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1. This particular account of Ignatius’s life, written up from his own spoken narrative, seems to have arisen from initiatives taken by two of his followers: Jerónimo Nadal, who perhaps did more than anyone else to consolidate and institutionalize the Society of Jesus, and Luis Gonçalves da Câmara, the faithful, almost adoring scribe to whom Ignatius recounted his memories.

Why were these two men interested in having a text based on Ignatius’s reminiscences? Nadal tells us of how he was anxious that the elderly Ignatius, having achieved his major goals, would soon die.

Since I knew that the holy Fathers, the founders of any monastic institute, normally gave those coming after, as a substitute for a bequest, such advice on which they would be able to rely as something that could be of help to them in attaining perfection of virtue, I was on the lookout for a time when I could tactfully ask Fr Ignatius for the same thing. It came in 1551 when we were together, as Fr Ignatius said, ‘Just now I was higher than the sky’, having undergone (I think) some ecstasy or rapture of mind, as he often used to. Reverently I asked, ‘What kind of thing is this, Father?’. He diverted the talk to other things. Thinking therefore that time to be opportune, I asked and entreated Father to be pleased to expound to us how the Lord had guided him from the beginning of his conversion, so that this exposition could take for us the place of a bequest and fatherly teaching.1

Gonçalves da Câmara tells us of how Nadal came back to Rome from Spain in 1554, when the story-telling was in abeyance:

But when Fr Nadal came, being very pleased with what had been begun, he told me to pester Father, telling me many times that in nothing could Father do more good for the Society than in doing this, and that this was truly to found the Society.

‘Truly to found the Society.’ The Society of Jesus was innovative, even revolutionary, at once drawing on other traditions of religious life and radically departing from them. Many outsiders found it quite incomprehensible, and the same may well have been true of many of its second-generation recruits, particularly in Spain and Portugal. Nadal was a skilled linguist, a trained humanist and a gifted administrator. After pioneering work as founding rector of the Jesuit college in Messina, Sicily, he was commissioned by Ignatius to travel through Europe presenting his newly drafted legislation for the Society, the Constitutions. That meant explaining the rationale of this new foundation, in which dedication to ministry replaced traditional practices such as office in choir.

A leading theme in the rationale Nadal developed was that of a particular grace proper to the Society of Jesus, initially focused in the life of its founder, Ignatius. Hence knowledge of Ignatius’s life-story was of crucial importance for those later generations who could not know him in the flesh. As Nadal put it in Alcalá in 1561, the first way for Jesuits to come to know their vocation was

talk in detail about our Father Ignatius, the beginning used by God as a means for imparting this grace, and willed to be the one to channel this vocation to others.2

Though the first Jesuits always acknowledged the initial inspiration of Ignatius in bringing them together, their earliest deliberations and decision-processes seem to have been corporate, with Ignatius as a kind of first among equals. It was the second generation of Jesuit leaders, notably Nadal, who stressed the image of Ignatius as solitary founder, not without resistance from some of their predecessors.3

2. Gonçalves da Câmara, a Portuguese, was also motivated by concern for the Society’s healthy growth. He had come to Rome in 1553 in order to report on the troubled affairs of the Portuguese province (documented in a number of the Letters in the present volume), and had been a leading instigator in the removal from office of Simão Rodrigues, the first Provincial and one of Ignatius’s Paris companions. He stayed in Rome until October 1555, becoming minister of the Roman house (in overall charge of the house’s practical administration) in October 1554. While in this latter post, he kept a notebook (conventionally entitled the Memoriale) recording various things that Ignatius said and did. He tells us that one of the reasons he had long wanted to come to Rome was

the desire to have obedience of the understanding, of which I had heard so much talk in the Society. And it seemed to me that to be able to attain this virtue a good means would be to hear the teaching from the person whose ideas regarding matters of the Society are to be regarded similarly to the first principles of any science: it is neither customary nor possible to demonstrate these principles within the science.4

‘Obedience of the understanding’ is a juridical term, and may now sound degrading;5 for Gonçalves da Câmara it must have been full of associations arising from the Portuguese conflicts. But Gonçalves da Câmara’s talk of first principles here points to an insight he only half grasps, namely that a religious organization’s juridical language can be properly understood only in and through a living relationship: a relationship with the persons who give the organization concerned its verve and inspiration.

