St Ignatius of Loyola and Ignatian Spirituality

Johan Slabbert

19 Posts Published


11th Mar 2021


Iñigo Lopez de Loyola (St Ignatius) the son of a noble and wealthy Spanish family, was born in his family’s ancestral castle in 1491. He was sent to the Spanish court to become a page and embraced court life with enthusiasm. Ignatius was captivated by military prowess, honour, chivalry, and the pursuit of material wealth.  He often appeared as a romantic ladies’ man, vain, hot-headed and absorbed in the courtly chivalry of the day, where he often dreamt of winning battles and gaining the love of a fair maiden.  He later wrote in his autobiography,  “I was a man given to the vanities of the world whose chief delight consisted in martial exercises, with a great and vain desire to win renown.”

This worldview at the time soon leads to St Ignatius as the only saint with a criminal charge of “nocturnal misdemeanours” on police record, which landed him and his brother, Pedro, in prison.

He was educated as a knight and like many young men from his background, Ignatius joined the army.

While fighting as a military officer against the French in the Battle at Pamplona in 1521, a cannonball shattered Íñigo’s leg.  The French admired his courage and carried him back to recuperate at his home, the castle of Loyola. A long and painful convalescence laid ahead of him.

During his time of recovery, he was extremely bored and asked for books to read about romance and chivalry.  However, the only books available was a copy of the life of Jesus the Christ and a book on the saints.  Out of sheer boredom and with not much option, Ignatius began to read these two books.

Whilst reading he often noticed his continuing daydreams.   Two particular subjects emerged:

  • He imagined a life of fame and glory, dreaming about winning the love of a noble lady of the court.
  • But then he also started to imagine the lives of the saints. He considered their deeds and decided that this might be worth imitating.  In fact, he saw himself outgrowing the saints and being better…in a way dreaming about him setting the new standards for sainthood.

He started noticing a difference in inner experience, between the two daydreams.

After reading and thinking of the saints and Christ, he felt a deep-rooted calm and feelings of content, whilst experiencing peace with a keen sense of inner satisfaction. The daydreams about fame and glory, winning the love of a noble lady, often left him feeling restless and sad.  Reflecting on this he realised that the second type of daydream, thinking about Jesus and the saints, was inspired by God, the good Spirit, and the latter inspired by the bad spirit.  This was the beginning of his conversion to follow Christ.  It was also the beginning of spiritual discernment, as Ignatius realised that not only intellect but emotions, imaginations and feelings can help us hear and recognise God in action in our lives.

St Ignatius of Loyola developed the Spiritual Exercises from the experience of his own prayer life and of his experience of helping others to reflect on and grow in their relationship with God.

Ignatian Spirituality encourages us:

  • To develop a deeper and more active relationship with God
  • To become aware of and to reflect on the purpose for which God created them
  • To be more effective co-workers with God in the world
  • To grow in discernment

Ignatius developed several practical methods and approaches to facilitate real encounters with God in our everyday life:

  • Act of the presence of God
  • Lectio Divina
  • Gospel Contemplation
  • Examen (The Awareness Prayer)

Ignatian spirituality is grounded in the conviction that God is active, personal, and present to us. Our everyday lives is the place where we connect with God.

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