“Ignatius as the Pattern of Jesuit Life,” Jerómino Nadal (1557)

Five months after Ignatius’s death on July 31, 1556, Jerómino Nadal gave two talks to Jesuit scholastics in the Collegio Romano. The talks came at the request of Diego Laínez, who served as the vicar general of the Society of Jesus following the death of Ignatius. Nadal explains, in the following excerpts, to the men the graces Ignatius received in his life and how that life serves as “pattern…for reproducing the genuine spirit of our Society.” Martin Palmer, S.J., translated the available texts of the remarks into English, and this version first appeared in a 1990 volume of Studies of the Spirituality of Jesuits.



[January 2, 1557]


Our Reverend Father Vicar has commanded me to give you an informal exhortation about the spirit and work of our Society, into which the Lord Jesus in his mercy has deigned to bring us together. The purpose envisioned was so that, as the Constitutions prescribe, all here in the Roman College might renew their vows three or four times a year with greater profit.


You are already aware of how ill-suited I am for any responsibilities. Nevertheless, with God’s grace I will make some practical remarks to help us all forward. I shall speak first about the state and grace of religious life in general, and then about the particular grace and institute of this holy Society of ours.


Our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ, wishing to free the world from oppression by the devil, who offers as goals only wealth, prestige, luxury, and vanities, chose the exact opposite of these as the fundamental values of all who are to be saved, so that, by trampling all these things underfoot through observance of the commandments, all might be Christians. For this he has given a common grace to all, to enable all those who want to be Christians to keep God’s commandments and attain the salvation of their souls. And this is the primary and common grace which we have in common with all Christians and for which we must always render profound thanks.


Besides this common grace, he also willed the existence of religious life for those who, by entering the path of the vows, would additionally observe the evangelical counsels and in this way strive for perfection. For the sake of this life, he conferred a special gift and grace on the persons who founded such religious orders and on those who subsequently followed in the footsteps of these patriarchs. Thus, St. Benedict, St. Francis, St. Basil, St. Dominic, and the other founders of the various religious orders, having first been endowed by God with a special grace, proclaimed this life to others and with God’s favor had numerous followers who were moved by their example and were themselves given a special help and grace for saying yes to this kind of life and for effectively living out its demands. For this special grace of the religious life is simply a particular impulse and help from God leading one to embrace and live out the requirements of this special kind of life—one which has been inspired by God and sanctioned by the Church.


Inasmuch as we too share in this special grace given to all religious, we should always render profound and unceasing praise to the Lord; moreover, we should show the deepest love to each member of every religious order, since, given our resistance to God, neither they nor we would ever have been capable of this unless the Lord had looked down upon us from heaven with special mercy. However, to come to our topic of how our Society has received not only this grace which, though special, all religious share in common, but has also (like every other order) received a specific grace quite distinct from all the others, let us now look at a few points regarding our Reverend Father Ignatius and the overall evolution of the Society.


First of all, this Society of ours is able to be counted in common with the other religious orders because (as we firmly believe) God originally inspired Reverend Father Ignatius and his first companions to form it, it was subsequently approved as such by the Apostolic See, and has enjoyed remarkable progress and growth in both numbers and spiritual effectiveness, steadily increasing in strength right up to the present moment.


Now just as other orders each have their specific grace, so ours too has a good many graces of its own. This is evident first of all in the Society’s obedience, which requires not only outward execution and promptness of the will, but entire abnegation of the intellect, so as to judge even with our minds that whatever is commanded is the best thing. It is evident likewise in a kind of special power and grace for preaching, teaching, and similar activities—something which never ceases to amaze the most various persons and which we should receive with very special thankfulness.


At the time when Luther was already launching his heinous designs, our Reverend Father was a military commander, engaged in a noble-spirited quest for worldly honors (though he never killed anyone). But by God’s will this path was closed to him when he was badly wounded in the legs and became dangerously ill. (This is a first grace—one which, like all the others, anyone who will make the compare son can verify in his own conversion as well.)


Next, he began to read spiritual books with eagerness and to experience strongly fluctuating impulses alternately towards worldly pursuits and towards the service of God. But there was a difference between them: the worldly thoughts always left him disturbed and profoundly sad, whereas the holy thoughts left him deeply consoled. Thus he proceeded from this point, through the discernment of spirits, to the utterly certain decision that it was better to serve God than the world. (This is a second spiritual grace.)


In the service of God, however, he took as his fundamental principle always to follow the course which would be more for God’s honor and glory. (This is the sole foundation and rule, as it were, of the whole Society; it was the criterion used for the Constitutions and all the Society’s activities, and the one always to be used in the future.)


Chiefly for the sake of God, then, he first decided he ought to practice extremely severe penance, and he pursued this severe penance by taking five disciplines each day, as well as by other exertions beyond human strength. These excesses would later lead him to that great moderation for his sons which we now find in our rules. (This is another grace.)


From here he was led next to a remarkable illumination of his mind, which now enabled him through the practice of prayer and spiritual contemplations to behold divine realities with more clarity than light itself. Moreover, all this was amazingly intensified through his pilgrimage to Jerusalem and other religious exercises. However, among all his illuminations, he received an outstanding and supra-sensible one at Manresa, not far from Montserrat. It was to this illumination that our blessed Father used to attribute almost all his plans, even when governing the Society in Rome in the course of its constant daily expansion. (This is another grace.)


From this grace he arrived in turn at a desire and insatiable longing to help his neighbor, in eagerness to be of benefit not just to himself but also to others. (This is a fresh grace.)


But at this point, caught in uncertainty about how to carry out this resolve according to his principle of the greater glory of God, he could see the manifold dangers of error inherent in uneducated simplicity. Indeed, he was already experiencing imprisonments, persecutions, and suspicions for the activities which he undertook as best he could for the salvation of others. Certainly impelled by the Holy Spirit, he made up his mind that he needed to study and devote himself to the sacred disciplines for God’s greater glory and the advantage of souls. (Here also we have a special grace of the Society.)


Therefore, being an unlearned man who knew no more than how to write, he began studying hard, first in Spain and later in Paris. But at this point the question arose whether he should undertake this great work alone or with companions. His decision was to procure companions, and he assembled nine of them. (This too is a special gift.)


But now there remained the question whether they should set up this group without approbation or as a religious order having the approval of the Apostolic See. With no disagreement whatever they opted for the latter. Hence, after extensive prayer and many deliberations this way and that, this Society of ours received initial and then repeated approval by the Apostolic See to be one of the religious orders of Christendom (even though the least of all) having its own adherents and the special graces of its own vocation and profession.


It was decided to admit into this Society professed fathers, spiritual coadjutors, temporal coadjutors, students, and novices. It was also decided to set up studies in such a way that the brothers would either live together but take all their classes from others, as is the case in many cities in Spain; or else themselves teach, as in Rome; or themselves also set up and run complete schools. (This too is a special grace of God.)


If we gather together all these elements, we will have not only cause for giving thanks to the Lord but also a pattern in our Reverend Father Ignatius for reproducing the genuine spirit of our Society—namely, by renouncing all worldly pursuits and placing God’s service ahead of worldly concerns; by looking therein always towards whatever will be most for God’s glory, by then doing penance; by engaging in spiritual contemplations; by thirsting for our neighbors’ salvation; by undertaking serious studies for the sake of this; by forming unbreakable bonds of love with our brothers; and finally, having placed all that is ours at the disposition of our superiors, Christ’s vicars, by giving ceaseless thanks to the Lord for willing us to be members of this holy Society, and by our always making earnest efforts to walk worthily of our vocation even unto death, to the eternal praise and glory of him who is blessed forever and ever: Jesus Christ our Lord, our leader and standard-bearer.





[January 4, 1557]


We recently spoke about our Society’s special principles and graces. Today, after reviewing these, I would like to make a few remarks about some other equally important graces of the Society, and also about its end, to help us know and have a sense of our genuine spirit, to God’s greater glory.


