Common section



The correspondence of Ignatius Loyola has been published in twelve volumes:1 in sheer size it far outnumbers the extant correspondence of such sixteenth-century contemporaries as Calvin, Erasmus, Luther and Teresa of Avila.2 Clearly any selection limited to a few dozen letters out of a total that approaches seven thousand can present only certain facets of Ignatius. Moreover not all the letters have the same degree of authenticity,3 and they vary greatly in character – personal letters alongside little treatises, but also notes and memos. The present selection seeks above all to present the personality of their author.4

Ignatius began to write letters in a consistent way when he had settled into the life of study in Paris: his first letters home arrived some ten years after his departure, and his brother in one reply expressed his delight that Inigo seemed to have abandoned his policy of not writing to them.5There had been a few letters written by Ignatius before then (to his benefactresses in Barcelona, for example), but by 1532 he had discovered an inner certainty that had been lacking before this, and also a realization that his pen could be used in ‘the service and praise of God Our Lord’, by bringing comfort and mutual support to relatives and friends. The general pattern of these early letters (1532–47) is spacious, as of a man who writes with ease and calm, enjoying the process of ordering his thoughts and confident that he can communicate in depth. However, the evidence for these years is meagre, and may be the chance result of the correspondents’ interests.

In 1547 one notices a marked change: from a trickle of letters per year we now have 300, and this number increases steadily until 1556 when some 1000 letters are sent out in his name. These rough statistics are easily explained by the arrival in Rome of one man, Juan Polanco, who was to be Secretary to the Society for over twenty-five years (1547–73). A born bureaucrat, in the best sense, he organized the offices and archives with amazing efficiency and foresight. However, it would be ingenuous to suppose that his contribution to the correspondence of Ignatius was restricted to receiving and cataloguing. Already in 1547 one is a little surprised to find copious references to St Bernard’s sermons in the letter from Ignatius to the candidates for the Society in Coimbra, a wide-ranging survey of the ideals of the religious life, but also an attempt to deal with the particularly extravagant penitential practices adopted by the young men, partly at the instigation of the charismatic Simão Rodrigues.6 In August of the same year Ignatius had such confidence in his secretary, then only thirty years of age, that he entrusted to him the writing of a letter on the ideal of poverty, and the product was an elegantly rhetorical little treatise, complete with quotations from Ovid, Lucan and Seneca.7 It is instructive to compare this with a letter on the same subject (basically encouraging young men who were hungry and cold) written five years later by Ignatius: the rhetoric and the quotations have gone; in their place there is a reminder of the much harsher suffering borne by the Society’s men in India, a permission to beg for funds, and a reminder that the sick should not be allowed to go short.8 Even if the basic teaching is the same, the contrast in approach could not be sharper. One sees at once that Ignatius and Polanco complemented one another like a sword and its sheath. They were made of very different stuff, each needing the other at different moments. But one should beware of the protective covering Polanco places around his master’s ideas.

Fortunately enough of the early letters survive for one to form an acquaintance with Ignatius the man, and this knowledge can serve as a yardstick for the later letters. Moreover, the overall responsibility for the Polanco letters remains that of Ignatius. And provided one is aware of the nature of the material being presented (applying the norms of source-criticism required in other historical studies9) the complete corpus of the letters provides a solid base for investigating how Ignatius saw the world around him, reacted to it and shaped the Society accordingly.10

Here the scope will be much more limited. Through the Letters one can see Ignatius from different angles, and recognize his various roles – as a friend, a spiritual director, an instructor, a businessman and a religious superior. Particular scope is given to those letters that refer to the Exercises, or that make more intelligible the experiences of the Diary, but inevitably his ‘public’ figure, as first overall superior of a new religious order, will intrude to some extent. The selection draws not only on the Spanish letters,11 but also on those written in Italian and Latin.12 Quite deliberately very few of the more explicitly ‘public’ letters (to heads of state and other officials) have been included, but a few ‘instructions’ directed to members of the Society are represented as they display how Ignatius’s mind worked, and what ideals he made his own.13 Space has also been given to some letters that are not strictly authentic, when their inspiration appears to be Ignatian, and there is one non-epistolary fragment (37) chosen to illustrate how Ignatius would have spoken to children when teaching them the catechism. In each case a prefatory notes and end-notes provide explanation.

To facilitate both reference and understanding many of the Letters have been divided into numbered paragraphs (frequently with key-word titles); the instructions often have their original numbering systems (also reproduced here), but these are rarely consistent. The places from which and to which letters are sent are noted, as well as the name of the correspondent and the date. The bracketed numbers (followed by volume and page numbers) are those of the MHSI edition.


1 The letters began to be collected and published towards the end of the nineteenth century, and the first full edition appeared in MHSI between 1903 and 1911.

2 A statistical study of these different correspondences appears in Dominique Bertrand, La politique de Saint Ignace de Loyola, Paris 1985, the first major study of the Ignatian letters.

3 Very few autograph copies survive, and frequently one has to rely on office copies/memos.

4 The selection of letters was made with the help of Michael Ivens, SJ. A fuller collection has been published by Inigo Enterprises.

5 See Letter 2.4.

6 Letter 16.

7 Letter 18.

8 Letter 29.

9 See Philip Endean, ‘Who do you say Ignatius is? Jesuit fundamentalism and beyond’, Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits, vol. 19 no. 5 (1987).

10 This is the thesis advanced by Dominique Bertrand (see note 2 above), part 4, chapter 3.

11 Translated with the help of Philip Endean, SJ, especially for Letters 4, 15, 16, 17, 20, 21, 23.

12 Translated with the help of Leo Arnold, SJ (Italian) and Robert Murray, SJ (Latin).

13 The Constitutions and similar documents would require a volume to themselves.

1. Advice to a good woman

Inés Pascual 1524

(No. 1 : I, 71–73 : Spanish)

The first letter that has survived, a note of condolence to a kindly woman, was written on Ignatius’s return to Barcelona after almost two years away on his Jerusalem pilgrimage.

Inés Pascual1

in Manresa (?)

6 December 15242

from Barcelona



[1] It seems to me a good idea to write to you – knowing how strongly you desire to serve Our Lord – because I think you are in for a tiring time. You have just lost that very saintly friend (the Lord decided to take her to Himself), and in that place there are many enemies and obstacles to the Lord’s service, in addition to the constant temptations invented by the enemy of human nature.

[2] For love of God Our Lord, please press on, leaving behind you all the obstacles. If you keep clear of them, no temptation will have any power against you. That is what you should always do, preferring the Lord’s praise to all other things, and all the more so given that the Lord does not command you to do things that require great labour or any bodily harm; His wish is rather that you should live joyfully, allowing your body to have what it needs. All your talking and thinking and social contacts should be occupied with Him, and the things necessary for the body to that end should be included. The commandments of the Lord should be given first place right in front: that is what he wants and commands us. Anyone who weighs all this up properly will find that in this life it is far more labour and trouble [to do anything else].3

[3] There is a certain pilgrim called Calisto4 in that place. I would strongly recommend you to talk openly about your affairs with him. It is really quite likely that you will find more in him than first meets the eye.

[4] So, for love of Our Lord, let’s make a great effort in Him, seeing that we owe Him so much. We are more likely to reach our limit in receiving his gifts than He will be in giving them!

[5] I pray to Our Lady to implore on our behalf between us sinners and her Son and Lord, and to gain us His grace, so that, along with our strenuous effort, our puny, sad spirits may be transformed and become strong and joyful in His praise.

Barcelona, the feast of St Nicholas,5

the poor pilgrim


2. Dealings with brother and nephew 1532

(No. 3 : I, 77–83 : Spanish)

The world of sixteenth-century family relations may seem strange to later readers – the formality, the Latin tags (preserved here as typical) and the obligations – and in this case further complications arise from the influence of Ignatius’s new studies in Paris, not to mention his own complex trains of thought.

Martín García de Oñaz1

in Loyola, Azpeitia

end of June 1532

from Paris



May the grace and love of Christ Our Lord be with us always!

[1] On receiving your letter it was a great pleasure for me to hear of the kindness and love that the Divine Majesty has shown to your daughter2 and to learn of your decision for your son. May God in His supreme goodness be pleased with all the plans we make, directed to His service and praise! May He allow you to pursue them, and always succeed in them when you choose them for that end.

[2] [Nephew’s studies] My opinion, unless you happen to have a better idea, is that there would be no harm in directing your son more to the study of theology than of canon law. The former is a subject that is more likely and better disposed to enrich him with a wealth that will last for ever, and to ensure for you more peace in your old age. And I am convinced that to advance in that subject you will find no place in the whole of Christendom so well equipped as this university. For his maintenance, tuition and other academic needs I think that 50 ducats a year will be enough, provided they are well administered. I imagine that you would not want your son to suffer hardship in a foreign country, one that is different and cold, especially as I think that would prevent his studies. If you reckon up the cost, you will be making a profit with him in this university, as he will make more progress here in four years than in any other that I know of in six years – and if I were to increase that number, I don’t think I would be telling a lie. If you do decide to send him here, as I would certainly recommend, it will be a great advantage if he can come about a week before the feast of St Remigius, which is the coming 1 October. That is when the course of arts begins, and if he has a sufficient grounding in grammar he could begin the arts course itself on the feast of St Remigius. Otherwise, if he comes a little late, he will have to wait till the following year, for the next St Remigius, when the new arts course begins again.

[3] [Keeping accounts in order] Certainly I shall do all I can to guide him in his literary studies, so that he sets himself to work hard and keeps clear of bad company. However, your own words to me are as follows: ‘Please write and let me know how much it would cost annually if you decide that he can go into your lodging; and I would be very grateful if you could take over the expenses, given the opportunity’. I think the literal meaning of these words is clear to me, unless there has been a slip of the pen: namely, you would like your son to study here and that for a while I should make arrangements so that you do not have to spend money on your son. But as for this message I am reading, unde illud proveniat, seu quotendat, non satis percipio [= what its motive may be and what it implies, I do not fully understand]. Please explain more fully, if you think that an explanation will help. As for what is due in justice or appears reasonable, I don’t think that God Our Lord will let me fall short. It is only His most holy service that moves me, along with your peace of mind because of Him and the good of your son, if you do tell me to act in this way.

[4] [Stages in the spiritual life] You say that you are overjoyed as you have the impression that I have abandoned my policy of not writing to you.3 But it is not really so surprising: when a serious wound has to be cured, first they use one sort of ointment, then another in the middle of the process, and finally another at the end. So at the beginning of my way one medela [= cure] had to be used. Then a little further on, somewhat later, a different one does me no harm; saltem [= at least] if I had felt that it was hurting me, I would certainly not have looked for ā second or a third.

[5] [Parallel with St Paul] Non mirum [= It is no wonder] that this should have been my experience when St Paul shortly after his conversion says, ‘Datus est mihi stimulus carnis, angelus Sathanae, ut me co-lafizet’ [= ‘I was given a goad of the flesh, an angel of Satan, to box my ears’4]; alibi [= elsewhere], ‘Invenio aliam legem in membris meis, repugnantem legi mentis meae; caro concupiscit adversus spiritum, spiritus autem adversus carnem’ [= ‘I find another law in my members, that rejects the law of my mind;5the flesh feels an urge contrary to the spirit, and the spirit for its part contrary to the flesh’6]. The rebellion he felt in his soul was such that he even says, ‘Quod volo bonum, non ago; quod nolo malum, illud facio; quod operor, non intelligo’ [= ‘The good I want, I don’t do; the evil I don’t want, I do do; I fail to understand my own actions’7]. Then later on, at another time, he says, ‘Certus sum quia nec mors, nec vita, nec angeli, nec instantia, nec futura, nec creatura alia poterit me separare a charitate Domini nostri Iesu Christi’ [= ‘I am convinced that neither life nor death, nor angels, nor the present, nor the future, nor any created thing will be able to separate me from the love of Our Lord Jesus Christ’8]. When I began, I had a certain similarity with Him. In the middle and end may the supreme Goodness not deny me His complete and most holy favour so that I can resemble, imitate and serve all those who are His true servants. Rather than irritate God or fall short of His holy service and praise in anything whatsoever, I would prefer Him to snatch me out of this life.

[6] [Love for family] But returning to the subject, for a good five or six years I have thought of writing to you frequentius [= more frequently] but I have been held back by two things: on the one hand there has been the difficulty of my studies and of my many social contacts (not for personal ends), and on the other there has been my lack of confidence or of adequate proof that my letters might be of any use to the service and praise of God Our Lord, or of any comfort to my acquaintances and secundum carnem [= family] relatives, such that they might become related to me secundum spiritum [= in spirit] and simul [= at the same time] that we might be able to help one another in those things that are to last us for ever. The truth of the matter now is that my love for anyone in this life has to be proportionate to the advance in God Our Lord’s service and praise that such love can bring, quia non ex toto corde Deum diligit, qui aliquid propter se et non propter Deum diligit [= because one does not love God fully if there is something loved for itself and not for God’s sake]. Supposing that there are two persons who serve God Our Lord to an equal degree, one of them a relative and the other not, then God Our Lord will be very happy that our links and affection for the one (who happens to be our own father) should be greater than for the other (who does not have that relationship); similarly in the case of a benefactor or a relative, as opposed to someone who is neither, or for a friend or acquaintance as against those who are not. Due to this same motivation we have more veneration, honour and affection for those selected to be apostles than for other lesser saints; the reason is that their service was greater, and so was their love, for God Our Lord, quia charitas, sine qua nemo vitam consequi potest, dicitur esse dilectio, qua diligimus dominum Deum nostrum propter se, et omnia alia propter ipsum: etiam Deum ipsum laudare debemus ‘in sanctis eius’, authore Psalmista [= because the charity, without which nobody can attain to life, is said to be the love by which we love God Our Lord for his own sake, and everything else for his sake; it is also God himself whom we should praise ‘in his saints’9, on the authority of the Psalmist].

[7] [The love of God] My greatest desire, and even greater than greatest, if one could say such a thing, is that there should be crammed impense [= abundantly] into the hearts of yourself, my relations and friends this same true love and full force for the service and praise of God Our Lord, so that my love and service for you might be ever greater. My own victory and my own glory are to be gained in the service of the servants of my Lord. It is with this upright love and with a sincere and open heart that I set myself to speak, write and give advice. That is how ex animo [= wholeheartedly] I desire that people should give me advice, warnings and corrections, cum quadam syncera humilitate et non gloria prophana et mundana [= with a certain sincere humility and not out of some sentiment of vain and worldly glory].

[8] [True wealth]If a man chooses in this life to undergo sleepless nights, anxieties and preoccupations to set up great buildings, to build walls and increase his income and standing, so as to leave behind him on earth great fame and lofty renown, non est meum condemnare, laudare autem nequeo [= it is not my business to condemn him, but I cannot praise him]. As St Paul says, ‘Rebus ipsis debemus uti tanquam non utentes, possidere tanquam non possidentes, adhuc uxorem habere tanquam non habentem, quoniam figura huius mundi brevissima est’ [= ‘We ought to use things themselves as if we were not using them, and possess them as if we did not possess them; even those married should be as if they were not married. For this world has but a fleeting appearance.’10] Forsan, et utinam forsan [= Perhaps, and I hope this chance has occurred11].

[9] [Personal advice]If you have experienced any of this in the past or present I urge you out of reverence and love for God Our Lord to try with all your strength to win honour in heaven, with reputation and fame in the sight of the Lord who is to judge us. He has entrusted you with an abundance of earthly goods, so try to earn with them eternal goods – giving good example and holy teaching to your children, servants and relations, employing the right words with the one, imposing a just punishment on another, tamen [= but] without anger or irritation, granting the use of your house to one person, and gifts of money or income to another, being very charitable to orphans who are poor and in need. A person should not be miserly when God Our Lord has been so generous with him. We shall have peace and kindness in proportion to how much of them we have given in this life. Seeing that you have such great power in the region where you are living, iterum iterumque te oro per amorem domini nostri lesu Christi [= I beg you repeatedly out of love for Our Lord Jesus Christ] to make great efforts, not only to think about these things, but to set your mind on them and put them into practice, quoniam volentibus nihil difficile, maxime in his, quae fiunt propter amorem domini nostri lesu Christi [= as nothing is difficult for those who set their minds to it, especially when what we undertake is done out of love for Our Lord Jesus Christ].

[10] Don Andrés de Loyola12 has written to me. The truth is that just at present I would prefer us to see one another facie ad faciem [= face to face] rather than to write a long letter when non est ad rem [= it is not appropriate]. Please let this letter serve to excuse me from writing to all the others, and I hope they will accept it as intended for each.

[11] I wanted to write semel [= at least once] a long letter in answer to the detailed points raised in your letter and to keep you informed.

[12] Please ask the lady of the house,13 with all her family and anyone else you think is likely to be pleased with a greeting from me, to pray a lot for me in Domino qui nos iudicaturus [= to the Lord who is to judge us]. I close imploring Him in His infinite and supreme goodness to give us grace so that we may feel His most holy will and fulfil it completely.14

Written in the year 1532.

Post scriptum I received your letter earlier this month on 20 June and as you insist very strongly that I should reply to you, I have written this version and two copies so that it can be sent in triplicate; I would not want anything you desire in domino nostro lesu Christo [= in Our Lord Jesus Christ] to fail to materialize. If you receive this letter in time and it is possible for your son to reach here some twenty days before the feast of St Remigius, so much the better. If it could be earlier still, then send him so that he can acquire some grounding before he starts the course. That is also the plan of a nephew of the Archbishop of Seville, who has been accepted by our College of Sainte Barbe to study in the Arts Faculty beginning with the next St Remigius. The two could profit from the opportunity to get more grounding, because there is no lack of contacts and good will. May the supreme Goodness order all things for His holy service and continual praise.

Poor in goodness,


3. Comfort among calamities Isabel Roser 1532

(No. 4 : I, 83–89 : Spanish)

A sample of the many letters to women that diversify the correspondence of Ignatius,1 and an introduction to one of his most devoted friends.

Isabel Roser2

in Barcelona

10 November 1532

from Paris


May the grace and love of Christ Our Lord be with us!

[1] Thanks to Dr Benet I have received three letters from you along with 20 ducats. May God Our Lord put them to your account on the day of judgement! I would certainly like to repay them myself, as I trust in God’s goodness that He will do so in good solid coin; also that He will not let me fall into the penalty of ungratefulness, si tamen [= but rather] on occasions He will grant me to be useful in the service and praise of His Divine Majesty.

[2] [A death] You say in your letter that God’s will has been accomplished in the exile and separation from this life of [Señora] Canillas. It is quite true that I cannot feel pain on her behalf: that is reserved rather for those of us who are left in this place of enormous labours, sorrows and calamities. When I knew her in this life she was loved and cherished by her Creator and Lord; so it is easy for me to be convinced that she will be well lodged and welcomed, with no nostalgia for the palaces, extravagances, riches and vanities of this world.

[3] [Offers of help] You also mention the apologies of our sisters in Christ Our Lord. But they owe me nothing; it is I who am indebted to them for ever, especially if out of devotion to God Our Lord they perform a service in some more deserving case. That is where our real joy should lie, and if they do not, or cannot, then truly my own desire would be to be rich to provide for them, so that they could do great good to the service and glory of God Our Lord. As long as I live, I shall always be in their debt. However I have a real hope that once we are out of this life, they will be well repaid by me.

[4] [I ll health] In your second letter you describe the long suffering and illness you have had, and you mention the great stomach pains that you still have. Whenever I think of your poor state and the pain you endure, I really cannot help but feel anguish deep in my heart. I would wish you every well-being and prosperity imaginable that might help you in promoting the service and glory of God Our Lord. Tamen [= however] then I think that these illnesses and other temporal mishaps frequently come from the hand of God Our Lord, so that we may have greater self-knowledge and a diminished love for created things, along with a deepened realization of the brevity of this life of ours. In that way we can equip ourselves for the next life which is to last for ever. As I realize that through these things God is visiting those whom He greatly loves, I cannot feel sadness and pain because I am convinced that a follower of God comes out of an illness already half way to being a doctor in the skill of directing and organizing life for the glory and service of God Our Lord.

[5] [Debt to Isabel] You also mentioned there that I was to forgive you if you did not send me more support, as you had many obligations and your resources were limited. Truly, forgiveness for you is not required, but I am apprehensive about receiving it myself when I call to mind that God’s divine and proper justice will not forgive me if I fail to do all that God Our Lord requires of me for all my benefactors. This is especially so in relation to the debt I owe you! In any case, when my own forces fail me in this repayment, my only remedy will be that the Lord Himself, having drawn up an account of whatever good I may have merited before His Divine Majesty, a good gained tamen through His grace, will spread this out among those to whom I am indebted, giving to each in proportion to the help given me in the Lord’s service, maxime [= above all] to yourself, as my debt to you is greater than to anyone else that I have known in this life. As I am very aware of this debt, I hope that I shall draw help and profit in God Our Lord from this awareness. Please be assured that in the future the mere fact of your simply and sincerely wanting to help me will be welcomed by me with as great a pleasure and spiritual joy as any amount of money that you may be able to send me. God Our Lord requires us to keep in our thoughts and affection the giver rather than the gift, and constantly to hold the person before our eyes, as indeed in our innermost mind and heart.

[6] [Further letters] You also suggest that I could consider writing to the other ladies, who are like sisters to me and benefactresses in Christ Our Lord, asking them to help me from now on. That is a subject where I would prefer to follow your opinion rather than my own. Although [Señora] Cepilla has offered in her letter and gives clear signs that she is willing to help me, for the time being I don’t think I shall write to ask for help for my studies. The reason is that I am not sure if I shall still be here one year from now.3If I find that I am still here I am trusting that God Our Lord will help me to understand and decide how best to serve Him, and how always to attain to what He really wants.

[7] [Slurs for Christ] In your third letter you describe all the ill will, the underhand attacks and falsehoods that have been plaguing you from all sides. I am certainly not surprised by this, nor would I be if they were even worse. From the moment that anyone has deliberately chosen and is utterly resolved to engage themselves on behalf of God Our Lord’s glory, honour and service, they have declared war on the world and lifted their banner against this age. They are prepared to reject what is highly regarded, and to welcome what is low. They are willing to make no distinction between high and low, honour or dishonour, riches or poverty, affection or dislike, welcome or rejection, in a word, the glory of the world or all the insults of our age. In future, no importance can be given to those affronts in this life that remain mere words and fail to hurt a hair of our heads. Insinuations, slurs and calumnies are painful or laughable in proportion to the desire we have for them; if our wish is to have absolute respect from, and glory among, our equals, then our roots cannot be very deep in God Our Lord, nor can we fail to suffer hurt when insults come our way.

[8] [Acquiring patience] Even so the joy I felt at first that the world was insulting you was offset by my sorrow on learning that you had been forced to look for medical remedies in face of the pain and worry brought on by these adversities. Provided that you can acquire real patience and resolution, bearing in mind the greater injuries and insults that Christ Our Lord underwent on our behalf and to stop others from sinning, I would pray to the mother of God that greater insults might come your way so that your merit might be greater and greater. On the other hand, if we do not acquire this patience, it would be better for us to blame ourselves for our own bodily sensuality, and because we are not as insensible and mortified in relation to the things of this world as we should be, rather than to blame those who are doing the insulting. They are providing us with the opportunities to win profits that no businessman of this world could ever have gained, and to heap up riches beyond those of anybody in this life. An example of such profit and wealth occurred in this city, in a monastery of St Francis, and it happened as follows.

[9] [The maiden monk] There was a house that was frequently visited by friars of St Francis. As they were very pious and holy in their social relations, a girl in the house, who was already nearly grown up, became very attached to that monastery or house of St Francis. It reached the point that one day she dressed up as a boy and went to the monastery of St Francis to ask the Guardian if ‘he’ could be given the habit, as he had a great desire to devote himself exclusively to the service not only of God Our Lord and the lord St Francis, but of all the friars in that house. He spoke so sweetly that they thereupon gave him the habit.

[10] [The false accusation] Then after he had been in the monastery leading a very devout and blessed life, one night he and another companion happened to spend a night in a house where they had arrived while on a journey, with the permission of the Superior. Now in that house lived a certain miss; she fell in love with the good friar, or rather the devil possessed her into deciding to accost the good friar, while he was asleep, so that he would have an affair with her. But as the good friar no sooner woke up than he threw her out, she became so furious that she hatched a foul plot to do as much harm to him as possible. A few days later this wicked girl went to talk to the Guardian and she asked him to do her justice, claiming that she was pregnant because of the good friar in his house, and adding so much else that the Guardian arrested the good friar. His judgement (seeing that the affair had become so well known in the city) was that the friar should be tied up and put on show in the street at the gates of the monastery; in this way all would see that justice had been done to this good friar. So there he was in this fashion for many days, delighted with the hostile acts, insults and foul slurs directed against him, not trying to justify himself with anybody, but talking quietly with his Creator and Lord within his soul, seeing that God was offering him the opportunity to gain so much merit in the eyes of His Divine Majesty.

[11] [Virtue rewarded] After he had been put on show in this way for a considerable time, all those who witnessed his great patience begged the Guardian to forgive all that was past and to allow him back into his affection and house. The Guardian, already moved to have pity on him, accepted back the good friar who spent many years in the house until God’s will for him was accomplished. Once he was dead, they stripped the body for burial and then discovered that it was a woman and not a man, and also how great had been the calumny made against her. All the friars were amazed by what had happened, and they spent more time in praising the innocence and sanctity than they had done in criticizing their opposites. But it is also true that many people now remember much more this brother or sister than they do all the others who over many years lived in that house. For my part, I would prefer to spend more time thinking about one wrong which I may commit than about all the wrongs that may be said against me.

[12] In all the adversities of this life, and in everything else where you may be able to be of service to God, may the Holy Trinity grant you as great a grace as I would desire to have for myself, and may His gifts to me not be greater than the gifts I desire for you.

Please ask Mosén4 Roser and all those who you think would be ex animo [= truly] delighted to have had a greeting from me, to remember me a great deal in their prayers.

Paris, 10 November 1532,

Poor in goodness,


P.S. I see signs of great constancy in the service and glory of God Our Lord in the person of Arteaga5 and many others in Alcalá and Salamanca. May God be ever thanked for this!

In accordance with your instructions, all is in order. I have written to [Señora] Gralla about making peace, and the letter is going with another to [Señora] Pascual. I have also written to [Señora] Cepilla.6

4. Steps in discernment Teresa Rejadell 1536

(No. 7 : I, 99–107 : Spanish)

This fragment of a well-documented correspondence1 allows us to overhear another conversation as Ignatius provides counsel for a nun who is clearly well advanced in spiritual experience (and therefore liable to be misled by the good rather than tempted by the bad). The letter also provides a mise-en-scène for the rather abstract ‘Rules for understanding movements in the soul’ and the ‘Notes on scruples’ later incorporated into the Exercises.2

Teresa Rejadell3

in Barcelona

18 June 1536

from Venice


May the grace and love of Christ Our Lord be always in our favour and assist us!

[1] Over the past days, having received your letter, I have been made very glad by it, glad in the Lord whom you serve and desire to serve more, and to whom we must attribute everything good that can be seen in creation.

[2] You say in your letter that Cáceres4 will tell me about your situation at length. This he has done, and not just your situation, but also the suggestions or interpretations that he was giving you for each of the matters you were raising. Reading what he says to me, I cannot think of anything else that he might add, although I would have preferred to have the information in a letter from you. For no one is as well able as the actual person concerned to convey to another what she is experiencing.

[3] [The work of spiritual direction] You ask that for love of God Our Lord I should take personal care of you. The truth is that for many years now His Divine Majesty, without my deserving it, gives me desires to do everything I can to please all those, men and women, who are trying to move forward under His good will and approval, and likewise to be of service to those working at the service which is His due. As I have no doubt that you are one of these, I very much want to be able to give practical expression of those desires.

[4] [Dealing with her particular case] Again, you ask me to write to you in full what the Lord says to me, and to explain precisely my opinion [on your case]. Very willingly will I say with full precision what I feel in the Lord, and if I seem harsh on any point, I shall be directing the harshness more against the one who is working to upset you, rather than against you as such. In two ways the enemy is making you upset, but not so that he makes you fall into the guilt of a sin separating you from your God and Lord, but rather he makes you upset in the sense of separating you from His greater service and your greater tranquillity. The first of these ways is that he insinuates a false humility, the second is that he introduces an extreme fear of God, in which you remain too long and become too occupied.


[5] [Demonic arms: dread and complacency] Regarding the first part, the general procedure of the enemy with those who love God Our Lord and are beginning to serve Him is to bring in hindrances and obstacles. This is the first of the weapons with which he tries to inflict wounds. Thus, ‘How are you going to live your whole life in such great penance, deprived of relatives, friends and possessions, in such a lonely life, without even some slight respite? You can be saved in other ways without such great risks’.5 He has us believe that as a result of the hardships he sets before us we are to live a life longer and more drawn-out than ever a human being lived; he does not get us to think about the abundant comforts and consolations normally given by the Lord if the new servants of the Lord shatter these difficulties by choosing to desire to suffer with their Creator and Lord.

[6] Then the enemy tries with the second weapon, that is boasting or vainglory, giving a person to understand that there is much goodness or holiness within them, and setting them in a higher place than they deserve.

[7] [False humility] If the servants of the Lord resist these arrows by humbling and abasing themselves, refusing to agree that they are such as the enemy suggests, then he brings along the third weapon, which is that of false humility. Thus when he sees the servants of the Lord so good and so humble that they think all they do to be of no use, concentrating on their weaknesses and not on any kind of self-glorification, even while doing what the Lord commands, then he insinuates into these people’s thoughts that if they disclose some gifts that God Our Lord has given them, whether in deeds, intentions or desires, they are sinning through another sort of vainglory since they are talking to their own glory. He tries to get them not to speak of the good things received from their Lord, so that they are of no benefit to others, nor to themselves. Normally whenever one calls to mind what one has received, one is helped towards greater things, even if this way of talking must be very finely judged and motivated by the greater benefit to be gained. I am referring both to one’s own benefit and to that of others, if the person finds suitable dispositions and thinks that people will be receptive and benefit from it. In this way, the devil by making us humble tries to lead us into false humility, that is into an exaggerated and perverted humility.

[8] [Exemplified now] In this case your words provide apt testimony. After recounting some weaknesses and fears that go well with humility, you say you are a poor religious and that, ‘It seems to me that I want to serve Christ Our Lord’. You do not even dare to say, ‘I want to serve Christ Our Lord’ or that ‘The Lord gives me desires of serving Him’. Instead you say, ‘It “seems to me that” I want to.’ If you look properly you will clearly understand that these desires of serving Christ Our Lord are not from you, but given by the Lord, and then you will say, ‘The Lord gives me increased desires of serving Him, the Lord Himself!’ By making His gift known you are giving praise to Him, and your exultation is in fact in Him and not in yourself, since you are not attributing that grace to yourself.

[9] [‘Agere contra6] So we must take great care: if the enemy is raising us up, we ought to lower ourselves, listing our sins and wretchedness; and if he is casting us down and depressing us, we must raise ourselves up in true faith and hope in the Lord, counting the benefits we have received. With how much love, with how great a will does He wait for us in order to save us, while the enemy does not care whether he is telling the truth or lying, but only wants to overcome. Remember how the martyrs, placed before the pagan judges, used to say that they were servants of Christ. So likewise you, when you are placed before the enemy of all human nature and tempted by him in this way, with him wanting to deprive you of the strength that the Lord gives you, and to make you weak and fearful with his snares and deceits, so that you are not bold enough to say, ‘I want to serve God Our Lord’, then above all you are to speak out fearlessly and profess that you are His servant, and will die rather than separate yourself from His service. ‘When he brings up questions of justice, my appeal will be to mercy, and when he is for mercy, my talk on the contrary will be of justice.’ That is how we must proceed if we are not to be upset, and if the mocker is to be mocked. We have to remind ourselves of that authoritative saying of Sacred Scripture that goes, ‘Take care not to be humble in such a way that in your humility, you land yourself in folly!’7


[10] [Further fears] Coming now to the second main point. In the first stage the enemy has placed in us a form of fear under the cover of a humility which is false, so that we do not speak even of good, holy and beneficial things. So likewise he brings after this another far worse fear, the fear that we are distant, separated and exiled from Our Lord. This largely follows on from what has happened previously, because to the extent that with the first fear the enemy was victorious, so he finds it easy to tempt us with this other sort. To spell this out in some way I will tell you about another series of suggestions that the enemy makes.