Thus, whereas Nadal explained the importance of Ignatius’s story in juridical and theological terms, Gonçalves da Câmara illustrates the point more personally. His account of how the Reminiscences originated, probably written while Ignatius was still alive, presents the narrative as emerging from a moment when the master’s story enriched the disciple. And the incident seems finally to have persuaded the master himself to overcome his reticence.

In the year 1553, one Friday in the morning, 4 August, the vigil of Our Lady of the Snows, as Father was in the garden near the house or apartment which is called ‘The Duke’s’,6 I began to give him an account of some characteristic features of my soul, and among others I told him about vainglory. The remedy Father gave me was that I should often make an act of attributing everything in me to God, working to offer him all the good I might find in myself, acknowledging it as his and giving him thanks for it. On this he spoke to me in such a way that it greatly consoled me, in such a way that I couldn’t hold back the tears. And so it was that Father told me how he had been troubled by this vice for two years, to such an extent that, when he was getting on the boat in Barcelona for Jerusalem, he didn’t dare tell anyone he was going to Jerusalem, and likewise with other similar details.7 And he added further how much peace in this regard he had later felt in his soul.

An hour or two later we went into dinner. While Master Polanco and I were eating with him, our Father said that Master Nadal and others of the Society had many times asked him to do something, and that he had never made up his mind about it, but that, having recollected himself in his room after having spoken with me, he had had such great devotion and such a great inclination to do it, and (speaking in such a way as to show that God had given him great clarity on his duty to do it) he had made his mind up completely. And the thing was to give an account of all that had passed through his soul up to that time. And he had also decided that it was to be myself to whom he would reveal these things.

Nadal can speak of how God founds the Society in Ignatius;8 Gonçalves da Câmara illustrates what that means in the life of his followers.

3. Despite what has just been said, Ignatius still seems to have been hesitant about sharing his story. Gonçalves da Câmara’s account continues as follows:

Father was then very ill, and never accustomed to promising himself a day of life. On the contrary, when someone says, ‘I’ll do this in two weeks’ time or a week’s time’, Father always says, as if astounded, ‘Really? And you expect to live that long?’. Nevertheless, that time he said that he expected to live three or four months in order to finish this thing.

The next day I spoke to him asking when he wanted us to begin. And he answered me that I should remind him about it each day (I can’t remember how many days) until he was in a position to do it. Then, not being in such a position given his occupations, he later decided that I should remind him about it every Sunday. Then in September (I can’t remember what day), Father called me and began to tell me his whole life, including his mischiefs as a lad, clearly and distinctly, with all their surrounding details. Afterwards he called me three or four times in the same month and arrived with the story at when he was in Manresa for some days, as can be seen written in a different handwriting.

Gonçalves da Câmara goes on to describe Ignatius’s style of speaking and his own method of transcription. Without saying anything to Ignatius, he would go off immediately and write the narrative up in note form. Later he would make a fuller version. This process continued into September 1553, when it broke off:

From then on until Fr Nadal came, on 18 October 1554, Father was always excusing himself with various illnesses and with different matters of business that would arise, saying to me, ‘When such and such a business is finished, remind me about it’. And when that business was finished, I would remind him about it, and he would say, ‘Now we’re in the middle of this other matter; when it’s finished, remind me about it’.

As we have already seen, Nadal came back and encouraged Gonçalves da Câmara:

He spoke in the same way to Father many times, and Father told me that I should remind him about it when the business of the college’s endowment was finished. And when that was finished, ‘when the matter of Prester John was finished and the post was gone’.

We began to continue the story on 9 March. Then Pope Julius III began to be dangerously ill, and died on the 23rd. Father went on deferring the matter until there was a Pope. He too, when there was one, at once fell ill and died (that was Marcellus). Father delayed until the election of Pope Paul IV.9 And after that, with the great heat and the many occupations, he was always waylaid until 21 September, when there began to be moves to send me to Spain.10

On this account I put much pressure on Father to deliver what he had promised me. So he fixed it then for the 22nd in the morning, in the Rossi Tower.11 Thus, when I had finished saying mass,12 I went up to him to ask if it was time. He replied that I was to go and wait for him in the Rossi Tower, so that when he himself came I would be there too. I gathered that I would have to wait for a long time. And while I was delayed in one of the corridors with some brother asking me some point of business, Father came and rebuked me because, having transgressed obedience, I wasn’t waiting for him in the Rossi Tower. And he was unwilling to do anything that day. Then we really insisted with him, and so he returned to the Rossi Tower, and dictated walking about, as he had always dictated.

