The Mysticism of Ignatius of Loyola

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Brian O’Leary, SJ

 Brian O’Leary, SJ / Spirituality / 12 October 2021


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A soldier saint or a mystic?

Over the centuries since 1556, the year of his death, Ignatius has been interpreted through a variety of images. The leading image for most of this period was that of the soldier saint. This image drew partly on Ignatius’ family connection with the warlike minor aristocracy of the Basque country. Linked with this was his upbringing in the chivalric culture of the day that included training in the art of warfare. Then there was the siege of Pamplona and his exploits there. The image also drew on an erroneous interpretation of the Society of Jesus having been  founded to combat Luther and the Protestant Reformation.

Today, the leading image is that of Ignatius the mystic. The importance of Ignatius’ soldierly background has been revised. Everything that Ignatius said, did or wrote is traced back instead to his mystical experiences in Manresa, at La Storta, and in Rome. Hence there is strong interest shown in the Autobiography and the Spiritual Diary

The theme of movement

From his conversion onward the factor of “movement” played a central part in the spirituality of Ignatius. This is a movement that is both inward and outward. At Loyola, while convalescing, he noticed how different spirits moved him and through this he learned the rudiments of discernment. But there was outer movement also as Ignatius chose to become a pilgrim to enable growth in his formation and attain apostolic objectives.

In the Autobiography (Aut) the centrality of movement can be demonstrated by comparing its opening sentence with a later statement written toward the end[1]: “Up to his twenty-sixth year he was a man given to worldly vanities, and having a vain and overpowering desire to gain renown, he found special delight in the exercise of arms” (Aut 1); “He made a solemn avowal, the gist of which was to inform me that his intention had been to be sincere in all that he had related…and that his devotion, that is, his ease in finding God, was always increasing” (Aut 99).

The Autobiography can be interpreted as an account of how God had led – or moved – Ignatius from the first state to the last, from a search for worldly renown to a search for devotion, from delight in arms to an ever-increasing ease in finding God.

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