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30 November, 1999

Continuing his series of articles on St. Ignatius, Brian Grogan SJ details the saint’s recovery after his crushing defeat at Pamplona.

When the victorious French soldiers took over the citadel of Pamplona, ‘they found Ignatius lying on the ground and they brought him into the town, because many knew him there, and his own enemies exerted themselves in taking care of him, providing him with doctors and the rest, until it seemed best to send him home, so that during his convalescence, which would be long, he would be better off.’

Ignatius, therefore, was a privileged casualty of the war. He repaid the civility of his adversaries by presenting them with his buckler, dagger and cuirass. After giving him preliminary care over a two-week period, they put him on a litter and brought him home.

Even though the countrymen turned litter-bearers carried him with great care, his journey home was physically agonizing. Feelings of shame and confusion must also have tortured his soul. He showed uncommon strength and courage in the face of suffering, and to this attribute was added another: in the midst of all his pain ‘he did not show himself hateful toward anyone and he did not blaspheme God.’

Ignatius arrived back at Loyola in early June, 1521. His brother would have upbraided him for his lunacy at Pamplona. His sister-in-law, Dona Magdalena, would have nursed him quietly and with gentle care.

Because his sufferings were unbearably persistent, which is usually the case with bone injuries, he did not feel like engaging in the small talk that ordinarily follows the kind of adventure he had been through.

His right knee, which had been shattered, began to get worse, either because the bones were not set properly at Pamplona or because they had become dislocated during the journey home. Many doctors and surgeons were summoned and all were of the same opinion: the bones had to be reset or they would never heal properly.

Many years afterward, Ignatius talked about this extremely painful operation. ‘And again he went through this butchery, and during it, as in all other operations he had undergone, he uttered no word nor showed any sign of pain other than to clench his fists.’ He was by nature a man of incalculable inner strength.

Despite everything, his condition worsened; he could not eat, and ‘the symptoms that normally foretell death’ began to appear. On 24 June, the feast of St. John, ‘he was advised to make his confession.’ He received the sacraments and thereby validated his hasty confession at Pamplona.

He was once again forced to make an appraisal of his life, but this time it was done peacefully, without pressure. It may have been that many idols crashed noisily to the ground during this hour that he could have considered his last, but we do not know because he is silent on what took place. But later in life, in speaking with his companions, he would refer to the bad habits which he used to have. We may indicate some of these as follows:

From the first lines of the Autobiography we know that until 1521, ‘He was a man given up to the pleasures of the world, and, motivated by a strong and vain desire to win renown, he took special delight in the exercise of arms.’ His delight in the vanity of arms was limited to tournaments, duels and challenges of honour, since he was not a soldier, properly speaking. He further admits that ‘he had been much given to reading worldly and fictitious books which are generally known as tales of chivalry…’

Most seriously, Polanco, his secretary in his later years, tells us that his life until 1521 was far from being spiritual: ‘He was very free when it came to loving women, gambling, and quarrelling about personal honour’ Elsewhere, Polanco states: ‘Even though he had an affection for the faith, he did not live it, nor did he avoid sin; rather, he was particularly wayward in gambling, womanizing, quarrelling, and in matters of arms.’

Thus we are given a picture of how Ignatius had wasted away his youth. His faith was neither alive nor operative; his life was not integrated. He was restless, rebellious, and dissipated in vices, especially sensuality. Gambling, womanizing and brawling were the customs of the times, and his style of life mirrored that of his peers. His exploits reveal moral bankruptcy. Lainez, his successor as General of the Society, tells the story without palliatives when he says that Ignatius ‘was attacked and defeated by the vices of the flesh.’

But even in a person who has led a most dissolute life, living embers of the faith can survive, and these hidden resources are capable of regenerating what was once in evidence. We know of three things that Ignatius had held on to during his destructive early life. First, he did not partake in the pillaging of a conquered town in 1518 because ‘it seemed to him an undignified thing
to do.’

Second, although blasphemy was a common vice in those days, never did he blaspheme, not even when he was suffering the greatest pain. Finally, he never hated anyone, neither his rivals in his affairs of honour nor his enemies in times of war. These three facts are clues to his interior disposition, but it is only when the pandemonium of life is stilled that one can hear the voices that are never quiet. God does not speak to us until we are capable of creating a silence within ourselves.

Ignatius made his confession and received Communion but his physical condition became critical. On 28 June 1521, the vigil of the Feast of St. Peter, to whom he had a great devotion, the physicians stated that ‘If he did not get better by midnight, he could consider himself as good as dead.’ But that very night he began to improve and was soon out of danger, and once again returned to his vain illusions.

He would have heard how the French and Navarrese had overrun the frontier castles of Navarre, and of the dismissal of his master, the Viceroy of the King of Spain, which left Ignatius again without a protector, since his loyalty was with the King. Because he was not a regular soldier, he was ignored when compensations were made to those who had fought for the Spanish cause.

All he had now was his honour, and the consolation that he was not a rebel, whereas the brothers of Francis Xavier were declared rebels, because of their support of the Navarrese in their struggle against Spain.

For Pondering:
How have you coped with situations of failure in your past life?

This article first appeared in The Messenger (June 2008), a publication of the Irish Jesuits.