In order to look at his face I was always coming a little closer, with Father saying to me, ‘Keep the rule’.13 And when one time I ignored this and came close, and had fallen into this two or three times, he said this to me and went away. In the end he came back again to finish dictating what has been written here, again in the tower. But since I was by now long into preparing for the journey (for the day before the departure was the last on which Father spoke to me about this material), I wasn’t able to write a full version of everything in Rome. And because in Genoa I didn’t have a Spanish amanuensis, I dictated in Italian what I had brought with me from Rome written in note form. I put an end to this writing in December 1555 in Genoa.

Some details in this account are problematic. In the text itself, we have clear indications that it was begun not in September 1553 but in August, and that it was finished, not on 22 October 1555, the day before Gonçalves da Câmara’s departure, but two days earlier, on 20 October.14 What is clear is that at some point in the narration there was a major break. Where that comes in the text we cannot be sure because we do not have the original manuscript to which Gonçalves da Câmara refers. The switch from Spanish to Italian occurs as Ignatius is in the middle of recounting an incident from his Paris years.

4. In the years immediately following Ignatius’s death, it seems that this text was widely diffused. Gonçalves da Câmara made a number of small additions, on the basis of which the scholarly editors of the original conclude that there were at least thirteen manuscripts in circulation.15 A Latin translation was made by Anibal du Coudray between 1559 and 1561, which was corrected by Nadal himself. In 1567, however, Francis Borgia, now Superior General of the Society, recalled all copies of the manuscript in order to leave the field clear for the first formal biography of Ignatius by Pedro de Ribadeneira.16

Ribadeneira and his successors drew on the Reminiscences, but the text itself fell into oblivion. The Bollandists included the Latin translation in the Acta Sanctorum for July, published in 1731, but the original Spanish and Italian remained unedited until the first edition of Ignatian biographical material in the Monumenta Historica Societatis Jesu appeared in 1904. A more critical text was produced in the same series in 1943. This has formed the basis of very many further versions. The Reminiscences are now widely used in the training of Jesuits and more generally in conjunction with the giving of the Exercises, while Ribadeneira’s polished life has been largely forgotten. But this development is a comparatively recent one.

5. ‘Reminiscences’ is one of many titles that have been given to this text. Nadal called it ‘Things done by Fr Ignatius (Acta P. Ignatii) as Fr Luis Gonçalves first wrote them, taking them from the mouth of the Father himself’, and ‘Some things done by Rev Fr Ignatius, first founder under God of the Society of Jesus’. Modern convention has tended to use the word ‘autobiography’ while remaining uneasy about it. Many versions take up the term by which Ignatius refers to himself, and offer a title such as ‘The pilgrim’s story’. The variations indicate the difficulty in determining the nature of the text.

Except on one point there seems little reason to question the accuracy of Gonçalves da Câmara’s transcription. He himself tells us:

I made efforts not to put in any word other than those I had heard from Father.

His Notebook shows a scrupulous concern to distinguish what Ignatius actually said from his own paraphrases;17 here in the Reminiscences, the use of the third person pronoun in the narrative seems designed to leave Gonçalves da Câmara free to use ‘I’ for details of which he is unsure; Nadal’s preface speaks of Gonçalves da Câmara’s excellent memory. However, the latter’s preface does tell us how Ignatius re counted all his ‘mischiefs as a lad’. By contrast the written text begins by dismissing these in a sentence. Moreover, the sentence in question is almost certainly wrong, in that it describes Ignatius as being twenty-six at the time of the Battle of Pamplona, whereas other sources indicate he was twenty-nine or thirty. It could well be a fabrication, substituting for a more explicit beginning.18