[11] [The lax and the scrupulous] If he finds a person whose conscience is lax, and who passes over sins without dwelling on them, he does as much as he can to make venial sin be thought nothing, mortal sin only venial, and a very serious mortal sin of little account. Thus he takes advantage of the fault he senses within us, that of having an excessively lax conscience. But if he finds another person with a sensitive conscience (and there is no fault simply in its being sensitive), and sees that the person does not shun only mortal sins and the venial ones that can be shunned (as not all of them are under our control8), but even tries to shun any semblance of slight sin or defect against perfection, then he works to entangle that conscience which is so fine, making a sin out of what is no sin, insinuating a fault where there is perfection, so as to be able to throw us into confusion and distress. Thus quite often where he cannot cause sin, or does not hope to succeed in it fully, at least he works to cause torment.

[12] [Consolation] Further to clarify in some way how the fear is caused, I shall speak, though briefly, about two lessons that the Lord is accustomed to give, or at least permit (he gives the one and permits the other). The one he gives is interior consolation, which casts out all disturbance and draws us into total love of the Lord. There are some whom the Lord lights up in such consolation, and there are others to whom he uncovers many secrets, and more later. With this divine consolation, all hardships are ultimately pleasure, all fatigues rest. For anyone who proceeds with this interior fervour, warmth and consolation, there is no load so great that it does not seem light to them, nor any penance or other hardship so great that it is not very sweet. This shows to us and opens the path with the direction we are to follow, and the opposite we are to avoid. This consolation is not always with us, but proceeds always at specific times as arranged. And all this is for our profit.

[13] [Desolation] Then as we are left without this sort of consolation, the other lesson soon comes: I mean that our old enemy places before us every possible obstacle to divert us from what has been begun, attacking us very much. He acts completely counter to the first lesson, often plunging us into sadness without our knowing why we are sad. Nor can we pray with any devotion, or contemplate, or even speak and hear of things about God Our Lord with any interior savour or relish. And not stopping there, if he finds we are weak and let ourselves be subjected to such tainted thoughts, he brings us to think that we have been completely forgotten by God, and we end up with the impression that we are completely separated from Our Lord. Everything we have done, everything we were wanting to do, none of it counts. In this way, he tries to make us lose trust in everything. But we can see from all this what is the cause of so much fear and weakness on our part: at one stage we spent too long a time with our eyes fixed on our own miseries, and subjected ourselves to his deceptive lines of thought.

[14] [Knowing the foe] So here the person fighting has to identify the enemy. If it is a time of consolation, we must lower and abase ourselves, and reflect that soon the trial of temptation will come. If temptation, darkness or sadness come, we must act against them without allowing any bitterness, and wait in patience for the Lord’s consolation, which will evaporate all disturbances and shadows from outside.


[15] It remains now to talk of what we feel as we learn from God Our Lord, how we are to understand it, and how, once it is understood, we are to take advantage of it. It often happens that Our Lord moves and forces us interiorly to one action or another by opening up our mind and heart, i.e. speaking inside us without any noise of voices, raising us entirely to His divine love, without our being able to resist His purpose, even if we wanted. The purpose of His that we then adopt is such that of necessity we conform with the commandments, with the precepts of the Church and with obedience to our superiors, and it is full of complete humility because the same divine Spirit is in everything.

[16] [Possible deceptions: adding] Where quite often we can be deceived is that following on such a consolation, or as it fades away, while the inner mind remains in delight, the enemy arrives completely cloaked in joy and gladness, in order to make us add to what we have sensed from God Our Lord, to make us fall out of order and become totally unbalanced.

[17] [Subtracting] At other times he has us reduce the lesson received, setting before us obstacles, things out of keeping, so that we do not wholly carry out everything that has been shown to us. Here one needs more care than anywhere else, because at times one has to rein in one’s great desire to tell of the things of God Our Lord, and at other times one has to speak out beyond where the desire or movement takes us, depending on the obligation one has to pay more attention to the needs of others than to our own desires. In these circumstances the enemy is working to increase or diminish the good purpose received. Therefore we have to proceed when trying to help others like a person crossing a ford: if we find a good passage, or a path or hope that some benefit will follow, we press on, but if the ford is choppy, and people will be scandalized by the good words in question, we always have to rein in, looking for the season or the hour that will be more appropriate for speaking.


[18] The matters that have been raised are not the sort that can be just written about, or at least not without a long matured process, and even then there must remain things that are best left to be sensed rather than stated, especially by letter. If Our Lord is so pleased, I hope that very soon we shall see each other in Spain, where we will be able to understand each other more intimately in some things. Meanwhile, since you have Castro9 near, I think it would be good for you to be in correspondence with him (no harm can ensue and some good might come), and since you asked me to write to you all that I felt in the Lord, I say that you will be very blessed if you know how to hold on to what you have!

[19] I end by praying the most Holy Trinity to give us, through their infinite and supreme goodness, the fullness of grace, so that we may feel their most holy will and fulfil it completely.

From Venice, 18 June 1536,

Poor in goodness,


5. Prayer made easy Teresa Rejadell 1536

(No. 8 : I, 107–09 : Spanish)

Another snatch of conversation, filling in gaps left in the previous letter and stressing this time the gentleness of non-discursive meditation and the irrelevance of distractions to God’s love.

Teresa Rejadell1

in Barcelona

11 September 1536

from Venice


May the grace and love of Christ Our Lord be always in our favour and assist us!

[1] Two of your letters reached me on separate occasions. I replied to the first at some length, I think, and by my reckoning you will have already received it. In the second you said more or less the same as in the first, except for a few points to which I shall restrict myself here in a brief reply.

[2] You say that you find yourself very ignorant and with all sorts of deficiencies, and so on … Quite a good step forward in knowledge! You add that part of the reason for this is that you are full of all sorts of opinions, none very precise. I quite agree with you in this observation; a person with imprecise ideas can understand little and be of less help to others. However it is the Lord who sees, and He is the one who can act in our favour.

[3] [Avoiding strain] Any meditation that puts a strain on the understanding will fatigue the body. However there are other types of meditation that have an order to them and are relaxed. These leave the understanding in peace and do not put a strain on the mind’s inner workings. They can be performed without any forcing, internal or external. These do not tire the body, but rather allow it to rest, unless one of two things happens: first, they may deprive you of the natural sustenance and recreation that you should be giving to the body. When I say ‘deprivation of sustenance’ I mean if somebody is so intent on these sorts of meditations that this person forgets to eat properly at the right times. By ‘recreation’ here I mean a healthy relaxation, when the mind is given freedom to roam at leisure over any good or indifferent subjects that keep clear of evil thoughts.

[4] [Ensuring sleep] Secondly, many of those who are given to prayer and contemplation experience that just before it is time for them to go to sleep, they are unable to do so because they have been busy working their minds, and later they go on thinking of the subjects that they have been contemplating and imagining. This is where the Enemy does his best to maintain good thoughts, so that the body will suffer being deprived of sleep. Something to be avoided at all costs! With a healthy body, there is much that you can do; but with the body ill, I have no idea what you will be able to do. A healthy body is a great help, to do both much evil and much good – much evil with those who are depraved of mind and accustomed to sin, much good with those who have their minds set on God Our Lord and are accustomed to good deeds.

[5] [Confidence] For the time being, as I lack knowledge of your type of meditations and spiritual exercises, and of the time given to them, and can only exhort you to take the advice that Cáceres2 has given you, there is not much more of value that I can say to you in addition to what is already written. Once again I would like to reassure you. Be convinced especially that your Lord loves you – something I am quite convinced to be true – and repay Him with this same love, paying no attention to wicked thoughts, however disgusting or provocative, demeaning or dispiriting, when they are against your will. To be completely or even partly free from them is something that neither St Peter nor St Paul ever attained. The point is that much remains to be gained even when such thoughts continue to return, provided no attention is paid to them. Just as I am not due to be saved simply thanks to the good efforts of the good angels, so I am not due to be harmed by the bad thoughts and weaknesses that the wicked angels, the world and the flesh put before me. God Our Lord wants my own soul to conform herself to His Divine Majesty. Once the soul has conformed herself, she can set the body in motion, whether it wants to or not, in conformity with His divine will. That is where our great battle lies and the chance to please the eternal and supreme Goodness. May He, in His infinite kindness and grace, always lead us by the hand.

From Venice, 11 September 1536,

Poor in goodness,


6. In praise of The Spiritual Exercises Fr Miona 1536

(No. 10 : I, 111–12 : Spanish)

A testimony to the key importance attached by Ignatius himself to his Spiritual Exercises.

Rev. Manuel Miona1

in Paris

16 November 1536

from Venice



May the grace and love of Christ Our Lord be always in our favour and assist us!

[1] I am really longing to know how you have been getting on! And don’t be surprised about this, as I owe you such an enormous debt in spiritual things – like a son to his spiritual father. It is only reasonable that I should want to make some return for all the love and kindness that you have always had for me, and shown by your deeds. But at present in this life the only way I knew of repaying you some slight percentage2 was by arranging for you to make a month’s Spiritual Exercises with the person I mentioned to you (you had already agreed to make them). Please do write and let me know if you have approved of them and enjoyed them (I ask you out of a desire to serve God Our Lord). If you haven’t made them yet, then I implore you – by the love and most cruel death that He suffered for our sake – to set yourself to them. And should you regret it later, then please do not only impose any penance on me that you might wish (I willingly accept it), but consider me somebody ready to make fun of the spiritual persons to whom I owe everything.

[2] In my other letters I have been writing to one person there in the name of all, and that is why I have not yet written to you personally. For any news about me that you might like to have, Favre3 will be able to inform you, and you will see for yourself in the letter that I am sending him. Still, let me repeat once and twice and as many more times as I am able: I implore you, out of a desire to serve God Our Lord, to do what I have said to you up to now. May His Divine Majesty never ask me one day why I did not ask you as strongly as I possibly could! The Spiritual Exercises are all the best that I have been able to think out, experience and understand in this life, both for helping somebody to make the most of themselves, as also for being able to bring advantage, help and profit to many others. So, even if you don’t feel the need for the first, you will see that they are much more helpful than you might have imagined for the second.

[3] As for the rest, I close this letter begging the immense clemency of God Our Lord to grant us His grace, so that we may feel His most holy will, and may be able to fulfil it perfectly, iuxta talentum omnibus commissum [= in accordance with the talent entrusted to each one4], or at least sufficiently to avoid our hearing the words Serue nequam, sciebas, etc. [= Evil servant, you knew, etc.5].

From Venice, 16 November 1536,

Completely yours in the Lord,


7. Blueprint for a religious order Mgr Carafa 1536

(No. 11 : I, 114–18 : Spanish)1

Two years before there was any question of starting a new ‘religious order’ Ignatius detected a malaise in a similar group begun only a dozen years earlier, the Theatines. The root problem was their attitude to wealth, exemplified in the lavish life-style adopted by one of their founder-leaders, the future Pope Paul IV (from whom, significantly, Ignatius expected only the noblest example) and in the dangerous lack of clear norms on poverty. Ignatius is realist enough to recognize that a new order has to steer a careful course between the Scylla of scandalous wealth and the Charybdis of grinding poverty. It seems that his apprehensions reached the ears of Mgr Carafa, who was violently opposed to Spaniards as he was to Protestants, and relations between the two men were permanently soured.

Bishop Gian Pietro Carafa2

in Venice


from Venice



[1] [The common love of God] On reflection we see that the life we so desire and our eternal happiness are identical with, based upon, and constituted by an intimate and genuine love of God, our Creator and Lord. The prospect of that life creates relations and obligations among all of us who exist to love one another with a sincere love, a love not imaginary but true in that same Lord whose wish it is to save us, unless, through our frailty, guilt and utter worthlessness persist. So I have thought of writing you this letter, avoiding the pomposity habitual to many letters (something I do not criticize if properly ordered in the Lord), because one may well presume that a person who abandons the world, rejecting dignities and other temporal honours, will not want to be addressed with honorific titles and esteem couched in sounding phrases. Surely, he will be the greater who in this life becomes the lesser!3 Therefore I leave out all those things that run the risk of provoking you, or disturbing you from true peace, the internal and eternal peace. Instead I would request you, out of love and reverence for Christ our Creator, Redeemer and Lord, to read this letter with the same love and good will with which it is written. This love is so genuine and sincere that I can beg and implore the infinite and supreme Goodness, with all the forces that He has given me (without my deserving it), to grant to you, on exactly the same terms as I ask for myself, whatever is good in this life and in the next, all good for both soul and body, and all else that may be required for God’s most holy and due service. This is my wish for you and what I beg and implore for you.

[2] [Tentative advice] Now, inspired by the same good will, prompt and ready to serve, that I have for all those I feel are servants of my Lord, I intend to discuss here three topics with the simplicity and love mentioned above, rather as if I were talking to myself and not attempting to give somebody my opinion or a piece of advice – it is always better to take advice humbly than to give it proudly! My aim will be to draw attention and to set in motion, so that we may always try our best to ask God’s help: He is the One from whom all healthy opinions and sound advice come.

[3] [Danger for the Theatines] First, there seem to me to be sufficient arguments, based on likely reasons and adequate guesses – and I write this quite peacefully, in love and charity – for me to fear or think that the religious group4 given you by God Our Lord may not spread out at all, whereas if it were to increase in companions,5 then it would be more likely to be of greater service and praise of the Lord. I restrict myself here to explaining only part of what I can understand. I was quite at a loss to know the cause of my feeling on this subject, and so I recommended it to God Our Lord very insistently and frequently, then decided to write the following remarks, just as youngsters usually do with their elders when they think they can warn them or help them for the service of God Our Lord, hopefully without themselves being directly or indirectly misled in the matter.6

[4] [Carafa’s excessive life-style] Secondly, given a person’s quality, his descent from such a noble house, his great dignity and lofty rank, added to being advanced in years,7 then I cannot be scandalized or set a bad example if he is somewhat better turned out and dressed, and if his lodging is somewhat above the norm and rather better equipped – especially if out of consideration for the visitors he receives – than is the case for others of his religious group. One has to comply with the needs and advantages of particular periods. There is no need to hold such things as imperfections. Nevertheless, if one bears in mind how the saintly blessed ones, like Saint Francis and Saint Dominic, and many others in the past, conducted themselves with their subordinates when they were founding and giving rules and good example, it does seem to me to be very wise and sensible for someone to have recourse to the true and supreme Wisdom, in order to request and obtain the greatest possible light and clarity so that he may be directed completely to His greater service and praise. There are many things that are licit but not expedient, as St Paul says about himself.8Otherwise others may use the excuse to lessen their efforts, or even follow the example beyond its limits. This is especially true of one’s own household; they always pay more attention to the doings and sayings of their elders and betters.

[5] [The scandal of religious wealth] Thirdly, I hold as a maxim that God Our Lord has created everything in this life to satisfy human needs, and to serve and preserve the human race, so a fortiori those who are the best. Now given that your religious and holy foundation is a via ad perfectionem [= a way to perfection], and places those in it in a state9 of perfection, I personally have no doubt, but am quite certain, that all those who practise obedience and a blameless life in your group, even though they do not preach or devote themselves to the other corporal works of mercy in any apparent way – as they are given much more to other spiritual works and those of greater importance – have a right to victus et vestitus [= food and clothing] according to the norms of love and Christian charity; they should be receiving these in order to grow strong in the service and praise of their true Creator and Lord. However it seems most advisable and more sure in this matter if one takes great precautions, and constantly prays for guidance to the Lord, for whose sake everything is undertaken. There will then be a hope of edifying the general public, and of preserving and increasing such a religious and holy group in its early steps.

[6] [The weaker brethren] Those who are weak or who are more worried about supplies of material goods, especially those necessary for life, may well object, basing their arguments on apparent truth, that it is most difficult for the above members of the group to continue for long in their religious calling because of three factors, all obvious reasons: (1) they are not able to beg for what they need, and lack the minimum to live; (2.) they do not preach; (3) they do not devote themselves to any great extent to the corporal works of mercy, like preparing graves and saying masses for those who have died, etc.

[7] [Need for a public image] My point is that even if they did not practise begging, their works would become public knowledge if they were to preach etc. Even supposing that they did not have the ability or the proper disposition to preach, if they were on the look-out, and asked some parishes to let them know when people had died, so that they could help to dig the graves, pray for them and celebrate masses gratis, then they would have a way of giving greater service to God Our Lord in a religious manner, and the general public would be more inspired to maintain them and would show much more charity towards them, and other clerics would try to interest more people and prick their consciences.

[8] [Need for material provision] As for those who want to live exclusively in the hope that they will be kept and fed, I can certainly agree that if one decides not to beg, but simply to serve God Our Lord and to hope in His infinite goodness, this is enough for one to be both kept and fed. However those who are weaker or more preoccupied, as I mentioned, with worldly matters may well object that Saint Francis and the other blessed saints are believed to have had this hope and confidence in God Our Lord, but that did not stop them establishing the means that seemed most appropriate to ensure that their houses were maintained and expanded, to the greater service and greater glory of the divine majesty. Any other form of action would have seemed to be tempting God, whom they were supposed to be serving, rather than following a path likely to lead to His service.

[9] [Ignatian insights] Other points can be left for a better occasion; I don’t want to write them down as they are not considerations that I have developed and thought out for myself, but they have been put forward by others, or I happen to have heard them second-hand. But whatever I have weighed up and pondered I am quite happy to put down on paper and present before you, as though I were doing it on my own for my own consideration. No harm is likely to come from this, and some good may follow if we continue constantly to pray to God Our Lord, so that in His infinite and supreme Goodness He may find and disclose to us new remedies for the new tasks that face us. I implore and constantly pray that, with His usual kindness and supreme grace, He will deign to give a hand to all [your work], so that His greater service and praise may follow from it all, just as I hope will happen with my own affairs.

Wishing to be the servant of all the servants of God Our Lord,


8. Early years in Italy 1536–37

(No. 2 in Appendix 2 : XII, 320–23 : Spanish)1

An important autobiographical fragment that covers the crucial years when the companions were coalescing into a group (in September 1537 they began to refer to themselves as ‘Companions of Jesus’) but still thought of themselves as poor priests en route to Jerusalem.

Rev. Juan Verdolay2

in Barcelona

24 July 1537

from Venice



May the grace and love of Christ Our Lord be always in our favour and assist us!

[1] Since my visit to those parts3 and my letter to you, about two years ago, I have not had any letter from you, nor indeed any news until recently, some three months ago, when Isabel Rosel4 informed me about your health and about the excellence and soundness of your teaching. She also said that you had written to me and were longing to have more news about me.

[2] Clearly, I have no pressing duty to remain here, and if it were not for the many commitments that I have voluntarily taken on, convinced as I am of their great importance, I would not let the danger of sore feet prevent me from reaching you, wherever you may happen to be. Having considered the situation over there and weighed up matters here, if for your part you think it would be for the greater service and glory of Our Lord, I would very much wish us to meet here in Venice. I expect to be staying here for about a year, more or less. After that, I have no idea what God Our Lord will arrange for me.

[3] In order to keep you better informed about myself and the others who are brothers to both of us in Christ Our Lord, and to answer the questions you must have, I think I shall try to write you quite a long letter as I’m sure you will be pleased to receive reliable information.

[4] [Companions in Venice] In the middle of January, nine5 of my friends in the Lord arrived here from Paris; they all have their MA degrees and are quite well versed in theology. Four of them are Spaniards, two French, two from Savoy and one from Portugal. They had to cope with many threats from wars, long journeys on foot and the worst of the winter. All were lodged in two hospitals, and split up in order to care for the sick who are in poverty, doing the jobs that are most demeaning and physically repugnant.

[5] [Companions in Rome] After two months of this exercise they went to Rome, with some others who had come to share their aspirations, for Holy Week. They were poverty-stricken, penniless, and without the backing of any outstanding academics, or of anything else, placing all their trust and hope simply and solely in the Lord for whose sake they had come. So, they found without any difficulty all that they wanted and much more: they were granted an audience with the Pope. Afterwards many cardinals, bishops and professors came and were in discussion with them. One of those present was Dr Ortiz,6 who has been quite exceptionally supportive to them. Several other distinguished scholars were also favourable. The upshot was that the Pope was very pleased with them, as were all those present at the discussion, and began to grant them every possible help: 1st, permission to go to Jerusalem, the Pope blessing them once and then a second time, urging them to persevere in their aims; 2nd, the Pope made a grant of about 60 ducats, and among the cardinals and others present they gave them more than 150 ducats, so that they brought here in letters of credit some 260 ducats; 3rd, those who are already priests were given faculties to hear confessions and to grant absolution in all circumstances reserved to bishops; 4th, those who were not priests were given the legal forms required for ordination, no mention being required of patrimony or benefice, so that any bishop could perform the ordination ceremonies to the priesthood on three successive feast-days or Sundays.

[6] [Priestly ordinations in Venice] Thus when they came back to Venice, we were all finally ordained to full orders, including the priesthood on the Feast of St John the Baptist [24 June 1537]. Those of us ordained were seven7 in number, and we were granted every facility and help imaginable; so much so that we were asked to choose whether we wished to be priests ad titulum voluntariae paupertatis, vel sufficientis litteraturae, vel utriusque;8 we chose ad titulum utriusque, and then took the vow of perpetual poverty in the presence of the local Papal Legate. He did not force us to do this, but we felt that this was what we wanted. When it came to the priestly ordination they offered us two bishops, both of whom wanted to perform the ceremony, so we had quite a task not to offend9 one of them as it was not possible to have them both!

[7] [Faculties] Once all this had been settled, both in Rome and in Venice, without our having to pay anything as it was all done free of charge, the same Legate gave us full authority to preach, teach and explain Sacred Scripture, both in public and in private, throughout the Venetian territory; we can also hear confessions and absolve in all cases normally reserved to bishops, archbishops and patriarchs.

[8] [New responsibilities] I have mentioned all this partly to fulfil what I said above, but also to show you that our burden now is much heavier, and so also will be our shame if we fail to take advantage when God Our Lord is being so generous to us. Without our even asking or planning, everything that we could have wanted for our work is put in our hands. May the divine Goodness pour his grace upon us so that we do not hide in the ground10 the gifts and favours he is constantly giving us, and which we hope he will always give us if we for our part do not fall short. I do beg you, out of service and reverence for his divine majesty, to pray insistently for us. Please also ask the good men and women with whom you are in contact to do likewise. You can see how great is our need: those who receive more put themselves all the more in debt.11

[9] [Money for Jerusalem] This year, despite all their hope for a passage to Jerusalem, there has been no boat, nor is there one now – all because of the armada being prepared by the Turks. We have come to a common agreement that the letters of credit for the 260 ducats collected should be sent to Rome, so that the money can be returned to the disposal of those who received these sums on their behalf. We do not want to use this money except for the journey proposed. Also we do not want anybody to think that we are hankering after those things for which people of the world are willing to give their lives.

[10] [The coming year] Once that job has been done (the letter has already been sent) and this letter is written, then the following day the people here will set out two by two to take up any work they can find likely to please Our Lord, for whose sake they are going. So they will be spread out over this part of Italy until next year, when they will see if they can cross over to Jerusalem. Then if it is not God Our Lord’s good pleasure that they make the journey, they will not wait any longer but carry on with whatever they have begun.

[11] [Expansion?] Here some companions have wanted to stick on to us, and they do not lack sufficient learning. Still, our concern has been to restrict rather than to expand, for fear of fallings away.

Let me end praying God Our Lord in His infinite and supreme goodness that He may deign to grant us His full grace, so that we may feel His most holy will and accomplish it fully.

From Venice, 24 July 1537,

Poor in goodness,


P.S. After writing the above I received a letter from you. As far as I can judge and feel – knowing that Our Lord is to judge me one day – it seems to me that there will be more for you to do here, considerable though your present work is, and you will find the path you desire to serve the Lord more fully. Therefore do all you can so that we can see one another soon!

9. Thanks for support Mgr Contarini 1538

(No. 17 : I, 134–36 : Latin)

This little thank-you note, one of several letters to Ignatius’s Venetian friends and patrons, gives a glimpse both of the difficulties encountered and of the administrative workings brought into play. The contact with the powerful Contarini family gave decisive help in these crucial foundation years.

Pietro Contarini1                    2 December 1538

in Venice                     from Rome


The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ and peace be with us all.

[1] We have received your last letter to us, together with the one you sent to commend us to the Revd Lord [Cardinal Gasparo] Contarini. For both we are grateful to your friendliness and kindness. From the one we saw how well you remember us; from the other we realized how much we are indebted to you.

[2] As soon as your Revd uncle read your letter, he sent one of his servants to the Lord Governor, asking him by his favour to dismiss the case against us, which had come before him. Not many days later the matter was entirely concluded, and that in the way which we thought would be most to the honour of God and the benefit of souls: judgement was given to the effect that, after diligent inquiry, nothing had been found either in our way of life or in our teaching to deserve mistrust. If you are interested to see the terms of the judgement itself, you may like to know that the Imperial Ambassador2 who is with you also has a copy, for some of our friends sent him one. We realize that this does not mean that no one will slander us in future; we never asked for that. We just wanted recognition of our honour, doctrine and upright way of life. With the help of God, we shall never be worried if we personally are called lacking in culture, education or eloquence, or again if we are called wicked, deceivers or unreliable; but what hurt was that the actual doctrine which we were preaching should be called unsound, and that our form of life should be called evil, for ours are neither of these, but are of Christ and his Church. But enough of all this.

[3] All those you asked us in your letter to greet in your name send you their greetings in return through me. They are all well in body and I trust also in mind, as we hope through Jesus Christ Our Lord, who is our peace, rest, fulfilment, consolation and the sum of all the good for which we were made and born anew, and for the sake of which we are preserved so long in this world.

But for the present, best wishes in Him, and please continue your kind concern for us.

From the city of Rome, 2 December 1538,

Yours in the Lord,


10. Roman trials and tribulations 1538

(No. 18 : I, 137–44 : Spanish)1

Taking up the story from Letter 8 this one brings it to the verge of the crucial decision to found the Society as a religious order.

Isabel Roser2

in Barcelona

19 December 1538

from Rome

May the grace and love of Christ Our Lord be always in our favour and assist us!

[1] There is little doubt in my mind that you will be quite anxious, and no less surprised, that I have written so few letters to you, despite all my wishes to the contrary. Really, if I were to forget all that I owe to the Lord through your hands, with such sincere love and good will, I think the Divine Majesty would no longer remember me! Out of love and reverence for Him you have always spent yourself so much on my behalf.

[2] [1538 – a trying year] But there was a reason for my dilatoriness in writing: from one day to the next, and then from one month to the next, we were quite confident that we would be able to liquidate one of our affairs, and we wanted to give you reliable information about our situation here. In fact, the affair has taken on such proportions that during eight whole months we have had to undergo the most violent opposition or persecution that we have ever experienced in our lives. I don’t mean to say that we have been physically attacked, or formally arraigned, or anything of that sort. The system was rather to spread reports among the people and to describe us in incredible terms, so that we were an object of suspicion and hatred for all, becoming a focus of considerable scandal. It became necessary to appeal before the Papal Legate and the City Governor (as the Pope3 was absent at that moment in Nice) because of the great scandal that was being widely caused. We began by naming and summoning some of those who were actively involved against us, so that they could explain before higher authority what errors they had detected in our lives and teachings. In order to make the affair easier to understand from the beginning, I shall give some account of it.

[3] [Arrival in Rome] More than a year4 ago three of our Society5 arrived here in Rome, as I remember having written to tell you. The other two began to give lectures free of charge in the university college (the Sapienza), one in positive theology and the other in scholastic theology, acting on the instructions from the Pope. For my part, I set myself full-time to organizing and giving the Spiritual Exercises to persons both inside and outside6 Rome. We decided on this policy in order to win some people of learning or power to our side; or, to be more precise, to the side, honour and homage of God Our Lord, for our ‘side’ is nothing but the praise and service of His Divine Majesty. Our aim was to prevent too much opposition among men of the world, so that later we might be freer to preach His holy word, as we could smell the soil, how arid it was in all good fruit and how overgrown with weeds.

[4] [Coming together] As a result of those Exercises (God Our Lord was at work) we won over some persons to help and support us, among them gifted academics and people of high standing. Then four months after our arrival, we thought of bringing all the members of the Society together in this city, and as they began to arrive,7 we duly applied for permission to preach and hear confessions. The Legate granted these permits with ample powers, even though in his department some very negative reports about us were handed in to his Vicar, aimed at preventing the grant of the permits. Once we had them, four or five of us began to preach on feast days and Sundays in various churches. Similarly, in other churches we began to explain to young boys about the ten commandments, mortal sins, etc. All this time, the two courses continued at the Sapienza, and the hearing of confessions elsewhere. The others were all preaching in Italian; I was the only one to use Spanish.

[5] [Preaching work] For all the sermons there were quite large crowds, which far exceeded anything we had expected. There were three reasons for a low expectation: first, it was an unusual time – we began at the end of the Paschal season when the Lenten preachers and those for the big feasts were finishing, and in this part of the world the custom is to have sermons only in Lent and Advent; secondly, because normally, when the labours and sermons of Lent are over, most people – sinful that we are – tend to take their ease and enjoy the world’s pleasures rather than to take up other similar efforts and new devotions; thirdly, because we have the impression that our sermons are not notable for turns of phrase and beautiful words and yet we are quite convinced, by a wealth of experience, that Our Lord in His infinite and supreme goodness does not forget us, and worthless and insignificant though we may be, He gives help and assistance to very many others through us.

[6] [First trial: no verdict] Now once our appeal had been lodged as described, two men were officially summoned and questioned, and one of them found that his position before the judges was very different from what he had expected.8 Then the others whom we had named to be summoned were so frightened that they had no desire or courage to make an appearance. Instead they brought pressure to bear upon us to make us carry on our case before different judges. They were persons of wealth, one with an income of one thousand ducats, another with one of six hundred, and yet another with even more power, all of them members of the curia or men of affairs. They intrigued so much with cardinals and other men of standing in the curia here that they kept us busy with this struggle for a long time. Finally, those who stood out as most important were summoned and came before the Legate and the Governor. They said that they had heard our sermons and lectures, etc, and they gave a full account of everything, as much of our teaching as of our way of life, justifying us completely. After all this, both the Legate and the Governor, who held us in very high esteem, wanted a veil of silence to be drawn over the whole matter, regarding both these accusers and any others. We for our part requested repeatedly, as we felt to be just, that a written report be drawn up on what was bad or good in our teaching, so that the public scandal might be dissipated. However we were never able to obtain this from them, despite all justice and right.

[7] [Appeal to the Pope] From then onwards there was such a terror of the legal authorities that no more was heard of what had previously been said against us, at least in public. But as we were never able to obtain a final sentence or declaration on our affair, one of our friends had a word with the Pope when he returned from Nice, requesting that a declaration be made on it. Although the Pope granted our request, it never took effect, and so two of our Society spoke to him about it. Later still, as the Pope left Rome to stay at a castle in the vicinity,9 I went there and talked to His Holiness alone in his room for a good hour. As I was explaining to him at length our proposals and intentions, I gave a very clear account of all the times when I had been arraigned in Spain and in Paris; similarly the times when I had been imprisoned in Alcalá and in Salamanca. I did this partly so that nobody can give him more information than I have, partly so that he would be more inclined to set up an investigation about us. Either way, a sentence or declaration about our teaching would be given. It was so very necessary for our future preaching and exhortation that we should be held in good repute, not only in the eyes of God Our Lord but also in the eyes of ordinary people, and that there should be no suspicions about our teaching and conduct, that in the end I implored His Holiness, in the name of us all, to order measures to be taken so that our teaching and conduct could be investigated and examined by any recognized judge that His Holiness might appoint, in order that if error were found, we might be corrected and punished, and if right, His Holiness might give us his support.

[8] [New trial] Seeing that there was room for doubt (on the basis of what I had told him), the Pope reacted very well, praising our talents and the way they were applied in good causes. He spoke to us for a while, encouraging us (and certainly with words suited to a real and upright pastor), then gave orders with all despatch to the Governor, who is both a bishop and the principal court in this city for both ecclesiastical and civil matters, to give audience to our suit at once. The Governor opened a new case, and set about it speedily. Then the Pope returned to Rome and very often spoke publicly in our favour, indeed in the presence of members of our Society (as they have the habit of going once a fortnight to hold a public discussion during His Holiness’s mealtime). Most of our storm has now blown over, and day by day the fine weather is spreading. Thus it seems to me that things are going much as we would want – to the service and glory of God Our Lord – so that we are much in demand from both prelates and others to produce happy results in their lands (with God at work). We are staying still, hoping for the best opportunity. Very recently sentence has been passed and our case has been settled, thank God!

