Franciscan Influences on Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Pedro de Leturia, SJ

 Pedro de Leturia, SJ / Mission / Published Date:3 June 2021/Last Updated Date:18 June 2021

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St. Ignatius of Loyola’s devotion to St. Peter is fairly well known, but few know that at the time of his conversion, St. Francis of Assisi was for him the most familiar of saints, as Franciscan experiences had marked his boyhood in Azpeitia (1491-1507), the youthful years spent at the court of Germaine de Foix in Arévalo (1507-16), and those lived in service with the Duke of Nájera, viceroy of Navarre (1517-21).[1]

Childhood in Azpeitia

Let us begin with Azpeitia. It was during Ignatius’ childhood, between 1496 and 1507, that Peter de Hoz, an Observant Franciscan from the convent of Bermeo (Biscay), came to the town of Loyola to receive as regular tertiaries of Saint Francis two ladies of the town, the elder of whom, Doña Maria de Emparan y Loyola, was Ignatius’ cousin. In the history of Guipúzcoa this fact is of some importance because the Franciscan convent of the Immaculate Conception, built in Azpeitia by Ignatius’ cousin, was – after the Augustinian convent in San Sebastian – the first convent of nuns in the whole province of Guipúzcoa.

La Civilta Cattolica

At the ceremony of the profession of Doña Maria, held in 1504 in the small church of San Pedro de Elormendi, attended by one of the most famous Basque Franciscans of the Cisnerian reform, friar Martin de Segura, were the gentlemen of Loyola, close relatives of Doña Maria, who were moreover patrons of the parish. Since Ignatius still lived with them in the tower-house, he undoubtedly heard panegyrics in honor of the Saint of Assisi and visited his Franciscan cousin.

At the court of Germaine de Foix

When around 1507 this cadet of the Loyola family moved to Castile to be the page of Don Juan Velázquez de Cuéllar, one of King Ferdinand’s councillors, he was once again among a Franciscan family. Don Juan’s mother-in-law, Maria de Guevara, a noble Basque lady and aunt of Ignatius, had been a tertiary of St. Francis for many years and, together with other women, lived at the hospital of San Miguel, devoted to piety and good works. This circle of devout women ultimately founded a convent of the Second Order of St Francis or Poor Clares – Don Juan Velázquez himself was the munificent founder – where Doña Maria de Guevara made her profession and ultimately died.

It is true that Ignatius loved the sumptuous life in the palace of Queen Germaine de Foix and her lady-in-waiting, Doña Maria de Velasco, daughter of Maria de Guevara and spouse of Don Juan, and that it was precisely this frivolous environment that led him to those moments of indulgence that he would later expiate with tears and rigorous discipline in the grotto of Manresa; but his aunt drew him from time to time to her retreat, to inspire in him the love of the Crucifix and the Virgin, mother of sinners. Fr. Araoz has transmitted to us the interesting information that the young man, perhaps because of those exhortations, abstained from playing profane music on Fridays and Saturdays, and in competitions with his companions composed prayers to Our Lady.

The musical education that these reports presuppose responds perfectly to the spirit of Doña Maria de Guevara and the other ladies attendant on Queen Elizabeth, whose court troubadour was the Franciscan, Ambrogio Montesino, author of a romancero that occupies a place of honor among the most beautiful lyric works of the early 16th century and translator of that Vita Christi of the Carthusian Ludolph of Saxony, one of the books that influenced Ignatius’ conversion in 1521. Ignatius must have seen the 1502 edition at his aunt’s in Arévalo, and listened to the sweet melodies of Montesino’s romancero, dedicated to the Guevara family and to the great Cardinal Ximénez de Cisneros, Archbishop of Toledo, who was also a Franciscan.

With the Duke of Nájera

We also find this spirit of Francis in Ignatius during the years he spent as a gentleman with the Duke of Nájera, viceroy of Navarre, because the family of Don Antonio Manrique de Lara lived in close relations with the Observant Friars Minor of Castile, the most distinguished of whom was his friend and protector Ximénez de Cisneros, who became regent of the kingdom when, in 1516, the Duke was made responsible for the administration of Pamplona as Viceroy of Navarre. Montesino had already dedicated a song to the duke’s mother, Doña Guiomar de Castro, and her son was able to continue his mother’s fine traditions, for not only was he the protector of the order in Castile, but with his alms he also financed the general chapter that the Observant Friars Minor celebrated in 1523 in Burgos.

Ignatius, who alternated readings from books of caballerías, which must have appealed to his vanity, with prayers to Our Lady and the composition of a poem to Saint Peter, found an increasingly Franciscan environment in the frequent visits he made to Guipúzcoa. In 1514, the Observant Friars Minor, having taken possession of the church and convent of Our Lady of Aránzazu, began to propagate the devotion to her throughout the province, accompanying it with special veneration of the most holy name of Jesus. These two devotions spread through Azpeitia. Thus, Ignatius’ first devotional practice when he left Loyola, already converted, was the pilgrimage to Aránzazu, which marked the beginning of his penances. But he had begun his apostolate even before leaving Loyola, promoting reconciliation of his brother Don Martín, lord of Loyola, with the Franciscans of Azpeitia, who had come into conflict over the tithes of the parish.

