Luther’s Reformation swept over Europe like a flash flood. Most of Germany and Scandinavia became Protestant. England broke with Rome. Switzerland and the Netherlands were largely Protestant, and the Reformation tide rose in France, Austria, Hungary, and Poland. Some expected Spain and Italy to be next.

The Vatican responded in several ways. The Council of Trent addressed church problems. The Inquisition was unleashed. Military and diplomatic efforts were employed. But perhaps the most effective counteroffensive was a religious order established in 1540 by a crippled Spanish nobleman named Ignatius Loyola.

Loyola was born among the Basques of Spain, the youngest of 12 children. He was a reckless youth, frequently in trouble with the law. While serving in the Spanish army, he was crippled for life when a cannonball crashed into his leg. The doctors repeatedly broke and reset the leg without anesthesia, but to little avail. While recovering, Ignatius began reading books about Christ and the saints. “What if I should do great things for God like St. Francis and St. Dominic?” he asked himself in excitement. A new passion rose in his heart, and he fasted, prayed, scourged himself, and experienced hundreds of strange visions.

Out of his experiences came a manual, Spiritual Exercises; and, book in hand, he limped to the University of Paris. He was 38, barely five feet tall, and unwell. But he recruited six students (including Francis Xavier) to the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits.

The Jesuits emphasized knowledge and displayed great intelligence. Loyola lived to see 1,000 men in his order and 100 colleges and seminaries established. The Jesuits became the greatest force in the Catholic Reformation. His work ended, Loyola was seized by a violent gallbladder attack. On July 30, 1556, in intense suffering, he devoted the evening to prayer, then died. But he left behind arguably the most powerful religious order in the Catholic Church.

Peter said, “I don’t have any silver or gold! But I will give you what I do have. In the name of Jesus Christ from Nazareth, get up and start walking.” Peter then took him by the right hand and helped him up. … Everyone saw him walking around and praising God. (Acts 3:6,7,9)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). July 30.

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