The title Reminiscences, which follows the lead of an earlier German translation, is meant to suggest the selectiveness of the account: we have what Ignatius chooses or happens to remember, and no more. The narrative effectively starts in 1521 and breaks off in 1538. We hear nothing of Ignatius’s formative years in Castile, or of the complex adjustments and renegotiations that must have marked his years as the Society’s Superior General. Further, even within its time-frame, there are important matters on which the text is silent. Ignatius and other Jesuit writers present his time at Manresa as one of intense self-absorption, and the years in Barcelona as a period of struggling to study. By contrast, the testimony collected in connection with Ignatius’s beatification and canonization suggests that Ignatius was even then a much more public religious figure, well known in those towns.19 Again, the move to Paris must have been highly significant for Ignatius’s development. He became an exile dedicated to serious study; he acquired a stable, international group of companions; he seems to have taken a decision to seek ordination. The narrative, however, tells us nothing about how he reacted to the intellectual world in which he was moving. The recruiting of the companions is peripheral to the story, and Ignatius simply tells us, without warning, that he and others from the group were ordained.

The narrative we have is therefore a highly selective one, but the principles of selection remain unknown. Was Ignatius deliberately selecting only those details that he thought would help his followers? The ecclesiastical and intellectual atmosphere changed in Rome during the first decades of the Society’s existence, as it became clear that all hope of reconciliation with the Lutheran movement was lost. Is Ignatius, in Rome of the 1550s, filtering out aspects of his life in Spain thirty years earlier that might now look embarrassing? Or are the gaps to be explained simply by the ups and downs of the dictation process? How do the Reminiscences dictated to Gonçalves da Câmara relate to other dictated reminiscences underlying other, largely untranslated, early Jesuit narratives of Ignatius’s life? Our own age’s overwhelming preference for Gonçalves da Câmara’s text may in fact be as one-sided as an earlier age’s for Ribadeneira’s full-dress biography. These are unanswered questions, and most of them are unanswerable. However, no responsible interpretation of the Reminiscences can simply neglect them.

6. Gonçalves da Câmara notes how Ignatius’s spoken language varies between the vivid and the obscure:

The way which Father has of narrating is that which is his wont in all matters, that is, with such great clarity that it seems he makes everything that happened present to the person. Given this, there was no need to ask him anything, because everything that was important to make a person get the point, Father would remember to say. […] As for things where I fear I have been lacking, it is that, in order not to deviate from Father’s words, I have not been able properly to explain the force of some of them.20

Underlying our text is a spoken narrative. To make a written text out of it, editors and translators from Gonçalves da Câmara onwards have had to use their judgement, if only on matters of punctuation. The 1731 editors of the earliest Latin translation divided the text into chapters and paragraphs. I have largely, though not entirely, followed the conventional chapter divisions, but I have introduced my own chapter-titles and subheadings within chapters. Moreover, in making my own translation, I have felt free to depart from conventional punctuation and paragraphing where the sense seemed to require this.21

As already noted, Gonçalves da Câmara made a number of marginal notes in various manuscripts after they had gone into circulation. Where these seem to indicate an addition to the narrative, I have placed them in the text in italic type. Where they are some kind of retrospective comment, I have reproduced them as footnotes. Where they do not seem to have any great significance, I have placed them in an end-note.

The Reminiscences set a translator particularly acute dilemmas as regards the balance between literalness and intelligibility. Following Gonçalves da Câmara, I believe that Ignatius’s jerky style, at its best, can convey his meaning with remarkable vividness, especially if one imagines it being spoken. I have attempted, therefore, to reproduce it, not hesitating to employ non-standard usage where appropriate. Nevertheless, to produce a sensible written text a translator sometimes has to smooth over the awkwardness of the original and to simplify difficult passages. I have tried, however, to do that as little as possible.

In preparing this translation, I have found especially helpful the English version by Parmananda Divarkar, the French translation by Antoine Lauras, and the German translation by Peter Knauer. For the notes, I have drawn in particular on the MHSI edition, and the commentaries by Jean-Claude Dhôtel, Victoriano Larrañaga, Peter Knauer and Burkhart Schneider. I should also like to acknowledge occasional help from translations by Joseph N. Tylenda and Joseph F. O’Callaghan, and from the supporting material in two Spanish editions: those of Cándido de Dalmases in the fourth edition of the Ignatius volume in the Biblioteca de Autores Cristianos, and of Josep María Rambla Blanch. Finally, this version has benefited greatly from the careful attention of Joseph Munitiz.


