Ignatius Loyola and the Jesuits; and the Jesuits and James Joyce


With the election yesterday evening in Rome of former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now Pope Francis I (and as the first, we may do away with the numeral, and declare him simply Pope Francis), there is now but one word sitting upon and emanating breathlessly from the world’s collective lips. The word is ‘Jesuit’, for Pope Francis is not only the first Pope from the Americas, and the first since Pope Gregory III from outside Europe (Gregory III, pope from 731-741, was born in Syria; Francis is from Buenos Aires, Argentina) – he is also the first Jesuit Pope.

The Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, are a Catholic religious order founded by Ignatius Loyola. Loyola, born Iñigo Loiolakoa in the Basque Country in 1491, and nourished on heroic literature including The Song of Roland in his youth, became as a young man an ambitious soldier. On May 20, 1521, under Antonio Manrique de Lara, Duke of Náreja and Viceroy of Navarre, defending Pamplona from the French, Loyola was ‘the soul of a fierce fight, standing on the ramparts where the fire of the French guns concentrated. But a stone dislodged by a shot struck his left leg, the rebounding cannonball shattered the right; and Iñigo and Pamplona fell…That was the last time he should draw the sword’. (Thompson, 5)

Undergoing painful surgeries which allowed his bones to heal but left him with a limp, Loyola read during his convalescence De Vita Christi, the Life of Christ, a commentary on the Gospels by Ludolph, a Carthusian monk from Saxony. This work impelled Loyola on the path of religion. The following year, in 1522, he traveled to Manresa, Catalonia; and spent ten months living in a cave by the city as an ascetic. It was during this time that Loyola began practicing and setting down the Spiritual Exercises, a series of prayers, meditations and mental exercises which he completed over the next two years, and which remain the cornerstone of Jesuit training today. Whilst living in this cave, and during two spells in a nearby Dominican convent when his body became exhausted from his privations, Loyola experienced also religious visions. He determined to journey to Jerusalem, where he planned to make his life’s work; arriving there in August 1523, he was not permitted to stay by the Provincial of the city, who perhaps feared Loyola’s zeal would cause problems with coexistent groups.

So Loyola returned to Spain; he began studying religion at the University of Alcalá; then moved to Paris, studying at the Collège de Montaigu where, after seven years, in 1534, he completed a Master of Arts. It was about this time that the Society of Jesus was conceived. On August 15, 1534, Loyola met with six companions from his University – the Spaniards Francis Xavier, Alfonso Salmeron, Diego Lainez, and Nicholas Bobadilla; Peter Favre, French; and Simão Rodriguez, Portuguese – and together they ‘went to the chapel of Notre Dame, near Paris, and each made a vow to go at the time fixed to Jerusalem, and to place ourselves when we returned in the hands of the Pope; and to leave, after a certain interval, our kinsfolk and our nets, and keep nothing but the money necessary for our journey’. (Thompson, 48)

In fact, Loyola never would make a return to Jerusalem. At the end of the decade, Loyola and his companions determined to apply to become an Order of the Church. On May 3, 1539, they passed among themselves a series of resolutions, the first vowing absolute obedience to the Pope, then,

‘(2) To teach the Commandments to children or any one else. (3) To take a fixed time – an hour more or less – to teach the Commandments and catechism in an orderly way. (4) To give forty days in the year for this work. (5) That all candidates should go through the ‘Spiritual Exercises’ and the other tests of the Society. That last resolution is memorable, because here we have the simple germ whence evolve the elaborate tests, without parallel for searching strictness, of the modern Jesuits.’ (Thompson, 78)

On June 12, the group determined that Loyola would be the first Superior of what he termed ‘The Company of Jesus’. The Papal Bull issued by Pope Paul III on September 27, 1540, ‘Regimini militantis ecclesia’, approved the group as an Order of the Church, and Latinised their name to ‘Societas Jesu’; it contained the ‘Formula of the Institute’, a paragraph written by Loyola establishing their foundational principles. Loyola would continue to work on the Society’s formal constitutions until a few years prior to his death. Originally intending to convert Muslims to the Catholic faith, the Jesuits became a prominent force in the Counter-Reformation through the 1540s and 1550s. Loyola died in 1556. He was beatified by Pope Paul V on July 27, 1609; and then canonised by Pope Gregory XV on March 12, 1622.

