“On His Election as Superior General,” Francis Borgia (1565)

The delegates at the Second General Congregation of the Society of Jesus gathered in the summer of 1565, in part, to elect a success to Diego Laínez as the Jesuits’ superior general. They chose Francis Borgia, a former duke of Gandía. Borgia became the third superior general, “smitten by the sword of responsibility.” Borgia delivered the following remarks to the delegates, his farewell address warning the delegates to leave their disagreements at the congregation. Martin Palmer, S.J., translated Borgia’s remarks from the surviving copy in Borgia’s own handwriting. Palmer’s version first appeared in an issue of Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits.



The moment has come, reverend Fathers, for each of you to return to his own work and ministry. It is only appropriate that, with the shepherd having been smitten by the sword of responsibility, the sheep also should scatter.


As I see you take your leave and depart, a fear comes over me that, as often enough happens, you may never see my face again nor I yours. For the time of my dissolution is at hand: this my age, my infirmities, my illnesses, and the like all shout aloud.


This thought moves me to recall to your memories a few points which it will perhaps one day be a source of joy to remember. They are four, dealing respectively with God, the neighbor, you, and myself.


As regards the first: you are well aware, Fathers, that those who refused to render up the fruits of the vineyard ended by losing the vineyard itself. In the same way, anyone who refuses God the fruits of obedience, humility, and patience will lose the vineyard, that is, his own soul. The vineyard will be handed over to other husbandmen, and the kingdom will be taken away from him. Woe to whoever does not give God the things that are God’s!


We are not our own; we were bought at a great price. Shall we then not give to God what we have received from him, that is, our very selves—especially since he has given himself entirely to us? What will befall the man who is not God’s? A thief’s punishment awaits the man who takes back from a king the tribute he previously paid him. Similarly, any religious who in his profession handed over his very self to God, and later takes back the mind which he has given and the will which he has offered, is a thief and a robber.


As regards the neighbor, I would like to say this to you. As you pass by on your journey home, I am sure you will come across countless persons lying on the ground with various ills. Italians and Spaniards sometimes lie overwhelmed by vices and lusts. Germans and French lie by the roadside also, wounded by Luther and Calvin. But you whose duty it is to exercise the Samaritan’s charity—do not pass by like the levite and the others. Instead, give these people the oil of mercy and the other remedies they need. By this will everyone know that you belong to the Society, if you labor at healing these ailments.


As regards yourselves, I will say only this. You have witnessed, my brothers, how greatly the works of our God have been magnified in this Society of ours. If they are to be preserved and increased, our humility will also have to increase. If we say, “We will magnify our tongue; our lips are our own—who is Lord over us?” (Ps. 12:5), I fear that our house will be left desolate and the Society’s day over. “To God therefore the glory, but to us confusion of our face” (Bar. 1:15).


I shall go further and disclose to you the things that I fear, so that we may be able to say to God, “In your fear we have conceived, etc.” I fear that, unless we consign to oblivion the differences of opinion and the arguments we have occasionally had, these congregations may prove more effective in tearing down than in building up.


I fear that, unless our minds are reined in with bit and bridle as the congregation breaks up, so that they stand firm in blind obedience, we shall all suffer ruin together. I fear that if even the slightest division, for whatever cause, raises its head among us, then “every kingdom divided against itself will be brought to desolation” (Luke 11:17). What else is the aim of the one who “goes about seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8) but to seize any pretext, even that of zeal, to open the door to division so that he can put his sickle into a harvest not his own, that is, into the Society?


I also fear that, if tongue should utter what eye has seen and ear has heard in these matters, they will bring destruction to whoever repeats them, sorrow to whoever hears them, and ruin to whoever reads them.


From all this I conclude that we must begin anew life, destroying the old man and raising up the new, so that the simplicity, obedience, charity, and humility of the primitive Society may be revived in our hearts. Thus will the Society’s reputation match its name.


As for myself, my only request is this. I ask to be given the same consideration that people give a beast of burden upon which they have placed a load. Along with their concern for the load, they take special care of the animal, to make sure that it can complete the journey. If it limps, they come to its help. If it slows down, they urge it on. If it falls, they lift it up. And if it reaches exhaustion, they unload it.


I ask the same for myself. I am your beast of burden, and you have laid the load upon me. At least treat me as you would a beast of burden, so that I may be able to say, “I am become as a beast before you, and I am always with you” (Ps. 73:23).


Lift up your beast by your prayers and supplications. Come to his help—you who have been called to share responsibility for this Society. If he slows down, urge him on with your example and admonition. If you see him exhausted, unload him.


And if you wish to give him help, dearest Fathers, then let me see you all with the same mind, all saying the same thing and having the same opinion. Let there be one heart, one spirit. Bear each other’s burdens, so that I may be able to bear yours. Fulfill my joy, so that our joy may be complete and no one can take it from us.


In order that this plea of mine to you may be fixed forever in your hearts, so that you will always be mindful of the words I have spoken to you, and in order to demonstrate my love for you, I shall now humbly kiss your feet.


I beg almighty God that your feet may be like the feet of hinds, that they may be blessed so that you may proclaim the gospel of peace and bring glad tidings of good things.


And I pray that these same feet of yours, once planted upon the high places, may enjoy rest without toil, joy without end.






Original Source (English Translation):

Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits, 22.3 (May 1990): 31–33, “Sources: Francis Borgia Bids Farewell to His Electors.”

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