Ignatius on Language (1556)

With this letter written by Juan Alfonso de Polanco, Ignatius orders the Society’s rectors to ensure that the local languages were used throughout all the Jesuit houses. Ignatius had ordered this previously and repeated it at the beginning of the year. This policy sought to enable the Jesuits not only to speak to those whom they ministered but also to speak among themselves in their shared house, as, Ignatius writes of the Society, “we are of different nations.” More than 460 years later, such knowledge of the language of the country in which one resides is still the rule in the Society, as is the requirement that everyone learn at least one major language in addition to his own native tongue.

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



The peace of Christ.

It seems to be required for the benefit and edification of the peoples among whom our Society is living, and for unity and growth of chanty and goodwill among its members themselves that wherever there is a college or house of the Society, all those who do not know the language which is in common use there should learn it and as a rule converse in it. If each one spoke his mother tongue, there would be much confusion and lack of union, since we are of different nations. For this reason Our Father has given orders that in all places where the Society exists, everyone should speak the language of that country: in Spain, Spanish; in France, French; in Germany, German; in Italy, Italian;. etc. Here in Rome he has ordered that everyone should speak Italian. There are daily classes in Italian grammar to help those learn it who do not already know it; and they may not talk to the others, nor others to them, in any language other than Italian (except of course to translate the meaning of an occasional word and thus be better understood). He has also ordered that once a week someone preach an Italian sermon in the refectory, at either dinner or supper (in addition to the regular declamation exercises). The preacher is given help by a person who knows Italian well, to make composing the sermon easier; and anyone failing in this is given a good penance.

Our Father has also given orders that this same rule be sent out and observed as carefully as possible everywhere in the Society, due consideration being had for differences of places and persons. For this reason, we are writing to Your Reverence to see that it is observed.

Please acknowledge receipt of this.

May Jesus Christ be with us all.




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 the Rectors of the Society, by commission, Rome, January 1, 1556,” pg. 620–621.

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