[9] [The conjunction of witnesses] In connection with this something happened here which is not exactly normal. Among the remarks about us that had been made up and passed around was one that said we were really fugitives from justice, wanted in several countries and especially in Paris, Spain and Venice. Well, just when the sentence or declaration was due to be passed on us, there happened to be in Rome, all recently arrived, Figueroa,10 the Regent, who had arrested me once in Alcalá and had twice brought me to trial, the Vicar General11 of the Papal Legate in Venice, who also brought a case against me (shortly after we had begun to preach in Venetian territory), Dr Ory,12, who similarly brought me to trial in Paris, and the Bishop of Vicenza13 where three or four of us had preached for a short time. Likewise the cities of Siena, Bologna and Ferrara sent authorized witnesses to bear testimony here, and the Duke of Ferrara,14 in addition to sending witnesses, took the matter so much to heart, as he felt that God Our Lord was being dishonoured by what was being done against us, that he wrote to his ambassador and also to our Society on several occasions. He considered the case a matter of personal interest as he was aware of the good that had been done in his city. Similar reactions came from the other cities where we have been (it has been no small achievement on our part to have known how to maintain our reputation and persevere in his city).

[10] [Activity in Rome] One thing for which we are most grateful to God Our Lord is that ever since we began up to the present moment, two or three sermons have not failed to be made on every feast, the two lectures have continued each day, some have been busy with confessions and others with spiritual exercises. Now that sentence has been given, we hope to increase the number of sermons, and also the instruction of young boys. Given that the earth here is so sterile and dry, and the opposition we have encountered so great, we cannot honestly say that we have lacked things to do, nor that God Our Lord has failed to be active to a degree that surpasses anything that our knowledge and understanding can encompass.

[11] [A new order?] On more particular matters I shall not write further here, so as not to make this letter too long, but in general God Our Lord is making us very happy. I will only mention that there are four or five who have made up their minds to join our Society, and they have persevered in their decisions for many days and many months now. For our part we do not dare to accept them because this was one among other matters that they brought up against us, namely that we were accepting others and establishing a congregation or religious order without apostolic authorization. Hence our present situation, and if we are not all agreed about how we are to proceed, we are all agreed in the resolve that we must come to an agreement in the future. In this matter we hope that God Our Lord will soon dispose how best He may be served and praised in all things.

[12] [Request for prayers] Now that you have learned where our affairs stand, please pray out of love and reverence for God Our Lord that we may be very patient, with our hearts set on what He may want to achieve through us, as best suited to His glory and praise. There can be no doubt that matters are now at a crucial juncture. I shall keep you informed more frequently about what is happening, for without any hesitation I can assure you that if I forget you, I can only expect to be forgotten by my Creator and Lord. That is why I am not too worried about doing my duty and expressing my thanks in words. However, please feel quite certain, all that you have done on my behalf out of love and reverence for God Our Lord is present in His sight. In addition to that, as you have always helped me and given me special support in God’s divine service and praise, you will have a full part as long as I live in whatever good deeds His Divine Majesty may wish to bring about through me, giving them the value of some merit through His divine grace. Please ask all those persons whom we both know, and who are so upright and so devoted to God, and so united with us in Christ Our Lord, to remember me and pray often for me.

[13] To finish, I implore God Our Lord, in his infinite goodness and supreme kindness, to grant us his full grace, so that we may feel His most holy will and accomplish it fully.

From Rome, 19 December 1538,

Poor in goodness,


P.S. As I was writing this letter, the Pope commanded arrangements to be made by means of the Governor so that orders are given to the city whereby when schools for young boys are amalgamated, we will undertake the instruction in Christian doctrine, as we began to do earlier on. As this is something that God Our Lord wants, may He grant us the strength to work for His greater service and glory. I am sending to Archdeacon Cazador15 the text (as it is in Latin) of that declaration about us that was published here; he will inform you about it.

11. Benighted obedience Fr Viola 1542

(No. 52 : I, 228–29 : Spanish)

This letter contains the earliest reflections by Ignatius on the notion of obedience, which will come to play such a major role in his thinking; already many factors, especially the importance of representation, are present.

Fr Giovanni Batista Viola1                                              August 1542 (?)

Paris                                                   from Rome



May the supreme grace and love of Christ Our Lord be always in our favour and assist us continuously!

[1] I have received a letter from you and I cannot understand it. Indeed there are references in it on two occasions to obedience: once you say that you are ready to obey my wishes, and at another point you write, ‘As I would prefer to welcome death rather than be remiss in obeying, I submit myself to your Reverence’s judgement’. Now it is true that in my opinion obedience should try to be blind, where I understand ‘blind’ in two ways: (1) when the person obeying (in a case where there is no question of sin) ties up his understanding and does what he is told; (2) when the person obeying receives or has received from the Superior an order to do something, and then realizes that there are other aspects or problems about what has been ordered; the person respectfully informs the Superior about these aspects or problems that have occurred to him, without trying to urge the Superior one way or the other, so that he can carry out at once with a tranquil mind whatever is said or ordered.

[2] As for your notion of obedience, I am incapable of really understanding it. At one point you inform me of many good reasons that you think will persuade me in the choice of a different professor, and later you add in your letter the words, ‘I considered it proper to write to your Reverence, asking you to kindly notify us if we should change professors or instead waste our time’. You can judge for yourself if you are really seeking obedience, and if you are really submitting your judgement so that I can tell you what to think. Seeing that you are so sure of your own opinion and absolutely convinced that you are wasting your time, where does any submission of your judgement come in? Or can it be that you think my task is to tell you to waste your time? May God forbid that I should ever find myself doing harm to somebody when I cannot help the person!

[3] At another point you write, ‘I am really very sorry to have thrown away all this time, during eight months, with that professor; if you are still convinced that we should waste time, then we will’. I distinctly remember that when you left here I told you that by the time you reached Paris, the course on the Summulae2 would be two or three months under way: you should study Latin for four or five months to become more fluent, then dedicate three or four months to acquire an initial grasp of the Summulae course so that you would have some understanding when you began the full course the following year. It was your choice to follow your own opinion rather than mine and to insert yourself into a course that was already two or three months under way. Judge for yourself who has been responsible for your waste of time.

[4] Let me end this letter imploring God Our Lord in His infinite and supreme goodness to grant us the fullness of His grace that we may feel His most holy will and accomplish it fully.

12. Vocation doubts of a young man 1544

(No. 79 : I, 294–95 : Spanish)

The MHSI edition has the lurid title ‘To a man tempted by a demon’, and the distress of the person addressed can be easily imagined. The counselling technique adopted is very Ignatian.

Unknown addressee                                                   28 November 1544

Unknown destination                                                          from Rome



May the supreme grace and love of Christ Our Lord be always in our favour and assist us continuously!

[1] Given the great affection and goodwill I have for you there can be no question of my failing you in any way. So in reply to your letter and that of Master Laínez I shall simply put down briefly what my feelings in the Lord happen to be.

[2] 1. Re the suggestion that you go and live at home: I can think of nothing that in my opinion would be worse for you and that you should more detest. I have already written you at length on this topic, giving the reasons based on previous experience and other proofs.

[3] 2. Re the proposal that you keep a room and live in that house with ours: I don’t think I can agree to this and don’t feel happy that such a solution will be for the best. On the one hand, it is not as if you were finding the good you wanted there, which would be a reason for you to stay. On the other hand, both your relations and our men would be distressed because they would not be able to help you in utroque homine [= body and soul] as they would wish. So all things considered the surest solution, most likely to provide better and greater assistance to all in Our Lord, would be for you to spend the money that you would have spent at home in renting your own room in good company, quite separate from ours living there. You can then try living in it for a year, going to confession and having talks with some of ours a few times each week. In the rest of the time you can attend some lectures, more with a view to keeping your mind busy and strong than to mastering some scholastic discipline for teaching others. You can take part in all sorts of good social contacts and such recreations that are not likely to lead to sin (it is preferable for us to avoid sin than to be lords over the whole world1). Once you have gained a certain peace and quiet of conscience with the help of internal consolations and spiritual joys,2 then the time will come for you to study for the benefit of others, according to your mental and physical strength. Above all I would urge you, out of love and reverence for God Our Lord, when the past comes to mind, consider very carefully and not in any abstract way that this earthly home of ours is nothing but earth.

May God Our Lord, in His infinite and supreme goodness, grant us the fullness of His grace, that we may feel His most holy will and accomplish it fully.

Rome, 28 November 1544.

13. Borgia’s early steps


(No. 101 : I, 339–42 ; Spanish)

The first extant letter of Ignatius to Borgia, but a sequel to others. Ignatius is aware that his addressee is already experiencing ‘movements’ of the spirit, but his direction remains at a very general level, with no hint of contact with a future candidate for the Society.

Francis Borgia,1 Duke of Gandía                                                                           late in 1545

in Gandía                                                                                                                       from Rome

My dear Lord in Our Lord,

May the supreme grace and eternal love of Christ Our Lord bring your Lordship salutation and visitation!

[1] [Internal teaching] On the last day of October I received a letter written by yourself on 24 July and was very pleased indeed in Our Lord to find in it references to matters that are more the fruit of experience and internal contact than of outside learning. These are usually communicated by God Our Lord in His infinite goodness to those persons who take for their base that goodness, which is the beginning, middle and end of all our prayers. May His supreme name be ever praised and honoured in all and by all creatures, all created and planned precisely for this eminently right and appropriate end.

[2] [Ignatius’s contacts with Borgia in God] But to come down in particular to some points raised by you that seem to me to require comment. First, that I should not forget you in my prayers and maintain contact with you by my letters: the truth is that as I continued to comply with the first part of this request, as I still do every day (my hope in the Lord is that, if my prayers may win at least one favour, it will come simply and solely from above, descending from the divine goodness, my eyes fixed exclusively on God’s eternal and supreme generosity and on the religious feeling and holy intentions of your Lordship), I was convinced that as I had you spiritually before my eyes every day, I was complying with the second part of your Lordship’s request that you might find consolation in my letters. I like to think that when persons go out of themselves and enter into their Creator and Lord, they enjoy continuous instruction, attention and consolation; they are aware how the fullness of our eternal Good dwells in all created things, giving them being, and keeping them in existence with His infinite being and presence. So I am easily convinced that one can find consolation in most things and with many other similar considerations. Those who love God completely find help in all things;2everything supports them in their deserving efforts and in their approach to, and union with, the Creator and Lord himself through their intense love.

[3] [The obstacles we create] This is true even if, as your Lordship points out, the creature often raises obstacles to the changes and great blessings the Lord wishes to bring about in the soul, and not only before the graces, gifts and delights of the Holy Spirit are given to assist us in our efforts, but even when they are present and felt – when a person has received visitations and consolations, when the darkness and troublesome worry have been dispelled, when many spiritual improvements have taken place, when a person has become happy and completely rapt in eternal things, those that are to last for ever in never-ending glory. We manage to distract ourselves with the most petty preoccupations and have no idea how to take care of the heavenly gifts we receive. We do indeed raise obstacles before the grace and influence of the Lord has made itself felt. And after it has been granted, we do the same, even though it is there so that we may take care of it.

[4] [Plumbing the depths] Your Lordship refers to these obstacles to show how little you value yourself before the Lord of all; and you also speak highly of us, who would prefer the lowest place. You affirm that the Society does not impede the work that the Lord wishes to accomplish in it. Perhaps you have in mind what Araoz3 is doing in Portugal. For my part I am convinced that I am nothing but an obstacle, both earlier and later. But this gives me great contentment and spiritual joy in Our Lord; I cannot attribute to myself any good that may appear. The most certain thing in my opinion (though more intelligent persons may feel that there are other more important matters) is that very few persons in this life – and to press the point, I would say nobody – can calculate and form an appraisal of the degree to which they impede and undo the effectiveness of the Lord’s influence on themselves. I am quite convinced that the deeper and the more advanced a person becomes in self-appraisal and love of God, the more conscious that person will become of the most delicate thoughts and of many other insubstantial things that impede and prevent, even if at first sight they may appear slight and almost completely unimportant, being so faint themselves. It is not given us in this life to have full knowledge of our obstacles and failings: that is why the prophet asks to be freed from his unknown faults,4 and Paul, while confessing that he does not know them, adds that not for that will he be found justified.5

[5] [Pupils of the Lord] In his infinite and characteristic mercy Our Lord has made your Lordship as well a pupil in the school of holiness (something you cannot deny when you reflect and deepen your self-knowledge, as I am quite sure from what I have gathered through your letters). My great desire in the Lord, who is to judge me for all eternity, is that you will study hard and do all you can to win over many fellow pupils. You should begin with those of your household, as we are more obliged to guide them by the most sure and direct way to the Divine Majesty. This ‘way’ is in fact Christ Our Lord, as He Himself said.6 So I give great thanks to his divine goodness seeing that your Lordship (as I have been told here) is so assiduous in receiving the Lord [in communion]. In addition to the many other great graces one is granted on receiving one’s Creator and Lord, there is one very important and special grace: the Lord does not permit one to remain in a prolonged and obstinate state of sin. As soon as one falls, even in the most minor failing (granted that no sin can really be called ‘minor’ when related to the one offended, the infinite, and indeed supreme, Good), the Lord swiftly lifts the person up with greater strength and with a greater resolve and determination better to serve the Creator and Lord. As you follow this ‘way’ thanks to the workings of divine assistance, and as you win over other people and your relatives, using the talent given to your Lordship by His Divine Majesty in His infinite and characteristic mercy, my own merit improves, without my deserving it, as my desire grows to follow your Lordship’s example.

[6] [Supervision of the College] Seeing that you mention in your letter your wish to share in my undertakings, and as I am overburdened in Rome with the weight of responsibility – in accordance with our way of life, the supervision of our Society has been put upon me, either by divine command or by permission of the divine goodness because of my great and abominable sins – would your Lordship, out of love and reverence for God Our Lord, while helping me with your prayers, kindly assist me by undertaking the supervision and completion of a house or college in Gandía that has been planned for the scholastics of the Society (the house will be as much your Lordship’s and that of Her Ladyship, the Duchess, and of her sister, Doña Joana,7 as it will be ours)? Already, thanks to your Lordship’s request and command, some of ours8 have been welcomed there, to my great spiritual joy. Please assist the house with your support and protection, in the way that your Lordship considers most appropriate in the Lord, and best suited to God’s greater glory. At present we are all the more delighted in the goodness of God that a relative of the Duchess happens to be in the Jesuit house there,9 to her Ladyship’s pleasure as you mention in your letter. I commend myself warmly to her prayers and goodness, and those of Doña Joana, before the Lord. Let me close imploring the Divine Majesty to grant us the fullness of His grace so that we may feel His supreme will, and fulfil it completely.

From Rome, etc., 1545,


14. Conduct at Trent 1546

(No. 123 : I, 386–89 : Spanish)

Many of the Cardinals most supportive of the new Society were convinced of the importance of a reforming Council, and Ignatius seems to have shared their high hopes. However, the guidelines he drew up show that the considerations preoccupying him were not confined to the Council chamber, and probably reflect his own conduct and that of the first companions.

Members of the Society of Jesus

in Trent1

early in 1546

    from Rome

Instructions for the undertaking at Trent




1 First: much can be gained, if God is willing, for the spiritual health and progress of others by having social relations and contact with many people. But unless we are vigilant and have Our Lord to help us, there can be a counter-effect on us that will be a partial or a complete disaster. So, as it is not possible in our calling to avoid social relations, the more forethought and planning we can adopt, the less we will have to worry in Our Lord. The following points may be of some use in this matter and are to be used freely as indications.

2 Anyone of ours should be slow to speak and show consideration and sympathy, especially when dealing with doctrinal definitions that will or may be discussed in the Council.

3 Along with his reticence, he should rely on a readiness to listen, keeping quiet so as to sense and appreciate the positions, emotions and desires of those speaking. Then he will be better able to speak or to keep silent.

4 In these and similar discussions or in others, he should admit both sides of the question and not appear to be self-opinionated, trying to avoid leaving either party discontented.

5 Unless the questions raised are of great moment, he should refrain from quoting authors, especially major ones; instead he should be friendly to all and avoid passionate support for one side.

6 When the questions raised invoke points of right that cannot or should not be passed over, he is to give his point of view as calmly and unpretentiously as possible, adding as a rider salvo meliori iudicio [= unless someone knows better].

7 Finally, when the subjects raised turn on experiential or infused knowledge, if one wants to take part, it will be a great help to forget completely one’s own occupations and lack of time, i.e. my own convenience, and adapt myself completely to the convenience and requirements of the person I want to deal with, so that I can urge them on to God’s greater glory.


1 Our main aim (to God’s greater glory) during this undertaking at Trent is to put into practice (as a group that lives together in one appropriate place) preaching, confessions and readings, teaching children, giving good example, visiting the poor in the hospitals, exhorting those around us, each of us according to the different talents he may happen to have, urging on as many as possible to greater piety and prayer. All of this is undertaken so that they and we may implore God Our Lord that His Divine Majesty kindly infuse His divine spirit into all those due to discuss the questions proper to such a lofty gathering, in order that the Holy Spirit may descend with greater abundance of gifts and graces on this Council.

2 In their preaching they should not refer to points of conflict between Protestants and Catholics, but simply exhort all to upright conduct and to ecclesiastical practice, urging everyone to full self-knowledge and to greater knowledge and love of their Creator and Lord, with frequent allusions to the Council. At the end of each sermon, they should (as has been mentioned) lead prayers for the Council.

3 They should do the same with readings as with sermons, trying their best to influence people with greater love of their Creator and Lord as they explain the meaning of what is read; similarly, they should lead their hearers to pray for the Council, as has been mentioned.

4 In hearing confessions, they should remember to repeat to their penitents what they are saying in public, and in all the confessions they should give as penance some prayers for this intention.

5 When giving [the] Exercises or other conferences, they should bear in mind what they are saying in public. Incidentally the first week of the Exercises can be given indiscriminately to anyone, but no more of the Exercises except to certain exceptional individuals who are ready to dispose their future lives in the light of a retreat election. However even when such persons are in the election process, or in the Exercises, they should not be allowed to make religious promises, nor should they be allowed to enter enclosed orders, especially at the beginning. Later the situation may change with time, but one should always try to moderate them, above all if on occasion it seems right to give all the Spiritual Exercises in their complete form. And one should recommend throughout prayers for the Council.

6 They should spend some time, as convenient, in the elementary teaching of youngsters, depending on the means and disposition of all involved, and with more or less explanation according to the capacity of the pupils. At the end of such teaching and exhortation sessions they should lead prayers for the purpose mentioned.

7 Let them visit the almshouses once or twice a day, at times that are convenient for the patients’ health, hearing confessions and consoling the poor, if possible taking them something, and urging them to the sort of prayers mentioned above for confessions. If there are three of ours in Trent, each should visit the poor at least once every four days.

8 When they are urging people in their dealings with them to go to confession and communion, to say mass frequently, to undertake the Spiritual Exercises and other good works, they should also be urging them to pray for the Council.

9 It was said that there are advantages in being slow to speak and measured in one’s statements when doctrinal definitions are involved. The opposite is true when one is urging people to look to their spiritual progress. Then one should be eloquent and ready to talk, full of sympathy and affection.


[1] We should set an hour aside every evening for all of us to inform one another what has been done during the day and what should be done on the following day.

[2] We will take votes or use some other way to get agreement on what is past and what is still to come.

[3] One night one can ask the others to point out any faults they may have noticed, and the person criticized should not reply unless he is asked to explain why he did what was found wrong.

[4] Another night another will do the same, and so in turn, so that all can help one another to grow in charity and good influence all around.

[5] Each morning we should look at what we intend for that day, then make examen of conscience twice during the day.

[6] This time-table is to be put into effect five days after our arrival in Trent. Amen.

15. Refusing episcopal dignities 1546

(No. 149 : I, 450–53 : Spanish)

Courtly letters of the sixteenth century are even more difficult to interpret than others. However, in this case the polite wrapping can be easily removed to disclose a decided negative to a royal request.

Ferdinand I, King of the Romans1

in Vienna (?)

(December?) 1546

    from Rome


[1] [The King’s goodwill] We are aware of the goodwill under God which Your Highness has always had for this very minor Society, and especially for some individual members of it. You now want to make a further practical expression of this by choosing our companion Master Claude Le Jay2 for appointment to an ecclesiastical dignity, and requiring him to accept it. You believe that this will further the service of God Our Lord, and be a favour to us all. Your Highness’s holy desire in showing us, despite our great unworthiness, such great goodness and kindness in Our Lord is evident to all, namely your wish to provide for the Society in a way that will lead to the greater glory of God and to the greater spiritual growth of its members. For all of this we are eternally grateful to Your Highness before His Divine Majesty. May it please God, in His infinite graciousness, to favour Your Highness in every way. May He be pleased to fulfil my hope, implanting and engraving in your mind and heart ways in which you can show favour to us more and more as we go forward in our very minor way of life.

[2] [The danger of bishoprics] Truly this will be the case when Your Highness, as we desire from the bottom of our hearts, decides to make use of us without our being given any ecclesiastical dignities. It is our conscientious opinion that to take any dignity would be for us to ruin the Society, so much so that if I wanted to imagine or think up ways of wrecking and destroying this Society, this way, the acceptance of a bishopric, would be one of the main ones, or even the most important of all. There are three reasons for this, among many others.

[3] [Need for mobility] First: this Society and its members have been brought together and united in one common spirit, namely to travel abroad from one part of the world to another, among believers and unbelievers, according to the orders of the Supreme Pontiff. Thus the spirit of the Society is to move on from one city to another in complete simplicity and modesty, and from one district to another, not to settle ourselves in one specific place. That this is characteristic of the very spirit of the Society is confirmed by the Holy See, as we have it in the Bulls, where we are said to be ‘inspired, as may reverently be believed, by the Holy Spirit’, etc.3 Thus if we abandoned our simplicity, the abandonment would be of everything, destroying our spirit, and revoking completely the religious profession we have publicly made. After such undoing, the Society would be completely wrecked. Quite plainly, by doing something good in one particular place we would be doing a harm outweighing that good everywhere else.

[4] [Tried policy] Secondly, as the Society moves forward in this spirit, God Our Lord has shown Himself in a quite special way through it, bringing about greater spiritual benefit for people. If in German territories the land has been less fertile, in those parts of the Indies possessed by the King of Portugal there has been a year in which one4 of ours has converted 80,000 people. Another5 of our number who is in Portugal has done much useful work in that kingdom and has sent more than twenty persons6 to the Indies, all of whom have renounced worldly concerns. He has another hundred scholastics who want to go there too, or elsewhere if they can be of greater service to God Our Lord. If it were not to take too long we could talk at length about Castile, Barcelona, Valencia and Gandía, as well as about many places in Italy, and recount how much God Our Lord has seen fit to work through this Society, as it follows the spirit which the Divine Majesty has imparted to it.

[5] [Domino effect] Thirdly, up till now we are only nine professed members.7 Four or five of us in the Society have already been offered various bishoprics, and we have taken the line of refusing them.8 If now some member accepted one, another would be caught in a policy of doing the same, and so on with all the others. Thus not only would we lose our spirit, but the Society would be completely destroyed, and then the greater good would be lost for the sake of the lesser.

[6] [Material for scandal] Fourthly, if one of us accepted a bishopric, everything would go sour, especially now, when the Society and its members are so well respected and esteemed wherever their travels have taken them, and when so much good has been done for people. Those who like us, and who are getting something from us for their spiritual growth, would be shocked and scandalized; there would be bad feeling among those who have not taken up any position about us, and yet who also want to grow spiritually; and those who feel suspicious about us would be even more shocked and scandalized. We would provide much ammunition for widespread gossip and criticism, scandalizing many people, people for whom Christ Our Lord died on a cross. Already when any of us go into the palaces of the Pope, of princes, of cardinals or of nobles, so corrupt has the world become that people think we are being ambitious. If we now accepted a bishopric, it could very easily set off talk and gossip that would cause offence to God Our Lord.

16. Ideals for newcomers Coimbra 1547

(No. 169 : I, 495–510 : Spanish)

Since 1545 reports had begun to reach Ignatius of weird penitential practices1 adopted by the young Jesuit students in Coimbra, partly at the instigation of their superior (Fr Rodrigues). These seemed to threaten the very promising beginnings of the Society in a key country that was the gateway to India, Africa and America. The following letter (probably much indebted to the newly appointed secretary, Polanco), only hints at the historical context, which is nevertheless a necessary backdrop if one is to appreciate its nuances.

Students [of the Society of Jesus]

in Coimbra2

7 May 1547

from Rome

May the eternal grace and love of Christ Our Lord always favour and assist us! Amen.

[1] From letters of Master Simão [Rodrigues]3 and also of [Fr] Santa Cruz4 I am always getting news about you all. God, from whom all that is good descends, knows how much consolation and joy I get from knowing how He helps you, both in your academic studies and in your efforts to grow in virtue. The good reputation to which this gives rise encourages and helps many people grow spiritually in other places far from your country. Although any Christian must rejoice at this, on the strength of the common obligation we all have to love God’s honour and to work for the good of God’s image, this image which is redeemed by the life-blood of Jesus Christ, yet I have many grounds to be particularly glad in Our Lord at what I hear about you, for I hold you close to my heart with a special affection.

[2] As every good thing, every grace, flows from the generosity of our Creator and Redeemer, may He be constantly blessed and praised for it all, and may it please Him each day to open more widely the fountain of His graciousness in order thus to increase and carry forward what He has begun in your minds and hearts. I have no doubt that God’s generosity and love will indeed bring this about. The supreme generosity of God is so supremely eager to spread its own riches; and the eternal love, with which God wants to give us our final fulfilment, is a desire to give far greater than ours to receive. If this were not so, Jesus Christ would not say, ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect’,5 encouraging us to strive for what we can receive from His hand alone. It is certainly the case that He for His part is ready, if only we for ours have a humility and desire capacious enough to receive His graces, and if only He can see us using well the gifts we have received, and asking eagerly and lovingly for His grace.

[Part I: Words of encouragement]


[3] Along these lines I shall not stop giving you encouragement, even those of you making great strides. For I can certainly say to you that you must make great efforts, both with studies and virtue, if you are to live up to the expectations which so many people have of you, not just in Portugal but also in many other places. They look at all the forms of preparation and help that God is giving you, both for inner resources and practical skills, and quite reasonably expect for the future something very much out of the ordinary. It is certainly the case that what is merely average will not satisfy the great obligation you have to do good. If you consider what your vocation actually is, you will see that what in others would not be inconsiderable would indeed be so for you. God has not only ‘called you out of darkness into His marvellous light’,6 and transferred you ‘to the kingdom of His beloved Son’,7 as with all other believers; it has also pleased Him to take you out of the dangerous gulf of this world, so that you can better remain pure and upright, and centre your affections on the things of the Spirit, the things of His service. Thus your consciences will not be at risk from the tempests often stirred up in us by the wind of desire, a desire at one moment for wealth, at another for being honoured, at yet another for sensual pleasure, or else by the opposite of desire, the fear that all this might be lost.

[4] But God’s intention goes further: so that your minds and hearts be not taken up with these paltry things, nor scattered in various directions, He would have you become converted, all united together, occupying yourselves in the purposes for which God created you, the honour and glory of God, your salvation, and the assistance of others.

[5] It is true that all the institutions of Christian religious life are designed for these purposes. However God has called you to this one, and here you must make a sacrifice of yourselves continuously, for the glory of God and the salvation and well-being of others, not just a matter of general orientation, but throwing your whole life and everything you do into this enterprise. You must co-operate in this work for others, not just by good example and by prayers of desire, but also through the other, publicly visible means, arranged by His Providence for us to use in helping each other. Thus you will see how noble and royal a way of life you have adopted. There is no more noble activity for human beings, or even for angels, than that of glorifying one’s Creator and, as far as they are able, of drawing creatures back to Him.

[6] Consider well, then, your calling, so that on the one hand you can give great thanks to God who has given you something so great, and on the other so that you can ask God for a special favour in order to be able to respond to it. Help one another too with enthusiasm and hard work, for this is very much a necessity if you are to achieve such goals. As for slackness, for half-heartedness, and for boredom, whether with studies or with the other good things you do for love of Our Lord Jesus Christ, recognize these as enemies set against your purpose.


[7] Each one of you should take as his model to encourage himself, not those you think slack, but the most determined, those who make most effort. Do not allow the children of this world, as they seek for the things which pass, to be more hard-working and intent than you, who are seeking for the things of eternity.8 You should be ashamed that they are running towards death more quickly than you towards life! If a courtier were to wait more attentively on an earthly prince to gain his favour than you to gain that of the heavenly prince, or if a soldier were to prepare himself and struggle for the honour of victory and for some spoil more keenly than you for victory and triumph over the world, the devil and your own selves, for the eternal kingdom and glory, then count yourselves good for nothing.

[8] For the love of God, do not be slack or half-hearted. As the saying goes, ‘Tension may break the bow, but slackness the spirit’,9 and on the contrary, ‘the soul of the diligent will be richly supplied’,10 so Solomon tells us. See that you maintain a holy, discriminating verve as you work to acquire both learning and virtue. With both of these one intently performed act is worth more than a thousand done lackadaisically, and what a slacker will not get done in many years, a hard worker will achieve in a short space of time.

[9] In the field of studies the difference between one who works hard and one who is lazy is obvious, but that difference is there too when it comes to overcoming the wild passions and weaknesses that affect our nature and to acquiring virtues. For it is clear that slackers, owing to their failure to struggle against themselves, take longer to attain peace of mind and soul, if indeed they ever do. Nor do they ever completely acquire any of the virtues. By contrast, those who are keen and who work at these things make quick progress, both in studies and also in the personal sphere. Experience shows us that the contentment that can be had in this life is to be found not among the lazy, but rather among those who are bubbling over with keenness for God’s service. This stands to reason. These people are making an effort of their own to overcome themselves and get rid of self-centredness. This means they also get rid of the roots of all the wild passions and trouble. Moreover they are acquiring virtues as habits, and so come as a matter of course to act spontaneously and cheerfully in accord with those virtues.


[10] Further, if we consider the matter in terms of God, the most generous of consolers, such people are making themselves ready, through this effort of theirs, to receive His holy consolations: ‘To the one who conquers I will give the hidden manna.’11 Half-heartedness, by contrast, causes one always to be living with burdens. It prevents one from getting rid of what causes them, namely self-love. It fails to win God’s favour. So you must encourage one another to put great effort into your praiseworthy activities. Then even in this life you will sense how you gradually become afire with holiness. It is not just a matter of the perfection of your souls: it can be seen also in contentment with this present life. If you ponder the reward of eternal life, as you should do often, St Paul will readily convince you: ‘These present sufferings are not of the same rank as the future glory which is to be revealed in us’,12 because ‘this light and momentary affliction of ours brings about in us an eternal abundance of glory, far outweighing that affliction in sublimity’.13

[11] If this is the case for all Christians who honour and serve God, you can see how great your crown will be if you conform to our Institute, namely, not only to serve God yourselves, but to attract many others to God’s honour and service. Regarding such people, Scripture says, ‘Those who instruct others in righteousness shall shine like the stars of the firmament for ever and ever’.14 Those who take care conscientiously to fulfil their duty may take this as applying to themselves, both later, when they are actually using their weapons, and earlier, when they are making the weapons ready. It is certainly not enough merely to have theoretical knowledge about intrinsically good deeds. Jeremiah tells us, ‘Cursed is the one who does the work of the Lord negligently’,15 and St Paul that ‘In the stadium many run, but only one receives the prize’16 (i.e. the one who has worked well). Again, ‘Athletes are not crowned unless they compete according to the rules’17 (and this too means those who have worked well).

[12] But above all I would like you to be uplifted by the pure love of Jesus Christ,18 together with the desire for His honour and for the salvation of the souls that He has redeemed. In this ‘company’19 you are His soldiers with a special rank and a special pay. I call them ‘special’ but of course there are other more general obligations laid upon you to work for His honour and service. The pay He gives is everything in the order of nature which you are and possess. He gave you life and being, and He preserves them, together with all the various good things of soul, body, and the world around us. Again, the pay from Him consists of the spiritual gifts of His grace, with which He is always kindly and generously there before you, wherever you go, and which He continually provides even though you are awkward and rebellious with Him. His pay is the incalculable gifts of His glory that He has prepared for you and promised you, without His gaining anything. He imparts to you all the treasures of His bliss so that through ‘eminent’ participation in His divine perfection you can be what He is through His essence and nature. Finally, His pay is the whole universe and what it contains, both bodily and spiritually. For not only has He put everything under heaven in service to us, but also His whole noble and exalted court, sparing none of the heavenly hierarchies, for ‘they are all spirits apt for service, for the sake of those who are to gain the inheritance’.20 And as if all these payments were not enough, He has made Himself our pay, giving Himself to us as our brother in our flesh, on the cross as the price of our salvation, in the Eucharist as our sustainer and companion for our pilgrimage. What a miserable soldier a man would be if all these payments were not enough to make him work for the honour of such a prince!

