The following is an excerpt from The Golden Thread: A Novel About St. Ignatius Loyola by Louis de Wohl. St. Ignatius is the man who founded the Jesuits. This is a very moving, entertaining, and insightful look into the mind of a military man discerning the still small voice within him. It is very much manly; a definite “guy” thought process. But so revealing also! I hope you enjoy!
It was something that was going on in him, that had been going on in him for weeks. He was thinking about two different things, and each of them caused a whole chain of thoughts, and they were alternating in his mind.
The first thought chain was the planning of his future career, his rise to power, his rise to honors and to a position in which he could look boldly at his great lady’s lovely face. All this I have done, I have done it for you. It was a chain of glittering, sparkling thoughts; it was all a knight could desire, and he had tasted it again and again. And the more often he tasted it, the less it became. Its sparkle had gone dull, its glitter cheap. It was as if he had gained for himself, for a deed of incredible valor, the Order of the Golden Fleece, and he had walked on clouds. But a second deed of equal valor earned him the matchless Order for a second time. Then a third, a fourth and tenth—and it all looked strangely absurd, as if the court fool had looted the king’s box in which the orders were kept and hung them all around his own neck. He could still think of it with pleasure—but only as far as the deeds themselves went. And even they left a feeling of dissatisfaction, of hunger not appeased, of hopes remaining unfulfilled in their very fulfillment.
The second thought chain saw him on the road to the Holy Land. The knight not of a queen, but of God. There was no glitter here and no sparkle.
Going barefoot to Jerusalem, eating nothing but herbs, mortifying the flesh in a hundred ways to subjugate it and firmly establish an iron rule over that which Friar Francis used to call “Brother Ass”. Climbing the narrow footpath to God’s own fortress in the skies, as Dominic did and Onuphrius, careless of jeers and jibes, jeering and jibing himself at the temptation of Satan.
And here no bitter afterthought remained, no disappointment, no weary discontent.
All the glitter of the first thought chain became habitual—and ended in boredom.
But this new path could bore one as little as could God himself.
Why was this so?
Now that he knew it as a fact, he had to have an answer.
With the sharpness of a knife he dissected it.
If something desirable left a stale taste in the mouth, could it come from a good source?
Was it possible that Satan was the author of his ambition, of his dreams of greatness for the sake of an earthly queen who was someone else’s wife? And if so, was the purpose of such dreams to drown that other voice, urging him to imitate the saints?
He sat up in his bed. He could do so without difficulty.
“Yes”, he said coldly.
In the next moment he realized that this affirmation by itself solved also the second riddle—his lack of interest in what had happened in the affairs of the duke of Najera, and even in what was brewing at the frontiers of Spain.
Francis, Dominic, Onuphrius: none of them had cared for worldly affairs.
The battleground of the knights of God was the soul.
The soul that had to be wrested away from the enemy and won for God, his own first, then those of other’s later.
But who was he, to think of such things?
What qualifications, what credentials had he for joining the company of the saints?
None. Absolutely none. Whoever heard of a saint who had spent his time in gaming, dueling, and the courtship of women? It was absurd.
Again his mind cut deep into the confusion of his thoughts. What was the true situation on the battlefield?
He smiled grimly. The very fact that he was thinking about the issue showed that the battle had already begun.
Intelligence reported that the enemy occupied a great part of the field.
The enemy’s move was an attack on the grounds that any serious resistance was futile because he occupied most of the field.
But if it were not for that fact, there would be no battle! General Saint Augustine and even General Saint Francis had to deal with a similar situation when they first gave battle to the enemy.
This indeed was the meaning of this kind of battle; no, it was the battle itself. By asking for his qualifications and credentials the enemy suggested—capitulation.
It was a treacherous attack. For it tried to make use of the very virtue of humility. “You are not worthy of such an aim. Give it up.” But a Christian said, “Lord, I am not worthy”, and then went on to receive the Lord all the same!
And the man who had first said, “Lord, I am no worthy”, was—a soldier, a Roman officer.
The battle is on, he thought, with an entirely new kind of eager satisfaction. No, it had always been on, but so far he had been a very bad general. He had neglected his army and its equipment. He had let the enemy filter in where he could have been repulsed.
Now at long last he had recognized the state of affairs—no, he had begun to recognize it. There would have to be the most thorough inspection of both men and material; there would have to be changes, new equipment, methodical training. And every single one of such measures was in this strange new kind of fighting a sort of battle by itself.
There was no glow in him, no jubilation over such a flood of cognition. He did not rejoice. He knew now that the urge of the saints for penance was a sort of military necessity.
There was no virtue in kissing a leper, as long as he himself was a leper.
He began to examine and test all thoughts welling up in him for their true origin. There must be a way to find out where they came from, whether from God or whether from Satan. There was.
When Magdalena de Araoz entered the room the next time, he asked her for paper and ink. He had found the formula, and he did not want it to slip from his mind. He wrote, “In those who proceed from good to better the good spirit touches such a soul gently and softly as when water drops upon a sponge, and the evil spirit strikes it sharply and noisily, causing disquiet as when water drops upon a stone.”
He liked what he wrote. He decided to go on making notes. Also there were passages, both in the The Life of Christ and in The Flower of the Saints, that he wished to have with him in writing, without having to carry the two heavy books around. He would get a notebook and copy them out.
A great deal of such simple work would have to be done.
He was not only the general, commanding the army. He was also the humblest foot soldier.
The whole thing was a huge task, far bigger than the defense of the citadel of Pamplona or of Fuentarrabia. It was a full-scale war, and he had to do everything by himself.