The following is one of Ignatius’s most direct and blunt letters. The recipient, Antonio Soldevila, apparently gave more than occasion for it. The Catalan had entered the Society of Jesus in 1551 and came to Rome in 1553. At first, he had a reputation for devotion and spirituality, but Soldevila soon showed eccentric and hardheaded qualities. Depending on the circumstances, he was energetic or lazy, and he regularly proposed to others in the Society strange theories and interpretations of obedience. After Soldevila gave far-too-severe spiritual direction to a young theologian and resisted any advice to mitigate his rigor, Ignatius finally gave him the equally severe penance of disciplining himself in the community dining room. Soldevila had to wear what seemed to be a pair of paper wings and repeat aloud, “No flying without wings.” Ignatius dismissed Soldevila from the Society only to readmit him six months later. Soldevila assumed a series of leadership positions until Jerónimo Nadal advised that he never again govern others. Soldevila was then sent to Naples where he became something of a hypochondriac. He spent “half of his time attending to his health and the other half on theories and interpretations of obedience,” which limited whatever orders he was received because, he said, “obedience was a slow suicide.” Finally, Ignatius writes this letter, severely reprimanding Soldevila. Apparently, the letter had a good effect. Soldevila reformed, and, Ignatius made him a community consultor in Naples. His bad habits soon returned, and he received the ultimatum that if he did not amend his ways, the Society would dismiss him. Soldevila slowly changed for the better, devoted himself to studies, and continued to live as a Jesuit in Naples, where he worked for almost half a century until his death in 1601.
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The peace of Christ.
I wish that my first letter to you could deal with matters of greater spiritual relish than this one will, for both its writer’s and its reader’s sake. However, it would be wrong not to swallow this annoyance, to see if it may not profit you more than it appears likely that it will in view of our past experience. For God our Lord is almighty, his grace is great, and it is he who guides hearts; moreover, my desire for Your Reverence’s good makes me have some hope, even where there is little grounds for it from a human point of view.
We have been informed that you have not kept the promise you made to Father Madrid (not to mention others) that you would obey like a dead thing and signalize yourself in this respect, after having failed so badly in the past, as your memory together with your conscience, if you are willing to recall, will bear you abundant witness. For one who has found himself so often mistaken in his own judgment, it would be reasonable to accept and put into practice that saying of the wise Solomon, “Lean not upon your own prudence.” For beyond our obligation to believe Scripture, as well as the dictate of reason that no one is a good judge in his own cause, experience has taught you this to your own heavy cost. It seems to me that with your study of the logicians’ teachings on obedience, you have made so much progress that both yourself and those who associate with you are apparently making yourselves out to be great interpreters and circumscribers of obedience, saying at every step that you will not be your own murderers, etc. This is the worst and most pernicious teaching that could be employed for the unity we aim at in the Society and the perfection of obedience informed by charity. It suffices, like a pestilence, to infect a whole college in short order. This is properly the spirit of pride; it undermines all the simplicity and magnanimity of obedience, and its end is voluntary apostasy or else dismissal to prevent others from being infected. Nevertheless, in this matter the Society will have regard for whatever charity it can exercise toward an individual without prejudice to the general good. We are writing the rector [Cristobal de Mendoza], urging him to do his duty and see that obedience is observed and to give to those who need such curbing a list of the persons with whom they may talk. You will have yours. And with those to whom you do speak, take care not to teach the doctrine mentioned above; it will by no means be tolerated in the Society. Overall, see that you repent and amend, and that you do not fall back into the old difficulties you had at Rome and at Genoa. Unless you can acquire the Society’s spirit and way of proceeding, you would be much better off outside it. For the rest, I refer you to the rector, to whom we are writing. May it please Christ our Lord to grant us true humility and abnegation of our wills and judgments, so that we may deserve to begin to be his disciples.
Rome, April 19, 1556
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 Antonio Soldevila, Rome, April 19, 1556,” pg. 651–653.