The Autobiography of St. Ignatius
Category: History
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Saint Ignatius of Loyola, was a Spanish Catholic priest and theologian, who, with Peter Faber and Francis Xavier, founded the religious order of the Society of Jesus (The Jesuits), and became its first Superior General, in Paris in 1541. He envisioned the purpose of the Society of Jesus to be missionary work and teaching.

The Autobiography
St. Ignatius

Saint Ignatius Loyola

St. Ignatius Loyola.St. Ignatius Loyola.

Preface of Father Louis Gonzalez, S.J., to the “Acts of St. Ignatius,” received from the lips of the Saint and translated into Latin by Father Hannibal Codretto, S.J.

Preface of the Writer

Jesus, Mary. In the year 1553, one Friday morning, August 4, the eve of the feast of Our Lady of the Snows, while St. Ignatius was in the garden, I began to give him an account of my soul, and, among other things, I spoke to him of how I was tempted by vain glory.

The spiritual advice he gave me was this: “Refer everything that you do to God; strive to offer Him all the good you find in yourself, acknowledging that this comes from God, and thank Him for it.”

The advice given to me on this occasion was so consoling to me that I could not refrain from tears.

St. Ignatius then related to me that for two years he had struggled against vain glory; so much so, indeed, that when he was about to embark for Jerusalem at Barcelona he did not dare to tell any one where he was going.

He told me, moreover, that since that time his soul had experienced great peace in regard to this matter.

An hour or two later we went to dinner, and, while Master Polancus and I were dining with him, St. Ignatius said that Master Natalis and others of the Society had often asked him to give a narrative of his life, but he had never as yet decided to do so.

On this occasion, however, after I had spoken to him, he reflected upon it alone. He was favorably inclined toward it. From the way he spoke, it was evident God had enlightened him.

He had resolved to manifest the main points of his interior life up to the present, and had concluded that I was the one to whom he would make these things known.

At that time St. Ignatius was in very feeble health. He did not promise himself one day of life, but, on the contrary, if any one were to say, “I shall do that within two weeks or a week,” St. Ignatius was accustomed to say: “How is that? Do you think you are going to live that long?” However, on this occasion, he said he hoped to live three or four months to finish the narrative.

The next day when I asked him when he wished to begin, he answered that I should remind him every day until he had an opportunity for it. As he could not find time, partly on account of his many occupations, he told me to remind him of it every Sunday.

In the following September he called me, and began to relate his whole life clearly and distinctly with all the accompanying circumstances.

Afterward, in the same month, he called me three or four times, and told me the history of his life up to the time of his dwelling at Manresa. The method followed by St. Ignatius is so clear that he places vividly before our eyes the events of the past.

It was not necessary to ask him anything, as nothing important was omitted. I began to write down certain points immediately, and I afterward filled out the details. I endeavored to write nothing that I did not hear from him.

So closely did I adhere to his very words that afterward I was unable to explain the meaning of some of them. This narrative I wrote, as I have indicated above, up to September, 1553.

From that time until the 18th of October, 1554, when Father Natalis came, St. Ignatius did not continue the narrative, but pleaded excuse on account of infirmities or other business, saying to me, “When such and such a business is settled, remind me of it.”

When that work was done, I recalled it to his memory. He replied, “Now I have that other affair on hand; when it is finished remind me.”

Father Natalis was overjoyed that a beginning had been made, and told me to urge St. Ignatius to complete it, often saying to me, “In no other way can you do more good to the Society, for this is fundamentally the Society.”

He himself spoke to St. Ignatius about it, and I was told to remind him of it when the work in regard to the founding of the college was finished. And when it was over, and the business with Prester John settled and the courier had departed, we continued the history on the 9th of March, 1555.

About this time Pope Julius became ill, and died on the 23rd of the same month. The narrative was then postponed until the election of the new Pope, who died soon after his election. Our work remained untouched until Pope Paul mounted the papal throne.

On account of the great heat and many occupations, the biography did not make much progress until the 21st of September, when there was question of sending me to Spain. And so he appointed the morning of the 22nd for a meeting in the red tower.

After saying Mass I went to him to ask him if it were the time. He told me to go and wait for him in the red tower. Supposing that I should have to wait a long while, I delayed on the porch, talking with a brother who asked me about something.

When St. Ignatius came he reprimanded me because, contrary to obedience, I had not waited for him in the appointed place, and he would not do anything that day. Then we urged him very earnestly to continue.

So he came to the red tower, and, according to his custom, dictated while walking.

While taking these notes I tried to see his face, and kept drawing near to him. He said to me, “Keep your rule.” And as I approached again, and looked at him a second and a third time, he repeated what he had said and then went away.

