Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire

IGNATIUS LOYOLA.

If you are desirous of obtaining a great name, of becoming the founder of a sect or establishment, be completely mad; but be sure that your madness corresponds with the turn and temper of your age. Have in your madness reason enough to guide your extravagances; and forget not to be excessively opinionated and obstinate. It is certainly possible that you may get hanged; but if you escape hanging, you will have altars erected to you.

In real truth, was there ever a fitter subject for the Petites-Maisons, or Bedlam, than Ignatius, or St. Inigo the Biscayan, for that was his true name? His head became deranged in consequence of his reading the “Golden Legend”; as Don Quixote’s was, afterwards, by reading the romances of chivalry. Our Biscayan hero, in the first place, dubs himself a knight of the Holy Virgin, and performs the Watch of Arms in honor of his lady. The virgin appears to him and accepts his services; she often repeats her visit, and introduces to him her son. The devil, who watches his opportunity, and clearly foresees the injury he must in the course of time suffer from the Jesuits, comes and makes a tremendous noise in the house, and breaks all the windows; the Biscayan drives him away with the sign of the cross; and the devil flies through the wall, leaving in it a large opening, which was shown to the curious fifty years after the happy event.

His family, seeing the very disordered state of his mind, is desirous of his being confined and put under a course of regimen and medicine. He extricates himself from his family as easily as he did from the devil, and escapes without knowing where to go. He meets with a Moor, and disputes with him about the immaculate conception. The Moor, who takes him exactly for what he is, quits him as speedily as possible. The Biscayan hesitates whether he shall kill the Moor or pray to God for his conversion; he leaves the decision to his horse, and the animal, rather wiser than its master, takes the road leading to the stable.

Our hero, after this adventure, undertakes a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, begging his bread on the way: his madness increases as he proceeds; the Dominicans take pity on him at Manrosa, and keep him in their establishment for some days, and then dismiss him uncured.

He embarks at Barcelona, and goes to Venice; he returns to Barcelona, still travelling as a mendicant, always experiencing trances and ecstacies, and frequently visited by the Holy Virgin and Jesus Christ.

At length, he was given to understand that, in order to go to the Holy Land with any fair view of converting the Turks, the Christians of the Greek church, the Armenians, and the Jews, it was necessary to begin with a little study of theology. Our hero desires nothing better; but, to become a theologian, it was requisite to know something of grammar and a little Latin; this gives him no embarrassment whatever: he goes to college at the age of thirty-three; he is there laughed at, and learns nothing.

He was almost broken-hearted at the idea of not being able to go and convert the infidels. The devil, for this once, took pity on him. He appeared to him, and swore to him, on the faith of a Christian, that, if he would deliver himself over to him, he would make him the most learned and able man in the church of God. Ignatius, however, was not to be cajoled to place himself under the discipline of such a master; he went back to his class; he occasionally experienced the rod, but his learning made no progress.

Expelled from the college of Barcelona, persecuted by the devil, who punished him for refusing to submit to his instructions, and abandoned by the Virgin Mary, who took no pains about assisting her devoted knight, he, nevertheless, does not give way to despair. He joins the pilgrims of St. James in their wanderings over the country. He preaches in the streets and public places, from city to city, and is shut up in the dungeons of the Inquisition. Delivered from the Inquisition, he is put in prison at Alcala. He escapes thence to Salamanca, and is there again imprisoned. At length, perceiving that he is no prophet in his own country, he forms a resolution to go to Paris. He travels thither on foot, driving before him an ass which carried his baggage, money, and manuscripts. Don Quixote had a horse and an esquire, but Ignatius was not provided with either.

He experiences at Paris the same insults and injuries as he had endured in Spain. He is absolutely flogged, in all the regular form and ceremony of scholastic discipline, at the college of St. Barbe. His vocation, at length, calls him to Rome.

How could it possibly come to pass, that a man of such extravagant character and manners, should at length obtain consideration at the court of Rome, gain over a number of disciples, and become the founder of a powerful order, among whom are to be found men of unquestionable worth and learning? The reason is, that he was opinionated, obstinate, and enthusiastic; and found enthusiasts like himself, with whom he associated. These, having rather a greater share of reason than himself, were instrumental in somewhat restoring and re-establishing his own; he became more prudent and regular towards the close of his life, and occasionally even displayed in his conduct proofs of ability.

Perhaps Mahomet, in his first conversations with the angel Gabriel, began his career with being as much deranged as Ignatius; and perhaps Ignatius, in Mahomet’s circumstances, would have performed as great achievements as the prophet; for he was equally ignorant, and quite as visionary and intrepid.

It is a common observation, that such cases occur only once: however, it is not long since an English rustic, more ignorant than the Spaniard Ignatius, formed the society of people called “Quakers”; a society far superior to that of Ignatius. Count Zinzendorf has, in our own time, formed the sect of Moravians; and the Convulsionaries of Paris were very nearly upon the point of effecting a revolution. They were quite mad enough, but they were not sufficiently persevering and obstinate.

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