[13] For we know that Christ our King willed to prepare our path in advance with such incomparably precious gifts, so as to bind us to desire and seek His glory all the more eagerly. In a certain sense He stripped Himself of the endowments of His perfect bliss in order to make us sharers in them. He took on Himself our wretchedness so as to free us from it. He chose to be sold to redeem us, despised that we might be glorified, poor that we might be enriched. He took on a death of enormous shame and torment, in order to give us immortal and blessed life. What ungrateful, hard-hearted persons would fail to see themselves as bound by all this to serve Christ eagerly and to work for His honour!


[14] Now then, if you are aware of your obligations, and if you desire to be of service in furthering this honour of His, you are certainly in a period when there is abundant need for your desire to be demonstrated through action. Just think if there is any place where the Divine Majesty is honoured, where His immense grandeur is held in awe, where His wisdom is known, along with His infinite goodness, or where His holy will is obeyed! Instead you will see with much sadness how much His holy name remains everywhere unknown, devalued, and blasphemed. The teaching of Jesus Christ is set aside, His example forgotten. In some way the ransom of Christ’s blood is lost, as far as we are concerned, in that so few make the most of it.

[15] Look also at the people around you and realize that they are an image of the Holy Trinity. They have potential for the glory of Him to whom the universe is subject. They are members of Jesus Christ, redeemed through His many pains and insults, redeemed through His blood. Look, I repeat, at the wretched state they are in, the deep darkness of their ignorance, the storms of their vain fears, desires and other passions, the enemies who attack them, visible and invisible. Look at the risk they are running, not merely of losing their income or their earthly life, but rather the eternal kingdom and its bliss, and of falling into the unbearable pain of eternal fire!

[16] To recapitulate in a few words, my message is this. Consider well how great your obligation is to take up position in order to further the honour of Jesus Christ, and to help in the salvation of the people around you. See how imperative it is to make yourselves ready, with all possible effort and exertion, so that you become instruments of divine grace suitable for this purpose, especially since these days there are so few workers of whom it can truly be said, ‘They seek not their own interests, but those of Jesus Christ’.21 Since God fashions for you in this calling and with these resolves so special a grace, you must make all the more effort to make up for the shortcomings of others.

[Part II: Words of warning]

[17] What I have said so far has been meant to wake up those of you who are asleep, and to spur on those dawdling and loitering on the way. It is not meant to be a licence for going to the opposite extreme, undisciplined enthusiasm. Disorders in the life of the spirit arise not only from coldness of heart (ailments like tepidity), but also from overheating, as when there is excessive fervour. St Paul talks of ‘the worship due from rational creatures’,22 because he knew the truth of what the Psalmist said, ‘The honour of the king loves sound judgement’,23 i.e. discretion. The point was prefigured in Leviticus, where it says, ‘With all your offerings you shall offer salt’.24 Thus it is as St Bernard says, that the enemy has no mechanism so effective for removing true charity from the heart than that of making the heart’s growth in charity something reckless, out of keeping with spiritual common sense.25 The philosophical dictum ‘Nothing in excess’ applies to everything, even justice itself, as you read in Ecclesiastes, ‘Do not be excessively just.’26 When such moderation is absent, good is transformed into bad and virtue into vice, and many problems arise for those taking this path, blocking their basic purpose.


[18] 1st. Such persons cannot serve God over the long haul, rather as horses that get very tired in the first day’s journeying often fail to arrive at their destination, and other people often have to spend their time looking after them.

[19] 2nd. The gains from excessive haste often do not last, because ‘Riches soon won are soon spent’.27 Not only do such gains waste away, but they also tend to trip one up (‘The one who is fleet of foot stumbles’28), and should such people fall, the higher they are the more dangerous it is, as they will not stop until they hit the bottom of the ladder.

[20] 3rd. They do not take proper care to avoid the danger of overloading the boat. Admittedly it is dangerous to sail it empty, because then it will be pulled hither and thither by temptations, but it is even more dangerous to overload it, as then it sinks.

[21] 4th. It sometimes happens that the ‘crucifixion of our former nature’29 ends up being the crucifixion of the new one as well, when weakness makes one incapable of actually living out the virtues. According to St Bernard30 four things are lost by this kind of excess: the effectiveness of the body, the affections of the spirit, the testimony for others, and the honour due to God. From this he goes on to say that whoever thus mistreats the living temple of God is committing sacrilege, and is to blame for all these losses. He talks about loss of testimony for others because he says that one person’s fall brings scandal to others. The same St Bernard rightly calls those who scandalize others ‘spoilers of unity and enemies of peace’.31 The sight of one person’s fall does frighten many others and retards their spiritual growth, and the people concerned run the risk of pride and vainglory, following their own judgement rather than anyone else’s, or at least taking over a role that is not rightly theirs, as they have become judges in their own cases when by rights it should be the Superior.


[22] Apart from these, there are still further problems caused by over-enthusiasm. It is like loading oneself up with so many weapons that one cannot actually use them, like David with Saul’s,32 or like giving a naturally impetuous horse spurs and no rein. So it is that in this area there must be sound judgement. Virtuous practices must be kept on a course between two extremes. St Bernard33 gives good advice on this: ‘One must not always act out of a generous impulse, but rather curb it and keep it under control, especially as a beginner.’ Otherwise those who want to be good for others will be destructive of themselves. ‘Who can be good to others who is evil to oneself?’34


[23] If sound judgement seems to you a rare bird not easily held, you should at least make use of a substitute, obedience, which will always be a secure guide.35 If anyone wants to go further with their own way of seeing things, they should heed what St Bernard would say to them, ‘If anything happens without the will and consent of the spiritual director, it is to be counted as vainglory, not as merit’.36 Also remember what Scripture says, ‘The iniquity of idolatry consists in the refusal to obey, the sin of divination in disobedience’.37 So if you want to hold on to the middle course between the two extremes of half-heartedness and ill-judged enthusiasm, confide in the Superior and rely on obedience. If you have great desires to die to yourselves, use these to break your wills and to submit your judgements under the yoke of obedience, rather than in weakening your bodies and hurting yourselves without due moderation, especially now during the time of studies.

[24] I would not want you to think, on the basis of all I have written, that I do not approve of what people tell me about certain of your ways of mortification. I am well aware that the saints made use of these and other holy aberrations and made progress through them. Such practices are useful for overcoming oneself, and for growing in grace, especially at the beginning. But for those who now have greater control over their self-centredness, I think that what I have written about their restricting themselves to staying on balance and keeping to moderation is more appropriate. Such people should not act against obedience. That is the ideal I hold up to you, and insist upon, along with the other virtue, summing up all the others, on which Jesus Christ insisted so much that He called the commandment enjoining it His own commandment, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another’.38 However you should not be content to preserve lasting unity and love among yourselves, but should spread it to all people. Take care to sustain in your minds and hearts burning desires for the salvation of others, valuing each person at the price they cost, the blood, indeed the life, of Jesus Christ. By advancing with your academic work on the one hand, and growing in brotherly love on the other, may you come to be completely instruments of divine grace, and co-workers in that most sublime task, the bringing back of God’s creatures into God’s Kingdom, their ultimate end.

[Part III: The period of studies: ways of being useful]

[25] During this intermediate period of studies, do not think that you are of no use to others. Beyond the fact that you are making progress yourselves, for a proper understanding of charity requires, ‘Be kind to your own self, fearing the Lord’,39 you are even now serving others in many ways and furthering the honour and glory of God.

[26] FIRSTLY, with your present work there is your intention in taking it on, directing it to the building up of others. When soldiers are occupied in equipping themselves with weapons and ammunition for a future campaign, it would be wrong to say that their work is not in the service of their prince. Death may cut someone short before they have begun to deal with others in public, but even so this does not undo the service given to others in the work of preparation. So, in addition to having an intention for the future, all should offer themselves every day to God for others. If God in His goodness deigns to accept them, they can be no less instruments for helping others than sermons or confessions.

[27] SECONDLY, there is your making yourselves into virtuous good people. Then you will become people fit to make others the way you yourselves are. God wills a certain system to obtain with reproduction in the material realm, and He wills something analogous in the spiritual realm as well. Both philosophy and experience will tell you that when a human being or some other animal comes into being, more is at work than general causes, such as the heavens; one needs also another cause or direct agent from the same species. This latter enables the product to have the form that the agent wishes to be carried over to a new subject. Thus it is that we say, ‘Sol et homo generant hominem’ [= Humans are begotten by the sun and by humans].40 Similarly, if God wants to shape people in the forms of humility, prudence, charity and so on, it follows that God also wants the direct cause used to shape others in this way, i.e. the preacher or the confessor to be humble, patient and charitable. So if you yourselves are growing personally in every virtue in the way I spoke of earlier, you are being of great service to others. By making moral progress you are no less (but rather more!) instruments for the grace to be conferred on them than you are by your learning, though obviously God’s instruments should be fully developed in both.

[28] THIRDLY, you can help others by the testimony of your way of life: on this point, as I have already said, God’s grace is making the good repute you have in Portugal spread and have a good effect on others abroad. I trust in the Author of all good that He will continue and increase His gifts in you so that each day, as you move forward towards every kind of perfection, the holy reputation you have, and the encouragement of others under God that follows from this, will grow all the more without your seeking it.

[29] FOURTHLY, a way of helping others which is very wide-ranging consists in prayers and holy desires. Study does not give you time for very long prayers, but those who make all their activities into a continual prayer, entering into them only for God’s service, can make up in desires for the time not spent formally praying. However with this as with everything else, you have people nearer to you with whom you can discuss the matter in detail. I could for this reason have left out some of what I have written, but since I write so seldom, I wanted this to be a long letter, from which I myself, along with you, could draw some consolation.


[30] No more for now, except that I pray to God, our Creator and Redeemer, that He may be pleased to continue His gifts in all of you and increase them, just as He was pleased to give you such great grace in calling you, and in giving you an effective desire by which you could resolve to spend yourselves completely in His service. May you always persevere, growing in His service, with much honour and glory to Him and great benefit to His holy Church.

From Rome,

Yours in Our Lord,


17. Need for structures of government Gandía 1547

(No. 182 : I, 551–62 : Spanish)

This letter, written to justify the need for a Superior at Gandía, reveals a great deal about Ignatius’s conception of his own role (all other superiors are essentially his ‘substitutes’), and about his experimental approach to government in the early years of the Society. There is a startling contrast between the (theoretical) Part I and the (practical) Part II, each corresponding to different aspects of Ignatius’s character.

My brothers in Our Lord who wish to join the

Society of Jesus

in Gandía

29 July 1547

    from Rome

May the grace and love of Jesus Christ Our Lord be always alive and increasing in our minds and hearts, Amen!

[1] An obligation goes with the weighty responsibility to which I have been appointed. Moreover God our Creator and Lord has seen fit to give me a love and affection that accompany my sense of duty and greatly increase my resolve. I have to consider what might best foster the good of this Society of ours and its members, and thus bring about the honour and glory of God. It is my desire for this that leads and obliges me to provide affectionately, as far as I can, what I judge in Our Lord to be most conducive for the Society’s greater good.

[2] One of these things which I feel to be very important is that wherever a number of members of the Society have to live together for a certain time, there should be a head or superior among them. And the others should accept to be ruled or governed by him, just as they would be by the General Superior1 were he present. This provision has been made in Portugal and Padua, and it is on the point of being made at Louvain.2 And I think the same thing should happen at Gandía.

[3] So in this letter I shall first tell you what makes me believe, in Our Lord, that it is right to have a substitute for myself among you, as being more for Our Lord’s honour and praise, and better for the individuals and the religious group in Gandía, and in general for the whole body of the Society. Then I shall tell you how you are to choose this person, and how you are to obey whoever is chosen, again as seems to me appropriate in the Lord.

Part I. On superiors and obedience in general


[4] In fact, in Part I, where I shall give some account of what makes me put in this substitute superior, I plan to expand on the matter rather more than might be necessary so as to convince you about this step which is so holy and so needful. However my intention is not simply to show you that this decision has been properly taken, but much more to encourage you to accept it, and then to persevere cheerfully and with dedication in this style of obedience.

[5] So, coming to the point, one of the many factors that influence me is the precedent given to us by all races, without exception, who live together in any kind of civil society, whether in kingdoms, cities or particular groupings and houses within cities, and whether past or present. Government always tends to be concentrated in the one figure, a superior, so as to get rid of confusion and disorder and to keep the crowd in order. If we follow the general consensus of thinking people, this arrangement must certainly be considered the most appropriate, most natural and most fitting one.

[6] But still more cogent is the vivid example of Christ Our Lord. When he was in the company of his parents, ‘he was obedient to them’,3 just as Our Lady, the Mistress of us all, was to Joseph. Thus it is to Joseph, as the head, that the angel says, ‘Take the child and his mother.’4 Again, when Christ Our Lord lived in company with the disciples, he saw fit to be their superior, and when he had to go away from them, in his bodily existence, he left St Peter over the others and over the whole of his Church, entrusting their government to him, ‘Feed my sheep’.5 And so Peter remained, even after the apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit. Now if they needed a superior, other groups must need one all the more.

[7] We gather also that the earliest church in Jerusalem made James the Less superior. In the seven churches of Asia there were the seven superiors, whom St John in the Apocalypse calls ‘angels’. In other religious groups too there were superiors, set in place by the apostles, and St Paul tells people to obey them, ‘Obey your leaders and submit to them’.6 The successors of these groupings have kept to these commands right up to this day. This applies most particularly of all to religious, starting from the anchorites and the first founders of religious orders, right down to our time. You will always find this principle observed: where people live gathered together, there is one among them who is head, governing the other members, and ruling with authority.


[8] Moreover quite apart from precedent there are persuasive intrinsic arguments for taking this step. For we should regard a way of life as better to the extent to which more pleasing service is given within it to God. Now this principle must apply when all are obliged to obedience, which is more acceptable than all sacrifices (‘Behold, obedience is better than sacrifice, and to hearken better than the fat of rams’7). And with good reason, for more is offered to God when persons give their own judgement and will and freedom, the heart of the human person, than when they offer to God anything else.

[9] Besides, such a way of living helps to bring about every virtue; as St Gregory says, ‘Obedience is not so much a virtue as the mother of virtues’8. This is no surprise, for obedience brings it about that we obtain from God whatever we ask for. St Gregory again: ‘If we are obedient to our superiors, God will obey our prayer.’9 And before him the Bible, speaking of Joshua, who was a model of obedience towards Moses, his superior, not only says that the sun obeyed him, stopping in its course at his voice (‘Sun, stop thou still at Gabaon’10), but even that God almighty, who made the sun and all creatures, obeyed him (‘The Lord hearkened to a human voice’11). Thus great benefits for the increase in virtue accrue to those under a superior, as the One who is the source of virtues is obedient to their prayer, and also, to quote a sage, ‘What you take away from your own will, you will add to your virtue’.12

[10] This way of life in which you follow the will and judgement of the superior also enables you to avoid many mistakes arising from your own judgement, as well as shortcomings and sins from your own will. This applies not only in individual matters, but in the overall choice of manner of living. Each of you, to the extent you abandon yourselves into God’s hands through the obedience you give to God’s delegate, is laying all the greater an obligation (to use a turn of phrase) on Divine Providence to rule you and direct you. The delegate here is any superior to whom you subject yourself for love of God.

[11] In addition, having a superior nearby helps people overcome any temptation and weakness to which they are subject. They can conform to the superior’s way of seeing things, and be governed by him (‘The obedient man speaks of victories’13). Thus they triumph over themselves, the most noble of all triumphs. It is clear that this method, the practice of submitting one’s own will and judgement through holy obedience, leads very directly to these triumphs, yet one could not use this method were the superior not nearby. Moreover for those who know how to make the best of it, this way of life has a special value in so far as it is like being martyred. One is constantly being beheaded, i.e., deprived of one’s own will and judgement, and in their stead taking on those of Christ as represented through his delegate. It is not just a single will, that for survival, that is being cut off, as in the case of the martyr, but the whole array of one’s longings.

[12] Merit also grows, as all good works are greatly increased in value if they are done under obedience.

[13] It should also be remembered that obedience will enable you to proceed with less restlessness, and to make quicker progress on the road towards heaven. You will be like a person who travels using someone else’s footsteps, not having to rely always on your own understanding and desire. Obedience will enable you to travel on the road to heaven in and through everything, things like sleeping and eating, constantly acquiring merit. You will be like sailors, who move towards their journey’s end even as they are at rest. After all, it is this journey’s end which is the most important thing. Obedience will empower you to obtain the key with which to enter heaven, and to hold onto it more securely, just as disobedience caused and continues to cause the loss of heaven. In fact obedience is itself this key, yet even during the labours of our present condition, during our pilgrimage and our exile, this way of life gives a powerful foretaste of the unburdening we will experience in our heavenly home. Not only does it free us from perplexity and doubt, but it also helps us get rid of the enormous weight of our own desires and care for ourselves, and to place these on the shoulders of the superior. Thus it gives peace and serenity.

[14] If persons are under obedience and have superiors nearby and yet do not feel this serenity within themselves, they should consider the situation carefully and make sure that it is not their own fault, arising from their turning back and busying themselves with their own affairs after they had entrusted themselves to the hands of the superior. Listen to what St Bernard says to such people: ‘Once you have entrusted the care of yourselves to us, why turn back to interfere in your own affairs?’14 So if people know of the benefit God is doing them, it is a great relief and source of calm when they have someone to obey near at hand. But not just a source of calm: it ennobles and raises the status of a person enormously. It makes a person become stripped of themselves and clothed in God, the supreme good. God makes our minds and hearts expand in so far as He finds us empty of our own will. Such people (if their obedience is from the heart) can say of themselves, ‘I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me’.15

[15] Now someone might say that all these benefits could accrue to any individual who obeyed, in the Lord, the general Superior of the Society, but I am certain that they would be less, and very much less, than the benefits gained by those who live together as a religious group having someone nearby to obey out of obedience to Our Lord himself.


[16] As well as all the spiritual benefits already mentioned, which apply mainly to individuals, this way of life is important for the corporate survival of your religious group. It simply is the case that no crowd of people can stay together in one body unless it is united, nor can the body be united without order, nor can there be order without a head, a head to which all the other members are subordinated through obedience. If you want the nature of our group to be maintained, this necessarily means you must desire someone to be your head.

[17] Apart from the survival of the group there in Gandía it is very important for its good government that you have someone nearby who understands everything that is going on, and can make suitable provision in the way I would if I were there. Experience is now showing us that it is impossible to make provision from here [in Rome] for many important things. This is partly because one cannot write and let us know everything (not everything can be confided in writing), and partly because often the time for making a decision runs out while people are asking our opinion here and we are sending a reply.

[18] Moreover for anyone holding down my heavy responsibility this is a great and appropriate relief, or rather a necessity; when he cannot personally attend in detail to all the obligations he has, he can at least deal with them through others.

[19] Even apart from all this, there is no small benefit here for the survival of the Society as a whole. For this to be achieved it will be very useful if the present students and their successors are well practised in obedience, i.e. in not taking any account of who the delegates of Christ Our Lord might be personally, but rather recognizing Christ in each one of them, and obeying Christ himself through his delegate. The reason for such benefits is as follows: granted that in any religious group this virtue of obedience is very necessary, it is especially so in ours, for our group has learned people, people who are on mission from the Pope and from other Church dignitaries, people who are scattered in places far, far away from where the superior lives, people with influence among nobles. Given all these and many other factors it does not seem possible to keep control over such people unless their obedience is outstanding. Thus I regard no form of training as more suitable and necessary for the common good of the Society than this one, namely top-quality obedience.

[20] Moreover if a person is going to know how to be in charge over others and to rule them, that person needs first to become proficient in obedience, and given that it is of very great benefit to the Society to have people who know how to govern, it follows equally that it is of very great benefit for it to have some way of getting people to learn how to obey. In this connection we normally have two Ministers16 here in this house, one subordinate to the other, and anyone who is in the house must obey either of these, even though they may not be ordained, just as they have to obey me and whoever might take my place.

[21] Finally, if we can take the successes and failures of others as lessons indicating how we should imitate and follow them, we see that in many religious groups there have been not a few mistakes arising from the fact that they do not have superiors with sufficient authority to rule the others, and not unimportant mistakes either! By contrast, one also sees the advantages of government in places where all obey one superior.

[22] Enough has been said for Part I of this letter concerning the reasons and considerations behind making this useful and necessary provision of a Superior, and the willingness and dedication with which you must accept this provision. It remains to move on to Part II, how to choose this Superior, and how to obey the one who is chosen.

Part II. How to elect the Superior17

[23] Regarding the choice: all of you who live in Gandía should get together for three days, without communicating with each other on matters connected with the choice. The priests should say mass with the rightness of the choice as a special intention, and the rest of you should entrust the matter deeply to God Our Lord in your prayers. During this time each of you should consider who would be most suitable for such a responsibility. You should bear in mind only what would be better for the government of your religious group in Gandía, and would be of benefit to it, so that there be honour and glory for God. It should be as if each of you were taking the election onto your own conscience, and as if you had to give account of it to God Our Lord on that momentous day when you are to be judged. In this spirit each one of you should personally write out your vote and sign it by the third day. These should all be put together in a box or in some other place, where no one should touch them until the following day. Then the votes should be taken out with everyone present. Whoever has most votes is to be your Superior or Rector, whom I approve until such time as you hear from me to the contrary. You may use this procedure for as long as there is no professed Father in Gandía, and until the Constitutions are finally published.

Part III. How the new Superior is to be obeyed

[24] Now for how you are to obey this person after you have elected him. It seems to me that you should obey him in the same way as you would me were I present, or anyone who held my post. For were I with you, I would want you to recognize me as an authority, so that I could help you better and that thus there would be greater honour and glory for God Our Lord. This purpose likewise leads me to wish that the Rector be respected in just the same way. The respect you pay him should not be in any way different from that you would pay to me personally. Better still, you should think in terms of paying respect neither to him nor to me, but rather to Jesus Christ Our Lord, whom you are obeying through both of us. It is for Him that you obey His delegates.

[25] Anyone not prepared to obey and allow himself to be governed in the way stated above should prepare himself to take on a different way of life, leaving your group and the common life it has. This applies to those currently at Gandía and to those who will be your successors, and it applies both with respect to whoever becomes Rector now and with respect to any other who might, by decision of some future General Superior of the Society, take his place. It is quite unsuitable for your group that there be anyone living in it who is unable or unwilling to subject himself to obedience in the way I have specified.

[26] This letter should be an unambiguous indication for all who live in Gandía of my mind on this subject, under the Lord, and of my desires and wishes concerning what should be put into practice in order to further the spiritual growth of the Society’s present students there. May this be for the greater service, praise and glory of God Our Lord and Creator.

[27] May this God be pleased in His infinite and supreme goodness to give us the fullness of His grace so that we may feel His most holy will and fulfil it completely, Amen.

From Rome, 29 July 1547,


18. Experience of poverty Padua 1547

(No. 186 : 1, 572–77 : Italian)

This letter, quite clearly not written by Ignatius,1 is included to show the contrast between his style and that of his secretary: Polanco writes in clear, slightly rhetorical prose, carefully marshalling his Latin quotations and showing the orderly precision that made him an ideal secretary, cautious not to add anything of his own (except perhaps a sophisticated polish) to Ignatius’s line of thought, and giving no indication of the tortuous complexity that produced it.

Members of the Society

in Padua (from Fr Polanco, by commission)

6 August 1547

    from Rome

May the grace and true love of Jesus Christ Our Lord be always in our hearts and increase every day until our final consummation. Amen.

Dear Fathers and beloved brothers in Jesus Christ,

[1] A letter from our mutual friend, Pietro Santini, written to Fr Master Lainez at Florence, has reached us; we learn there, among other things, of your love for the poverty you have chosen out of love for Jesus Christ poor. Quite often there have not been wanting opportunities to undergo suffering because of the lack of necessities, as the financial resources of Mgr della Trinità2 have failed to match his generous and charitable character. Now although it is not necessary to exhort to bear suffering those who bear in mind their state of life and have before their eyes Jesus Christ naked on the cross, especially as it is clear from that same letter what a welcome experience it is to all of you when poverty makes itself felt, yet, as I have been commissioned by our Fr Master in Jesus Christ, Ignatius, who loves you like a real father, I will take comfort along with you in that grace which His infinite Goodness bestows on us, both here and there, namely that of experiencing holy poverty. I do not know to what extent this happens where you are, but here we experience poverty to an extent very much in keeping with our profession. I call poverty a ‘grace’ because in a special way it is a gift of God. As Scripture says, ‘Poverty and wealth are from the Lord’.3 His only Son shows us how much God loves it, who ‘leapt from his royal throne’,4 and wished to be born in poverty5 and grow up in it. Nor did He love it only during his lifetime, suffering hunger and thirst and ‘having nowhere to lay his head’,6 but even in death He wished to be stripped of his clothing and to go without everything, even water when thirsty.


[2] Wisdom, which cannot be deceived, wished, according to St Bernard,7 to show the world how precious was that jewel of poverty, whose worth was unknown in the world, by choosing it Himself; thus His teaching, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, blessed are the poor, etc’,8would not seem to be at variance with His life.

[3] How greatly God appreciates poverty likewise appears when we see that His chosen friends, especially in the New Testament, beginning with His holy mother and the apostles, and on through the ages until our own time, were usually poor – like subjects imitating their king, or soldiers their captain, or the members their head, Christ.

[4] So great are the poor in the sight of God that Jesus Christ was sent on earth especially for them: ‘“Because the poor are despoiled, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the Lord’9, and in another place, ‘He has sent me to preach good news to the poor’.10 This recalls the words of Jesus Christ when he sent an answer to St John, ‘The poor have good news preached to them’.11 They are preferred to the rich to the extent that Jesus Christ wished to choose the most holy college of the apostles from among the poor, and to live and have dealings with them, and to leave them as princes of His Church, and to appoint them as judges ‘over the twelve tribes of Israel’,12 that is, of all the unbelievers, whose assessors will be the poor. So exalted is their standing!

[5] Friendship with the poor makes us friends of the eternal king. Love of that poverty establishes kings, even on this earth, and kings not of earth but of heaven. This is evident because while the future heavenly kingdom may be promised to others, it is promised here and now to the poor and those who suffer tribulation; it is the abiding Truth who says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven’13 – ‘even now they have a right to the kingdom’.14

[6] Not only are they kings, but they make others sharers in the kingdom, as Christ teaches us in St Luke when he says, ‘Make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations’.15These ‘friends’ are the poor, thanks to whose merits those whom they help enter into dwellings of glory, especially if they are poor of their own free will. According to St Augustine16 these are the little ones of whom Christ says, ‘Anything you did for one of the least of these, you did for me’.17

[7] In this way the excellence of poverty becomes evident. Poverty does not think it worthwhile to heap up treasures out of dung or base earth, but, with the full power of its love, buys that precious treasure in the field of holy Church, 18 whether it be Christ himself or his spiritual gifts, from which he is never separated.


[8] To appreciate the true utility of poverty, how far it really has a place among the means suitable to gain our final end, one should reflect on the many sins from which we are preserved by holy poverty, since it does away with the stuff of which they are made, quia non habet unde suum paupertas pascat amorem.19 It slays pride, that worm of the rich, and cuts out those infernal leeches of excess and gluttony, and of so many other sins. And should we fall, through weakness, it helps us to get up quickly, because there is none of that amorous attachment which, like glue, binds the heart to the earth and to the things of the earth, and leaves no freedom to get up again, to come to one’s senses and to turn to God. Poverty makes it easier in every case to hear better the voice, i.e. the inspiration, of the Holy Spirit, removing any obstacles in its way. It also makes prayers more effective in the sight of God, ‘The Lord heard the prayer of the poor’.20 It speeds us along the way of the virtues like a traveller relieved of every burden. It frees us from that slavery common to so many of the great of this world, in which ‘all things obey or serve money’.21 It fills with every virtue, if it is poverty in spirit, for the soul emptied of attachment to the things of earth will be that much fuller of God by reason of His gifts. Certainly, poverty cannot but be very rich, since it has been promised one hundred per cent gain,22 even in this life. Although this promise is fulfilled in temporal matters only when expedient, it cannot but be true in spiritual matters. Thus they must needs be rich in divine gifts who voluntarily become poor in human things.

[9] This same poverty is that soil, fertile in strong men, fecunda virorum paupertas,23 as the poet said, words far more applicable to Christian than to Roman poverty. This is that furnace that tests our progress in strength and virtue, and in which is seen what is gold and what is not.24 This is the moat that makes safe the camp of our conscience in religious life. It is the foundation on which Jesus Christ seems to have shown that the edifice of perfection is to be built when he said, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and follow me’.25 This is the mother, the nurse and the guardian of religious life, for it bore, nourished and preserves it, just as affluence in temporal things on the contrary diminishes, spoils and ruins it.

[10] Hence it is easy to see how great is the utility, in addition to the excellence, of this holy poverty, since it is principally due to it that we are finally saved by the One who ‘will save the humble (and the poor)’,26 and we obtain the everlasting kingdom of that same person who says that the kingdom of heaven is for the ‘poor in spirit’;27 nothing else of value can be compared with this.


[11] So although holy poverty is harsh, it should be embraced voluntarily. In fact, however, it is not harsh, but rather a source of great joy to those who take it on voluntarily. Even Seneca says that the poor laugh more heartily, having no other worry.28Experience too shows us that in the case of ordinary beggars, if one looks just at their degree of contentment, one finds that they live more cheerfully and happily than great merchants, magistrates, princes and other great persons. But if this is true of those not voluntarily poor, what shall we say of those voluntarily so? These people, not having or being attached to the things of this earth, enjoy imperturbable peace and utmost tranquillity in their regard, while the rich are tossed in constant storms. The former are in endless joy, at a kind of perpetual banquet, thanks to the security and purity of their conscience. This is especially true since they are ready, thanks to this same poverty, to receive divine consolations, which are usually that much more numerous in God’s servants as they are lacking in the things and possessions of earth, provided they know how to fill themselves with Jesus Christ, so that He can supply their every need and be in place of everything.


[12] However, this is not the place to take the matter any further. Let what has been said be enough for our mutual consolation and exhortation, both yours and mine, to love holy poverty. The excellence, value and happiness mentioned above reside fully only in that poverty which is loved and voluntarily embraced, not imposed or involuntary. I will add only this: they who love poverty must love its effects, as far as depends on them, such as eating badly, dressing and sleeping poorly, and being looked down upon. Otherwise anyone who would love poverty, but is not willing to experience privation or any of its consequences, would be too fussy a poor man, and would surely show that he loved being called poor rather than possessing poverty, or else that he loved it more with his tongue than with his heart.

[13] All that remains in this letter is to pray Jesus Christ, the master and true example of spiritual poverty, to grant us all the possession of this precious inheritance which He bestows on His brethren and co-heirs, so that the spiritual riches of grace, and finally the unutterable riches of His glory, may abound in us. Amen

From Rome, 6 August 1547.

19. En route to the Constitutions Louvain 1547

(No. 234 : 1, 659–63: Latin)

Flemish priests began to join the Society only after its foundation in 1540, but the departure of the non-French Jesuit students from Paris in 1543 (when Francis I and Charles V were at war) brought a group of nine students to live in Flanders, in the house of a priest, Fr Wischaven, who though a novice had not yet taken his first vows. In the following years the small community experimented, setting up the infrastructure of religious life, with no Constitutions to guide them, although Pierre Favre and others close to Ignatius (like Fr Doménech) were with the group at different times. In 1546 quite detailed instructions were sent out and Fr Paeybroeck was authorized to set up a formal community. This letter gives some idea of how fluid the situation remained, as these early Jesuits groped towards a new way of life, while Ignatius, many miles (and several wars) away tried to give a pattern that would be valid for the Society as a whole.

Fr Daniel Paeybroeck

in Louvain

24 December 1547

    from Rome

May the grace and peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be always present and increase in our hearts. Amen.

[1] [Introduction] We received your two letters, written on the 4th and 18th of March. They gave us great joy in the Lord, and this fills us with love for you and for all the companions along with whom you are so closely joined in aims and intentions to the glory of the same Lord Jesus Christ. His love alone is the glue1 which must hold together and sustain the whole Society.

