Ignatius Loyola
in Making and remaking saints in nineteenth-century Britain
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Ignatius Loyola both attracted and repelled nineteenth-century observers. While on the one hand he stood for everything Protestants hated and feared about Catholicism – extreme asceticism, outré visions and slavish subordination to authority – on the other there was much to admire. The eccentric who licked beggars’ sores was also a tough-minded manly Christian; a spiritual general who, in founding the Society of Jesus in the sixteenth century, provided a potential blueprint for later leaders. Love him or loathe him, commentators found him impossible to ignore, especially in describing religious men of action: John Wesley, John Nelson Darby and William Booth were all referred to as ‘Protestant Loyolas’. This essay argues that the ambivalence surrounding Loyola bespeaks Protestant ambivalence about Catholic saints and their legends. Once one had disentangled facts from the fables, what was left? Were such figures made by divine agency, or were they the just quirky personalities, products of a particular time and place (in this case, Spain’s Golden Age)? Were they to be dismissed as madmen or praised for their self-denial and fortitude? While Loyola continued to appear in ‘traditional’ guise among Catholics, he also fascinated scholars keen to get to the bottom of what made charismatic religious leaders.

Editor: Gareth Atkins

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