Love and the practice of poverty

These facts are sufficient to explain how the wounded man of Pamplona, in leafing through the Flos Sanctorum (Lives of the Saints) that influenced his conversion during the summer of 1521, became so passionate about the life of the Seraphic Father of Assisi, and in it he felt the first attraction of transforming grace. This is another original and distinctive work, because it is due to a Creator who does not model his creatures in series, but adapts his supernatural charisms wonderfully to the nature of each one: a work connected to the historical conditions in which it is carried out, and in whose effects we can still discover the traces of those first influences. These, beginning with a tender and very strong love for the humanity of Christ, were purely Franciscan in Loyola. For it was precisely this love, as Francis had once loved, that transformed the haughty soldier of Pamplona into the affectionate knight of Christ who was also the founder of the Society.

Ignatius imitated Francis not only in his love for Jesus, but also in his love and following of Our Lady Poverty. From Monserrat to Salamanca (1522-27), he stripped off his clothes to put on a sackcloth of penance; he lodged with the most abject poor in hospitals; he embraced those with the most repugnant diseases; he abhorred money, even if he received alms for his pilgrimage to Palestine; he traveled by land and sea, and – what was more difficult – he attended university courses in Alcalá and Paris with no other certainty than his trust in God.

Not only that. We know of the age-old struggle to adapt the ideal of evangelical poverty to the demands of study and the apostolate, and how the great Franciscan family battled with this through dramatic episodes. Ignatius also lived poverty in a certain way with his personal experience of government, gathering its fruits in the prescriptions of the Constitutions of the Society. The latest research on their origins shows that, in addition to consulting the Constitutions of the Friars Minor, in his deliberations on the personal and common poverty of the Order he made the supreme ideal of evangelical poverty triumph: “The Divine Savior, being  head of the Society was a greater argument for living in all poverty than all other human reasons.”

Another trace of the early Franciscan influences on Ignatius can also be seen in his apostolic plans for Palestine. At first (in 1521-22, in Loyola) he thought of going there for purposes of devotion and penance; then, at the time of his spiritual experiences in Manresa (1522-23), he proposed to stay there forever, to preach the Gospel to the infidels and to meet martyrdom; finally (in 1534, in Montmartre he dreamed of an immense spiritual crusade that from Jerusalem would develop and take in “the whole land of infidels.” A grandiose dream, conceived in the course of his spiritual experiences through charismatic and very personal communications, but whose distant germs are to be found in that great goal of the recovery of the Holy Sepulcher that, with typically Franciscan impetus, had appealed to Cardinal Ximénez de Cisneros during the youthful years of Ignatius.

Montesino’s songs and the books that influenced his conversion at Loyola, full of enthusiasm for the Holy Land, ignited him with new zeal and, if Providence then transformed those great projects into the reality of the worldwide mission of the Society at the orders of the pope, the Palestinian flame was never extinguished, neither in Xavier, who longed to return from the East to Europe via Jerusalem, nor in Ignatius, who – like the Poverello of Assisi – in his last years expressed the desire to go to Africa to die among the Christian crusader and Muslims.

Devotion to the name of Jesus

We recalled the action of the Observant Friars Minor of Bermeo and Aránzazu to spread devotion to the name of Jesus in Guipúzcoa. In this they followed in the footsteps of two great saints of the 15th century: the Dominican Vincent Ferrer in Aragon and the Franciscan Bernardine of Siena in Italy.

Before coming to Italy, Ignatius witnessed the spread of this devotion in Castile and Guipúzcoa. In this province too, at the beginning of the 16th century, we find the monogram of Jesus carved in stone and wood on the outside and inside of houses, used in wills and in the official writings of the notaries, friends of Ignatius, Juan Martínez de Alzaga and Juan de Aquemendi. To these exquisite Franciscan external influences was later added the divine charism in the vision of La Storta, which imprinted on Ignatian devotion to the name of the Redeemer the unmistakable focus that underlies the spirit of the new companions, and took original artistic forms in the great church of the Gesù in Rome. But in the perspective of history, just as the baroque IHS of Santa Maria della Strada is linked to the gothic-renaissance one of Saint Bernardine, so the spirit of the founder of the Jesuits, despite the marked difference in temperament and apostolate, recalls the spirituality of the Seraphic Father of Assisi.

Finding God in all things

Let us see now a final point of similarity between Francis and Ignatius, perhaps the most unexpected one. The Flos Sanctorum, which influenced Ignatius’ conversion, says in its simple and devout Castilian: “And St. Francis, full of simplicity, brings all creatures to the love of God … When he saw the sun and the moon and the stars, there was great joy, as much as man cannot count, inthe love of God.”

We do not know if Ignatius was moved by the spectacle of the transient works of men. In his writings we do not find even a hint of the masterpieces of Renaissance art that were then rising before his eyes, nor of the grandiose ruins of antiquity that he could contemplate from the window of his villa ad sanctam Balbinam. But to the works of God, resplendent in nature, he always had, like Francis, an exquisite sensitivity.

The contemplation of the starry sky transported him, the solitude of the countryside rested his body and recreated his spirit; he became ecstatic at the singing of the liturgy and the songs of the people, he discovered the Trinity in the leaves of the orange tree, and the ideal of prayer was for him, as for all the great contemplatives, “to find God in all things.” It is not for nothing that the Exercises culminate with the great “Contemplation for attaining love”: “See how God dwells in creatures…, consider how God works and labors for me, in all created things…, see how all good things and gifts come down from above.”

DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 6, no. 6 art. 9, 0621: 10.32009/22072446.0621.9

[1] This essay is a reissue, with some minor linguistic adjustments, of an essay by Fr. Pedro de Leturia, originally published in 1957 by the Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu.