Ignatius uses this letter as a reproof to a discontented temporal coadjutor brother. Giovanni Battista Guidini was the buyer at the college of Padua, and he was agitating to study for the priesthood. Several letters between the rector at Padua and Ignatius were exchanged on the matter. On the same day he wrote to Guidini here, Ignatius also wrote to the rector, saying that “the temptation of Brother Giovanni Battista is all the clearer in that he is very incapable of studies.” To Guidini, Ignatius explains that just in a body, with each part doing its own part, so, too, in the Society of Jesus are there different roles to play and “each one must be content with the employment which falls to him.”
For more sources from Ignatius, please visit the Letters of Ignatius of Loyola.
The peace of Christ.
Dear Brother Giovanni Battista:
While we are not surprised at your temptation regarding studies, for we know that it is the devil’s usual practice to unsettle and perturb God’s servants, you ought to be surprised at yourself for having admitted this temptation and forgotten that a religious should have no will of his own, and that in order to do God’s will, he ought to do that of his superiors. And you should have welcomed the devil’s insinuations in this matter all the less, in that right from the beginning you were expressly told that you should not think of studies, but exercise yourself in the offices of charity and humility, since in view of your age and aptitudes, it was judged that you would waste your time in studies and could make better use of it in other employments in God’s service.
In the body not all the members are eyes, or ears, or hands, or feet. Each member has its own function and is content with it. Similarly, in the body of the Society, not all can be learned, not all can be priests; rather, each one must be content with the employment which falls to him according to the will and judgment of the superior, who must give an account to God of all his subjects.
Finally, Giovanni Battista, if you have given all, to God, allow yourself to be guided by God; act not in your own way but in God’s way. And this way you are to learn by obedience to your superior.
If anyone tells you differently, even if he transfigures himself into an angel of light, you can be sure that it is the devil trying to drag you out of the Society, which will not tolerate this self-will of yours if you do not truly amend; for though you may have the name of a religious, if you lack obedience you are not one. Now, for the good we desire for you, we want you to examine yourself and alter the way you have been proceeding for some time now.
May God our Lord give you the grace for this.
Rome, May 23, 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 Giovanni Battista Guidini, Rome, May 23, 1556,” pg. 669–670.