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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 2 of 2)

At Manresa he practised the strictest asceticism


There

in the church of Our Lady of Montserrat he resolved to dedicate himself to her service with all the ceremonies prescribed in that masterbook of mediaeval chivalry, Amadis of Gaul. He hung his arms on her altar, and throughout the long night, standing or kneeling, he kept his watch, consecrating his knightly service to the Blessed Virgin. At daybreak he donned an anchorite's dress, gave his knightly robes to the first beggar he met, and, mounted on his ass, betook himself to the Dominican convent of Manresa, no longer Inigo Recalde de Loyola, but simply Ignatius.

At Manresa he practised the strictest asceticism, hoping to become in heart and soul fitted for the saint life he wished to live. Then began a time of unexpected, sore and prolonged spiritual conflict, not unlike what Luther experienced in the Erfurt convent. Who was he and what had been his past life that he should presumptuously think that God would ever accept him and number him among His saints? He made unwearied use of all the mediaeval means of grace; he exhausted the resources of the confessional; he consulted one spiritual guide after another without experiencing any relief to the doubts which were gnawing at his soul. The whole machinery of the Church helped him as little as it had Luther: it could not give peace of conscience. He has placed on record that the only real help he received during this prolonged period of mental agony came from an old woman. Confession, instead of

soothing him, rather plunged him into a sea of intolerable doubt. To make his penitence thorough, to know himself as he really was, he wrote out his confession that he might see his sins staring at him from the written page. He fasted till his life was in danger; he prayed seven times and scourged himself thrice daily, but found no peace. He tells us that he often shrieked aloud to God, crying that He must Himself help him, for no creature could bring him comfort. No task would be too great for him, he exclaimed, if he could only see God. "Show me, O Lord, where I can find Thee; I will follow like a dog, if I can only learn the way of salvation." His anguish prompted him to suicide. More than once, he says, he opened his window with the intention of casting himself down headlong and ending his life then and there; but the fear of his sins and their consequences restrained him. He had read of a saint who had vowed to fast until he had been vouchsafed the Beatific Vision, so he communicated at the altar and fasted for a whole week; but all ended in vanity and vexation of spirit.

Then, with the sudden certainty of a revelation, he resolved to throw himself on the mercy of God, whose long-suffering pity would pardon his sins. This was the crisis. Peace came at last, and his new spiritual life began. He thought no longer about his past; he no longer mentioned former sins in his confessions; the certainty of pardon had begun a new life within him; he could start afresh. It is impossible to read his statements without being struck with the similarity between the spiritual experience of Ignatius and what Luther calls Justification by Faith; the words used by the two great religious leaders were different, but the experience of pardon won by throwing one's self upon the mercy of God was the same.

This new spiritual life was, as in Luther's case, one of overflowing gladness. Meditation and introspection, once a source of anguish, became the spring of overpowering joy. Ignatius felt that he was making progress. "God," he says, "dealt with me as a teacher with a scholar; I cannot doubt that He had always been with me." Many historical critics from Ranke downwards have been struck with the likeness of the experience gone through by Luther and Ignatius. One great contrast manifested itself at once. The humble-minded and quiet German, when the new life awoke in him, set himself unostentatiously to do the common tasks which daily life brought; the fiery and ambitious Spaniard at once tried to conquer all mysteries, to take them by assault as if they were a beleaguered fortress.


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