Just think. Here in Milwaukee, Marquette University dominates Wisconsin Avenue. This prominent Catholic university never would have existed if it were not for St. Ignatius of Loyola. But just who was St. Ignatius? St. Ignatius (1491-1556) was a quixotic Spanish knight, a hermit, priest, and devout theologian, who founded the Society of Jesus, a.k.a. the Jesuits, Pope Francis’ society. Throughout his life, St. Ignatius stressed the importance of the Sacrament of Penance, the Eucharist and transubstantiation, and fasting, and he also promoted the importance of religious vows.
An important contribution of the Spanish priest from Loyola, were his teachings known world-wide as The Spiritual Exercises, and his promotion of authentic Catholic culture in life and art. St. Ignatius was a pivotal figure in emphasizing and reintroducing the importance of beauty in churches, such as the sumptuous stained-glass windows and stirring architecture. Many sects of Protestantism were iconoclastic, which is an ideology holding as sacrilegious the representation of God in art. St. Ignatius felt compelled to combat this heresy, which was spreading throughout Europe and even the Church like a raging wildfire.
St. Ignatius taught that Catholics at Mass should employ all of their senses. For example, we see a painting, we listen to the beautiful singing, we smell the incense emanating from the thurible, and we humbly partake in the collation of the Sacred Species! It is in this way that St. Ignatius, echoing the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, emphasized that Catholics utilize their senses in their journey towards union with God, and chided Protestants for denying the role of the senses in worship.
By emphasizing the role of the senses in faith, St. Ignatius directly influenced the Baroque. This artistic epoch typifies that evocative side of Catholicism which is aroused by using our senses. Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s The Ecstasy of St. Theresa epitomizes the essential elements of the Baroque. As a side note, you can see this statue in real life, but I’m afraid you’ll have to go to Rome.
Today, due to the efforts of Saints like Francis Xavier, Isaac Jogues, and Jean de Brebeuf, the Jesuits founded by St. Ignatius Loyola, are commonly associated with the flourishing of Catholic missions throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. This was a time that brought Catholicism to people from around the world.
Saint Ignatius most famously said, “Go forth and set the world on fire.” and, as the new generation of Milwaukee Catholics, that’s exactly what we need to do.