A PILGRIM'S JOURNEY: Autobiography of Ignatius of Loyola, Joseph N. Tylenda SJ

A PILGRIM'S JOURNEY: Autobiography of Ignatius of Loyola, Joseph N. Tylenda SJ

Michael E Daniel

Autobiography of one of the Church's spiritual giants

Autobiography of Ignatius of Loyola
Introduction, translation and commentary by Joseph N. Tylenda SJ
(Ignatius Press, 2001, 204pp, $29.95. ISBN: 978-0-89870-810-3)

One of the most influential saints in the history of the Church is St Ignatius of Loyola, the founder and first Superior-General of the Jesuits. Many, particularly those who have known Jesuit priests and brothers, are familiar with St Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises. However, his lesser known, yet fascinating work, is his autobiography.

Although generally attributed to St Ignatius, on one level it is misleading to describe it as his autobiography. While it is essentially a transcription of Ignatius' recounting of his spiritual journey, the manuscript was largely composed by Luis Gonsalves de Camara. While described as an autobiography, it is more of a recounting of his spiritual journey. Ignatius was encouraged to compose or dictate such a text, as these were often written by founders of orders to give insights to their members on how to grow in their relationship with God.

Spiritual development

As the focus is Ignatius' spiritual development, there is little description of his childhood and youth, the first event being dealt with in any detail is his being wounded as a soldier in the siege of Pamplona in 1521. As an invalid, he sought reading material. While Ignatius desired to read tales of knightly valour, the only reading material to hand was religious. Although it seems he commenced reading such material reluctantly to ease boredom, it soon had a profound effect upon him.

With a keen sense of his sinfulness, Ignatius turned to a life of prayer and extraordinary penance. Central to his spiritual development was his period of solitude in a cave near Manresa, where he developed the spiritual exercises. Another significant event in his spiritual development was a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The narrative ends with Ignatius' first year in Rome in 1538.

The autobiography also details the numerous trials both he and his companions underwent. For example, at one stage they were imprisoned, suspected of heresy. Regardless of how he was treated, the autobiography underscores Ignatius' obedience to Church officials. For example, even though he wanted to stay in the Holy Land, he left after being ordered to do so under pain of excommunication.

A Pilgrim's Journey has an extensive commentary which is arguably too long as much of it is a re-statement of the text of the autobiography. However, many of the footnotes to the commentary are fascinating, revealing interesting details about persons and places mentioned in the text in passing.

Ignatius' autobiography is an inspiring account of his incredible transformation from soldier to saint. The translation is in standard modern English and accessible to the average reader. This edition is very well researched, revealing the translators' in-depth knowledge of the subject matter.

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