1 The so-called ‘Preface of Fr Nadal’ is found in a late copy of the early Latin translation. Both Nadal’s and Gonçalves da Câmara’s prefaces are reproduced in FN I, pp. 354–63. On internal grounds, the former’s date seems to be 1567, roughly the time when, as we shall see, the text of the Reminiscences was being withdrawn from circulation. Some of the material from it forms part of a talk given by Nadal in Alcalá in 1561, of which both Italian and Spanish transcriptions have survived (MN V, pp. 264–67). In detail the two prefaces conflict. Though both texts are problematic, Gonçalves da Câmara’s is in general to be preferred. Almost every word of the latter is quoted somewhere in this present introduction.

2 MN V, p. 2.62: ‘el principio que tomó Dios por medio para comunicar esta gracia, y quiso que fuese ministro de esta vocación.’

3 See James Brodrick, The Progress of the Jesuits (1556–79) (Loyola University Press, Chicago 1986 [first ed. 1947]), pp. 1–31; Ravier, Ignatius of Loyola, PP. 275–317.

4 Notebook, n. 3; FN I, p. 528.

5 See Letters 20.4, 31.7–19.

6 Francis Borgía, Duke of Gandía, had spent three months in Rome in 1550–51, and he and his entourage had stayed in a wing of the Jesuit house. His membership of the Society was still secret at that point.

7 See below, §36.

8 MN V, p. 287: ‘in him [Ignatius] the Lord God as it were founded the Society, and one sees the first form and grace which the Lord gave to the Society’.

9 Cardinal Cervini, who was very favourable to the Society, was elected Marcellus II on 10 April 1555, and died on 1 May. Paul IV was elected on 23 May.

10 In fact he returned to Portugal.

11 An additional building adjoining Ignatius’s house in Rome, bought in 1553, and named after the previous owner: see FN III, p. 179.

12 In the extant manuscripts the Spanish text of Gonçalves da Câmara’s preface breaks off here. For the continuation, we are reliant on a translation made of a lost text for the 1731 Latin edition.

13 Probably the second of the so-called rules of modesty. As promulgated in 1555, this ran: ‘The eyes should normally be held low, without raising them much, nor turning them much from one side to another. And when speaking with someone, especially if it is a person demanding respect, they should not generally be fixed on their face, but rather kept low’ (MI Reg, p. 518).

14 §§10,99.

15 FN I, p. 341.

16 In 1567 Ribadeneira wrote to Nadal asking him to make sure the directive was carried out. The Provincials ‘are to make a good job of gathering in what Fr Luis González wrote, or any other writing about the life of our Father, and they are to keep them and not permit them to be read, or to be circulated among our people or others. For, being an imperfect thing, it is not appropriate that it cause problems for what is being written more fully, or diminish its credibility. On this there is need to use the good effort and care which Your Reverence will understand is necessary, so that there isn’t a commotion etc.’. Some months later, Ribadeneira seems to be answering a query from Nadal: ‘The gathering in of Fr Luis González’s writings about the life of our Father didn’t originate with me, but from those Fathers who remembered our Father. And it seemed a good idea to His Paternity, so that when what is being written gets published it should not appear that there be divergence or contradiction, or that the work not have as much authority as what was written almost from the mouth of our Father. This, although very faithful in substance, is short on the details of some things, and in the relating of times by then well past, his memory was failing him owing to his old age’ (MN III, pp. 490, 540).

17 Notebook, nn. 10–12; FN I, pp. 533–34.

18 The fact that the last part of Gonçalves da Câmara’s preface is lacking in all the extant Spanish/Italian manuscripts might lead one to suspect that the beginning of the text proper has also been lost, but the MHSI editors offer good arguments for discounting that possibility. See FN I, pp. 330–31.

19 The documentation can be found in the older MHSI edition of narrative sources regarding Ignatius: Scripta de S. Ignatio.

20 Gonçalves da Câmara makes similar observations at a number of points in his Notebook: nn. 99, 202, 227; FN I, pp. 585–86, 648, 659.

21 Unfortunately the critical editions of the text at present available largely neglect issues of punctuation. If we had it, Gonçalves da Câmara’s punctuation would have to be taken seriously; in its absence, a translator is free to question even his original copyists, let alone his modern editors.

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