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To Father Nicolás Bobadilla

A Fraternal Correction Rome, 1543

summary | text of letter  | footnotes

          How well received was Ignatius' instruction asking that the principal letter (see letter #4) be written twice cannot now be ascertained. However, we do know how Nicolás Bobadilla1 reacted to it, not because his response has survived, but because Ignatius, in answering that now non-extant letter, quotes from it. Bobadilla was a man of great zeal, but in temperament he was unique. At the time he received Ignatius' letter (i.e., #4) he was attached to the papal nuntiature in Germany, but was at the court of Ferdinand I, King of the Romans. He was piqued when he wrote to Ignatius, to the degree that he felt it was a waste of time to write the principal letters with such great care and furthermore he did not have the time to read those long letters when they did arrive. He makes a caricature of Ignatius' expressions, extends the meaning of words beyond their obvious signification, and even quibbles about the address used. Sensing Bobadilla's irritation, Ignatius responds with gentleness, charity and, above all, humility. Ignatius' letter is a fraternal reproof, but it is full of affection and has nothing in it that could offend the recipient. In fact, it is one that must have made Bobadilla admit: "I've been ridiculous!" Ignatius responds to Bobadilla's objections, corrects his misinterpretations, and even injects some humor. Yet in doing all this Ignatius does not yield in the least. He tells Bobadilla that what he seeks is Bobadilla's perfection, and "some part of that consists in humbling yourself and in obeying him in whose hands you made your vow of obedience, especially in things that are in themselves good, or indifferent, or without sin." Ignatius informs his correspondent that in the future he will write to him the way he wants to receive letters, but Ignatius wants Bobadilla to write to him in the manner that Ignatius wants to receive letters. If Bobadilla has not the time to read Ignatius' letters, nevertheless, Ignatius says he has the time and finds joy in reading Bobadilla's. Bobadilla is now totally unarmed and defenseless. Ignatius even humbly adds that he is willing to yield the office of general to him or to anyone else. The letter contains no indication of the time it was written, but most probably it was about the middle of 1543.2 Ignatius' letter is in Spanish [Ep. 1:277-282].



          May the perfect grace and love of Christ our Lord be always in our help and favor.

          As I find myself by His infinite grace more disposed to humble myself on all points rather than defend myself on a few and as I think it will be to His greater glory, I have decided to make the most of the opportunity.

          1. Concerning the fraternal correction between us which I have had a mind to make for God's greater glory, you say that you understand my mind but that everyone will not accept it with your understanding and sincerity. I have all in mind—that is, the members of the Society—because it is for them alone that I have written. If, however, you should feel that some of them on receiving word on this point will not take what I have to say with your sincerity and simplicity of mind, I hope in our Lord that I will agree completely with each of them, to your and their complete satisfaction.

          2. You say that it is one thing to put something in writing and another to say it by word of mouth, and you insist that it would be impossible to make my palate the standard of taste for all. I remember having written that the principal letter should be gone over twice; that is, written once and corrected, then rewriting it or having it copied to avoid the untidiness of hurried writing, a fault into which I think some of Ours have fallen. If all of us were to do this—and myself the first as I think I have greater need—we should be a greater help to one another in the Lord. I did not want to say, nor do I say now, that, if one has used a certain expression, he should change it to another, nor that he should try to write with greater ability than he has. If I cannot add to my own low level of understanding, I could ill afford to try to raise that of others, seeing that it belongs to our Creator and Lord to give much or little. But I mean that each one should write the principal letter once, correct it and rewrite it or have it rewritten, and thus each one of Ours will be aided by the other. For neither I myself nor any other can give to another more than we have ourselves. But with this attentiveness and care each one gives in a better way what he has received from his Creator and Lord. It does not seem from this that I am aiming at exercising so widespread and detailed an authority as you think.

          3. You think it good enough to draw up a brief summary of your letter and have copies made of this, but not to send us a full account as we desire. You are well aware that I wrote to you, and that there is a general agreement among us, that in the principal letter there will be news of some edification, according to what God our Lord works in each for the spiritual good of souls; but if one wishes to give other information, such as bits of news, illnesses, or needs, he may write it at as great length as he wishes, but on separate sheets or in another letter.

