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To Father Pierre Favre

Care in Writing Letters Rome, December 5, 1542

summary | text of letter  | footnotes

          This is usually listed as a letter to Pierre Favre,1 who was Ignatius' first companion in Paris. The letter, however, was more likely directed to all Jesuits, but since it has survived in a copy of the one received by Favre, and which bears the Spanish inscription "Favre on principal letters," it has been commonly believed that Ignatius' letter was originally addressed to him. The letter also carries the marginal note "received January 25, 1543, Conversion of St. Paul." At the time this letter was written, Favre was, by order of Pope Paul III, at the court of Emperor Charles V in Speyer, but he received it in Mainz, having been summoned there by Archbishop Albrecht of Brandenburg. In his letter Ignatius explains to his brethren the care with which they should write their letters, and asks them to write a principal letter every two weeks, which can be shown to members of the Society and to others as well, especially those interested in the Society's works. They should devote this letter to a description of their spiritual activities, and are to leave the more mundane, but interesting, news items for additional enclosures. Since Ignatius found that all were deficient in this regard, he sent a copy of this letter to every one. In the Society's early years the office of secretary had not evolved nor was it as efficient as it was to become. Ignatius wrote this letter in Spanish [Ep. 1:236-239].



          I recall having frequently told you and, when you were away, having often written, that each member of the Society should, when they write to us here, write a principal letter which can be shown to others; that is, to anyone at all. We dare not show some letters to friendly eyes who wish to see them, because of their lack of order and the irrelevant items they contain. Now, these friends are aware that we have letters from this one and that one, and they feel offended if we refuse to let them see these letters; thus we cause more disedification than edification. Quite recently it happened that I was put to considerable inconvenience. I had to show some letters from two of Ours to two cardinals who were personally interested in the contents of those letters. But because the letters also contained matters that were irrelevant to their business and were set down without order, it was hard to withhold what did not concern them.

         I must repeat what I have said before, so that we may all understand one another on each and every point. I beg of you, therefore, by the love and reverence of God our Lord, to see to it that your letter writing be directed to the greater service of His Divine Goodness and the greater advantage of our neighbor. In the principal letter put down what each one is doing regarding preaching, hearing confessions, giving the Exercises, and other spiritual activities, as God makes use of each for the greater edification of our hearers and readers. If the soil you are working be unproductive and there be little to write about, put down briefly something about health, your dealings with others, or such matters. Do not include irrelevant details but leave them for separate sheets in which you can write about letters received and the spiritual consolation they have given you, items of news, especially about the sick, business matters, and even some words by way of exhortation.

         I will set down what my own practice is, and I hope in our Lord will continue to be, in writing to members of the Society. It helps keep me from making mistakes. I write the principal letter once, putting down what will be edifying, and then I reread and correct it, keeping in mind that everyone is going to read it. Then I write it out a second time, or have someone else do it, for whatever appears in writing needs closer scrutiny than what is merely spoken; the written word remains as a perpetual witness that cannot be changed or explained away as is easily done with speech. Even with all this I am sure that I make mistakes and I fear I will do so in the future. Other details which would be irrelevant in the principal letter, or which might not be edifying, I leave for the separate sheets. In these sheets one may write hurriedly out of the abundance of the heart, with or without a predetermined order. But this should not be true of the principal letter, which should always show signs of care, so that it can be passed about to give edification.

         Everyone seems to have failed in this regard, and so a copy of this letter is being sent to all. I beg and beseech you in our Lord to write out the main or principal letter as I have here indicated and then, after looking it over, rewrite it; that is, it should be written twice, as I do with mine. In this way I am convinced that the letters will show greater order and clarity. In the future, if I notice that this is not being done for the greater union, charity, and edification of all, I shall be obliged to write you and command you under obedience to reread, correct, and rewrite every principal letter you send me. I do not want to have to answer to God for any negligence of my own in this matter, and I shall be satisfied with having done all that I could, though I should much prefer that you give me no occasion for so writing to you.

         I exhort you, then, as I am bound to do for the greater glory of God our Lord, and I beg of you by His love and reverence to improve your writing and to conceive some appreciation for it, as well as a desire to edify your brethren and your neighbor by your letters. Be assured that the time you spend at it—it can be put down to my account—will be spent in our Lord. It is an effort for me to write a principal letter twice, to give it some appearance of order, to say nothing of the many additional sheets. Even this letter I have twice written with my own hand; how much more, then, should each member of the Society do likewise? You have to write to one person only, but I have to write to everyone. I can truthfully say that the other night we counted the letters which we were sending to various places and found that there were two hundred and fifty. If some of you in the Society are busy, I am convinced that I am no less busy than any of you, and with poorer health than you.

         Up to the present I cannot praise a single one of you in this matter, yet I do not wish to find fault. If the copies of the letters from others which I send you seem to be arranged in some order and contain little that is superfluous, it is because, at no little loss of time, I have selected what is edifying, rearranging the very words they use, and cutting out those that are irrelevant, to give all of you some pleasure in our Lord and edification for those who hear them for the first time. So, again I beg you, by your love and reverence for the Divine Majesty, put your heart in this matter and get to work with all diligence; it will greatly contribute toward the spiritual progress and consolation of souls. Every two weeks write a principal letter, revised, and corrected, which, all told, will be really the work of two letters. In the sheets, where you have to write only to the individual who is to use them, you may be as long as you like. With God's help I will write all of you once a month without fail, but briefly; and more at length every three months, when I will send all the news and copies of all the letters I receive from Ours. Let us all, therefore, for the love of God our Lord, help one another. And do me the favor of bearing with me, and in some way lighten the heavy burden you have placed on my shoulders, to say nothing of other tasks that await me here: I mean works of piety and other spiritually profitable works. If I could do the work of ten, or if we were all together here in Rome, we would have more than we could handle. In case your memory fails, as mine does often enough, keep this letter or a digest of it before you when you write your principal letters.

         From Rome, December 10, 1542.

1 Pierre Favre was born in Villaret (Savoy), France, on April 13, 1506, and in 1525 went to study at the University of Paris. There he met Ignatius and, having made the Spiritual Exercises under the latter’s direction, joined him in his religious enterprise. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 30, 1534, and since he was the only priest among the first companions, it was he who celebrated the Mass in the crypt of Saint-Denis in Montmartre when Ignatius and group made their first vows on August 15, 1534. During his life as a Jesuit, Favre traveled widely, making the Society known in Italy, Germany, and Spain. He returned to Rome and died there on August 1, 1546. On September 5, 1872, Pope Pius IX confirmed the devotion paid to him in his native land and by apostolic decree declared that Favre was among the blessed in heaven.