, and Germany. There was resistance in some places, but until his death (in 1556), Ignatius remained open to learning from experience.
After he died, it fell to the First General Congregation to approve the Constitutions in 1558. Ignatius made clear that the members of the Society should be governed, not by the dead letter of the law, but by the interior law of charity and love.
The first five parts of the Constitutions deal with admission of candidates, dismissal, probation, instruction (with a stress on humanities, modern languages, logic, philosophy, and theology), and final incorporation into the Society.
The remaining five parts have to do with the members’ personal life (the vows, especially poverty), the missions, how to keep members united to their head and to one another (letters play an important role in this), and the office of the superior general (an innovation at the time was that it should be for life).
The tenth and final part, on the preservation of the whole body, makes clear that, as it was Christ who initiated the Company of Jesus, it is Christ who will preserve it.