[2] [Advantages of communal living] I approve highly of all you tell me both about your communal life together and about your method of selecting candidates for admission. I hope that both will redound to the honour and glory of our Creator, and to the benefit of all these candidates in good numbers, but provided that ‘your light shines before men, so that they glorify your Father in heaven’,2 and that your example spurs others to a holy emulation. It is really a great obligation that you have undertaken to live a holy and devout life, since you will be separated from others in your lodging and your manner of life, and thus exposed to the eyes and tongues of all. But I am confident that you will succeed, through Him ‘from whom comes every good and perfect gift’.3 You have consecrated yourselves totally to Him, and it is by His goodness that you have received this vocation and these holy desires – no ordinary pledge! Yet I also think it will be very valuable for you to live together, so that brother may help brother up again after a fall, support the unsteady and spur on the lazy by word and example. In this way you will share with each other the grace you have received4 and prepare yourselves to receive still more from ‘the Father of lights’,5 since the Truth Himself has promised that ‘whenever two or three agree in asking for something’,6 He will hear and answer.

[3] [Criteria for candidates] Just as I approve the decisions you have made up to now regarding this Institute, so I urge you to keep the same method of selection. I would not like us to have to say, ‘Thou hast multiplied the nation’ but not ‘increased its joy’7 – or virtue! So take care that those you admit are commended by their upright life. If they are not all highly educated, they ought certainly to have the capacity and motivation for learning. Above all, they should enjoy sufficient health and strength for the activities which our way of life demands. Outside the Society, of course, we are entirely ready to help and look after the sick and infirm; but we have learned from experience that we should not admit them as members, because they are more likely to be a hindrance than a help to this Institute and way of life which we have chosen for the honour of God and the salvation of souls.

[4] [Superiors] As for your opinion that Jacob Lhoost of Jodoigne [Gelde-naken] would be suitable to be your Superior, I share it. Admittedly he is in Sicily, labouring in the Lord’s harvest, but I promise to do my best to have him come your way soon, unless he is kept back by occupations which it would cause too great loss to abandon. You can see that I am hoping for equally great profits from where you are, to the benefit of souls and the glory of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. I will add this one point with reference to your group: I think you should take special care to win the approval and love of your bishop, so that you may grow in numbers and virtue with your father’s blessing, to the praise of Him who created and redeemed us, Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed above all for ever.

[5] [Provisional constitutions] The constitutions or rules which you sent me I readily approve, and I think they are suitable for this first phase of your group. As time passes you will learn by experience whether anything needs changing or adding, and if I judge that there is anything that I should draw to your attention I will be glad to do so. For the time being there are two points that I must mention.

[6] [Women] The first is where you say in the 4th Constitution, ‘No one, male or female, is to be admitted to this group who has taken a vow …’, etc. Here you seem to allow for the female sex, though lower down you rightly say that women are not to be received under obedience by vow. On this please note that our Society does not and cannot admit women so as to take responsibility for them,8 except by way of advice and the other ministries that cannot be refused to anyone on grounds of social status or sex. We took a lot of trouble to obtain this from the Supreme Pontiff, so as to protect ourselves and our successors in office from having to neglect activities of greater value for God’s honour and help to souls, in favour of others of smaller value and liable to involve much nuisance. This has in fact already been granted to us.

[7] [Vow, not just promise, to enter] The other point I noted is that you expressly pronounce vows of poverty and chastity, but as regards entering the Society only a firm resolution, not a vow. Now I would not wish to encourage anyone towards our Institute who was not called to it by God, but I advise you that it is our practice not to take on as subjects, under our responsibility, any who have not confirmed by a vow their resolution to enter the Society. You would be a very powerless Superior of people who could withdraw when they felt like it. Therefore if you have in mind for us to send you one of our members (for example, Jacob Lhoost, as you have suggested), I cannot see my way to grant this unless either we depart from our practice, which was not established lightly, or you all confirm your resolution to enter by a vow, as others do.

[8] [The granting of faculties] As regards the faculties and privileges that have been granted to this Society for the help of souls, please do not interpret the fact that I am not offering these immediately as implying any doubt of your honesty or prudence in making use of them. My conscience bears me witness that I have the highest opinion and hopes of you. But this treasury of graces was entrusted to me ‘for building up, not for breaking down’,9 so that I might dispense them to our members as I may find each suited, and according to the needs of each. Therefore it is my duty to make use of them cautiously and with moderation, remembering that my job is to be a dispenser, not a disperser. Further, there are many today who, by abusing privileges granted to them, have justly been deprived of them. (I am not referring to any of our own members; by God’s grace none of them, to my knowledge, has either committed such abuse or suffered such deprivation.) This ought to make us all the more careful, so that, by using the faculties granted to us properly and with moderation, we may let them become established. They are so unusual that they could expose us to envy unless we temper liberty with moderation.

[9] [Profession in the Society] I have said all this so that you will not be surprised if I want to know what I grant and to whom. Therefore anyone who desires any favour of this kind for the spiritual benefit of others should write to me, individually, about his personal qualities and desires, how far he is advanced in his studies, and whatever may make him personally fitted to exercise such faculties. Next he should name the faculty he wants, whether singly or two together. Only then, if I grant something – and I do intend to do so – shall I be able to render an account to God or human judge, if it were demanded, for my dispensation. For the time being I must warn you about all these faculties that are destined for those who are professed in this religious order. No one may publicly claim them as his own till he is professed, because we received this grant from the Supreme Pontiff by word of mouth, not by documents. This, I say, concerns those not yet professed in the Society, for the professed will be able to show their privileges publicly by means of a brief or document.10 Nevertheless in the forum of conscience it is just the same to have received the faculties by word of mouth, as far as the security of the one dispensing and the profit of the one being dispensed is concerned.

All best wishes in Our Lord Jesus Christ. May He be pleased to fill us with knowledge of His will and give us strength to fulfil it by His grace.

Rome, 24 December 1545,11

Yours in the Lord,


20. Defining obedience as an ideal Coimbra 1548

(No. 243 : I, 687–93 : Spanish)

The precise occasion for this letter, written less than a year after the more general Letter 16, is not known, but clearly Ignatius was uneasy about the guidelines likely to help young Jesuits. The veiled references to ostentatious self-humiliations (§7) hint at a great anxiety, which would explain the exaltation of obedience almost to the exclusion of personal initiative in the particular context of Coimbra at this time. However, a new process of reflection is also under way, grappling with an obedience ‘of the mind’ that would be solidly based on tradition (notably the writings of St Bernard) and valid also for mature independent adults.

Rector and students of the College

in Coimbra

14 January 1548

    from Rome

May the grace and peace of Jesus Christ Our Lord and God be constantly felt and grow in our minds and hearts, Amen!

[1] [Initial satisfaction] My necessary business has been covered in what I have written to Master Rodrigues,1 and given my poor health2 and overwork I might reasonably be excused from doing what is not strictly necessary. However Jesus Christ Our Lord has placed you all in my mind and heart with so great a love that I have no desire to avail myself of any possible excuse. I know that your devotion to the bond of obedience is such that you are consoled in Our Lord by the letters written to you from here. Likewise all of us here are greatly consoled in Our Lord by the good news we hear in Rome of your spiritual growth in learning and in virtue. I hope in God, our Creator and Lord, that He will make this rejoicing of ours grow daily rather than diminish, as the progress which gives rise to it also increases rather than slackens. Then you will be like those whom the sage describes in Proverbs, ‘The path of the just grows ever brighter like the light of dawn, opening out into full day’.3

[2] [God’s blessings] Therefore I ask the One who is source of this day, like a sun of wisdom and justice, to carry through in His great generosity what He has begun in you, until His work reaches fulfilment and He allows you to find and know ‘the pasture-grounds, the resting-place under the noon’s heat’,4 displaying the richness of His omnipotent hand and His infinite splendour in the spiritual gifts within your minds and hearts, and through you, in those of many others. Through Him I ask you also, dear brothers in Jesus Christ Our Lord and God, to make yourselves open for His coming and His spiritual treasures. This openness comes through purity of heart, true humility, a common mind among you all, a common desire, and peace within and without, which is what makes a dwelling place in your soul for the One who is called ‘Prince of Peace’,5 enabling Him to be Lord within you. In short, my prayer is that you be completely united, indeed simply one entity, in Our Lord Jesus Christ.

[3] [Need for obedience] However such unity among a number of people is not achieved without order, and order is not achieved without the necessary bond of obedience between subjects and superiors. This we can see from the whole natural order, the hierarchies of angels, and well-ordered human constitutions. These are united, preserved and governed through subordination. So holy obedience is the ideal I hold up to you, and insist upon: each of you should observe it, regarding your superiors in a way corresponding to whatever level of authority over you they have, minor officials of the house in what pertains to their office, confessors in matters of personal conscience, the Rector generally. Similarly, the Rector himself, just like all the others, must in general be subject to the Provincial Superior, especially since God Our Lord has made use of this particular person6 to make a start to this work of His. And the Provincial must in the same way be subject to whoever God Our Lord might give him as General Superior, and the General Superior in his turn must be subject to whoever is supreme above all. In all superiors, it is Jesus Christ Our Lord whom one acknowledges, for it is to Him and through Him that all obedience should be given whoever it is that people obey.

[4] [Grades of obedience] If unity is to come about and be preserved through this obedience, it must not be simply a matter of practical directives observable in public. It must also extend, as it were, to a person’s desires (as St Bernard put it, ‘Those who do not make the wish of the Superior their own have not reached even the first stage of obedience’7), and similarly to the understanding, for union of wills will not last and cannot be preserved if divergent opinions are maintained. I mean situations where what is done and what is desired is, to be sure, what the Superior has directed, but people’s basic intuitions are different from his, and they live out of their own opinions rather than out of the Superior’s. Apart from where some matter of sin is in question, or where the understanding simply cannot but recognize something as an error, it is well established that true obedience does not subject only actions to the Superior, but also wishes; and not only wishes, but also opinions. In this way unity is made firm and lasting, and under this holy and gentle yoke, peace and stability cannot be ruffled, at least to the extent that our present blighted state will allow.

[5] [The good made bad] Those people who do things against the intention of the Superior will see, from what has been said, how little they have entered into obedience, even though the things in themselves might be praiseworthy and good, such as mortification, contemplation and other practices. They are acting in conflict with what has been commanded them; they are following their own wishes rather than those of the Superior. How utterly unacceptable the sacrifice is that a person makes to God when one offers Him against the mind of the Superior some deed to which one is not obliged, even if the deed considered in itself is excellent! Such people will have to learn what St Bernard says: what is offered to the Holy Spirit is not acceptable if one fails to fulfil one’s obligations. And for a subject, obligation means obeying one’s Superior, of whom almighty God says, ‘The one who hears you, hears me, and the one who rejects you, rejects me’.8

[6] [Biblical examples] It seems that the sacrifice made by Saul was like this, contrary to obedience towards God Our Lord as presented to him through Samuel the prophet. Saul says, ‘The people have spared the best of the sheep and the oxen to sacrifice them to the Lord your God’. But what does the prophet reply? ‘Why did you not listen to the voice of the Lord, but did what was evil in the sight of the Lord?’ And when Saul appealed to his sacrifices, ‘Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? For obedience is better than victims, and to hearken better than to offer the fat of rams. For, like a sin of divination is disobedience, and like the iniquity of idolatry the refusal to obey.’9 Similarly too, Cain’s sacrifice of the fruits of the earth was of little value, and did not deserve to be noticed by God. This is what pains and afflictions of body or soul, and any other sort of deed, are like if they are offered without appropriate obedience and charity. On the contrary, ‘The Lord had regard for Abel and his gifts’, because he offered ‘from the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions’.10 And this sacrifice of Abel’s is like the noble sacrifice ‘sweetly fragrant’,11 of one’s own will and understanding offered through dedicated obedience to the Divine Majesty in the person of His delegates. When anyone offers his or her body through hurting it or in some other way, contrary to obedience, the sacrifice does not have the salt that it says in Leviticus every sacrifice must have.12 This is not the ‘living sacrifice’, fitting for rational creatures and pleasing to God our Creator and Lord, that St Paul recommends.13

[7] [Proud humiliations] I would like you to be well aware of a truth spoken by St Bernard, and to have it fixed in your memories: ‘If anything happens without the will and consent of the spiritual director, it is to be counted as vainglory, not as merit’.14 But then, how much more is this the case when the action concerned is actually against the spiritual father’s will? What greater pride could there be than that of preferring one’s own wishes and opinions to those of the one whom you have formally acknowledged to be your superior in the place of Jesus Christ? This is why, as experience certainly bears out, such people are proud. As such they deserve that what are normally healthy antidotes (namely the mortifications in question, when accepted rightly at the wish of the Superior) become poison for them and lead to their death.

[8] [Danger of ruin] Great is the relish enjoyed by the Enemy of our nature on seeing persons going forward recklessly, unrestrained by anyone who knows how to rule and direct them! This is even more true if they are in very high and sublime reaches. Then the Enemy can expect their ruin all the more probably, and all the more serious will be their fall. The dedication that would be something holy if regulated under obedience comes to be a most effective weapon and instrument for the devil to rid the heart of the true love of God, and thus to put an end to a person’s whole spiritual life. Remember how even the children of Israel, as they wanted to enter the promised land contrary to obedience, were defeated by their enemies, and thus be wary of acting against obedience, even in things that are very spiritual. Remember how when they were but few, and yet went forward under obedience, they would often defeat enemies large in number. When by contrast they went forward as a large, disobedient group, they were often defeated by a small force.

[9] [Conclusion] Since ‘all this is written so that we can learn from example and be built up by it’,15 as you well know, be happy to let yourselves be governed as far as possible by this holy and safe counsel of perfection, obedience. Be convinced, under Our Lord, that thus you will proceed without going astray. Have faith that you will be shaped according to the divine will when you have trampled down under your feet the will that is our own, and have placed over your head and before your eyes the will of your Superior. Have faith that Divine Providence is to rule and guide you by such means, so that you attain greater personal perfection, and give greater help to others.

[10] May it please His Divine Majesty to bring all this about, so that His holiest of names may be more greatly honoured and glorified in everything for ever.

From Rome, 14 January 1548,

Yours in Our Lord,


21. Developments in the spiritual life Borgia 1548

(No. 466 : II, 233–37 : Spanish)

This letter was written to Borgia when he was coming to the end of his two-year ‘novitiate’, in answer partly to a letter from the Duke and partly to disquieting reports that he was under stress (not surprising given his passionate character and his Superior’s notable lack of common sense). Put very crudely, Ignatius’s message is: ‘Hold your horses – less prayer time, less fasting, and less self-floggings!’

Francis Borgia,1 Duke of Gandía

in Gandía

20 September 1548

    from Rome



My Lord in Our Lord,

May the supreme grace and eternal love of Christ Our Lord always favour and assist us continuously!

[1] [Previous letter] On hearing of your programme, of your way of approaching spiritual matters, of your physical regime, and of how all this is directed towards your spiritual growth, I have certainly been given new cause for great rejoicing in Our Lord. As I was thanking the Eternal Majesty for this, I could not attribute it to anything other than His divine goodness, the source of all that is good.

[2] [Developments] At the same time I have the feeling in Our Lord that,2 just as at one time in our lives we need some particular exercises, both spiritual and physical, so at another, different time of our lives we need correspondingly different ones. For what has been good for us at one period is not always such at another. Your Grace has commanded me to explain my feelings on the matter, and I shall say before the Divine Majesty everything in this regard that suggests itself to me.

[3] [Times for prayer] First, regarding the hours to be directed to pious mental and bodily exercises: I would recommend your cutting out half of them. At the times and to the extent that the thoughts arising either from ourselves or from our enemy lead us to think of inappropriate, vain and unlawful things, and draw our understanding towards them, then in such situations we should normally try to increase the internal and external exercises, in order to stop the will delighting in such things and consenting to them. This depends on individuals and on the range of such thoughts or temptations, and victory comes from correct adaptation to the individuals concerned. By contrast however, to the extent that such thoughts are becoming weak and dying off, good thoughts and holy inspirations come along spontaneously. And we must make plenty of room for these, opening fully the gates of our minds and hearts.

[4] [Study, etc, in place of prayer] As far as I can sense the matter in the Lord from what Your Grace tells me, you do not need as many weapons to conquer your enemies as you are currently using. I would therefore think it better that you make over half of the time you are currently spending on them to study (for there will always be a need and a use for the knowledge we acquire, as well as for what God infuses directly), to the administration of your property, and to spiritual conversations. You should always take care to maintain your soul in peace, in quiet, and in readiness for whatever Our Lord might wish to do within it. There is no doubt that it is a greater virtue in the soul, and a greater grace, for it to be able to relish its Lord in a variety of duties and in a variety of places, rather than simply in one. In order to attain this we are very much required to take steps ourselves, within the sphere of His divine goodness.

[5] [Norms for fasting] On the second point, regarding fasting and abstinence, I would recommend for Our Lord’s sake that you take care of your digestion and strengthen it, along with your other natural faculties, rather than weakening them. First, when a person is prepared and set in such a way that he or she would prefer to lose life on earth completely rather than commit a deliberate offence, however slight, against the Divine Majesty, and secondly, when the person is not troubled by any particular temptations from the enemy, the world or the flesh – and I think that Your Grace, by God’s grace, fulfils these conditions, both the former positive and the latter negative one – I would very much like Your Grace to convince yourself that the body along with the soul is the property of our creator and Lord, and that you will have to give a good account to God with regard to everything. Thus you should not allow your body to become weak. If that occurs, the inner self will not be able to function.

[6] [Ignatius’s experience with fasting] I used to be all in favour of fasting, prolonged abstinences, and going without normal meals; for a period of time all this seemed delightful to me. But in future, for the reasons given, I cannot recommend such a programme as I have seen that the stomach will not function properly owing to the fasting and abstinence involved; it cannot digest even normal meats or other foods that give proper sustenance to the human body. Now I would be in favour of doing everything possible to make people eat all legitimate kinds of food as often as these foods would benefit them without scandalizing others. We should cherish and love the body to the extent that it obeys and helps the soul, and to the extent that the soul, obeyed and helped in this way, is better fitted for the service and praise of our creator and Lord.

[7] [Corporal penances] On the third point, re. inflicting pain on one’s body for Our Lord, I would recommend omitting anything that might draw blood, even a drop. I am convinced in the Divine Goodness that His Divine Majesty has given you the grace for this and for all that has been mentioned. But from now on it is much better for you to abandon such penances, without my giving explanations and arguments for this opinion.

[8] [Tears] Instead of drawing blood and somehow trying to force it out in some way, you should seek more directly from the Lord of everyone His most holy gifts, for example, a flow or even a sprinkling of tears. These may come, (1) over your own sins or those of others, (2) over the salvific events of the life of Christ Our Lord, here or in heaven, (3) from thinking of the Divine Persons, or from love of them. The more sublime the thoughts and reflections that give rise to these tears, the more valuable and precious they are. But though the third of these reflections is in one sense better than the second, and the second than the first, what is best for each individual is that in which God Our Lord imparts Himself more fully, displaying His holiest of gifts and his spiritual graces. It is God who sees and knows what is better for a person, and God, knowing everything, shows the person the way forward.

[9] [Trial and error] However for our part, to find that way through the medium of His grace we will be greatly helped if we search about and make many kinds of experiments, so that we can follow the route that He most clearly shows to one, the happiest and most blessed route in this life, completely governed and directed towards that other life, which is without end, embracing and united to these most holy gifts.

[10] [The higher gifts] By these I mean those gifts which are not in our very own power to summon when we wish, but which are purely gifts from the One who gives all that is good, and can do all that is good, gifts such as the following (always understood as being directed and aimed at His Divine Majesty): intensity of faith, of hope, and of love; spiritual rejoicing and repose; tears; intense consolation; the raising up of the mind; impressions or illuminations from God; and all the other spiritual relishings and intuitions that lead to such gifts, together with humility and reverence towards our holy mother, the Church, and towards the rulers and teachers who have been appointed within her. Any of these most holy gifts must be preferred to any physical activities. These latter are good in so far as they lead to the attaining of the former gifts, or some part of them. I do not mean that we should seek these gifts only in order to take pleasure in them, or to enjoy them, but rather so that all our thoughts, words and deeds can be warm, clear, and just, and thus be of greater service to God. For we know within ourselves that without such gifts our thoughts, words and deeds get mixed up, becoming cold and confused. Thus we should desire such gifts, or parts of such gifts, or such spiritual graces, to the extent that they can help us, and thus be of greater glory to God. So when the body is at risk from too much hardship, it is the healthiest course to seek these gifts by using one’s understanding and by other moderate exercises. Then it is not just the soul that will be healthy; we will have a sound mind in a sound body,3 and thus everything will be healthier and better fitted for the divine service.

[11] [Conclusion] As to how to proceed in more detail, 1 do not think in the Lord that I should talk about that. I am confident that the same divine Spirit that has guided and directed your Grace up till now will guide and direct you further, and that thus there will be greater glory for His Divine Majesty.

22. Dealing with a radical crisis Borgia 1549

(No. 790 : II, 494–95 : Spanish)

Both this1 and the following letter shed light on one of the major crises faced by Ignatius as Superior General, a crisis that called in question – no doubt with the best of intentions – the whole orientation of the new Society.

Francis Borgia, SJ, Duke of Gandía2

in Gandía

27 July 1549

    from Rome

If all that is being written to us is true, it appears that both those persons, B. and C.,3 have found (to somewhat different degrees) the desert they were first after, and both seem to be heading for an even greater desert, unless they learn how to be humble and let themselves be guided in accordance with the religious profession they have made. Quite clearly a solution is urgently needed, and it may be provided either directly or by someone fully competent, who is willing for their sake to be God’s instrument. In line with the first possibility we are invited to prayer and sacrifices in the presence of His divine goodness. As for the second, if there are any means at all that can be instruments of divine grace, your own authority and influence may be very effective.

In this situation I must bear in mind my obligations in conscience. I am absolutely convinced, without any doubt whatsoever, and declare openly before the tribunal of Christ Our Creator and Lord, who one day is to judge me for ever, that these people have gone astray. They have been deceived and disoriented. Sometimes they are on the right path; sometimes they stray, persuaded by the father of falsehood; it is part of his technique to assert or suggest one or even many truths in order to slip in a lie and leave us entangled in it.4 So, your Grace, out of love and reverence for God Our Lord – it is to His divine goodness that I entrust everything – please reflect very carefully on this case, and be vigilant and far-seeing in dealing with it. Please do not give free rein in these matters that are so prone to cause great scandal and immense harm in all areas. My prayer is that the situation will be altered to the complete service of the Divine Majesty, and that the persons mentioned will be fully healed in order better to serve, praise and glorify Him, for ever and ever.

From Rome, 27 July 1549,


23. On prophecies and revelations Gandía 1549

(Appendix 6, No. 3 : XII, 632–52 : Spanish)

This complex document, called an ‘Instruction’ but really a ‘report’ drawn up after a committee meeting, was added to the previous letter to Borgia. The crisis that both are dealing with sprang from the chance conjunction in Gandía of four persons: the Duke himself, clearly inclined initially (as Letter 21 testifies) to excessive prayer and penance; the Superior of the Jesuit community, Fr Andrés de Oviedo, a saintly but hardly normal personality 1; a young French scholastic, François Onfroy, a tragic (almost operatic) figure, the prey to religious exaltation and tuberculosis; and the Franciscan friar Fray Juan de Tejeda, whom Ignatius most mistrusted, one of Borgia’s earliest spiritual directors, a visionary prophet while still a student of theology. The last three were convinced that the new Society of Jesus needed ‘reform’, with men and time devoted much more to prayer (Oviedo wanted some eight hours a day), and its ideals directed to Church reform under the leadership of an angelic Pope. Ignatius acted in two ways: he assured himself of the support of Borgia (Letter 22) and he had a committee investigate teaching current in Gandía so that a full judgement could be sent to those concerned. This document was written by his secretary, Polanco, but can justifiably be attributed to Ignatius himself, both because he whole-heartedly supported the findings of his committee and because he went carefully through Polanco’s text, toning down the harshness of some phrases and adding phrases of his own invention. More fundamentally, his ‘Rules for the discernment of spirits’2 underlie the discernment process illustrated here. He was helped by circumstances – both Onfroy and Tejeda dying in 1550 – but also by the exemplary cooperation of Borgia and Oviedo. The crisis was defused in twelve months, even if its traumatic effects, especially on Borgia, and through him on the Society, were more lasting.3

Francis Borgia, SJ, Duke of Gandía4

in Gandía

July(?) 1549

    from Rome

[General principles]

Before we come on to details, it seems to us good in the Lord of all to say a few things which may be of service towards the greater glory of His Divine Majesty in dealing with this matter.

[1] [Prophecy possible] To start with, it is an accepted principle that not all prophecies subsequent to Christ Our Lord are to be rejected, for we see them attributed to St John,5 Agabus6 and the daughters of Philip.7 Also St Paul warns, ‘do not despise prophecies’.8 Equally, credit is not to be given to all those who say they are prophets, nor are their prophecies to be accepted, since so many deceits of various kinds arise in this connection. The same first-mentioned apostle warns us, ‘Let us not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are of God’.9

[2] [But rash assertions also to be avoided] Similarly it is an accepted principle that in the case of contingencies in the future, one cannot say with certainty that an eventuality that could conceivably occur is in fact impossible. Equally, to believe that all possible eventualities actually will occur would demonstrate superficiality. As the Wise man tells us, ‘Rash is the heart that lightly trusts’.10 And those who have had experience of tricks of this kind – there are many significant examples these days! – are to be less easily excused.

[3] [Need for discernment] Thus it is very appropriate and a matter of great necessity to examine spirits of this kind, discriminating between them. According to St Paul, as this is a matter of great importance, God Our Lord bestows for this purpose on those in His service a special grace, gratis data,11‘for the discernment of spirits’.12 This grace is helped by human effort and operates along with it, in particular with prudence and sound theology.

[4] [Applying discernment] Presupposing discernment of this kind, some of the prophecies or revelations that occur may be accepted in a spirit of reverence, if they do not contain anything that common sense or good theology would reject, if they foster people’s growth rather than the contrary, and in particular if the person who utters them and the quality of the utterances are such as to make the messages trustworthy. Even so, sensible and holy people, without making condemnations, normally reserve judgement on such messages, and wait to see how things turn out before holding them to be certain. For even the prophets themselves do not always see everything in their prophetic lights as clearly and without qualification as their expressions suggest. Thus it happened that Jonah said without qualification, ‘Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’13 and it did not happen, or at least he did not express the condition which God Our Lord’s eternal disposition had attached to that statement, namely, ‘unless they did penance’.

[5] But it can also happen that a true prophet makes a mistake, stating what is not true because not really perceived through prophetic light, but rather with the light of natural common sense and reasoning. Thus Nathan was mistaken when he told David in God’s name that he would build the Temple. But afterwards he saw the opposite, in the true and certain and supernatural light, and thus he told David that it would not be he who would build it because he had shed much blood, and so on.14 With these warnings from Scripture itself it becomes clear how much more tentative people must be when it comes to trusting those who are not yet known to be prophets. In so many ways they can take falsehood to be truth.

[6] [Some prophecies to be rejected] When there is something contrary to right thinking (even though there may be nothing immoral or heretical) in revelations or prophecies of this kind, it is legitimate and right not merely not to believe them, but even to speak out against them, unless the revelations or prophecies are confirmed by miracles or other proofs that are superior. But when they contain something that common sense, sound theology and a healthy attitude towards life would reject, and when they would do more harm than good if they were to be believed, then it is certain that to believe such prophecies is superficial and ignorant. It is right to contradict them and discredit them, and this furthers salvation as it promotes truth and justice and hence is pleasing to the Source of truth and justice.

[The particular case of François Onfroy]

[7] [Initial feeling of distrust] We come now to the case in question: these prophetic statements or revelations of B. [François Onfroy15]. Under obedience we have been ordered to commend the matter to God Our Lord, and then deliver our opinion. Looking at things in the light of His divine goodness, we judge that these statements should be placed in the last of the categories just described.16 Some of the grounds for this judgement are extrinsic, others are to do with the person concerned, others arise from the statements themselves. It is true, however, that as soon as we had read them, our minds were quite spontaneously inclined to think ill of them, before thinking about any grounds at all. We felt great compassion at seeing such an attitude on the part of those responsible, whom we love intimately in Jesus Christ. But both truth and falsehood often move the understanding of their own accord, without any reasoning for or against. A person who thinks that God Our Lord has imparted to us some grace for distinguishing between spirits might attribute this feeling of ours more to this gift than to other grounds. But the reasons that subsequently reinforced our conviction are as follows.


[8] [Discredited teaching] Firstly, this spirit of prophecy or these feelings, especially about the reformation of the Church and the angelic Pope,17 etc, have existed for many years and must be regarded with good reason as highly suspect. It seems that the devil has taken to unsettling everyone he finds prone to believe such things by these means. Some of these have been people quite remarkably endowed with gifts of nature, of learning and, so they thought, of grace. Look at Amadeo,18 not to begin any further back, or at Savonarola,19 a man of such outstanding gifts. The sight of a person of such common sense and learning, and also of such great virtue and holiness (as far as one could see), being led astray, should be enough really to terrify anyone who gets mixed up in things of this kind. This man really wanted, in so many ways, to test his spirit to see whether it was of God, and yet, despite this, he was mistaken: for now we see that the time for his prophecies to come true has passed.

[9] [Recent examples] But to come to recent times. It is quite astounding how many people of our own day have got themselves caught up in this business, and cardinals among them, like Galatino:20 it is public knowledge (and I shall keep quiet about what is not public knowledge for the sake of people’s reputations) that they were and still are quite convinced that there must be angelic popes to reform the Church. That famous servant of Pope Paul’s, called Ambrogio, also seemed to have this idea stuck in his mind; apparently he did not undervalue the papacy he sold.21

[10] [Angelic anti-popes] Then again, the other day in Urbino, a person with this spirit got so far as to dress up as a Pope and create cardinals. He began to acquire so many followers that the Duke of Urbino decided it would be a great blessing if he could get rid of him and send him out of his territory. In the same way there has been another one recently in other areas of Italy, including Spoleto and Calabria, a Minim.22 He likewise claimed that there had to be an angelic Pope, and went on about reform and so on. His election should have taken place last May, but nothing happened.

[11] [A novitiate case] Guillaume Postel23 (and Your Grace will be aware of how talented he was) let himself be taken over by this same craze, and for that reason they got rid of him from the house here. In Venice where he is now he has waited, but the time within which he said his prophecies would be fulfilled is now elapsed. King Francis [I] of France, whom Postel wanted to be the monarch in the temporal sphere, is dead. Yet despite all this he still sallies forth and defends his prophecies as not being lies. He says that King Francis hindered what God had planned by not believing what he said. His son will fulfil the prophecy, just as Joshua fulfilled the prophecy that had been spoken by Moses – that he would lead the children of Israel into the promised land.24 His ideas are now as fixed as they ever were, or more so. He has not moderated his views, but rather the poor man has fallen into other errors that are so outrageous as to give a good indication of the spirit he has. So much so that not only are they regarding him as a hopeless case, but have also forbidden him to preach. Even the Inquisition wants to get its hands on him.

[12] [Two Portuguese cases] In the last few days someone else has come from Portugal, talking about the need to reform the Church. Our Father tried to talk some sense into him here in the house. Another person from the same country says that he is absolutely certain to be elected Pope before the end of next August. He was agitating to get one of the churches here (a rather uncomfortable one) to live in, because it seemed to him that he would make a fine exit from there when he was elected Pope.

[13] [Papal illusions] Not to go on with so many individual cases, I will just mention one more, who came recently to talk to our Father and discuss his situation with him. This person showed quite an acquaintance with things of the spirit. According to what he was saying, he had already been elected Pope from more than 200 miles away. He was quite sure that Cardinal Farnese,25 among others, had been present at his election. Apparently all that was left was for him to take possession of the papacy. I think, however, that our Father replied politely, saying that papal elections did not happen unless the see was vacant. He should find out if Pope Paul was still alive or not, so as to see if his election had really happened, etc.

[14] [Summary of Reason 1] However, to come back to where I began, the first of the reasons influencing our decision comes from seeing these cases and others like them. Even if the prophecies were better grounded, things of this kind would render them suspect, deservedly so, and discourage one from getting mixed up with them.


