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Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Founding of the Jesuit Order

In 1539, Ignatius drew up a Formula for a new order and secured (1540) papal approval. It served as the basis for the later Constitutions, published at his death, by which Jesuits have been governed ever since. Ignatius was elected (1541) general of the order and remained its leader, with headquarters in Rome, until his death. Although the Jesuits became a major force in the Counter Reformation, the society was not founded particularly for that purpose. Ignatius's great interests seem to have been the foreign missions and the education of youth. Many schools were opened in Europe during his lifetime, and missions were begun in Japan, India, and Brazil.

He was dominated all his life by a desire to imitate Christ. His Spiritual Exercises, written over a number of years, are a series of reflections, examinations of conscience, and prayers, grouped according to a traditional set of four steps leading to mystical union with God. The spirituality identified with St. Ignatius is characterized by emphasis on human initiative. His little book is a classic of Christian mysticism and is much used by devout Catholics. His concept of the "soldier of Christ" has often been understood too militaristically: Ignatius used the image in obvious imitation of St. Paul (Eph. 6.10–17). He is buried in the Gesù at Rome. He was canonized in 1622. Feast: July 31.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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