Ignatius on Disobedience (1552)

In 1552, the Portuguese province experienced a breakdown of obedience in its members, arising, in part, because the previous provincial (Simão Rodrigues) was unable or unwilling to take the necessary corrective measures. To solve the problem of disobedience, Ignatius wrote the following letter asking that Diego Miró, the new provincial, dismiss from the Society those members who are unwilling to obey their superiors. That is, unless Miró had any reason to think they could change, in which case he was to send those men to Rome. Ignatius is careful in a postscript here to urge Miró to apprise the Portuguese monarch of these measures and the reasons for them, as there would have been political implications in dismissing some of the members who were well connected at the Portuguese court.

For more sources from Ignatius, please visit the Letters of Ignatius of Loyola.





May the sovereign grace and eternal love of Christ our Lord be always our help and protection.

According to reports I have from Dr. Torres, whom I sent in my place to visit you in our Lord in that kingdom, I understand that there is a notable failing among not a few of our men in that virtue which is more necessary and essential in the Society than any other, and in which we are solemnly urged to distinguish ourselves to the greatest extent possible by the vicar of Christ in the bulls of our Institute. I mean respect, reverence, and perfect obedience to superiors, who hold the place of Christ our Lord—or rather, to the Divine Majesty in them. Moreover, from what you have heard about how I must and do desire this virtue in my brethren, you can well imagine how happy I have been to hear that there is among you anyone who without any respect says to his superior, “You should not have commanded me that,” or, “It is not good that I do this;” or who refuses to do what he is commanded, or who by signs and actions shows the lack of interior reverence and submission that has been reported to me towards one whom he ought to reverence as holding the place of Christ our Lord, and to whom as such he ought to humble himself in all things before his, Divine Majesty. This matter has apparently gone so far because of the fault of a person who was responsible for correcting it but did not do so. May God our Lord forgive him. How much better it would have been to remove from the Society any diseased members and protect the healthy, rather than let them infect many others with so grave a malady by example and association with them! On another occasion I had a letter written about how pleased I was that Master Leonard [Kessel] in Cologne had at one blow dismissed nine or ten men who were behaving badly. He later did the same thing again, which I likewise approved—although, had measures been taken at the start of the trouble, it might have sufficed to dismiss one or two. And now, although late, the remedy is being applied there: better late than never.

I command you in virtue of holy obedience to have the following observed for me with regard to obedience. If there is anyone who is unwilling to obey you—not just you, but any of the local superiors or rectors there—you are to do one of two things: either dismiss him from the Society or send him here to Rome if you think that a particular individual can be helped by such a change to become a true servant of Christ our Lord. Communicate this to Their Highnesses if necessary; I have no doubt that they will be content, in view of the spirit and holy intentions with which God our Lord has endowed them; for to keep among you someone who is not a true son of obedience does no good for the kingdom. Nor can it be believed that a person whose own soul is so destitute of help will be able help others, or that God our Lord would be willing to accept him as an instrument for his service and glory. For we see from experience that men of average or even below-average talent are often the instruments of remarkable and supernatural achievements, because they are completely obedient and through this virtue allow themselves to be moved and possessed by the mighty hand of the Author of all good. Conversely, we see great talents laboring harder without achieving even average results; the reason is that, being moved by themselves—that is, by their own self-love—or at least not letting themselves be properly moved by God our Lord through obedience to their superiors, they produce results that are proportionate, not to the almighty hand of God our Lord, who does not accept them as his instruments, but instead to their own weak and feeble hands. Understanding this, Their Highnesses will, I am confident, be satisfied. And while we have plenty to do here without having to deal with persons coming here from there, we shall, because of what charity demands—a charity which God our Lord gives us in an even more special way toward Portugal—not refuse this labor.

No more for now, except that I beg the divine and supreme Goodness to give to all of us his abundant grace always to know his most holy will and perfectly to fulfill it.


Rome, December 17, 1552



The mandate which I am sending you to dismiss or send here those who are disobedient, you will have published in the colleges and houses throughout your province. You will see that the King is informed of it, so that it will not appear that the men being sent outside the kingdom because they need help are being removed from Portugal because of a desire on our part to have here persons who would be valuable workers in His Highness’s territories, but rather that they are being sent elsewhere to make them such, so that upon their subsequent return there, they will be as His Highness and everyone else desires, in the service of God and the care for souls in his kingdom.


Yours in our Lord,





Original Source (English Translation):

Ignatius of Loyola: Letters and Instructions, ed. John W. Padberg, et al. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996, “To Diego Miró, Rome, December 17, 1552,” pg. 402–404.