[15] [Argument from authority] The second of the reasons governing our decision comes from seeing that neither Fr Master Araoz26 in Spain nor Fr Master Ignatius here approve of any of this. Rather, they hold it to be false, a deceit of the enemy of human nature. The mere agreement or disagreement of people like these is very significant for us. This is because, firstly, they are superiors who by virtue of their office are meant to govern. Thus they are normally more strongly influenced by the gifts of God necessary for the government of those under their charge. Secondly, because they are so dedicated to God Our Lord. In testing a particular spirit to see if it is of God or not, it is more reasonable in doubtful cases to rely on people like this, even without there being particular reasons, rather than on others who have lots of reasons. Our Lord says, ‘If a person wishes to do the will of the one who sent me, that person will know whether the doctrine is of God’.27 Certainly, virtue is very important in discernment. Thirdly, because both in the case of the one and in that of the other, it seems that by a gift of Jesus Christ, the source of all that is good, they have this grace of discerning spirits. And it is much more appropriate and logical that they, rather than outsiders, have this gift in a particular way with regard to those under them. Considering also their great prudence and experience, it seems very right to believe them regarding a matter about which they are so certain and have no doubt. It is their place to know about this, especially our Fr Master Ignatius.


[16] [Lack of good purpose] The third reason is that when God Our Lord reveals things of this kind that are out of the ordinary, he normally does so for some good purpose, seeking to bring about something that will help people. According to St Paul28 and the doctors of the Church it is characteristic of these graces ‘gratis datae’29 that they be for the good of others. However if we look at what purpose the prophecies we have here might be serving, we find nothing helpful, but rather things that are harmful for those in the Society, should they believe the prophecies, and that cause scandal to outsiders. These people are saying that the Society has not been properly founded, and that it should be founded better. Now this would certainly lead anyone believing it not to be at peace in the Society. In their expectations for the future they would cease to be faithful here and now. Moreover if one is going to make something of being in the Society, it helps to have a good sense of it and a love of it. Thus whatever leads a person to lose this good sense or love would do harm.

[17] [Positive harm] As for those outside, it is clearly of little help to them to say that the Society’s growth in numbers, even in the early years, has been matched by its falling off in spirit, and that there are such great deficiencies in it, etc. Just as the harm done within is obvious, so there seems no point at all in noising such things abroad, especially when those concerned do not want to tell the Superior of the Society how it is to be reformed. In sum, we say that in regard to doubtful claims a person should be inclined to believe what would, if accepted, help people and foster growth in preference to claims that would have the opposite effect, and consequently with these things that are not helpful, one must be inclined to hold them for the falsehoods that they in fact are.

[18] [Summary] Thus, recapitulating the reasons given so far: seeing that feelings of this kind lead so many people astray so often these days, seeing what Fr Araoz in Spain and Fr Master Ignatius here feel – who are superiors, people dedicated to God Our Lord, and wise people – and seeing that nothing is coming of such revelations, but only harm, we judge that they are not of a good spirit.


[19] [A confused mind] There are also reasons connected with B.’s [Fr Onfroy’s] personality leading us to repudiate the claims discussed above. We take it as read that in the natural order the influence of a natural agent requires an individual well prepared to receive it fruitfully, and that the same applies in the supernatural order. Admittedly in particular cases the opposite can happen, as infinite power does not need the material to be prepared. We are talking here about what obtains most often (even if with a supernatural agency there is no necessity for an individual to be prepared). Consequently, if one saw an individual who was well prepared for graces of this kind, one would be inclined with good reason to believe that that individual had them. And also, when one sees an individual who is not well prepared, but rather who has a tendency to let himself be deceived, one inclines to the opposite. We can see that B. has such a tendency to be deceived principally from the sort of mind he has. If, as he tells us when he is discussing C. [Fr Andrés Oviedo], we should take into consideration a person’s natural openness for the gift of prophecy, then he himself is not a suitable person for this gift. For his mind is muddled, as C. tells us. This is why C. says’31 that B. is not a good person to teach others. A clear and discriminating mind would be better adapted for prophetic illumination: not only would such a mind be more apt to receive the illumination as such, but it would also be able to distinguish within the illumination what was absolute from what was conditional, and what was known through natural light from what was known through prophetic light. If these are experienced together indiscriminately, the one can easily be taken for the other.

[20] [Inflexibility] Another indication that he has been led astray is that he is a person who is quite content with his own judgement, and is too fixed in it. No. 24 shows this, and many of the other numbers.32 His extended and disorderly prayers, his mental exercises, and his bodily mortifications will have helped him develop this stubbornness and inflexibility regarding his own ways of seeing things. Quite naturally the more one cuts oneself off from material things, the more the understanding becomes inflexible regarding what one apprehends as true or false. It often happens that such people take things that are doubtful, indeed false, for absolute truth, especially if they are blinded by the smoke of some passion (as seems to have occurred with this person).

[21] [Physical and mental illness] There are other factors also that contribute to his misguided state. Just as his inappropriate physical and mental activities leave him with a damaged body (as we gather from the reports reaching us of his spitting blood and other ailments), so I fear from other obvious signs that the seat of his imaginative faculty has been impaired. Moreover his thinking and evaluative powers have been damaged, those powers by which one judges particular issues, sorting out the true from the false and the good from the bad. If this sense is in a bad state, it is quite normal for delirium to occur, etc. It may be (though God forbid it!) that by the time this arrives he will have given clearer indications of this or of greater errors connected with it.

[22] [Impassioned will] One can also see how easily his misguidance occurs if one looks at his will and his affectivity. For if the will is inclined to go one way or another, it will draw the understanding after it, and will not leave it free to judge what is right. Thus it follows that people are not good judges in their own cases. Now, with B. [Onfroy], it can be seen that he has a marked inclination towards long meditations and prayers, so much so that he would like to go off to the desert. It has distressed him, apparently, that they have gone against this self-love of his. And it is from this, it seems, that these prophecies and statements have arisen (Nos 8, 9, 10, 26, 27, 30 and 31), for in all of these this self-love is quite patent.

[23] [Lack of integrity] If a person has integrity before God in all that he or she does, seeking God’s will in every way, it helps that person avoid being misguided. Indeed such integrity is a sign that a person is not misguided. In the same way, the lack of such integrity in B. indicates the opposite. I say ‘lack of integrity’ because it can be taken for certain that his will does not operate in conformity with the divine will, which is the supreme rule of integrity. For it does not conform in obedience with that of the Superior, as we see in Nos 10, 30 and the rest. Rather his will judges that of the Superior and condemns it.

[24] [Unfaithfulness to the Society] If a spirit leads a person to keep faith with all his or her obligations in serving God Our Lord, and to love them, it is a sign that the spirit is good. In the same way, a spirit that leads a person in the opposite way is bad. One can see this in No. 9 and others, where he shows the meagreness of his devotion to the way of life he has adopted and has promised by vow to observe. For in his view the Society has not been well founded and he would like it to be set up again, according to his taste. But those who do not feel good about something are not normally very assiduous or punctilious about keeping faith with it.

[25] [Lack of humility] If a spirit makes a person humbler and less presuming, if it gives greater self-knowledge in the light that God Our Lord imparts, it is a sign that this spirit comes from God. By the same token the spirit under discussion here shows itself to be from God’s enemy and ours. We can see this from how it incites and implants great pride in B. [Onfroy]. Thus he judges and condemns the one whom he has taken as his Superior in the place of Christ Our Lord, and what that Superior orders and the Society’s Institute, etc.

[26] [Absence of modesty] It is also a sign of a good spirit when one works to destroy spiritual vices, such as ostentation and vainglory. Thus to see these tendencies here with nothing being done against them indicates something wrong. This lack of control comes through in many of the statements of his that were written down, especially in Nos 20 and 21, when he talks of those who are in a supernatural state, or who will be very soon. If he had really had revelations of these things, it does not seem he should have been so quick to make them known. Those who receive supernatural or extraordinary communications from God Our Lord normally take to heart what Isaiah says: ‘My secret to myself, my secret to myself’.33 Yes, ‘my secret to myself.’ If they do make something public, they do so to the extent they judge God wishes it to be made known, a judgement they make by assessing how far it will help others grow, or else they are commanded to make it known.

[27] [Inquisitiveness] To this last reason one might add the following: inquisitiveness, rashness and a tendency to meddle. All this will appear in the third part of this letter shortly below. They are strong indications that the spirit in him is evil, just as their opposites indicate goodness.

[28] [Summary] We can thus sum up what has to be said regarding his personality. His understanding is confused as the evidence shows; his personal judgement is inflexible; the organs of his body (especially his thinking faculty) have been damaged; his will is impassioned, misguided with regard to obedience, and careless about keeping obligations; what he says shows pride, ostentation, inquisitiveness and rashness. All these indicate that the spirit that has dictated what he says is bad, and should rightly be opposed, for it is our opponent, the father of lies, and the enemy of all that is good. But let us come on to the third set of arguments, those arising from the statements themselves.


[29] Nos 1, 2, 3 [Acceptance of prophecies] These and other statements relating to prophecies, although not impossible, cease to be acceptable in themselves given the other inappropriate and false things that have already been said, and will be said later. If the spirit were good, it would speak out well throughout. Secondly, if we consider the reasons why these things supposedly had to be revealed, we shall not find any useful purpose, but only the opposite, disturbances, etc. Thirdly, looking at how things are currently going, there is no reason, speaking in terms of reason, to believe such new-fangled ideas. If we are meant to accept them as transcending or going against normal reason, any person tempted by them needs to be given some sort of warrant for believing that truths of this kind are revealed by God Our Lord, a warrant that will satisfy the understanding and its need for some kind of rationality. If such a warrant is not available, there is no reason for people to put themselves in danger of hare-brained error, particularly as even with those who are true prophets we are not obliged to believe everything they say, for they can be mistaken regarding matters that are not clearly shown them. Sometimes they will say things that have not been shown them in prophetic enlightenment, but rather what they have come to understand through their own natural reflection, just as we said above had occurred with certain people.34 Now if things are like this with true prophets, we must be all the more hesitant about believing people of whom we do not know whether they have the gift of prophecy, and who seem to be narrating visions that come from our enemy, or from their own moods. And there are so many examples of this nowadays.

[30] Nos 4, 5. [Dispute about the Pope35] It does not seem appropriate to have strife or contention over the Vicar of Christ. Nor does martyrdom in such a situation seem very desirable. Secondly, it seems equally unlikely that the Creator and Lord of all would leave the Pope so bereft in matters regarding the overall governance of the Church. God has never done this regarding spiritual matters. Thirdly, it seems very improbable that the Pope will persecute the Society, which is so much his and so dedicated to his service, though of course the matter is in itself possible.

[31] No. 8. [Decadence in the Society] He says that over the last three years the Society has experienced a growth in numbers matched by its falling off in spirit. As far as it is possible reasonably to judge, we believe in Our Lord, without any possibility of doubt, that the opposite is true. The first ground for this is the test of reality. With regard to those of whom we have information here, professed and non-professed, it would seem on the contrary that they have grown in spirit, in virtue, and in the interior life over the last three years. A second ground is that God, our Creator and Lord, has brought about great growth in the Council at Trent as well as among various peoples here in Italy and Sicily, together with great fruit in many hearts and minds, through members of the Society in Venice, Padua, Belluno, Verona, Ferrara, Bologna, Florence, Perugia, Foligno, Rome, Naples, Messina, Palermo, and many other places. This much can be inferred in part from reports being sent here to Rome, both currently and in the past. And among yourselves too, you know this, as much from what is happening on your doorstep in Spain as from the furthest reaches of the Indies and the Congo and Africa. Quite obviously we see that God’s Divine Majesty is making great use of members of the Society. And since He Himself teaches us the signs by which we can get to know people when He says, ‘You will know them by their fruits’,36 and since the externally visible fruit is of such quality, it seems that there is no lack of foundation for our supposition that the interior spirit and goodness have grown. A third ground is our Father’s own sense of how things are. I think he is a reliable authority in this matter. As it is his job to know about this, he seeks out such knowledge and he is well capable of having it.

[32] No. 9. [Defects in the foundation of the Society] He says that the Society has not been well founded and that there will be a more spiritual foundation. To strengthen our belief in this statement there is no reason for us to try and convince ourselves that the Holy Spirit dictated it, the ‘Spirit of truth’,37 who ‘takes cognizance of every sound’38 and cannot be ignorant of anything. Rather it is obvious it must be the opposite spirit of his own. For he is simply ignorant of how things stand with the Society. Matters of foundation, beyond the necessary and substantial, are still in process. The Constitutions are partly written, partly still being written. Moreover in the Papal Bulls some things have begun to be reconsidered. The whole business has been entrusted to God Our Lord, with plenty of masses, prayers and tears; it is not that we want to relax what has been well established, but rather to develop it more fully, so that for the greater glory of God we can move on from what is good to what is better. We do not have to wait for his prophecy to be fulfilled, a prophecy that seems to be based on his belief that the whole matter of the Society is now officially settled.

[33] [More spirit?] Secondly, the official establishment of the Society in so far as it is set out in the Briefs and Bulls available to B. [Fr Onfroy], contains nothing against spirit, even on his understanding of the matter (according to which ‘spirit’ is a matter of shorter or longer prayer), for up till now no limit has been placed on members of the Society, nor on its scholastics. Nothing is fixed in this regard. And if this is so, what in fact is the establishment that is apparently wrong, and that should be reconstituted in more spirit?

[34] [Harmful regulations] Thirdly, the Holy Spirit does not dictate nor order to be promulgated things of no use for the future, and of harm here and now to anyone believing them, in that they lead people to lose devotion towards the Society’s way of life, and thus to observe their obligations less conscientiously. For a low opinion of something would make anyone lose emotional commitment to the obligations it implied, together with any concern about its survival.

[35] No. 10. [Revelations not to be disclosed to the Superior] Regarding his not wanting to tell even the Superior39 about matters concerned with the reformation, firstly one gets a whiff of the wrong ideas he has about the office of superior, minimalist to say the least. For he sees the Superior as not being capable of receiving his revelations, something that seems incredible given that God made him the very origin of the Society, not in any dream or fantasy, but really and truly. It serves only to give more evidence of his own self-importance, as if he were the only one capable, etc. Secondly, one senses also the spirit which ‘hates the light’40 and thus avoids holy people such as will not be ignorant of his tricks and who will make his deceits plain. Thirdly, one is given a sense of a spirit with little obedience or respect towards those who are obeyed in the place of Christ. Fourthly, this sort of revelation seems of no benefit, in that it has not been imparted to a person under circumstances where it could lead to some spiritual growth.

[36] No. 13. [Predispositions to prophecy] Here he seems to be exhibiting his old ideas and desires about the desert, as well as his own feelings towards the persons about whom he is prophesying. But quite apart from that, the substantive point must be ruled out of order. When God wants to give the gift of prophecy, He does not normally wait to give it until people give themselves totally to Him in prayer. We see this in Moses, David, and the other prophets: they were publicly occupied and so on. And one can see from the case of Balaam, an evil man, how little God needs in the way of predispositions. We are told that his mind was capable, although his will was evil, etc. Look at his ass, and see if it had the predispositions for speaking prophecy that B. [Fr Onfroy] demands. Secondly, either this predisposition is natural, something like a powerful intellect or a clear mind (in this case others are more likely to have it than C. [Fr Oviedo]) or it is supernatural, either some sort of special grace (gratum faciens41) or else a gift of the Holy Spirit like the gift of understanding or wisdom. Now it has never been the case that such things as these should be regarded as predispositions for prophecy, nor have they ever been called such. Many have had these gifts who were never prophets, just as others have been prophets without being in grace nor having such gifts from the Holy Spirit. So it is not easy to see how C. is supposed to be well disposed for being a prophet. Finally, these things seem quite imaginary, superficially felt and expressed.

[37] No. 14. [References to Fray Tejeda’s predictions42] These too seem imaginary, the result of his attachment [to Tejeda]. Although everything is possible for God, these things are not very likely. Since they do not touch on what is needful, we will not elaborate here. We will simply say that it would appear that T. [Fray Tejeda] ought not to have fallen short in this way regarding some points of perfect obedience, if he were to be the means for the reformation of his order. When he was here, he did not deny this shortcoming, etc.43 This may have been the result of a secret dispensation from God, but it would be rash to believe so before it was demonstrated, a rashness shown by C. [Fr Oviedo] and B. [Fr Onfroy], to whom something of his [Fray Tejeda’s] conversation may well have stuck.

[38] No. 15. [Fray Tejeda greater than St Francis?] Since he is in doubt here, it is clear that there is no revelation of these matters: they are opinions. Firstly, it seems irreverent to compare living mortals with the saints, especially with St Francis. Secondly, a judgement of this kind is over-hasty. Although B. is aware of great things regarding T. [Fray Tejeda], he does not know everything about St Francis. Thirdly, from what we know of T. here, and it can be envisaged that there is more to him still, a question like, ‘Who has done greater things?’ would cause us little difficulty. Such a doubt seems to come from a blind attachment.

[39] No. 18. [Borgia the angelic Pope44] Admittedly it is possible that R. [Francis Borgia45] will become the angelic Pope. It would be very easy for the Lord of all to do this, and here in Rome we would rejoice in that same Lord of ours at any great enterprise in which His Divine Majesty might wish to use R. Probably no one would rejoice more than ourselves! However it seems better for us to keep clear of thoughts about such a dignity until time tells, leaving God’s divine goodness to conduct the whole business.

[40] Nos 20, 21. [Tejeda and the continual presence of God] Firstly, great rashness is shown by his saying what he says under these headings, in that only God is the one who weighs what people deserve. It is beyond belief that such intimate matters regarding the past and the future have been revealed to him and are still being revealed to him so continuously (‘he [= Tejeda] will soon come to a supernatural state’, he says), especially since so many things in him [= Tejeda] are obstacles. Secondly, on the supposition that the revelation actually had occurred, he ought not to have published such deep and secret matters in such a trivial way. Thirdly, publication does not make such things bear fruit. In such cases they deserve to be condemned as demonstrating vainglory and presumption. If things of this kind were ever revealed to the saints, it was not their wont to speak them out in this way without any reason. St Paul was in the desert for 14 years and so far as we know, the revelations made him by God when he was taken up to the third heaven were not made known.46 Fourthly, what B. says about a supernatural state and the continual presence of God seems fantastic and false. Some people dedicated to God can keep God more continually in their memories than others, and can think of God more frequently. But not even among great saints does one read about what is said here. Fifthly, what he says seems impossible in the normal course of events, even among very spiritual and holy people. This sort of continual presence of God requires the mind to be directly and intently, or rather immovably, engaged. This is not compatible with the situation of one merely on the way to God. Even the most dedicated in God’s service complain about how their minds wander and never stay still. We read that St John sometimes came away from his contemplations, bringing his mind down from the heights to a bird which he held in his hands.47 He told one of his disciples, who was not impressed by this, that just as his bow could not always be stretched tight, nor could the mind, and so on. Many people in God’s service have from time to time, or even often, great and lively insights into God’s eternal truths, insights that are certain and unshakable. But that they remain permanently in such a state is not to be believed.

[41] No. 22,. [Hostile reports to Rome] This fear is based on a mistake. Here we have had no reports except what has come from Gandía, partly from C. [Oviedo] himself, partly from Fr Araoz.48 If then the spirit is saying to him that there is someone else sowing discord,49 then it must be feared that the spirit that dictated this to him is the spirit of which it was said, ‘he is a liar, together with his father’.50

[42] No. 23. [Polanco’s hostility] He talks about a liberty that was taken.51 It was done in obedience to the Superior and with the sole intention of helping C. [Oviedo]. Perhaps it was an excess, but at least it was not the fruit of discord. Master Polanco knows this for certain. If B.‘s spirit is saying that Polanco was used by the devil to sow such discord, Polanco can see quite certainly from his experience that B.‘s spirit is not ‘the spirit of truth’.52 Polanco’s conscience gives witness before God Our Lord that he loves C. sincerely in the Lord and has always loved him in the Lord. He is very far from being accustomed to sow discord in this way, and by God’s grace has always been so. Secondly, this point regarding Master Polanco is either a revelation or a suspicion. If it is, despite the point just made, a revelation, he should not be apprehensive, but know for certain, because it is, after all, a revelation. If it is a suspicion, he should be careful that it not be an offence against charity, or at least that it not be over-hasty.

[43] No. 24. Firstly, here we see a spirit of disobedience and pride. He does not defer in his understanding even to the highest of his superiors. Secondly, it is a spirit of vanity. He wants to give people the idea that he knows everything in a supernatural fashion. Thirdly, the general opinion here (as we said) is that it is pure fantasy and wrong where he says, etc.

[44] No. 25. [Use of quotations] Either he has this claim through a revelation or not. If he does, then surely people who know something through the light of prophecy do not need any other basis for their knowledge, at least not for themselves (although they might look round for arguments and precedents to satisfy others). If he does not, then he was clearly unjustified in being so insistent, for the three authors he cites may be in error. They are not all authoritative in the way he says, and even if what they say is good, it is possible that his understanding and interpretation of them is not. One of them, Henry Herp,53 undoubtedly stands in need of careful glossing in some places if what he says is to be accepted. The point was made by a writer who wrote a massive preface to Herp’s short work (the name escapes me), and certainly, although the preface was generally sympathetic to Herp, that is what it said.

[45] Nos 26, 27, 28. [Reform of the Society] Some of what is relevant here has already been said under No. 8. Granted all that, there is no doubt that we need God daily to increase us in spirit and virtue, and we hope that God will do so. But there is no excuse for B.‘s rashness in saying things about which he has no knowledge. It is difficult not to pick up a note of arrogance, even contempt for the Society, when he regards himself as so spiritual.

[46] No. 29. [Hours of prayer] He says that no religious way of life has less prayer. If his belief is that the Society’s regulations have set a shorter time-limit than others, he is wrong. Up till now, no limits have been set. If he is making a point about individuals in the Society, and saying that in no religious way of life do they pray less than we do in ours, he is wrong. One only has to look at what in fact goes on. Moreover he would always have to bear in mind that it is one thing to be in colleges for study, and another to be in houses of the Society and out of studies.

[47] No. 30. [Limitations on prayer] Here we see where his real problem lies and where all these prophecies come from. And he is wrong. Firstly, he does not get beyond presumption in condemning his Superior in a matter about which he is ignorant. On the contrary, those who have some knowledge of these matters will know that the Superior is very much on the mark. For it is clear that the Superior is not forbidding prayer, which is indeed commanded by Christ and which is necessary for our well-being. Rather he is placing limits on some individuals who take too long over it. This is in keeping with the will of God, who is pleased by anything reasonable and moderate that conforms to his wisdom. Secondly, he shows that he has not renounced his private judgement and does not really know what obedience is.

[48] No. 31. [Two-hour-long prayer? Example of Christ] The idea that prayer for one or two hours is not real prayer, and that more hours are necessary, is bad theology and goes against the intuitions and practice of the saints. We see this firstly through the example of Christ: although he sometimes spent the whole night in prayer, at other times he was not so long, such as in the prayer at the Last Supper, or the three times he prayed in the Garden. B. [Onfroy] can never deny that these were real prayer, nor can he say that each of them went on for more than one or two hours; it seems they lasted no more than one, given that the other saving events of the Passion and so on must also have happened in what was left of that night.

[49] [The Our Father] We see this secondly through the prayer that Christ himself taught. Brief though it is (one does not have to take more than one or two hours to say it!), Christ called it a prayer and therefore it cannot be denied that it is a prayer.

[50] [Desert Fathers] We see this thirdly through the example of the holy Fathers who were anchorites. They generally had prayers that did not amount to one hour. In Cassian54 we see that they used to say a fixed number of Psalms at one go, as is the custom with the Office or breviary. Does he not want this to be prayer either?

[51] [Contemporaries] We see it fourthly in the contemporary practice of believers, even devout ones, not all of whom (rather, only a small minority) spend two hours at a stretch in prayer.

[52] [Definitions of prayer] Fifthly, prayer is ‘the request of what is appropriate from God’, or to define it more generally, it is ‘the raising up of the mind to God through a faithful and humble heart’.55 If this can be done in less than two hours, and even in less than half an hour, how can he want to deny the name and the reality of prayer to what does not go on for longer than one or two hours? Sixthly, those short exclamatory prayers, so much praised by Augustine56 and the saints, would not count as prayer.

[53] [Conditions for life of study] Seventhly, how much more time does he in fact want students to give to prayer, students who are studying for the service of God and the good of the Church as a whole, if they are meant to keep their mental faculties in shape for the work of learning, and to keep their bodies healthy? It would be good for him to reflect that God does not make use of people only when they are praying. If that were the case, prayers for anything less than physically possible in the 24 hours of the day would be too short, for everyone must give themselves as completely as possible to God. But in fact God makes more use at appropriate times of other things than of prayer. If it is God’s pleasure that prayer should be left aside in favour of these things, then all the more so when it comes merely to shortening prayer. Thus one must understand properly the obligation to pray at all times without ceasing,57 as the saints and the wise understand it.

[54] No. 32. [Local practices] The truth or otherwise of this assertion will be best seen on the spot, if Your Grace thinks it important.

With this much it seems that enough has been said about B. himself and the statements by him that have been written down. Now more briefly something will be said about the opinions of C. [Oviedo].

[The particular case of C. (Fr Oviedo)]


[55] Nos 1, 2. [Fray Tejeda’s miraculous conversations] We do not really understand here [in Rome] this new kind of miracle because we cannot see how T.’s [Fray Tejeda’s] communications go beyond nature, or how they are so rare as to be dignified with such a name. The title of miracle is given to certain rare deeds of God that go beyond the normal course laid down by the divine wisdom. We do not see how it can be applied to T.’s communications. Secondly, it was never said of St Peter, St Paul, or even of Our Lady that it was a miracle when they talked to people or communicated, nor even of Christ himself. Thirdly, then, one sees an excessive attachment on C.’s part, an attachment which has had the result of hampering his mind.

[56] No. 3. [Presence of God] For this, what was said above58 about the continual presence of God is sufficient. The general opinion here is that such an affirmation is not worthy of belief if it is understood literally, i.e. as really a continual presence rather than as a frequent presence which he is calling ‘continuous’.

[57] No. 4. [Hearing God in Tejeda] ‘To hear T.’s own considered words is to hear God speaking’: firstly, this statement seems to show so great an affection for a created being, and so high an opinion of him, that it ends up diminishing the glory of the Creator, the One known to exceed in all respects everything that has been created, and who must be understood and spoken of as such. Secondly, what makes things worse is that he is talking about T.’s ‘own, considered words’, i.e. he refers primarily to the speech that comes from deliberation and after thought. What C. says about hearing T. being like hearing God would be less irrational if C. meant that God was speaking in T., moving the parts of his body and so on, rather than T. talking of his own reflective accord. Thirdly, when C. says ‘hear God speaking’, it is not clear whether this is meant to be indirectly (rather as God spoke to Abraham and the other patriarchs supposedly through the person of an angel), or directly, as C.’s expressions suggest. In either case he should be asked whether he has ever heard God speaking. If not, how can he make such a comparison without actually knowing to what he is comparing T.’s words? On the surface it would seem that C. should be regarded as being so familiar with the conversations of God that he has come to regard them as of no great matter, or, to put it better, that he has not really experienced such conversations if he can compare the conversation of any created being with them. Fourthly, what he says is false. If the comparison is one of power, one is not going to say of T. that by his word ‘the heavens were made’.59 If it is one of truth, uprightness, or any form of perfection, such a comparison cannot ultimately be tolerated. Nor does it seem that it could come from a true person of the Spirit or from a person reflective about what he or she perceives and says.

[58] Nos 5, 6, 7, 8. [The marvels of Fray Tejeda] These things are easy for God, and if God wants to impart them to His creatures, He can do so without difficulty. But people loyal and sensible in their commitment to the Lord would want to see more adequate evidence before feeling compelled to believe them to be of God (as with the prophecies mentioned above). All the more so given that some of these things are so unusual, or rather have never been heard of, such as the trance lasting four months, and are therefore not worthy of belief. Secondly, we can also say that here [in Rome], when something of what he was like came across, and when, we think, he revealed the best of what he had, he did not leave us in any state at all of admiration towards him. Still less was it a case of those who dealt with him on any matter being awestruck, as No. 8 says, but quite the contrary! He himself acknowledged that he had fallen into some important errors in behaviour, leaving aside any possible speculative ones.60

24. Spreading God’s word in a German university 1549

(App. I, No. 18: XII, 239–47: Latin)

This document, an instruction with its numbered parts rather than a letter, illustrates the careful thought given by Ignatius to new projects, in this case a proposed new university college in Ingolstadt. This text effectively demolishes the portrait of Ignatius as a military general marshalling his troops for battle against the Protestant heretics that his pugnacious disciple, Pedro de Ribadeneira, so successfully propagated in Spain’s Golden Age.

Companions setting out to Germany

24 September 1549

from Rome




The aim that they should have above all before their eyes is that intended by the Supreme Pontiff [Paul III] who has sent them: to help the University of Ingolstadt, and as far as is possible the whole of Germany, in all that concerns purity of faith, obedience to the Church, and firmness and soundness of doctrine and upright living.

Their secondary aim will be to advance the Society’s purposes in Germany, especially by working for colleges of the Society to be set up in Ingolstadt and elsewhere, for the general good and God’s glory.

These two aims are closely connected, and so are the means that will conduce to them, but some means can be seen to relate to both equally, others mainly to the first or to the second. It will be convenient, therefore, to treat them in this same order.


1st What will help first and foremost will be to place all hope in God with a generous heart and no confidence in self, and to have a powerful desire, awakened and fed by charity and obedience, to fulfil the intended aim. In this way they will remember their aim and keep it before their eyes, commend it to God in their prayers and sacrifices, and undertake energetically all the other appropriate means.

2nd This is to lead a life which is excellent in itself and consequently an example to others, such that they avoid not only all evil but even any appearance of it, and present models of modesty, charity and all virtues. Germany has great need of such examples, and will be correspondingly helped by them. Even with no word uttered, the Society’s purposes will be advanced, and God will fight on their side.

3rd They must both have and show sincere charity for all, especially those who have most power for the common good, such as the Duke [William IV]1 himself. They should present their apologies to him for not arriving sooner, and assure him of the love that both the Supreme Pontiff [Paul III] and Holy See, as also the Society, have for him. They must courteously promise their effort and energy to help his subjects, etc.

4th They must prove by their works that their love is true, and win the gratitude of many, both by helping them spiritually and by external charitable activities (on which see below).

5th Let it be clear that they are not out for ‘their own interests but for those of Jesus Christ’,2 that is, his glory and the salvation of souls. This is why they do not accept any remuneration either for masses, for preaching or for the sacraments, nor can they have any income.

6th They should make themselves liked, becoming ‘all things to all’3 by their humility and charity. As far as the Society’s Institute permits, they should fit in with the customs of the country. If possible they should never let anyone go away saddened (unless it is for that person’s good); but, while trying to please others, they must respect their conscience, and not let too much familiarity breed contempt.

7th Where opposed factions or parties are active, they should show that they regard neither side as enemies, but hold a middle position and love them both.

8th Much will depend on their moral authority and their reputation (if well founded) for sound doctrine, to their own credit and that of the whole Society, both with the general public and especially with the Duke and other leading figures. Such authority owes much not only to inner qualities, but also to outward behaviour: gravity in procedure and gesture, propriety in dress, and above all thoughtfulness in speaking and maturity in giving advice, both on practical affairs and on matters of doctrine. Such maturity implies not giving an opinion hastily when a case is not straightforward, but taking time to reflect, study or talk it over with others.

9th Special attention should be given to maintaining the goodwill of those in positions of political power. It would be no bad thing if the Duke himself, and the more influential members of his court, could be helped by means of confession and the Spiritual Exercises. Likewise the friendship of university teachers and others of high standing should be won by services humbly and modestly rendered.

10th It follows that, if they learn that the Society or they themselves are being criticized, especially to persons of influence, they should take prudent steps to counter this, and to make the Society’s (and their own) true character better known, for the glory of God.

11th It will be useful to understand people’s character and customs, and to anticipate possible reactions in various circumstances, especially in more critical issues.

12th It will help if all our members maintain unity both in thought and in word, dress the same way, and observe the same formalities and other practices.

13th All the brethren should take trouble to reflect personally on what actions are appropriate to the aims stated above, and should discuss matters together; when the Superior has listened to the others, he will decide what is to be done or not.

14th They must be careful to write to Rome, whether to ask for necessary advice or to report how things are going. This should be done frequently, as it can prove helpful in all kinds of ways.

15th They should, every now and again, read through the above points, those that follow and any others they see fit to add, to refresh their memory of anything they might have begun to forget.




