Along with Francis Xavier, Gaspar Berze (or Barzaeus) was one of the great Jesuit missionaries of the sixteenth century. Before entering the Society, the Dutch Berze had served in the army of Emperor Charles V, lived as a hermit at Montserrat, and worked in the royal treasury of Portugal. With the following letter, Ignatius has Juan Alfonso de Polanco explain to Berze that his apostolic exertions should not lead him to neglect his health. However, when this letter was written, Berze had already died, after only five years of extraordinary labor in India. The letter also reveals how, from the earliest years of the Society, the news in missionaries’ correspondence to Rome became of great interest, especially news from non-European countries. Copies of the correspondence were made and widely circulated, becoming very influential in making the Society known, in attracting vocations, and, in some instances, in helping to inaugurate fashions in such areas as architecture, furniture, and clothing.
For more sources from Ignatius, please visit the Letters of Ignatius of Loyola.
The peace of Christ.
My dear Father in Jesus Christ:
May the grace and peace of Christ our Lord be always present and grow in our souls.
I did not expect to write any letters beyond those we already have for the present sailing, but on our later receiving from Portugal a letter written in Goa about Your Reverence’s illness and about the labors of preaching and the like that you are undertaking in the midst of it Our Father decided that this letter should be written to you, informing you from him that he does not consider such a manner of proceeding advisable or likely to last very long. While your holy zeal and love of austerities are most edifying, he thinks they are missing that salt which God our Lord wanted to be offered him in every sacrifice—that “reasonable service” which St. Paul wishes to be given him by those who offer themselves to God our Lord.
There are two dangers in treating yourself so harshly. The first is that, barring a miracle, Your Reverence will not be able to last very long in the holy ministries you undertake. Rather, you will either be cut off by death or become too ill to continue your labors: which it is reckoned would impede great service of God and help of his souls, in which you could employ yourself for many years if in good health. The second danger is that, being so hard on yourself, you could easily become too hard on those under you; if only by your example, you might push others to excessive effort—the more so the better they are.
In a word, Our Father recommends moderation to Your Reverence. When you are ill, he does not want you to preach unless the doctor tells you that it will do you no harm. And since in your own case Your Reverence might be uncertain about where moderation lies, it would be good to choose someone there who lives or travels with you to serve as the superior over you in matters of food, sleep, and moderation in work and for you to obey him in the Lord on these points. We have made use of this procedure here to moderate the activity of some of the Society’s leading men and holders of the most important offices. So much for the care of your person.
There are important persons in Rome who read the letters from the Indies with great edification and who frequently express a wish for geographical information about the countries where our members travel: how long the days are in summer and in winter, when summer begins, whether shadows falls to the left or to the right—in short, information should be furnished about anything else that is out of the ordinary, such as plants and animals that are unknown here, or of a larger size, and so on. Sauce of this sort for the palate of a harmless human curiosity can be sent either in the letters themselves or separately.
Since we have taken the pulse of persons of high quality and intelligence and learned that they find this more edifying, it would be good for the writer, when preparing letters for showing to people outside the Society, to dwell less on matters specifically related to members of the Society and more on matters of general interest. Otherwise, the letters cannot be printed here without considerable cutting. Of course, news about individual members of the Society are quite appropriate for the edification of our own members, but this can be sent separately. Any deficiency in this latter regard can be remedied here, even if with some trouble, but as regards the first there is no way we can make up for it here. Hence, Your Reverence can order the members of your province to write as indicated above.
Referring you to the other letters, I will add no more, except to say that here at the house, and in the Roman and German Colleges, we are by God’s grace in good health. May he grant us interior health who is the world’s true health and life, Jesus Christ our God and Lord. Amen.
Rome, February 24, 1554
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 Gaspar Berze, by commission, Rome, February 24, 1554,” pg. 472–474.