Finally, after some time, he returned to the red tower to complete the dictation. As I was about starting on my journey, and St. Ignatius spoke to me the day before my departure, I could not write out the narrative in full at Rome.

At Genoa where I went I had no Spanish secretary, so I dictated in Latin the points I had brought with me, and finished the writing at Genoa in December, 1555.

Chapter I

His Military Life — He is wounded at the Siege of Pampeluna — His Cure — Spiritual Reading — The Apparition — The Gift of Chastity — His Longing for the Journey to Jerusalem and for a Holier Life

Up to his twenty-sixth year the heart of Ignatius was enthralled by the vanities of the world. His special delight was in the military life, and he seemed led by a strong and empty desire of gaining for himself a great name.

The citadel of Pampeluna was held in siege by the French. All the other soldiers were unanimous in wishing to surrender on condition of freedom to leave, since it was impossible to hold out any longer; but Ignatius so persuaded the commander, that, against the views of all the other nobles, he decided to hold the citadel against the enemy.

When the day of assault came, Ignatius made his confession to one of the nobles, his companion in arms. The soldier also made his to Ignatius.

After the walls were destroyed, Ignatius stood fighting bravely until a cannon ball of the enemy broke one of his legs and seriously injured the other.

When he fell, the citadel was surrendered. When the French took possession of the town, they showed great admiration for Ignatius. After twelve or fifteen days at Pampeluna, where he received the best care from the physicians of the French army, he was borne on a litter to Loyola.

His recovery was very slow, and doctors and surgeons were summoned from all parts for a consultation. They decided that the leg should be broken again, that the bones, which had knit badly, might be properly reset; for they had not been properly set in the beginning, or else had been so jostled on the journey that a cure was impossible.

He submitted to have his flesh cut again. During the operation, as in all he suffered before and after, he uttered no word and gave no sign of suffering save that of tightly clenching his fists.

In the meantime his strength was failing. He could take no food, and showed other symptoms of approaching death. On the feast of St. John the doctors gave up hope of his recovery, and he was advised to make his confession.

Having received the sacraments on the eve of the feasts of Sts. Peter and Paul, toward evening the doctors said that if by the middle of the night there were no change for the better, he would surely die.

He had great devotion to St. Peter, and it so happened by the goodness of God that in the middle of the night he began to grow better.

His recovery was so rapid that in a few days he was out of danger. As the bones of his leg settled and pressed upon each other, one bone protruded below the knee.

The result was that one leg was shorter than the other, and the bone causing a lump there, made the leg seem quite deformed. As he could not bear this, since he intended to live a life at court, he asked the doctors whether the bone could be cut away.

They replied that it could, but it would cause him more suffering than all that had preceded, as everything was healed, and they would need space in order to cut it. He determined, however, to undergo this torture.

His elder brother looked on with astonishment and admiration. He said he could never have had the fortitude to suffer the pain which the sick man bore with his usual patience.

When the flesh and the bone that protruded were cut away, means were taken to prevent the leg from becoming shorter than the other. For this purpose, in spite of sharp and constant pain, the leg was kept stretched for many days.

Finally the Lord gave him health. He came out of the danger safe and strong with the exception that he could not easily stand on his leg, but was forced to lie in bed.

As Ignatius had a love for fiction, when he found himself out of danger he asked for some romances to pass away the time. In that house there was no book of the kind.

They gave him, instead, “The Life of Christ,” by Rudolph, the Carthusian, and another book called the “Flowers of the Saints,” both in Spanish. By frequent reading of these books he began to get some love for spiritual things.

This reading led his mind to meditate on holy things, yet sometimes it wandered to thoughts which he had been accustomed to dwell upon before.

Among these there was one thought which, above the others, so filled his heart that he became, as it were, immersed and absorbed in it. Unconsciously, it engaged his attention for three and four hours at a time.

He pictured to himself what he should do in honor of an illustrious lady, how he should journey to the city where she was, in what words he would address her, and what bright and pleasant sayings he would make use of, what manner of warlike exploits he should perform to please her.

He was so carried away by this thought that he did not even perceive how far beyond his power it was to do what he proposed, for she was a lady exceedingly illustrious and of the highest nobility.

In the meantime the divine mercy was at work substituting for these thoughts others suggested by his recent readings.

While perusing the life of Our Lord and the saints, he began to reflect, saying to himself: “What if I should do what St. Francis did?” “What if I should act like St. Dominic?” He pondered over these things in his mind, and kept continually proposing to himself serious and difficult things.

He seemed to feel a certain readiness for doing them, with no other reason except this thought: “St. Dominic did this; I, too, will do it.” “St. Francis did this; therefore I will do it.” These heroic resolutions remained for a time, and then other vain and worldly thoughts followed.

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