Ignatius on Personal Reform (1555)

Ignatius cared deeply for the apostolic work of reforming the houses of members of religious orders. During Ignatius’s lifetime, Jesuits carried out this work in places as far apart as Sicily, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy. Cardinal Marcello Cervini (later Pope Marcellus II) charged Ponce Cogordan with the reform of a monastery of Benedictine nuns at Celle, in Provence. Ignatius writes the following instruction to Cogordan, stressing the patience and tact needed in this important ministry of the early Society. After a good deal of resistance from some of the nuns at this monastery, Cogordan saw some positive results before his ill health forced him to abandon the task.

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



Procedure To Be Followed There

1.     Master Ponce should deliver the letters to those to whom they go and try to win the goodwill of those who govern the province and for whom he bears letters; he should try to get them to write to the governor of the country and some leading personages on his behalf, etc.

2.     He should deliver the letters for the local personages and gain their friendship as far as he can, particularly that of the nuns’ relatives.

3.     He should make it understood by everyone, both in public and in private, that he has come for the common good and honor of the monastery and of the whole region; for this purpose he should deliver the [papal] bull of the [Blessed] Sacrament and have it solemnly published, etc.

4.     He should set to winning credit both through spiritual conversations with the gentry and others persons and by visits to hospitals and other pious works if there are any.

5.     With great love he should visit the nuns and make them understand that the cardinal has sent him for their spiritual consolation, and he should give them his letter. He should not talk at the beginning about reform until he has first gained credit both with them and with the region.

6.     During this period he should deal with them in sermons and public exhortations and in private spiritual conversations, and he should try to find out who among them show greater recollection and goodness of life; he should try to win over some of these to the Lord, particularly the abbess and other important nuns.

7.     When he has gained credit and come to know the nuns’ souls, previous lives, and errors, he should tactfully begin the reform. For this he should find out who their confessor is; if the latter is a person who cannot help him, he should advise and get him not to visit the nuns for a time, but to leave them be until he himself tells him; and he should try to obtain his friendship.

8.     He should learn what friar and other persons have contact with the monastery and with whom. He should advise and get them to stay away. As far as possible, he should ensure that no one visits them except those he knows will be helpful for the end desired. For this he should make use of whatever support he may have from the nuns’ relatives.

9.     He should persuade the nuns to remain enclosed during a certain period for their spiritual good, allowing no one into their monastery.

10.     He should aim principally at getting them to go to confession and Communion, in particular doing his best to get a certain number to make a general confession and gain a plenary indulgence, so that these can give an example to the others.

11.     He should help them with examinations of conscience and with spiritual exercises, particularly those of the First Week [of the Spiritual Exercises] at the beginning, and leave them some methods of prayer suited to each.

12.     He should try with tact and charity to win their confidence, so that they will disclose their souls and their defects, which he should get them to see in such a way that they will realize that he is acting through charity and love and for their good.

13.     If some are difficult and unwilling to be helped, he should not get discouraged or annoyed with them; rather, he should show them great charity and persistence in trying to help them.

14.     He should employ no coercive measures with the nuns without further instructions from Rome.

15.     Master Ponce must not eat at the nuns’ expense or take anything from them by way of alms or anything else.

16.     He should show no partiality, but use the same charity toward all of them.



Matters Needing Reform

1.     If possible, the nuns should observe enclosure, even though their institute may not require it; they should only rarely let visitors into their monastery, and these should be women of noble birth and good life, never men.

2.     They should lead a common life, and no one should have a servant or anything else of her own.

3.     They should recite their office in choir, and have their mental prayers and spiritual exercises.

4.     They should go to confession and Communion weekly or monthly, and their confessor should be a man of proven life and teaching, elderly in behavior as well as years; he should be named by the cardinal, or by the bishop with the cardinal’s approval.

5.     Each year the governors of the region should appoint two distinguished women, elderly and upright, to assume responsibility for helping the nuns in their needs, examining whether they are living correctly, whether they have any suspicious visitors, and anything else connected with the monastery.



What Should Be Brought from Rome

1.     There should be a brief from the Pope commissioning Master Ponce and giving him full authority to reform and restore the monastery to the observance of its rule and to a full religious and upright life. It should also include authority to exercise coercion and impose censures on both the nuns and anyone else who directly or indirectly hinders the reformation and restoration, even exempt religious of any order whatsoever; it should also include faculties for absolving from heresy, excommunication, and any other censures and sins, etc.

2.     In this or a different brief, he should carry a grant from His Holiness of a plenary indulgence for all the nuns who reform and make a general confession; also, for the convent and the village where it is located, a plenary indulgence for anyone who visits the convent after its restoration and says some prayer; also, on the anniversary of the reformation, or on the feast of the saint to whom the monastery is dedicated or the saint of the monastery’s order, a plenary indulgence in memory of the restoration.

3.     If possible, there should be letters from the King [of France] for the Parlement of Aix and the provincial viceroy, instructing them to write to the officers of justice in the region where the monastery is located. In the King’s letters and in the others written from all other places, there should be mention of the Society’s good reputation and of the fruits which it is producing wherever in Christendom it goes.

4.     There should be edifying, loving letters of Cardinal Santa Croce [Cervini] for the nuns, as well as for the president of Aix, the provincial viceroy, and the governor of the monastery’s region. If the cardinal is not the right person in some cases, he should have letters written by another cardinal, such as Farnese, Paris [Jean du Bellay], or [Georges] d’Armagnac, vouching for the Society and for Master Ponce.

5.     If there is any indication that letters from the local bishop or the general of the monastery’s order would be useful, that would be good.

6.     We should see if we could get letters for individuals in the region, relatives of the nuns, or other nobles.

7.     Cardinal Santa Croce should invest Master Ponce with his complete authority for the reform, with a broad patent under his seal, as is customary.

8.     Master Ponce should bring attestation that the Society is native to France, with testimony from some French cardinals.

9.     Master Ponce should bring the bull of the Blessed Sacrament for the local region, in order to obtain credit and goodwill from all.

10.     He should bring a rosary blessed by the Pope, or an indulgenced Ave Maria to be given to the monastery in common, and also some Agnus Deis. Thought should be given to the appropriateness of taking this opportunity to get acceptance of the Society’s bulls and faculties by the Parlement of Paris, and of bringing the Society to the notice of the French King.




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 Ponce Cogordan, Rome, February 12, 1555,” pg. 537–541.