The key to understanding Pope Francis, writes Dr Christopher Bellitto, is to first consider not Saint Ignatius and his Jesuits - but to step back to Saint Francis and his Franciscans.
- From St Anthony Messenger
In May 1521, Saint Ignatius (still known as Iñigo) was wounded in both legs from a cannonball at the battle of Pamplona. After a pair of brutal surgeries, he was recovering back home in Loyola. To pass the time, he asked to read the kinds of tales of chivalry that had always inspired him, but none were around.
When someone handed him a collection of saints’ lives called The Golden Legend, gathered by Jacopo da Voragine, he encountered Saints Francis and Dominic, the innovative founders of the medieval mendicant orders. He remembered the moment years later in a memoir dictated to his secretary in Rome.
'What would happen if I should do the things that St Francis and St Dominic did?' the convalescing Iñigo found himself asking
The other book that came to Iñigo, now wrestling with the crisis of how he should spend his life, was Ludolph of Saxony’s Life of Christ. This meditation influenced Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises quite a bit, especially in its invitation to envision a scene from the Gospel and then to place yourself in it.
That Life of Christ had, in fact, been inspired substantially by a Franciscan text called the Meditationes Vitae Christi, which, for a long time, was attributed to the influential Franciscan St Bonaventure, but had really been written by another friar named Giovanni de Caulibus.
When Ignatius later taught that we should try to 'find God in all things,' he was surely drawing on the Franciscan devotion that God could be discovered in every element of the universe that God had created. This is the kind of incarnational theology that flows so poetically through Francis of Assisi’s 'Canticle of the Creatures.'
Ignatius also was inspired by Francis’ practice of poverty, although the Jesuits rarely got into the kinds of heated debates that the Franciscans did about just how extreme that poverty had to be. For Ignatius, it was enough that his companions didn’t own anything themselves, but at the same time had the resources they needed to practice their ministries...
Ignatius and his friends studied under Franciscans and Dominicans when they took up advanced studies at the University of Paris. Earlier, Ignatius had benefited from the spiritual direction of a Franciscan confessor in Barcelona while working on preliminary studies there around 1524, before leaving for Paris. The most important encounter between Ignatius and a Franciscan confessor ended up making Ignatius the first superior general of the Jesuits. This insightful man told Ignatius on Easter Sunday in 1541 that he was God’s choice to lead the new Society of Jesus. And so he did...
When the new Pope's name was announced from St Peter’s in March 2013, many assumed that the first Jesuit pope was selecting the great Jesuit missionary St Francis Xavier as his patron. But it soon became clear that it was Francis of Assisi who inspired Cardinal Bergoglio.
'For me,' the new Pope explained a few days after his election, 'he is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.'
IMAGE: Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Ignatius of Loyola
FULL ARTICLE: A Jesuit Pope with a Franciscan Heart (St Anthony Messenger)