Ignatius Loyola was born in northern Spain in 1491, eight years after the birth of Martin Luther. He was the youngest of 13 children. His family were of the Spanish nobility, distant relatives of the king and queen of Spain. Before his father died, he arranged for Loyola to join the family of the treasurer of the king and queen of Spain.
Loyal Fights for Pamplona
Loyola became an able soldier and was left to defend the city of Pamplona when King Francis I of France attacked it in 1521. The people of Pamplona might have surrendered if it weren’t for Loyola. He cried, “Let us suffer everything rather than surrender!”[i] He led the nobles to defend the city with their swords, arrows, battle axes.
But Francis’ army was larger and better prepared. The French hammered the walls with cannon balls. A shard of rock struck Loyola’s right leg. The ball shattered his left leg and Loyola passed out. His forces surrendered.
A Knight of the Virgin
The French, impressed with Loyola’s courage, carried him to his parents’ castle to recover. During his long period of recovery, Loyola read books. He read a book about the miracles of the saints and decided that he would rather accomplish great spiritual things in his life than physical things. He decided to quit being a knight of a worldly kingdom and would instead become a knight of the Virgin.
When he was well enough, he called his friends together for one last supper, just as Luther had done. He gave away his fancy clothes and moved into a monastery of St. Benedict. One night, as he meditated on an image of the Virgin Mary, gazing long hours at the image and praying repeatedly, Mary and Jesus appeared to him in a vision.
Later he haltingly made his way to the Dominican monastery at Manresa where he went begging from house to house for his food, also as Luther had done. Each day, he prayed for seven hours on his knees and whipped himself for three hours. He had visions here as well.
Trying to Please an Angry God
At first, Loyola found satisfaction in this new life, but after a while, he could find no peace. His conscience bothered him. Like Luther, he felt that God was angry with him. He did everything the church required – he confessed, did penance, prayed – but still he was uneasy. Like Luther, he wondered if all his good works were of no value for salvation. Could he ever do enough good works to make up for the sins of his life?
Luther turned to the Bible for answers. The Bible teaches that every human being is sinful (Romans 3:23) and we are helpless to save ourselves or become righteous (Ephesians 2:8-9). But because of His love for us (John 3:16), God, in the person of Jesus Christ, died the death that we deserved (2 Corinthians 5:21) for being rebels against Him. When we humbly accept His sacrifice on our behalf, He promises us eternal life (John 5:24).
Luther humbled his heart and accepted the fact that he could never be good enough to earn salvation. He accepted the Bible teaching that only faith in Jesus could set him free from sin and its guilt. In contrast, Loyola decided that his guilty conscience was from the devil and he determined never again to be troubled over sin.
Visions and Dreams
A guilty conscience sent Luther to Jesus for salvation. But Loyola sought relief from his guilt in visions and feelings. He did not develop faith in Jesus through studying God’s Word as Luther did. He found comfort in visions and dreams. But living apart from faith in Christ and obedience to His Word put Loyola on dangerous ground, for “Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). And Paul warned, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8).
Martin Luther and Ignatius Loyola both started off as sincere monks, seeking God. Luther turned to the Word of God and found salvation by faith in Christ. Loyola, turned inward to feelings and experiences and became an enemy of the Word of God.
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 542.