1st The first concerns public lectures, which are the main purpose for which they have been asked for by the Duke and sent by the Supreme Pontiff. They must be very competent in them, and teach solid doctrine without many technical terms (which are unpopular), especially if these are hard to understand. The lectures should be learned yet clear, sustained in argument yet not long-winded, and delivered with attention to style. As for disputations and other academic exercises, prudence will dictate how far to go in for them.

2nd In order to get the biggest audiences and to help them draw the maximum profit, besides what feeds the mind, a bit of devotion to feed the heart should be mixed in, so that the hearers may go home not only wiser but also better people.

3rd Besides these academic lectures, it seems opportune on feast days to hold sermons or Bible readings, more calculated to move hearts and form consciences than to produce learned minds. This should be possible either in Latin in the University or in German by Master Canisius4in the church where most people go.

4th As far as the above indispensable occupations permit, they are to give time to hearing confessions. This is where the fruits are gathered from what has been cultivated by means of lectures and sermons. I mean confessions not of little old ladies or ordinary people (who should be directed towards other confessors), but rather of young and gifted persons who are capable of becoming apostolic workers, and of others who, with spiritual help, could make a greater contribution to the common good. Since it is impossible to meet the needs of all, priority ought to be given to those who give hope of greater profit in the Lord.

5th They should make efforts to attract their students into a friendship of spiritual quality, and if possible towards confession and making the Spiritual Exercises, even in the full form, if they seem suitable to join the Society. More of them can be allowed (or even invited) to undertake the exercises of the First Week, and some method of prayer, etc, but still mainly those who give hope of greater good, and whose friendship seems more worth cultivating for God’s sake.

6th For the same reason, conversation and friendship with this same kind of people should be cultivated. Then, though it may sometimes be right for the sake of human interest to take up extraneous subjects, that appeal to the human intellect, one should draw the conversation back to things that are of real profit, so that such conversations may not be useless.

7th On occasion they should give time to works of mercy of a more visible character, such as in hospitals and prisons and helping other kinds of poor; such works arouse a ‘sweet fragrance’ in the Lord.

Opportunity may also arise to act as peacemakers in quarrels and to teach basic Christian doctrine to the uneducated. Taking account of local conditions and the persons concerned, prudence will dictate whether they should act themselves or through others.

8th They should make efforts to make friends with the leaders of their opponents, as also with those who are most influential among the heretics or those who are suspected of it yet seem not absolutely immovable. They must try to bring them back from their error by sensitive skill and signs of love. Some rules have been written on this elsewhere.

9th They must be well trained in cases of conscience. If any arise which involve difficulties, it would be best, as was said above, to take time for study or consultation; just as it is inappropriate to be too scrupulous and anxious, so also one should not be too lax and easygoing, with danger of spiritual harm both to oneself and to others.

10th All must try to have at their finger-tips the main points concerning dogmas of faith that are subjects of controversy with heretics, especially at the time and place where they are present, and with those persons with whom they are dealing. Thus they will be able, whenever opportunity arises, to put forward and defend the Catholic truth, to refute errors and to strengthen the doubtful and wavering, whether by lectures and sermons or in the confessional and in conversations.

11th As regards their manner, they must remember to behave with prudence and adaptability, accommodating themselves to people’s character and feelings, and not ‘putting new wine into old skins’,5 etc.

12th They should defend the Apostolic See and its authority, and attract people towards true obedience to it, in such a way as not to lose credibility, as ‘papists’, through ill-judged partisanship. On the contrary, their zeal in countering heresy must be of such a quality as rather to reveal love for the heretics themselves and a compassionate desire for their salvation.

13th They will be helped by wise use of the faculties to absolve granted by the Supreme Pontiff both to the Society and to themselves in particular. These are to be used ‘for building up, not for breaking down’6, with liberality but also with prudence.

14th It will be helpful to lead people, as far as possible, to open themselves to God’s grace, exhorting them to a desire for salvation, to prayer, to alms and to everything that conduces to receiving grace or increasing it.

15th To help their hearers the better to take in, retain and put in practice what has been set before them, they should consider whether it would be useful to hand out any written notes, and if so, to whom.

16th It will be very useful to choose a convenient place where they can say mass, hear confessions and preach, and where they can be found when people want them; this can be arranged with the help either of the Duke or of Leonard Eck,7 or of other friends.

17th It will be helpful for the priests of the Society to discuss their studies and sermons together and to evaluate each other’s lectures, so that, if these contain any defects, through being admonished at home they may become all the more acceptable and helpful to their hearers.


Besides those mentioned above, which might have been enough without proposing any other means, a few more particular points will be added. They practically reduce to this, that the Duke, and anyone else who has effective power, should be willing and authorized to have seminaries for the Society in their territories.

1st Firstly, then, the task of setting up a college should be undertaken in such a way that it does not seem to be our members who are doing it, or at least so as to make it clear that they are doing it for the good of Germany, with no hint of seeking power or self-interest. It must therefore be made known that from its colleges the Society wants nothing for itself but hard work and the exercise of charity; and that the income is disbursed again to support poor students, so that, when they have completed their studies, they may become all the better workers in Christ’s vineyard.

2nd Those who are able to influence the Duke of Bavaria and those close to him (such as Eck) in the direction of founding a college should try to put the idea in their minds without actually suggesting its realization; thus they themselves will gently draw the conclusion from the premisses provided.

3rd It will contribute to this end if they form a good opinion of the Society’s Institute. Let them learn interesting facts relevant to it, and how by God’s grace it has developed in so few years and in so many parts of the world. Such accounts will be heard all the more effectively if the Duke himself has begun to experience some benefit in his territories.

4th Let the Duke understand how valuable it will be, not only for his own subjects but also for the whole of Germany, to have seminaries for such men, acting without motives of power or gain, who help others by their sound doctrine and exemplary life. Let him know how much good it has done to the King of Portugal [John III], who from one single college8 of the Society has been able to supply apostolic workers for so many regions of the Indies, Ethiopia and Africa, and even beyond his territories.

5th Let him understand, too, how greatly the University of Ingolstadt could be strengthened if there were a college there, as in Messina and Gandía, offering languages and philosophy, not merely theology, with academic exercises modelled on the Paris system.9

6th Let him understand also what glory it will mean for him if he is the first to introduce into Germany seminaries in the form of such colleges, to foster sound doctrine and religion.

7th To show how easy an operation it can be, it should be made clear to him how colleges of this kind can be set up and endowed by amalgamation of benefices, either from some abbey or from some other religious foundation that has lost its usefulness, especially since the Supreme Pontiff and the leading cardinals are strongly in favour of founding colleges in this way.

8th If so many were to join the Society that the religious body being maintained at the Duke’s expense were to grow rather large, he might be more easily persuaded to free himself from concern with expenses and teachers’ salaries by endowing the institution with a permanent income.

9th A large part of these matters could, I think, be handled more fittingly and suitably by persons in the Duke’s confidence, such as Eck and other friends of the Duke, especially people of importance, such as Cardinals who will be able to confirm by letter what the Supreme Pontiff thinks. Such action will be all the more effective if it is encouraged by successful results.

10th If the Duke or others should seem inclined to favour a freer regime in colleges, with the possibility of others besides religious living in, it may be indicated to him that they can be set up so as to consist partly of religious, partly of others, provided that the administration is entrusted to those who by teaching and example can help others to advance both in their studies and in religious commitment.

11th They should see whether any private individuals who have so rich an income or other means as to be able to start a college, may feel moved by God to do so. Steps should be taken to attract such people and other national figures in that direction, for the good of Germany as a whole.

12th Apart from colleges, the Society’s purposes can be advanced among young people and those of mature age (especially if they are better educated) by attracting them to join the Society. This will be effected by good example, by friendly contact through the Exercises and spiritual conversation, or by other means which are dealt with elsewhere. If such people cannot be supported on the spot, or if it is best for them not to stay, they should be sent to Rome or to some other centre of the Society; conversely others, if need be, could be summoned from elsewhere (for example, from Cologne or Louvain) and transferred to Ingolstadt.

25. Placating a parent over a son’s vocation 1549

(No. 958: II, 603–06: Italian)

How does one reason with a man who is furious at his son joining the Society, especially when the father is a person of rank, brother of the Bishop of Tivoli, and ready to use force and ecclesiastical pressure to force his son’s return? At one level, Ignatius agreed to move the novice far from Rome and defended the case (with success) at the Papal court. But it is at the level of appeal to good sense that this letter is most revealing.

Gerolamo Croce

in Tivoli

4 December 1549

from Rome



Your Excellency,

May the supreme grace and everlasting love of Christ Our Lord be always in our favour and assist us continually, Amen.

[1] A few days ago, I wrote to Your Excellency at some length, but as I understand my letter was not given to you, I am rewriting the same letter now. The reason is that I have heard that Your Excellency has a grievance against us and appears very upset over your son, Lucio. As I am sure this results from your not having correct information on all that has taken place, I want to provide it, so that you may understand that our intention has been to do service to God, as well as to Your Excellency, in a matter that concerns you so greatly. Although there is no need for me to apologize in a matter in which the counsels and teaching of Jesus Christ are well known, yet for Your Excellency’s comfort, and to honour the friendship we have in common with that of Our Lord, I wanted to write both the previous letter and this one.

[2] Your Excellency should realize that Lucio came to confession in our church without being recognized or having ever spoken to the confessor or anyone else in the house. He manifested to him his desire to withdraw and serve God according to our way of proceeding, insisting that the said confessor should get me to receive him. The confessor had recourse to Master Polanco, who usually examines those who wish to enter our Society, and the next day brought Lucio for an interview with Master Polanco. The latter, on questioning him about his age and intention, and what moved him to that purpose, and for how long he had had the desire, was courteously informed that he was nineteen years old, and that it was his devotion to follow our Institute in order to detach himself from the sins of the world and better save his soul in greater service of God Our Lord, and that all his life he had found himself inclined to do good, although the company of some people had misled him somewhat, and that for upwards of about a year or thereabouts he had had this desire. Likewise in the other matters on which he was questioned concerning the religious life and the difficulties to be encountered therein, he showed himself very willing, and ready even to serve in hospitals, and to go on pilgrimage like a penniless beggar, and to serve in the kitchen, and at menial tasks.

[3] When Master Polanco saw his good disposition and the testimony his confessor gave, believing it was an inspiration from God, he made me a report, saying that during the interview he learnt that he was Your Excellency’s son. In view of all this and to test his constancy, we thought it good that he should return to the house of Monsignor, the Bishop, and remain a few days in the usual way, during which he could come to our house to be fully examined. This he did, staying for eleven or twelve days. When Master Polanco (as I myself did not speak with him) invited him, if he wished, to come to our house, he showed a desire to go somewhere further away from his own home, so that he should not be upset in his plans. When it was suggested to him that he might go to Bologna or even to Padua, he intimated that he wanted to go even further away than that.

[4] It so happened that we were to send two persons from our house to Sicily, where there are two colleges of our Society, at Messina and Palermo. So we sent him along with them, as he showed that he greatly desired this and insisted on it. That same day they all received the holy sacrament at San Sebastiano, and rode with the post as far as Naples, and embarked there. We know that they have reached Sicily safely, where he will have every opportunity to acquire not only virtue, but learning of every kind, namely the humanities, philosophy and theology, reading up all these subjects with great diligence in our colleges under the guidance of very competent persons. Since Your Excellency and your brother, the Bishop, planned to make an ecclesiastic of this son of yours, I think you should regard it as a favour that you are relieved of the worry and expense that you were incurring over him, and that Lucio is placed where he will become virtuous and educated, as I believe he will, doing honour and giving great comfort to Your Excellencies, as well as giving spiritual assistance, as I hope, to your city by means of the spiritual help that God wishes to effect through this instrument. As far as we are concerned moreover, Your Excellencies can well perceive that our only interest is the service of God and the help given to his soul and that of others who may be aided by him. Moreover he has not yet been admitted to our Society, nor will he be professed in it, even if he so wished, for eight or ten years, until his education be complete. Your Excellency can be quite certain, as I have said, that he will not be admitted to profession for many years to come, and in the meanwhile you will be able to see him and take comfort with him in Our Lord; at least on our part there will be no objection. Once this is understood, I leave it to you to consider whether you have more reason to be grateful to us for the service we have done you than to be annoyed with us.

[5] Sgr Luis de Mendoza1 knew nothing until Lucio had left, and then I told him and the Pope’s vicar in confession. When however I saw what had happened to your son, Master Alexander2 (for whom we grieved as any reasonable person would have done, even if we hope, seeing his good character, that the Lord God has transferred him from this temporal to the eternal life), when, as I say, I saw what had happened, in order to save Your Excellency from having one sorrow on top of another, I gave Sgr Mendoza permission to inform you that your son, Lucio, was alive and well. I also had a letter sent to Lucio, telling him to write to Your Excellency from Naples.

[6] There is nothing else for the moment, except to pray God to grant us all His grace in abundance always to feel His holy will and to fulfil it completely. May He grant Your Excellency so much light and burning charity in His service that you may give heartfelt thanks to the divine Goodness for having placed your young son where he now is.

From Rome, 4 December 1549

26. Letter of resignation 1551

(No. 1554 : III, 303–04 : Spanish)

An autograph resignation document, announcing to the assembled Fathers, called together after the first ten years of the Society’s existence, Ignatius’s firm decision to request a replacement. The request in the letter was rejected with only one father objecting that such a holy man must be right…

Ours in the Lord who are brothers in

the Society of Jesus

in Rome

30 January 1551

from Rome



1 As during various months and years something has been thought over and considered by me, without my feeling that any internal or external perturbation was coming into play, I want to express in the presence of my Creator and Lord, who is due to judge me for ever, all that I feel and understand, for the greater praise and glory of His Divine Majesty.

2 When I look realistically and, as far as I can see, without passion at my many sins, my many imperfections and my many sicknesses, internal and external, I have come to the honest conclusion on many and different occasions that I fall short, by an almost infinite degree, of possessing the proper qualities needed to hold my present post in the Society, which I hold by appointment and imposition.

3 My desire in the Lord is that careful consideration be given and another person elected, who would better (or not so badly) carry out my present charge of governing the Society.

4 Similarly my desire is that such a person, once elected, be entrusted with this post.

5 In addition to my feeling this desire, it is my judgement supported by very good reasons, that this post be transferred not only if whoever holds it will do better or not as badly, but even if he will do no better than I.

6 In consideration of all this, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, my sole God and Creator, I depose and renounce completely and utterly the post that I now hold. My request and the supplication I make with all my soul to the professed fathers and to any others who may wish to join the meeting on this subject, is that they accept this petition of mine, which is so justified in the Divine Majesty.

7 In the case of there being, for the greater divine glory, a disagreement among those who are to receive and judge my request, I implore them out of love and reverence for God Our Lord kindly to commend it with great fervour to His Divine Majesty that in all things His most holy will be done to His greater glory and to the greater universal good of souls and of all the Society, and that they bear in mind in all things the greater praise and glory of God for ever.

In Rome, today Friday, 30 January 1551,


27. Consoling a sister on her brother’s death 1551

(No. 1587 : III, 326–27: Spanish)

This letter illustrates the kindliness with women shown in a notable proportion of the Ignatian correspondence, and hints at their affection for him.

Isabel de Vega1

in Sicily

21 February 1551

from Rome



My Lady in Our Lord,

May the supreme grace and eternal love of Christ Our Lord salute and visit you, bringing His most holy gifts and spiritual blessings.

I received your letter (11 January) and the presents you kindly sent with it for this season of Lent.2 May He who inspires your thoughtfulness and charity welcome and repay such charity with an overflowing increase in this life and with the full perfection of it in His eternal glory.

You mention the envy you feel for your brother, Don Hernando, now in God’s glory, because you see that he is out of danger of ever offending God Our Lord in this evil world. And on the other hand you say that you worry continuously because he was called at such an early age. My comment would be that such envy is holy and good, and so is the worry – but on condition that the envy does not lack a willingness to conform to the divine will in the continuation of this pilgrimage, however wearisome it may be and for as long as may be needed for God’s greater service, and that the worry does not lack a very firm hope that God our Creator and Lord already holds in His holy glory, or on the path that will soon lead him there, the late beloved Don Hernando.

Given submission to God, just as old age does not of itself increase the merits of eternal life, so neither does youth diminish them. On the contrary, no matter how old a person is, whoever shares most fully in the merits of Christ – thanks to the merits which He gives – is the richest. There are many who replace many years and great works in His service by their great willingness to serve God. And I trust Don Hernando will have done that, thanks to God’s infinite kindness, because the indications he gave in life and in death lead one reasonably to believe this. When all is said and done, we have so good a God, and so wise and loving a Father, that we should not doubt that His benign Providence draws out His children from this life at the best instant there is for entering the next. So I shall not write further about that.

You are quite right to say that there is no need for you to remind me in your letters to keep His Excellency, Don Juan de Vega, in my poor prayers and masses. May the divine and supreme Goodness deign to hear the constant supplication that I raise for His Excellency and for all his house and affairs.

Master Laínez3 had already left for Florence (at the same time as the Duke4) so I shall have a copy of what you write in your letter sent on to him.

All here are in good health (although these last few days I have not had much of it myself) by the grace of God Our Lord.

May He in His infinite and supreme goodness grant His full grace to all of us, so that we may always feel His most holy will and accomplish it fully.

From Rome.

28. Refusing a Cardinal’s hat1 Borgia 1552

(No. 2652 : IV, 283–85 : Spanish)

A letter of key importance: it shows the process of spiritual introspection when making an election.

Fr Francis Borgia

in spain2

5 June 1552

from Rome



May the supreme grace and eternal love of Christ Our Lord always favour and assist us continuously!

[1] [Observing his feelings] In this business of the hat I think it will be best if I give you some account of the process of my feelings, as if I were examining my soul for myself, for the greater glory of God. As soon as I was informed for certain that the Emperor [Charles V] had given your name, and that the Pope [Julius III] was happy to make you a cardinal, I felt a kind of agreement or inspiration that I should prevent it as far as I could. At the same time tamen [however], as I was not certain about the divine will – so many reasons occurred to me for and against – I gave an order in our house that all priests should celebrate mass, and the laymen say prayers, during three days, asking that I might be guided in all things for the greater glory of God. During this period of three days, there were times, as I turned over the matter in my mind and debated it, when I felt some sort of fear and I lost that freedom of spirit to speak out and prevent the business. ‘How do I know what God Our Lord wants me to do?’ I thought, and I could not feel sure about preventing it. But at other times, when I began the normal meditations, I could feel these fears vanishing. I continued with this petition on several occasions, occasionally feeling fear, and occasionally the opposite. Tandem [at last], on the third day, I felt during the normal meditation, and ever since constantly, that my mind was quite made up and that I was decided – in a way that was gentle and left me feeling quite free – to impede the nomination to the best of my ability before Pope and cardinals. If I did not act thus, I would be (and indeed am) quite certain in myself that I would not give a good account of myself before God Our Lord, rather a wholly bad one.

[2] [To differ not to condemn] Despite all this I was also convinced, and still am, that while it was God’s will that I should adopt a clear position, if others adopted a contrary view and you were given this dignity, there would not be any contradiction whatsoever. The same Spirit could inspire me to take up one point of view for some reasons and inspire others to the contrary for other reasons, and what takes place would be the appointment requested by the Emperor. May God Our Lord bring about – in all things, in whatever way, and at all times – His own greater praise and glory.

[3] I think it would be appropriate for you in reply to the letter that Master Polanco is writing to you on my behalf3 to explain what you feel about this business, and to what decision God Our Lord has prompted you in the past and at present. The letter should be so written that it can be shown whenever needed, leaving everything to God Our Lord so that His most holy will may be accomplished in all our affairs.

[4] There will be separate letters in reply to the points raised in yours of 13 March. I hope God Our Lord has granted success to your undertaking and to all your actions, as we all here in Rome have prayed to His divine Majesty, and may this letter find you in full health, of mind and body, as I desire and constantly ask of God Our Lord in my poor and unworthy prayers, to the greater glory of His divine Majesty. In His infinite mercy, may He always favour and assist us.

From Rome, 5 June 1552,

All yours in Our Lord,


29. Students experiencing poverty 1552

(No. 3107 : IV, 564–65 : Italian)

In sharp contrast to Letter 18, written by his secretary, this brief note has all the personal characteristics of Ignatius.

Students of the Society of Jesus

in various parts of Europe

24 December 1552

from Rome

Pax Christi,

[1] From various letters we gather that God Our Lord visits you with the effect of holy poverty, in other words, discomfort and lack of certain temporal things, such as would be necessary for health and well-being of the body. It is no small grace that His divine goodness deigns to grant this real taste of something that should always be desired by us in order to be conformed to our guide, Jesus Christ, in accordance with the vow and the holy Institute of our order.

[2] In fact I know of nowhere in the Society where the communication of this grace is not felt, although in some places more than in others. Moreover, if we compare ourselves with those brethren of ours in India, who in the midst of such great bodily and spiritual hardship are so badly provided for as regards food – in many places not eating bread, still less drinking wine, getting by with a little rice and water, or suchlike things of little nutritive value – being poorly dressed too, and in short destitute of all outward things, I do not think our suffering is too hard. We too can reckon ourselves to be in our Indies, which are to be found in all places.

[3] Given this, if the person whose duty it usually is to provide what is necessary cannot do so, we can resort to holy begging, whereby it may be possible to satisfy our needs. When despite all this God Our Lord wills that there should be something to suffer, the sick must not go short. Those who are in better health will be better able to exercise patience, and may Jesus Christ Our Lord, who made patience so lovable by example and teaching, grant it to us all, bestowing love of Him and delight in His service in place of all else.

30. Agreeing to be royal confessors 1553

(No. 3220 : IV, 625–28 : Spanish)

Ignatius clearly felt under very great obligations to John III of Portugal, a generous and devoted patron from the first year of the Society (1540), an exemplary Christian, and the door to the far Eastern mission of Xavier and many others.

Fr Diego Mirón1

in Lisbon

1 February 1553

from Rome

May the supreme grace and eternal love of Christ Our Lord always assist and favour us!

[1] [A request refused] We have learned from a number of letters received from Portugal that when His Highness [John III] asked with real devotion that you and also Fr Luis Gonçalves2 should be his confessors, you both declined. This was not for fear that you may not be able in good conscience to have dealings with His Highness, whom you consider a good person (as you say in your letters), but because you considered such a dignity should be avoided no less than a bishopric or a cardinal’s hat in that kingdom. For this same reason I believe that Fr Luis Gonçalves has stopped being confessor even to the prince.

[2] [Criticism of the refusal] For my part I can only whole-heartedly approve your intentions, and be edified as I weigh up your motives and see that they are grounded in humility and a sense of security: these are usually found more in a low position than in a high one. However when I take an overall view I am convinced that you have missed the mark by such decisions, bearing in mind the greater service and glory of God Our Lord. Firstly, because your religious profession and institute require you to administer the sacraments of confession and communion to people of all classes and ages. The same need for you to give spiritual consolation and help to a neighbour obliges both in the case of the very low and in that of the very high.

[3] [Obligations to the King of Portugal] Moreover, the whole Society from its very beginning owes a particular obligation to Their Highnesses, one that exceeds that to any other Christian ruler, whether one considers their material help in good works or the exceptional affection and love shown, which of themselves should win our hearts. I cannot imagine any reason sufficiently strong to excuse us from giving our services to Their Highnesses in a matter that is so proper to our profession, when they have indicated that this would give them spiritual consolation and contentment. If one bears in mind the universal good and the greater service of God, then as far as I can see in the Lord, the greater benefit will result from this. For all members of the body share in the advantage of the head, and all subjects in that of their rulers. So the spiritual help given to Their Highnesses should be esteemed more valuable than that given to other people. As proof of this, simply consider one example: the influence that a reminder from a confessor would have had in bringing to a happy conclusion the business of the Patriarch of Ethiopia,3 which is of such great importance to the salvation, I won’t say only of many persons, but of many cities and provinces. While on that point, whether or not one of you does act as confessor to His Highness, please do not omit to remind him of this business, nor to write to me about what you have done, each time that you write to Rome.

[4] [Personal danger] But to return to the reasons why you should not decline this invitation, my own opinion is that even the argument based on your personal safety is not relevant. Obviously if our religious profession had no other purpose but to ensure our security, and if we were supposed to subordinate the good we do to keeping clear of danger, then we would not have to live among people and have contact with them. But according to our vocation, we have contact with everyone. As St Paul said, ‘We ought to become all things to all people, so that we may gain all in Christ’.4 If we go about with our intention upright and pure, ‘seeking not our own gain but that of Christ’,5 then Christ Himself will look after us in His infinite goodness. Unless our profession clings to His powerful hand, it will not be enough to draw back from such dangers to avoid falling into them or even greater dangers.

[5] [What people will say …] As for the judgements that people may pass about your wanting honours and dignities, they will fall of their own accord under the force of truth and with the proof of your way of life, when they see that you maintain the lowliness that you chose in God Our Lord. So you ought not to avoid what may result in great service of God Our Lord, of Their Highnesses and of the common good, just because of what the multitude may say and think.

[6] [Conclusion] To conclude, in order to satisfy my conscience in this matter once and for all, I order you and Fr Luis Gonçalves in virtue of holy obedience to do what Their Highnesses may order you in this matter, either one or other of you, or some other member of the Society if you think best and His Highness agrees to his taking this position. Be confident in the divine goodness that all will turn out for the best by your following this path of obedience. You are to inform His Highness of this order imposed on you, showing him this very letter, if he wants to see it, or at least giving him the gist of it.

[7] Master Polanco will write at length about other matters, so I will not say more, except to commend myself greatly to your prayers and sacrifices. I beg God Our Lord to give us all the fullness of His grace, so that we may always feel His most holy will and accomplish it completely.

From Rome, 1 February 1553,

Yours in Our Lord,


31. The final word on obedience 1553

(No. 3304 : IV, 669–81 : Spanish)

This famous letter brings together strands of reflection and often phrases from letters over several years: the grades or degrees of obedience, the disputed doctrine of ‘blind obedience’, the vicar-of-Christ motif, and the chain-of-command model.1 Obedience had not figured in the first promises of the companions, and Ignatius himself had little experience of its practice, as many of the theoretical considerations and idealistic examples of the letter make very clear. But since 1545 he had been alarmed by reports from Portugal, and in 1552 had learned that many members of the Society were refusing to accept orders, as indeed did Simão Rodrigues the Provincial. Ignatius sent a plenipotentiary, who moved Rodrigues to Spain and expelled a large proportion of the Province. In 1553, at the suggestion of Gonçalves da Câmara,2 he prepared this letter. The precise context – the Portuguese crisis – must be borne in mind when assessing its doctrine.

Fathers and Brothers

in Portugal

26 March 1553

from Rome


May the supreme grace and eternal love of Christ Our Lord greet you and visit you with his holy gifts and spiritual graces.

[§1] [Desire for perfection] It is a great consolation for me, dear brothers in Our Lord Jesus Christ, to hear how keenly and effectively you long to strive for your own perfection and for God’s service and glory. These are longings that have been granted to you by the One who in His mercy has called you to this way of life. He it is who keeps you in this way and directs you to the blessed end which His chosen ones reach.

[§2] [Obedience for members of the Society] The truth is that, although I would like you to attain full perfection in all the virtues and spiritual graces, it is especially in obedience, more than in any other virtue (as you will have heard from me on other occasions3), that God fills me with longing to see you outstanding. I want this partly because of the extraordinary advantages that obedience of itself brings (that is why it is so highly recommended in word and example by Holy Scripture, both the Old and the New Testaments), but also because as St Gregory says, ‘Obedience is the sole virtue that grafts the other virtues upon the mind and protects them when they are grafted’.4 As long as obedience is flourishing, all the other virtues will be seen to flourish and to bear the fruit that I would like to see in your souls. Obedience is what He demands who through His obedience redeemed the world that had been lost through disobedience, ‘becoming obedient unto death, even a death upon the cross’.5

In the case of other religious orders we can accept the fact that their members may excel us in fasting and vigils and the other mortifications that they observe, in all sanctity, following their way of life. However when it comes to the authenticity and perfection of obedience, with a real deposing of our own wills and a denial of personal judgements, my great desire, dear brothers, is that those who have chosen the Society as their way of serving God Our Lord should be outstanding, and I would like this obedience to be the distinctive sign of the Society’s legitimate sons. They are not to regard the persons of the particular superiors they happen to obey, but always in them Christ Our Lord because of whom they obey.

[§3] [The key principle] It is not because superiors happen to be very prudent, or very good people, nor because they are endowed with any other gifts of God Our Lord, that they are to be obeyed, but because they stand for Him and have His authority. As the eternal Truth says, ‘He who listens to you, listens to me; he who despises you, despises me’6 On the contrary, just because some people are less prudent, they are not to be disobeyed in the areas where they are superiors. They are representatives of the One who is infallible Wisdom and who makes up for whatever may be lacking in His ministers. The same holds in cases where kindness and other good qualities may be missing: Christ Our Lord, after mentioning that ‘The scribes and pharisees have sat upon the chair of Moses’, stated explicitly, ‘Do whatever they have told you to do, but do not follow their way of acting’.7

So no matter who your superiors are, I would like you all to practise recognizing in them Christ Our Lord, and to reverence and obey in them His divine Majesty with complete devotion. You will find this less of a novelty if you consider that St Paul orders obedience to be given even to secular and pagan superiors as if it was being given to Christ, from whom all properly ordered power descends. As he writes to the Ephesians: ‘Obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, singlemindedly, as serving Christ. Do not offer merely the outward show of service, to curry favour with others, but, as slaves of Christ, do wholeheartedly the will of God. Give the cheerful service of those who serve God not humans’.8

[§4] From this quotation you can deduce the status to be given in their hearts by members of religious congregations to those they have accepted not only as their superiors, but quite explicitly as substitutes for Christ Our Lord, so that He can direct and govern them in His divine service. You can also work out if these religious should regard them as just human beings or rather as vicars of Christ Our Lord.

[§5] [From simply doing to wanting] Another principle that I would like to see firmly embedded in your minds is that the first degree of obedience, which consists in the performance of what is ordered, is a very low one and does not deserve the title of obedience because it fails to have the value of that virtue; it does not rise to the second degree, where the superior’s wishes are made one’s own. There should be not merely effective execution, but affective agreement, with an identification in wishing and not wishing. For that reason Scripture says, ‘Obedience is better than sacrificial victims’.9 As St Gregory explains, ‘In the case of sacrificial victims, the flesh of other beings is sacrificed; in the case of obedience, one’s own will’.10 Given the exceptional value of our wills, the sacrifice of them, offered in obedience to their Creator and Lord, is correspondingly great.

Perverting the order] How great then is the misapprehension and danger that threatens those who think that they can legitimately set aside the wishes of their superiors! And here I am talking not only of matters associated with weaknesses of human nature, but even more about those areas normally considered as spiritual and holy, like fasts and prayers and any other sort of devotional practices. Cassian’s wise words, in the ‘Conference’ attributed to Abbot Daniel, are worth noting: ‘To disobey a superior’s express order is exactly the same sort of disobedience no matter if committed through attachment to work or out of a penchant for idleness. The damage is the same if a monastery’s rules are broken for the sake of a vigil or for the sake of a nap. Finally, it is just as serious to neglect the abbot’s order because you want to study as it is because you want to sleep.’11 The busy occupation of Martha was excellent and so was the contemplation of Magdalen,12 and her compunction and tears as she washed the feet of Christ Our Lord.13 But all this had to take place in Bethany, which is said to mean ‘the house of obedience’. As St Bernard remarks, it is as if Christ Our Lord wanted us to draw the conclusion, ‘Neither the energy put into good work, nor the leisure of holy contemplation, nor the tears of repentance, could have been welcome to Him outside Bethany’.14

[§6] [Offering one’s freedom] Try then, dear brothers, to set aside completely your own wishes. With great liberality, offer the liberty that He gave you to your Creator and Lord present in His ministers. Consider that it is no small privilege of your freedom of will to be able to return it completely in obedience to the One who gave it to you. You do not destroy it in this way; rather you bring it to perfection as you put your own wishes in line with the most sure rule of all Tightness, the will of God. For you the interpreter of that will is the superior who rules you in the place of God. Obviously you ought never to try and drag the wishes of your superior (wishes that for you ought to be considered those of God) behind your own. Otherwise instead of using God’s will to guide your will, you would be using yours to guide God’s, a perversion of Wisdom’s order. The error of thinking that one observes obedience when a subject attempts to drag a superior to want what the subject wants is all too obvious; it is characteristic of minds that have been blinded by self esteem. St Bernard’s words, those of a man of experience, are worth quoting: ‘Those who openly or secretly intrigue so that their spiritual fathers will order them to do what they themselves already want, are deceiving and flattering themselves under the guise of obedience; instead of obeying their superiors in such matters, the superiors are obeying them!’15

Let me end this part: anyone who wants to rise up to the virtue of obedience must be prepared to rise to this second degree of obedience, which goes beyond the mere performance of an order to the adoption of the superior’s wishes. Rather, it is a question of stripping oneself of one’s own wishes and putting on the divine wishes interpreted by the superior.

