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He was known at the time as Inigo de Onaz y Loyola, the last of perhaps eleven children of a family of lower Basque nobility. He had left the gloomy castle of Loyola as a boy, packed off to one of his father's noble friends, who took him to court. He had grown into little more than an engaging rogue, spending his days in military games or reading such popular chivalrous romances as Amadis of Gaul, his nights pursuing less noble adventures with local girls.
In the year that Martin Luther stood before Habsburg Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms, Inigo was fighting for the Emperor's borderlands against the invading French at Pamplona. A cannonball shattered one of his legs. During a long, painful convalescence, he turned out of boredom to two popular inspirational works on the lives of the saints and the life of Christ, and his long process of conversion began. Months later, at the Benedictine abbey of Montserrat, he exchanged his gentleman's clothes for a rough pilgrim's habit and dedicated his sword and dagger to the shrine's famed Black Virgin.
In a little town called Manresa, he devoted nearly a year to an orgy of austerity, begging door to door, wearing a barbed girdle, fasting for days on end. For months he endured the terrible depressions of the mystic's dark night of the soul, even contemplating suicide at one point. But what followed was the mystic's singular reward, an immense breakthrough to enlightenment. In a wave of ecstatic illumination one day at the River Cardoner, Inigo became, in his own words, "another man."
He entered a Barcelona school to sit with boys less than half his age to study Latin, then threw himself into a dizzying year of courses at the University of Alcalá. Out of it came Inigo's conviction that learning must be organized to be useful. The idea eventually grew into the Jesuits' famed ratio studiorum (plan of studies), which measured out heavy but manageable doses of classics, humanities and sciences.
He became such a fervent evangelist that the Inquisition imprisoned and examined him more than once about his life, teaching and theology. Perturbed, he left for Paris, where he spent seven years at the university, became "Master Ignatius," and gathered around him the first of his permanent companions, among them a young Spanish nobleman named Francis Xavier.
Ignatius shared with them one of the most remarkable spiritual guides ever written−his Spiritual Exercises. A distillation of Ignatius' own religious experience during and following his conversion, the Exercises are measured out prosaically in four flexible "weeks" of meditation that begin with a week on Sin, Death, Judgment and Hell, and move on to Christ's Life, Passion and Resurrection. They are the basis of every Jesuit's spirituality, returned to for refreshment through his career.
In the Exercises, Ignatius laid out paths to spiritual perfection: rigorous examination of conscience, penance, and a resolute amnesia