We mentioned that our Reverend Father Ignatius progressed from severe penance to prayer and spiritual perceptions; this led him to a desire to help the neighbor, to do this through studies, and to do it not alone but with companions—all with the approbation of the Apostolic See in a society and religious order comprising professed members, spiritual and temporal coadjutors, students, and novices. He established that there would be three kinds of students, so that there would be colleges where our men merely studied, others where they also taught, and others where they ran the entire school.


In this regard, note that our Society has a special grace of prayer, not therefore common to everyone, which I will treat some other time; also that it engages in prayer and spiritual enjoyment in such a way as to be immediately attracted thereby to an intense thirst for helping the neighbor—otherwise devotion without this desire would be dangerous in our Society, although good in itself.


Note likewise that our Father was especially moved in such a way that in helping his neighbor he was chiefly impelled to help those who could be his companions in this work, and who in turn would be able to assist others to their own salvation. This he in fact achieved by gaining companions who shared his desire; and this is something we too should earnestly imitate.


Finally, note how the decision on poverty and chastity was followed, through many consolations, by the decision for obedience in a religious order; and how our holy Father finally died, having brought to full completion the task assigned him by the Lord (our order having been confirmed before our Father’s death by Paul III and subsequently extended step by step to a larger number of members and privileges). He had, moreover, also fully established the different classes of the Society’s future members and the different types of students and colleges.


Thus the course followed by a member of the Society follows that of our Father’s life. Once a person has decided, either by way of the Exercises or by some other means, to accept a special grace from God and enter the Society, his period of probation would correspond to our Father’s life when he did penance, devoted himself to contemplation, and imbibed a powerful longing to help his neighbor and to pursue studies. For it is after a person has been well exercised in these matters, according to his need, that he is eventually admitted to profession, becoming either a spiritual coadjutor or a professed, and then begins the actual and direct practice of the Society’s work.


But after the completion of studies the Constitutions require that he first spend an entire year during which he begins to undergo probation all over again. Relatively free from the distraction of studies, he is to give a kind of final perfection to his penance, his prayer, and all his other previous exercises together. So much for the first spiritual principle; now let us say something about a few others.


When our holy Father, along with his companions, especially Reverend Father Favre and our excellent Vicar Laínez, was devoting himself to prayer at Rome with a view to the initial establishment of the Society, he had a remarkable intellectual vision in which God the Father was pointing out to him Jesus Christ carrying the cross: placing him together with, and as it were assigning him to, the Lord Jesus thus laden with the cross, he was saying, “I will be favorable to you [pl.].”


Reverend Father Laínez told me an others this story right at the beginning. When I—and Father Luís Gonçalves as well—sometimes questioned him about this, he never denied it, but, as if wishing to conceal out of humility, he would either remain silent or reply, “If Laínez says so, it may be,” or the like.


But when we carefully went through his writings after his death, we came upon a passage where he wrote something like this about his consolations, the words bearing a resemblance to the vision: “…when God the Father was placing me with his Son.” From all this I have become completely convinced of the matter and have always told and recounted it to others with the greatest consolation.


From this we gather that the foundation of our Society is Jesus Christ crucified, so that just as he redeemed the human race by the cross and daily suffers terrible afflictions and crosses in his mystical body, the Church, so a member of our Society should have no other goal than by following Christ through many persecutions to work for the salvation of souls along with Christ himself, inasmuch as these souls, redeemed by Christ’s blood, are so wretchedly perishing.


From this principle which is Jesus Christ two others have followed. The first is our Society’s being named the Society of Jesus. For our Reverend Father proposed this on his own impulse to all his companions, earnestly pleading that before everything else, and without any constitution to that effect, our Society should be called the Society of Jesus. They all agreed. When others later suggested that a different name might be more advantageous on account of people who objected … [the manuscript breaks off here].



Original Source (English translation):

Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits 22.1 (January 1990): 49–54, “Sources: Nadal on Ignatius as the Pattern of Jesuit Life.”

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