[§7] [From wanting to agreeing] However, those who set their sights on the complete and perfect offering of themselves to God must not stop at their wishes, but include their thoughts. Here appears another grade, the loftiest, of obedience. Not only should there be a single wish, but also a single sense with the superior. We have to subordinate our own judgements to the superior’s, in so far as it is possible for a judgement to be moved by a pious desire.

[§8] Normally the understanding does not have the liberty proper to the will; it must assent to what is presented before it as true. Yet there are many instances where the probative force of the known evidence is not absolute, and where an option of the will may be made for one rather than another judgement. It is in cases such as these that truly obedient persons should bend themselves to see things as the superior does.

[§9] [Offering one’s mind] Obedience is nothing less than a holocaust. It is there we can offer ourselves completely, without excluding any part of ourselves, in the fire of love to our Creator and Lord at the hands of His ministers. By obedience one puts aside all that one is, one dispossesses oneself of all that one has, in order to be possessed and governed by divine Providence by means of a superior. It seems selfevident that obedience cannot be restricted to the effective performance of an action coupled with a wish to go along with it. Included in obedience must be one’s understanding, so that one feels that the superior is right in the order given, to the extent (as has been mentioned) that an option is possible.

[§10] [Universal order] Would to God that this sort of obedience of the understanding could be understood and practised by all those who belong to religious congregations as much as it is essential to them and pleasing to God Our Lord! When I say it is ‘essential’ I make a parallel with the heavenly bodies: for the lower to feel the pull and influence of the higher, it is essential for it to be in a proper inferior position, with due subordination and order from one body to another. Similarly, for one rational creature to be moved by another (as happens in obedience) it is necessary for the one moved to be below and subordinated so that one person can receive the pull and force from the person who moves. Such an inferior position and subordination cannot exist unless there is a conformity of both will and understanding between the subject and the superior.

[§11] [Guidance] Again, let us look at the matter with an eye on the purpose of obedience. Just as one may have desires that are wrong, so one may have ideas that are not right. To find a radical solution, we may opt for the expedient of agreeing to the wishes of a superior in order to ensure that our desires are not misdirected, and similarly one should be ready to adapt one’s opinions to those of a superior in order to ensure that one’s ideas are not misguided. ‘Do not support yourself only on your own prudence’, the Scriptures tell us.16 (§12) That is why even in ordinary human affairs it is common wisdom that truly sensible people do not rely exclusively on their own judgements, especially where one is personally involved (as normally one is least competent to judge when passionately involved in a case oneself). (§13) But if in our personal affairs we ought to follow other people’s judgements, even though they do not happen to be our superiors’, rather than our own, surely a fortiori we ought to accept the opinion of a superior specially chosen by us as a guide in God’s place for the interpretation of God’s will. (§14) And the need in question becomes even more obvious in the sphere of spiritual things and persons. Great danger exists for anyone racing along the spiritual road if the brake of discretion is missing. So Cassian writes in the ‘Conference’ of the Abbot Moses: ‘No other stratagem better serves the devil for dragging a monk headlong to death than to persuade him to neglect the advice of the elders and trust solely on his own judgement and decision.’17

[§15] [Smooth functioning] But there is another argument. When obedience does not include opinions, it is impossible for it to include successfully desires and actual performance. By nature the soul’s power to desire follows the grasp of the understanding, so that in the long run it will be a great strain to maintain an obedience of will against one’s own judgement to the contrary. Even if one can obey for a certain time – on the basis of the general principle that one must obey even when wrongly ordered – the best one can say is that it will not be for long and perseverance is impossible, or at least the perfection of obedience will be lost, viz. the love and joy of obeying. Whenever one is going against what one feels, it is impossible while that repugnance lasts to obey with love and joy. All the alacrity and promptness go. The person who is only half convinced will be half in doubt if it is worth doing what has been ordered. That simplicity of blind obedience, which has been so highly praised, is also lost. People start debating with themselves if the order given is right or wrong, and perhaps the superior will be criticized for ordering something to be done which does not please. Humility is lost as one prefers oneself in one way to the superior, though subordinating oneself in another. Fortitude in adversity is lost, and to sum up, so is all the real perfection of this virtue.

[§16] [Strains and tensions] And, conversely, when we fail to subordinate our opinions, our obedience is mixed with discontent, unhappiness, slowness, negligence, criticisms, excuses and other considerable imperfections and drawbacks. These impair the value and merit of obedience. Thus St Bernard rightly describes people who are unhappy, because ordered by the superior to do things with which they disagree, as follows: ‘If you begin to be irritated, to criticize superiors and inwardly condemn them, then even if outwardly you comply with the order given, there is no real virtue of patience here, but a cloak of malice.’18 [§17] Clearly the peace and tranquillity of the obedient will never reach those who keep in their hearts a source of constant unrest and disturbance, the personal conviction of the error of an order that obedience imposes. [§18] To prevent that, and to encourage the unity needed by every religious congregation to stay alive, St Paul is so insistent ‘that all should have one mind and one voice’.19 It is union in thought and will that preserves them. On the other hand, if unity is required between the head and the members, it is easy to decide if the head should consent to the members or the members to the head. And therefore one can conclude from all that has been said how essential is an obedience that includes the understanding.

[§19] [The high point] To form an idea of the exceptional intrinsic value of this obedience in the eyes of God Our Lord, one should weigh both the worth of the noble sacrifice offered, involving the highest human power, and the completeness of the self-offering undertaken, as one strips oneself of self, becoming ‘a living victim’20 pleasing to the Divine Majesty. Another indication is the intensity of the difficulty experienced as one conquers self for love of God, opposing the natural human inclination felt by us all to follow our own opinions. Strictly speaking obedience is a function of our wishing powers, as it makes us ready to fulfil the wishes of the superior, but as we have shown, it has to involve our judgement as well, bringing pressure upon our opinions so that they become those of the superior. In this way we can proceed, with all the forces of our minds, both wishes and opinions, to the prompt and perfect execution of an order.

[§20] [Ways to attain obedience] By now, dear brothers, I feel that you will be saying that you are well aware of the importance of this virtue, but you would like to know how to become perfect in it. My reply will be that of Pope Leo: ‘Nothing is too lofty for the lowly, and nothing too rough for the gentle’.21 Let us be unpretentious and let us be gentle! God Our Lord will grant the grace to enable you, gently and lovingly, to maintain constantly the offering you have made to Him. But now, leaving those recommendations to one side, there are three ways that I want to describe for you, which will be a great help to attain that summit of obedience where the understanding itself submits.

[§21] [Christ in the superior] FIRSTLY, as I said to you at the beginning, you ought not to pay any attention to whoever happens to be your superior, a person subject to human errors and failings. Instead, try to see who it is you are obeying in that person, Christ, the supreme wisdom, immense goodness, infinite love, incapable (as you well know) either of being tricked or of wanting to trick you. You have the certainty that it is out of love for Him that you have placed yourselves under obedience, submitting to the opinion of a superior in order to be most in agreement with the will of God. You can be equally certain that He will not fail, in His fidelity and love, to steer you by the means He has chosen for you. When the voice of your superior is heard giving an order, recognize it not as the voice of the person you know, but as the voice of Christ. This is what St Paul means when he exhorts the Colossians that subordinates should obey their superiors: ‘Whatever you are doing, put your whole heart into it, as if you were doing it for the Lord and not for men… Accept Christ as your master’.22 Similarly St Bernard says: ‘Whether God or a human person, as standing in for God, gives a particular order, it is to be accepted with equal care and deferred to with equal reverence, provided of course that the human person gives no order contrary to God’.23 If you proceed in this way, using not the eyes of the flesh to look at the external person but the eyes of the soul to see God, then you will have no difficulty in bringing your desires and opinions into conformity with the rule you have adopted for your actions.

[§22] [Pro rather than con] The SECOND way is to be quick always to look for arguments on behalf of superiors’ orders or wishes rather than against them. It will be easier to do this if one has affection for what obedience orders us to do, and the side-effects will be joy and facility in obeying. As St Leo says, ‘One can hardly be forced by harsh constraint to serve when one is fond of serving’.24

[§23] [Asking no questions] The THIRD way to subordinate one’s opinions is even easier and surer, and was practised by the holy fathers. It consists of adopting as a presupposition and belief, rather as we do when questions of faith are involved, that whatever orders are issued by the superior are really regulations of God Our Lord and expressions of His holy will. One then proceeds to do what is ordered quite blindly, without any further inquiry and with all the verve and promptness of a person wanting to obey. Presumably this is how Abraham set about complying with the order he was given to sacrifice his son Isaac.25 Similarly in New Testament times, some of those holy fathers described by Cassian acted like this, e.g. Abbot John, who did not spend time wondering if what he had been ordered was something useful or not (on one occasion, the laborious watering of a dry stick for a year26), or if it was possible or impossible (like trying with all his force when ordered to move a stone that a great gang of men could not budge27).

[§24] [Confirmed by examples] In order to encourage belief in this form of obedience we find cases of God Our Lord occasionally collaborating with miracles, e.g. a disciple of St Benedict, Maurus, was able to walk into a river without sinking when ordered by his superior;28 and another disciple, ordered to bring his superior a lioness, captured her and brought her along.29 There are other examples that you know about. My point is that the saints were in the habit of practising this way of subordinating their own opinions, simply presupposing that anything they were ordered to do was holy and in conformity with the will of God, without asking any more questions. So it ought to be imitated by those who want to be completely obedient in all things, where no obvious sin is involved.

[§25] [Just representation] All that has been said does not exclude your bringing before your superiors a contrary opinion that may have occurred to you, once you have prayed about the matter and you feel that it would be proper and in accord with your respect for God to do so. However, to avoid feeling a suspicion that you may be acting out of self-interest and personal judgement it is important to remain quite indifferent as to the outcome, both before and after you have put your case. By ‘indifferent’ I mean ready not merely to do or not to do what is in dispute, but ready even to be happier with, and to consider better, whatever the superior may order.

[§26] [The chain of command] All that I have said about obedience applies just as much to individuals in relation to their immediate superiors as it does to Rectors and local Superiors in relation with Provincials, to these in relation with the General, and to the latter in relation with the one appointed by God Our Lord as his superior, viz. Christ’s vicar on earth. In this way a complete range of subordination30 can be safeguarded – and as a result the union and love without which the well-being and government of the Society cannot be maintained (nor indeed those of any other religious congregation).

[§27] [Celestial models] Such is the model on which divine Providence ‘gently disposes all things’,31 so that the lower via the middle, and the middle via the higher, are led to their final ends. For example, among the angels there is a subordination of one hierarchy to another, and similarly in the heavens and in the movements of all bodies there is a pull from the higher to the lower, and among the higher, each in its due order, up to the supreme mover. [§28] The same can be seen upon the earth with respect to all secular constitutions that are duly established, and with respect to the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which is subordinated to a single overall vicar of Christ Our Lord. So much the better is the government where such subordination is safeguarded, and if this subordination is faulty in any society, the failings become all too obvious. [§29] That is the reason why I am so anxious that in this Society, where God Our Lord has given me a certain responsibility, there should be such a perfect practice of obedience – as if the Society’s whole future depended on it.

[§30] [Conclusion] Let me finish as I began with the topic of obedience, without touching any other matters. My request to you, for the love of Christ Our Lord, who not only gave the precept but led the way with his example of obedience, is that you should all make a great effort to attain obedience by winning a glorious triumph over yourselves, conquering self in the loftiest and most difficult part of yourselves, the area where desires and opinions are formed. Then the true knowledge and love of God Our Lord will be able to take possession and control of your inner souls during all this pilgrimage, until the day when He leads you, along with many others won through your means, to the final and most blessed goal of eternal happiness.

I commend myself warmly to your prayers.

From Rome, 26 March 1553,

Belonging to all of you in the Lord,


32. The last call to Francis Xavier Japan 1553

(No. 3505 : V, 148–51 : Spanish)

Written in fact after Xavier’s death (3 December 1552), this letter – apparently so business-like – perhaps rationalizes a deep desire that they might meet one last time.

Fr Francis Xavier

in Japan

28 June 1553

from Rome


May the supreme grace and eternal love of Christ Our Lord always assist and favour us!

Dearest brother in Our Lord,

[1] We received your letters (dated 28 January 15521) later than was reasonable, because of the difficulty of the crossing from Portugal to Rome. That is why you will not have received a reply as soon as I would have wished. We have heard of the door that God Our Lord has opened to the preaching of His Gospel and to the conversion of the people in Japan and China by your ministry, and we find great consolation in the Divine Majesty, hoping that His knowledge and glory will spread wider every day, especially among people capable of consolidating and carrying further what has been gained, with the favour of God.

[2] [The place for a superior] I also think that it was a wise move to send Master Gaspar2 and others to Japan and to China. But although I shall approve if you yourself have gone to China (you mentioned your intention of going there if you were not held back by affairs in India), as I can convince myself that it is the eternal Wisdom that is guiding you, still as far as one can judge from here in Rome, my opinion is that God Our Lord will make more use of you if you have stayed in India, and sent others with directions to do what you would have done. The reason is that in this way you will be carrying out in many places what you personally could do in only one place. But I shall go further: having considered the greater service of God Our Lord and the best way of spiritually helping most persons in those countries, and bearing in mind how much their good depends on Portugal, I have decided to order you in virtue of holy obedience to select among the many routes open to you that which will bring you back to Portugal as soon and as safely as possible. So I order you in the name of Christ Our Lord to do this, even if it will be so as to return soon to India.

[3] [Reasons for a return to Europe] In order to help you convince those there who may want to detain you for the good of the Indies, I shall explain the reasons that here in Rome have persuaded me, while bearing in mind the needs of those countries.

[4] [The King of Portugal] Firstly, you are well aware how important for the upkeep and advancement of Christianity in those lands, as also in Guinea and Brazil, is the good order that the King of Portugal can grant from his kingdom. When a prince of such Christian desires and holy intentions as is the King of Portugal receives information from someone of your experience about the state of affairs in those parts, you can imagine what influence this will have on him to do much more in the service of God Our Lord and for the good of those countries that you will describe to him.

[5] [The Roman Apostolic See] Next, it is clearly important that correct and full information about the Indies should reach the Apostolic See, coming from someone who has the confidence of the See, so that proper provision may be made for the spiritual requirements that may appear necessary or very advisable for the good of that new Christianity, as also for the good of former Christians who live there. Now you are the most suitable to fulfil this office of all those living there, both because of the information you have, and because of the information about you that the Holy See has.

[6] [Future missionaries] You are also aware how important it is for the good of the Indies that the persons sent there should be suitable for the aim that one is pursuing in those and in other lands. Your coming to Portugal and Rome will be a great help in this respect, as not only will many be moved with the desire to go out there, but also you would be able to weigh up among those moved in this way who are suitable and who are not, who should go to one place and who to another. You can see for yourself how crucial it is to judge rightly in this matter. Moreover, all that you write from there to help people here understand the situation is not enough, unless you yourself (or someone with equivalent knowledge) deal with and come to know those who should be sent.

[7] [Side-effects in other missions] Quite apart from all these reasons, which apply to furthering the good of India, it seems to me that you would fire the King’s enthusiasm for the Ethiopian project, which has been planned for so many years without anything effective having been seen. Similarly, with regard to the Congo and Brazil, you could give no small help from Portugal, which you cannot do from India as there are not the same commercial relations. If people in India consider that your presence is important given your post, you can continue to act as superior no less from Portugal than from Japan or from China, and probably much better. Just as you have gone away on other occasions for longer periods, do the same now, and appoint the Rectors that you think fit, along with someone with overall responsibility for that area, along with the consultors that you consider appropriate, and God Our Lord will be with them.

[8] On other matters I rely on Master Polanco to inform you,3 and commend myself whole-heartedly to your prayers. I implore the divine and supreme Goodness to give everyone the fullness of His grace so that we may always feel His most holy will, and fulfil it perfectly.

From Rome, 28 June 1553.

When you reach Portugal, you will be under obedience to the King to do whatever he will dispose for yourself to the glory of God Our Lord.

Completely yours in Our Lord,


33. Criteria in the choice of parish work 1554

(No. 4184 : VI, 347–48 : Latin)

An example of Ignatius dealing with pressure from an outsider, and trying to combine firmness with courtesy in defending a key principle for the Society’s future work.

Sig. Giovanni Andrea Schenaldo1

in Morbegno2

24 February 1554

from Rome



Grace, peace, etc.

[1] Despite all too little acquaintance with the one to whom I am writing, I must not seem to neglect my duty, and so I thought I should briefly reply to your kind letter, in which you try hard to persuade me that we should undertake the care of parishes, and on those grounds that you should keep our Father Andrea Galvanello3 by you.

[2] It is true that our Society puts all its efforts into work to help and advance the salvation of souls. The principles both of charity and of our Institute impel us in that direction; the great spiritual need all over the world urges us ever more and more, and spurs on our own willing feet. What our Constitutions forbid is not that: it is the obligation that arises from pastoral responsibility and the contract of a parish priest. The professed members of this Society of ours have to be free and unencumbered, so that they may fly rapidly to any place on earth where greater hope of God’s glory and the salvation of souls summon us like beacons; we must not stick to this or that place (unless we have a college or house there), but devote our efforts now to these, now to those, for a short term, freely and without charge.

[3] It should, however, go with modesty and indeed with prudence that, when others do something reasonably and in order, and are aiming purely to do God’s will, we either approve, or at least do not disapprove without adequate reflection. Everyone who is a soldier for Christ under the banner of holy Church and with His approval should be allowed ‘to be fully assured in his own mind’.4 Nevertheless I take in good part what you have written, and put it down to your piety and your charitable concern for your own people.

I will not mention anything else, since I have written to the authorities of your commune.

Best wishes in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Rome, 24 February 1554.

34. Financial worries 1555

(No. 5256 : VIII, 552 : Spanish)

Although in the hand of Polanco, these lines capture the voice of Ignatius and disclose an important aspect of his personality.

Fr Alfonso Román (by commission)

in Zaragoza1

14 March 1555

from Rome


The copy ends here, and I have nothing to add except for a more detailed memorandum on the financial budget (I am sending a copy to Fr Tablares).

Apart from what is in the memo Fr Francis [Borgia] will have learned the other news, such as that about the Princess2 and other unforeseen events and happenings in other regions.

Please bear with my talking of financial matters as if they had top priority. As I have more than 160 hungry mouths to feed, not to mention the upkeep of the buildings, it is quite true that the letters likely to bring me most comfort will be letters of credit. They help me run the colleges, so I run after them for the colleges’ sake – primarily out of holy obedience that has placed me in this and similar affairs. May Christ Our Lord accept all this activity! It is certainly true that even if obedience were not there to make me see how important all this is, it would be enough to consider how great and how outstanding in God’s service this work is, for which such activity is very necessary.

I commend myself to your prayers.

35. Norms for dealing with Superiors 1555

(No. 5400a : IX, 90–92 : Spanish)

An Instruction rather than a ‘letter’, the first seven norms have in mind the strong-willed characters who, paradoxically, are often attracted to the obedience of a religious life; somehow their contribution has to be encouraged, while protecting their Superiors’ independence of decision.

Fathers and Brothers

anywhere in the world

29 May 1555

from Rome





1st Anyone having to deal with a Superior should previously have digested and weighed up the issues, either on his own or with others according to the greater or lesser importance of the matter. However, should this be of slight importance or very urgent and there is no time to ponder and consult, each should use his discretion and decide without further ado if he should bring it to the Superior’s notice or not.

2nd Once the issues have been digested and weighed up, let him propose them saying, ‘Such a point has been considered by me or by others’ (as the case may be); ‘my/our opinion was that it might be best to act in this/that way’, but he should never say to a Superior in his dealing with him that so and so ‘will’ be the best, but always use the hypothetical form, that it ‘might’ or ‘may’ be the best.

3rd Once the matter has been presented in this way it will be up to the Superior to reach a decision or to wait a while in order to weigh up the issues, or to consult afresh with the person or persons already consulted, or to appoint others to examine and decide the issue, according to its greater or lesser importance and difficulty.

4th If an answer seems called for to a decision or reaction of the Superior and it has been presented, once the Superior has repeated his decision there should not be any further answer or discussion for the time being.

5th After the Superior has come to a certain decision, should the person bringing up the issue feel that a different course of action would be better, or if he has the impression that it has a certain weight, even though he suspends his judgement, then three or four hours later or on another day he can consult the Superior again if this or the other would not be better, but always having recourse to such a form of language and choice of words that no disagreement or quarrel may result or appear to result, keeping quiet once a decision has been reached on that occasion.

6th Nevertheless, although a matter has been decided once and then again, one may bring up in the same way what one feels or the thoughts one has on that decision, perhaps a month later or after an even longer period. For one discovers many aspects by trying things out over a period, and things also change in time.

7th Again, the person dealing with a Superior should adapt himself to the latter’s disposition and natural capacities, speaking clearly and distinctly and at times that are suitable as far as possible.


8th If one plans to write to catch the post on a Saturday (or on some other regular or special post-day to places outside Italy), as far as possible one should not wait for the day itself or the day before to write in a hurry. Instead an effort should be made to consider and take note of what is to go with the Saturday post from the previous Sunday to the end of Wednesday, so that as little as possible remains to be answered to previous letters. Then one has Thursday, Friday and Saturday in hand to consider and reply if something of importance crops up later.

9th Letters to Italian houses should be on a monthly basis, and Rectors of houses are to be informed of this regulation, except when matters occur that cannot wait that long.

10th Letters further afield are to be on a three-monthly basis, unless there is something important, or the postal system requires otherwise.


11th With regard to accepting new members to the Society in Italy, copies are sent to all the colleges of the points to be considered, dealing with the qualifications required in those to be admitted to the Society. Nobody should be admitted in other houses nor sent to Rome until information has been supplied on each of the points mentioned.

12th Nevertheless if the candidates very clearly possess all the qualifications mentioned in the points, so that no doubt is possible, then if they are able to join, they can be admitted or even sent to Rome, if such action appears to be strongly advisable given their exceptional quality or the danger involved in waiting (the decision being left to the good judgement of the Superiors). However it is far better to inform the General in Rome and wait for a reply, as it may not be convenient for the house in Rome even if it would be for the candidates.

13th The same documents and regulations drawn up for those in Italy and Sicily (the latter should always be understood when Italy is mentioned) are to be sent to all other regions. As a general rule it will be useful if the other regions are informed about what is customary here, so that they can make the best possible use of it. But it is quite true that in areas very far away from Rome, in other kingdoms, there is no need to consult the General about admitting candidates and sending them to Rome. Instead it will be up to the Commissioner or Provincial to use his charity and discretion in place of such a consultation, and lower Superiors or Rectors should consult with them, as there could well be cases that would not benefit from the delay involved with the General.


14th The arrangements mentioned here are to apply wherever those of our Society happen to be present. So a copy of what is written should be sent to them and entered in the Register1 kept here in Rome, with a footnote saying that it has been sent to all areas and noting where it has been received; then reference to the dispatch and the request for notification of receipt should be made every time that letters are written until the notification is received.

15th This same letter should be sent to India, and the Provincial there should send on the Instruction to the furthest areas of his jurisdiction, and from Portugal the same dispatch can be sent to Brazil and the Congo. However, in the case of such far-off lands, especially among people without the faith or only recently Christianized, although they can make use of the present letter as far as they can, it is up to the discretion of those in charge, bearing in mind the nature and special circumstances of those lands, to proceed in the way that they consider most appropriate for the greater glory of God and the greater spiritual good of all.

36. The Society and the Inquisition 1555

(No. 5471 : IX, 226–27 : Spanish)

Ignatius’s own brushes with the Inquisition had marked him deeply, and he was well aware of the limitations restricting the work of its officers. Yet a request from the King of Portugal, the Society’s most enthusiastic and efficacious supporter, carried great weight. In this letter he tries to limit the damage caused by too facile an acceptance of the offer of responsibility for the Portuguese Inquisition, and although the lines say ‘yes’, the message to be read between them is ‘only if explicitly ordered by the Pope’, which seems a polite way of saying ‘No, thank you’.

Fr Diego Mirón1

in Portugal

20 June 1555

from Rome

Pax Christi,

May the supreme grace and love of Christ Our Lord always assist and favour us!

[1] I have learned from your letter (4 May) that His Majesty [John III] is inclined to urge our Society to take charge of the Holy Office of the Inquisition in Lisbon (now that the person responsible for it under the Cardinal Infante has died), provided this does not clash with our Institute; and also of your reply to His Majesty.

[2] It is certainly true that this business requires much reflection, and that there are strong arguments either way. So in addition to considering the question myself and commending it to God Our Lord in my prayers, I appointed a committee of six (Master Laínez, Master Salmerón, Master Bobadilla, Dr Olave, Dr Madrid and Master Polanco) to offer mass during three days and to consider and discuss the matter, acquiring additional information from Luis Gonçalves, apart from that you have sent from Portugal, and talking about it with him. They were then to give me their opinions in writing.

[3] The summary of what we finally decided in Our Lord is that everything should be left to His Highness, and that we would obey in whatever way he thought we should for the glory of God Our Lord. To undertake such a task does not clash with our Institute, so there is no reason why our Society, which considers itself to belong to His Highness in Our Lord, should refuse to undertake work that is of such importance in his service and for the purity of religion in that kingdom.

[4] However we also feel it advisable, if many disadvantages are to be avoided, that His Majesty should kindly write to the Pope [Paul IV] asking him to order us to accept this task. As His Holiness, when still Dean of the Cardinal Inquisitors, wanted the Society to undertake similkr duties in this regard, such a move would not be contrary to his wishes. It would also help if a letter were written to our Protector, Cardinal de Carpi, who is at present Dean of the Inquisitors; and another letter to the King’s ambassador, so that he can undertake the business.

[5] Still, if His Majesty considers it unsuitable to write these letters, we shall still do whatever His Majesty orders us to God’s glory. Should he order us to accept the charge, then representation will be made to His Highness pointing out that in view of the goal at which we are aiming, several arrangements2 should be made that will help the Society to perform this holy task with greater efficacy and edification.

[6] If His Highness decides that we should not wait for a reply from the Pope before beginning to take part in the proceedings, then one or two could start to lend their services in this department until they assume full responsibility on orders from His Holiness. However, I have already written that, once representation has been made, one should do whatever is more to the pleasure of His Highness.

For other matters I leave the answers to Master Polanco, commissioned by me to write further. I only add that I commend myself very much to your prayers.

From Rome, 20 June 1555.

37. Catechizing the sign of the cross

(Appendix, No. 10 : XII, 666–67 : Italian)

An extract chosen to give some idea of how Ignatius would have preached, sometimes to children, using very simple words and gestures to illustrate theological points.



… To make the sign of the cross we put a hand to the head to indicate God the Father, who proceeds from no one.

When we put our hand to the middle it indicates His Son, Our Lord, who proceeds from the Father and who came right down to the womb of the most holy Virgin Mary.

When we put our hand to one side and then to the other it indicates the Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

When we join our hands, this indicates that the Three Persons are one true essence.

When we place the sign of the cross on the mouth,1 it signifies that in Jesus, our Saviour and Redeemer, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are only one God, our Creator and Lord, and that the divinity was never separated from the body of Christ at his death…

38. Consoling the mother of a student 1556

(No. 6087 : X, 483–84 : Spanish)

The widow addressed here, a relative of the Duke of Nájera, Ignatius’s former employer, had encouraged her son in his vocation to the Society (1554). Ignatius clearly felt sympathy for her, and wrote two letters1 to thank and console her.

Juana de Valencia

in Malaga

8 January 1556

from Rome



The highest grace, etc.

[1] After I had replied to a letter of yours received a few months ago I received another dated 10 April. Truly, the more one sees in your letters how great is your motherly love for Don Fadrique, the more you hearten us by the conformity of your will with that of God!

[2] The same Spirit that drew Don Fadrique from the world into the religious life seems to have instructed you to be calm and content with his decision, making up by the strength of grace for the weakness of nature. May the same Spirit be pleased to increase always His light and charity in your soul, so that every day you may find greater consolation when you see that the person you so love is employed in the service of the Person who should be loved above all things, and in whom and for whose glory all those other things should be loved.

[3] For the rest, Don Fadrique is now yours in the Lord, as much as (indeed even more than!) ever before. The latter’s love will bring to perfection the natural love which he should have as a son. Once he has made progress in his preliminary literary studies (and this should not take long, given the flair he has) he will be able to visit you one day in person. In the meanwhile, thanks to the merit he gains by his virtue, his religious observance and exemplary conduct, he cannot fail to win our highest esteem and to be greatly loved in Christ by all who have contact with him. As you recommend it so strongly, special care will be taken of his health.2

May the supreme goodness of God guard your own health for His divine service, and may His perfect grace be granted to all of us always to feel and fully accomplish His most holy will.

From Rome, 8 January 1556.

39. Norms for food in Louvain 1556

(No. 6454 : XI, 374–75 : Latin)

One appreciates the problems facing the founder of a religious order in which Spanish and Flemish Jesuits were to eat together. Here the author of the ‘Rules for Eating’1 was perhaps urged on by his favourite disciple, Pedro de Ribadeneira, who found himself in Flanders and unhappy with beer.

Fr Adrian Adriaenssens (Rector)

in Louvain

12 May 1556

from Rome



Pax Christi,

[1] We have received your letter of the end of March. To reply briefly to what occupies almost the whole of it: we praise, as far as is possible, your frugality, economy and good example to others in what concerns food. However, we judge that it is not a good idea to cut down on what is necessary for maintaining or restoring health, as is prescribed by a doctor (who will be aware of our poverty and religious profession). So much in general.

[2] More in particular, for those who are well and in good condition, it is good to get used to ordinary and easily procured kinds of food and drink; this is in accord with reason and with our Institute, which says that our members should keep to an ordinary standard of fare. So if someone’s health allows him to get used to beer or even water, or cider where that is the common drink, he should do so, and not drink imported wines, which cost more and make a less good impression.

[3] Nevertheless some may have really poor health, such as (in your community) Masters Adrian Witte, Bernard [Olivier] and Pedro de Ribadeneira. If they treat their poor bodies kindly, they can keep well enough to do religious and charitable work, helping souls and building up the faith of others. But if they do not, they get ill and prove less useful to others, indeed a burden, as happened to Masters Adrian and Bernard in Italy. I would judge that they ought not to have to get used to food and drink of poorer quality, except in so far as they could do so without harm to health. I would rather that the good things God offers were given to servants of God, and to those who are ready to bear heavy burdens for Christ, than to others who are of less service to the common good. All the same, care should be taken that superfluities do not creep in in place of necessities, or what gratifies the senses in place of what is best for health; a good custom must not grow into an abuse. If someone should have occasion to consume in public a diet that doctors have prescribed as necessary for him, but which could make an unfavourable impression, he should take it in private.

[4] To conclude: short of causing offence, catering should be based on what is good for health. So much in general: it will be for prudence to go into particulars and decide on them in the light of circumstances.

May the Lord give us the light of holy discernment, so that we may use created things by the light of the Creator. Amen

Rome, 12 May 1556.

P.S. To have different kinds of food or drink served at the same table, as is required respectively for the well or unwell, is neither unusual nor disapproved of by spiritual masters. If there are present any people of less mature understanding who might take offence, prescribed diets can be consumed somewhat apart, keeping in mind what Paul says about not giving offence to the ‘weaker brethren’.2

40. Reacting to obstacles in Zaragoza


(No. 6677 : XII, 119 : Spanish)

In 1555 the Archbishop of Zaragoza had launched a threat of excommunication against the Jesuits when they celebrated mass in his cathedral city without due permission; an intervention by the Princess Regent of Spain (a secret member of the Society) helped to pacify the situation, but animosities remained. Shortly before his death Ignatius dictated this characteristic little note to encourage the Rector.

Fr Alfonso Román

in Zaragoza

14 July 1556

from Rome

It is a matter of common experience that greater good follows wherever there has been greater opposition, and the Society’s foundations tend to improve in such circumstances. So it looks as if there will be a very large and imposing spiritual construction in Zaragoza given that such deep foundations of opposition have been laid. Such is the hope we should have in what God Our Lord will do.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!