The term Jesuit was first applied to the group negatively, with the sense that they associated themselves too closely, and therefore conceitedly, with the name of Christ: it gradually became accepted within the order. Evangelisation was the fundamental endeavour of the order from the time of Loyola, and the Society undertook extensive missionary work throughout Asia, India and the Americas over the subsequent centuries. The conception of the Society today is rooted in its continuing missionary efforts across the world; and in its reputation for intellectual, theological, and educational rigour. The current Superior General is Adolfo Nicolás, a Spanish priest who also, coincidentally, studied at the University of Alcalá. The Society forms the largest single order of priests in the Catholic Church; and runs schools, colleges and universities in six continents around the world.

The passages quoted above are taken from Francis Thompson’s St Ignatius Loyola. Thompson (1859-1907) was a talented poet, who published three collections of poetry, but led a somewhat dissipated life, beset by illness, financial hardship, and addiction to opium. His most renowned poem remains ‘The Hounds of Heaven’. Another noted writer with a connection to the Jesuits was Frederick Copleston (1907-1994): a Jesuit priest, Copleston wrote A History of Philosophy in nine volumes between 1946 and 1980, a work which continues to be published today. The most famous of writers with a strong link to the Jesuits is James Joyce.

Joyce’s deliberate move away from organised religion – a move charted through the figure of Stephen Dedalus in the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man – is one of his defining characteristics within the popular consciousness. Yet Joyce never spoke ill of the Jesuit order, and did not take away a wholly negative impression of his Jesuit schooling: first at Clongowes Wood College, from 1888, as a ‘half past six’ year old, to 1891; then at Belvedere College from 1893 until 1898. Joyce had been withdrawn from Clongowes owing to his father’s increasingly dire financial situation; he spent a short period at a Christian Brothers’ school on North Richmond Street in Dublin; but his biographer, Richard Ellmann, writes:

‘James Joyce chose never to remember this interlude with the Christian Brothers in his writings, preferring to have his hero spend the period in two years of reverie…It was Joyce’s one break with Jesuit education, and he shared his father’s view that the Jesuits were the gentlemen of Catholic education, and the Christian Brothers (‘Paddy Stink and Micky Mud,’ as his father denominated them) its drones.’ (Ellmann, 35)

Happening one day upon Father John Conmee – formerly rector at Clongowes, now prefect of studies at Belvedere; who Joyce would make appear in ‘Wandering Rocks’ – John Joyce managed to convince him to enter James at Belvedere free of charge.

The first reference to Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses comes from the mouth of Buck Mulligan, who calls down the stairs of the Martello Tower at Sandycove, ‘Come up, Kinch! Come up, you fearful jesuit!’. Mulligan characterises him also in ‘Telemachus’ as a ‘jejune jesuit’, a ‘cursed jesuit’, and a ‘gloomy jesuit’. Stephen is displeased but unperturbed; in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’, his stream of consciousness asks ‘Ignatius Loyola, make haste to help me!’ as he begins to delineate his theory concerning Shakespeare and the ghost in Hamlet.

On into his later life, Joyce identified with the Jesuits and held his Jesuit education with some regard. In response to his friend Frank Budgen’s book, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses (of which Joyce otherwise approved, commending his friend’s capabilities as a writer), Joyce said, ‘You allude to me as a Catholic. Now for the sake of precision and to get the correct contour on me, you ought to allude to me as a Jesuit’. To the sculptor August Suter he remarked that, owing to the Jesuits, ‘I have learnt to arrange things in such a way that they become easy to survey and to judge’.

Budgen, F. James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991)

Ellmann, R. James Joyce (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983)

Thompson, F. St Ignatius Loyola (London: Universe Books, 1962)

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