Rubens’ portrait of St Ignatius of Loyola: A lesson in the true spirit of the Jesuits
July 31, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The 31st of July is the dies natalis or heavenly birthday of one of the greatest priests and religious founders of Church history, Ignacio de Loyola, who died on this day in 1556 and was canonized in 1622. St. Ignatius is famous, of course, for having established the Society of Jesus (S.J.) or Jesuits. This order has given the Church many of her most daring and successful missionaries to the most far-flung corners of the earth. St. Francis Xavier comes to mind, who during his journeys baptized an estimated 30,000 converts, driven by the love of God and anxiety for the eternal loss of all who die outside of the Church.
This magnificent painting by the Flemish artist and devout Catholic Peter-Paul Rubens (1577–1640), painted right around the time of the saint’s canonization, vividly captures many of the qualities of Ignatius that made him and his order great.
He is shown looking up to heaven in prayerful meditation, awaiting the light of God’s will, the guidance and strength of the Holy Spirit. This no doubt is a reference to the Spiritual Exercises in which Ignatius, on the basis of his own profound spiritual life and his experience in directing others, formulated certain rules by which Christians could distinguish between the voice of God and the contrary voices of the world, the flesh, and the devil—a crucial tool for a world tempest-tossed by the Protestant Revolt, against which the Jesuits campaigned with a fervor that culminated in the astonishing fortitude of the host of Jesuit martyrs of Elizabethan England.
Rubens depicts the face of the saint as calm and resolute, determined to do what God wills, as He wills it, when He wills it. There is neither the agitated haste of one who rushes ahead into trouble with a false zeal, or the pusillanimous hesitancy that doubts, second-guesses, or shrinks in fear of pain and difficulty. With the spirit of Christian chivalry he is ready to take up arms against a sea of troubles. He has drunk in peace from its very source—“in His will is our peace,” as Dante sang—and therefore can radiate it to others, attracting them to follow him in the friendship, the society, of Jesus. We can also detect, thanks to the subtle brush of Rubens, a combination of remorse for his own sins and lamenation of the sorry state of others, especially heretics, schismatics, infidels, and pagans, for whose conversion he and his spiritual sons will exhaust themselves.
Ignatius stands at an altar, dressed in priestly garb, for he was indeed a priest of the most high God, who daily offered the unbloody Sacrifice by which our redemption is accomplished. Although Jesuits have never had the reputation of being great liturgists, they have always understood that the Most Holy Eucharist is the burning furnace of charity that drives all of our prayer and work. For Ignatius, the sacred liturgy was truly the “font and apex” of his entire Christian life. The very fact that Rubens depicts Ignatius in a rich brocade chasuble of gold and red, the gold of royal dignity and the red of self-sacrificial witness and the fire of the Holy Spirit, transmits a solemn message: nothing is more important, nothing more valuable than the worship of God, to which our best and most beautiful efforts are to be dedicated. Like the immovable marble of the altar, the saint stands tall, unwavering in the Catholic Faith he was called upon to defend.
All of this he does, as the motto in the book atop the altar proclaims, Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam—“unto the greater glory of God.” There is no confusion here about who is in first place, the creature or the Creator, the Word or the world. God is the first beginning and the last end, to Whom we owe our existence, our life, our divine sonship, and our eternal bliss. Nothing and no one should contradict His primacy; we are His servants, the sons of His handmaid, and should act and think accordingly.
Alas, in comparison with St. Ignatius and many noble Jesuits who followed in his footsteps, the modern Church shows us the ongoing and, it seems, ever-increasing scandal of numerous and influential Jesuits who have betrayed everything for which their founder stood.
Instead of lending humble support to the richly meaningful tapestry of Roman Catholic worship as it had developed under the guidance of divine Providence, the Jesuit Josef Jungmann paved the way to its ruthless deconstruction. To put it in terms of Rubens’ painting, he replaced Baroque brocade with polyester drapery.
Instead of fighting against the error of Darwinian evolutionism, the Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin embraced it as the new paradigm for Catholicism, one in which the Church and her doctrine are subordinate to the spirit of the age and the unfolding of the cosmos.
Instead of resisting the pernicious error of consequentialism (a good end can justify an evil means), the Jesuit Josef Fuchs promoted it for decades at the Pontifical Gregorian University, poisoning generations of moral theologians—the same ones who wage unholy war against the Church’s teaching on marriage, family, and life issues, especially the fundamental concept of actions that are intrinsically evil, that is, evil always and everywhere, by their very nature.
Instead of placing his considerable gifts at the service of the conversion and healing of active homosexuals who are destroying themselves and injuring the common good of society, the Jesuit James Martin sows moral confusion and ecclesiastical corruption, all the more diabolical for its polished sound of common sense, moderation, and “mercy.”
And most of all, instead of confirming his brethren in the one true Faith received from the Apostles, handed down by the Fathers, articulated by the Doctors, experienced by the Mystics, witnessed to by Jesuit martyrs, and reaffirmed in every generation by the perennial Magisterium, the Jesuit Jorge Bergoglio has presented to the world the unprecedented spectacle of a pope who sows confusion about Catholic dogma and introduces doubts about Catholic morality, playing into the global secularist agenda and the moral libertinism of the modern West. Instead of a Church that converts the world, we see a Church converted by the world. Here we have the very antithesis of the real St. Ignatius of Loyola, who would have dismissed from the Society all of the above-mentioned Jesuits, before he initiated proceedings of excommuncation against them.
May this mighty saint of the Counter-Reformation, the father, guide, and model of so many saints, intercede for the afflicted Church on earth—and especially for his wayward order, that it may be reestablished in orthodoxy and holiness ad majorem Dei gloriam.