Ignatius on Universal Good (1554)

Jerónimo Doménech, the provincial of Sicily, had complained both in writing to Ignatius and by word of mouth to others about the lack of manpower he had to carry on the works for which he was responsible. Ignatius’s reply to Doménech serves as a strikingly realistic account of the penury in quantity and qualifications of the men available to Society. It also reveals how Ignatius felt that he alone bore the responsibility of governing the entire Society and its works. Lastly, the letter, written by Juan Alfonso de Polanco on Ignatius’s behalf, delivers a sharp reproach to Doménech for airing his “complainings” in public.

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



The peace of Christ, etc.

My dear Father:

I would prefer writing Your Reverence things that would console rather than wound you—but you would have to stop giving so much cause. Indeed, were he not restrained by certain considerations, Our Father would take action to display more clearly his displeasure with Your Reverence’s complainings. They reflect discredit on him: not only do you not submit your judgment to his in the arrangements he makes regarding persons under him, but you also criticize his arrangements as bad in the presence of others, as you obviously did with the three men who have just arrived from Spain: you wanted to keep Master Pedro Canal there, and you complained to them that Our Father at first sent you some of the principal men in the Society and later withdrew them all, etc. Your Reverence overlooks the fact that you were given some recompense for those taken away; and you overlook something even more important, namely, that Our Father has an obligation to look out for the universal good. Thus, while leaving you the personnel that he does for maintaining and carrying forward the works there, he also takes care of other works in which God our Lord wishes to make use of the Society and its members. The college at Venice has only one priest, who has no philosophy or theology; that of Padua has two who have a not-very-good hold on literary studies and nothing above that; that of Modena has two who are barely average in Latin and still youths. At Ferrara, Pelletier, who was alone there, has been sent another man who has little by way of literary studies or anything higher. Master Francesco Palmio is at Bologna, but we cannot send him a priest to be his companion because there are none. Master Louis [Coudret] is at Florence, together with another who has scarcely made his literary studies. There are two men at Gubbio, neither of them a theologian. At Perugia there is a single theologian and another who is not. And the lack of masters to teach in these places is, I believe, equal to or even greater than the lack of priests. But this does not prevent them from producing fruit, God our Lord making up for what our slight forces cannot accomplish. In comparison with the rest of Italy, Sicily is without doubt better provided than any other place, even after making all necessary allowances.

This does not mean that Our Father wants you to refrain from representing what you think; rather, he wants you to. But he does not want you letting a single word escape you there to suggest that you criticize his actions. Indeed, so long as you do not voice in public the shortcomings you see, he is happy for you to let him know about them, leaving the matter up to him and preferring the universal to the local good, in the conviction that once Our Father has been informed—simply and without arguments or complaints—he will do what is best for the greater service of God our Lord and the general good. Indeed, we should all aim at this, even though the angels of particular places might have a special predilection for their own provinces or localities. And so that Your Reverence will not forget this practice of keeping confidential what you think is amiss there and of writing by way of representation, etc., you are to send in your own writing how you intend to do this, for this is Our Father’s command. You ought also to think about giving him some consolation here occasionally. He has a great deal of trouble providing for so many places in Italy and in Ethiopia, besides maintaining the studium generle here in Rome, where there is so much illness among both professors and students. Dr. Olave was giving two lectures a day in theology, but got so exhausted that for his health’s sake he has had to be relieved of one of them; it will be given by Master Jean [Couvillon], the one who came from there. But after all, God is our help; it is his glory that we seek in Sicily, in Rome, and everywhere.

May he fill us with knowledge of him and hope in him, and may he dwell with perfect love in our souls. Amen.


Rome, January 13, 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 Jerónimo Doménech from Juan de Planco, by commission, Rome, January 13, 1554,” pg. 459–461.