Ignatius on Scruples (1556)

Valentín Marín, a young Spanish Jesuit working in Sicily, was known as an excellent preacher despite having a disagreeable voice. His superior greatly praised him for his learning and his holiness. But Marín was constantly beset by scruples. Ignatius, who took a personal interest in the young man’s troubles, had earlier instructed his provincial and rector to help him. In this letter by Juan Alfonso de Polanco, Ignatius contacts him again about those scruples, which arise, he feels, in great part from Marín’s excessive attachment to his own judgment.

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





Through letters from Father Master Jerónimo [Doménech] and also from Father Eleuthère [Dupont], Our Father has been informed how God our Lord is making use of the ministry of our men in the town where you are. And we have no doubt that he would do so even more if it were not for the hindrance of Your Reverence’s unwarranted scruples, abetted by your lack of humble resignation. Scrupulosity, up to a certain point, is usually not harmful as long as it makes a person be more vigilant and careful about avoiding offenses against God while at the same time refraining from any judgment that this or that is a sin (even though he suspects or fears it might be), and so long as he relies on the judgment of some person whom he ought to trust, setting aside his own judgment and accepting this person’s opinion. Without these two aids, a scrupulous person runs the gravest risk of offending God by not avoiding what he thinks is sinful (though it is not), as well as of losing occasions and ability to serve him-or even his natural good judgment.

And so, Master Marín, determine to keep fixed in your mind these two resolutions: first, not to form a judgment or personal determination that something is sinful when it is not clearly such and is ordinarily not considered such by others; second, even when you are very fearful that something is a sin, to submit to the judgement of your superior, Father Eleuthère, and rely upon what he says—not as Father Eleuthère (although even as such he is a highly spiritual and prudent man whose judgement deserves confidence), but as the superior who holds the place of Christ our Lord.  You should behave in this way with any other superior you may have, humbling yourself and trusting that God’s providence will rule and guide you through him.  Believe me, if you had read humility and submission, your scruples would not trouble you so much.  They are nourished by a certain pride and tendency to trust more in your own judgment and less in that of others, as you should.  You should also ask God our Lord in your Masses and prayers to free you from this passion or infirmity sufficiently for you not to offend him or hinder his greater service; and you should ask others to pray for this also.  I commend myself to your own prayers, promising you mine.

May Christ our Lord grant all of us his grace, so that we may always know and fulfill his most holy will.


Rome, June 24, 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 Valentín Marín, by commission, Rome, June 24, 1556,” pg. 688–689.

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