          4. You observe that in the copy of the letter to you I had said Procuro de expedir mi tiempo: when I should have said expender mi tiempo. If you will look well at that letter, you will see in my own hand expender and not expedir. That may be explained by the fact that the one who transcribed my letter wrote expedir in place of expender, which I, relying on another, did not correct, as it was not a principal letter which could be shown to others. I am willing to acknowledge myself as guilty as you judge me to be in our Lord.

          5. With regard to the fault you find in the address on the letter I wrote you, which runs En el palacio del rey de los romanos, I admit writing that, thinking that you would be better known in the palace where you are a frequent caller than in the court at large, since that is coextensive with the city or town. But if there was a fault in writing de los romanos, I will say hereafter, En el corte del rey de romanos. If everybody laughed at that, as you say they did, I should think that, when you saw that some laughed, you would not have shown it to everybody. I will be very grateful to you in our Lord if you show them this letter also, for if I correct the one, I can also correct the others. This will be my lifelong desire, to be directed and corrected for my faults in the hope that the correction extend to all of them and be given with brotherly affection. I recall that I made this earnest request of all the Society from the time you made your profession. It was that, whenever any of you saw me in any fault, you would after prayer to God our Lord and, conferring with His Divine Majesty, inform me of my faults and thus help me to correct them in our Lord.

          6. You think that I should not be losing time in correcting details of so little importance, and that some who do not know me might think that I have nothing to do with my time. Do not lose sight of the fact that this matter of correspondence has been agreed upon among us after long discussion. Also recall that I have already written you at length, begging you to rewrite your principal letters twice in the manner I have described and to avoid the inconveniences I have already enumerated, and that, if you did not do so, I should be compelled, though much against my inclination, in view of the spiritual profit in general and the obligations of my conscience, to command you in virtue of holy obedience. You received my letters and answered with sufficient edification and contentment; but later, after the first few letters, you disregarded entirely the requests I had made so earnestly in our Lord and included in your principal letter much that was merely local news, all of which, coming in another letter or on separate sheets, would have given us all much gratification as being news of you. But the fact that you were suffering from a touch of skin irritation which was tormenting you should have been put on a sheet by itself, as we had often agreed, so that we could give to each a morsel according to his taste, and everything be for the good. Many friends and acquaintances who know that we have letters from some of the Society wish to see them and find great delight in them. If we don't show the letters when they ask, we estrange them; if we show them a disorderly letter, they are disedified. I am not so eager to correct the wording of your letters as I am for your perfection in general, and some part of that consists in humbling yourself and in obeying him in whose hands you made your vow of obedience, especially in things that are in themselves good, or indifferent, or without sin. Hence I am of the opinion up till now that giving a part of my time to this would be to the greater glory of God our Lord, and to the greater spiritual benefit of the Society. If you think otherwise, I will be able to conform to what you judge to be better in our Lord, because I do not think that I should be less the gainer in your company, in the eyes of His Divine Majesty, than I would be with anyone else in the Society.

          7. You say: "You think that everybody is edified with those copies of yours. I don't show many of them, nor do I read many of them. I haven't the time. Two letters could be made out of the superfluous matter in your principal letter." Indeed, I never thought that you would show them to everybody or that everybody would be edified. But I did think that you would show them to a few and that they for the most part would get some good from them, as up to this time all those to whom I have written this same principal letter think they have benefitted, unless I deceive myself from what they say in their letters. This holds true even of Dr. Ortiz3 and his brother Francis4 and Dr. Picart5 at Paris. As to your thinking my letters not worth reading for lack of time, I have by God's grace time and to spare and the inclination to read and reread all of yours. If it will make you read mine, I will make a real effort to follow your advice as best I can in the Lord and remove from my letters everything you think superfluous. This I will do also for the others to whom I have written who share your disapproval, if only you will let me know. For it would be a great mistake on my part to spend so much time and labor and succeed only in displeasing, without advantage to anyone.

          Therefore I beg you by the love and reverence of God our Lord to let me know the best way of writing you, whether I do it myself or with the help of a secretary, so that I may be sure to please you in every respect. In the meantime, as I do not know what course to take, I will await your letter, or I will have someone else write who will know better how to meet with requirements.

          Moreover, since you know my earnest desire, I beseech you by the same love and reverence of His Divine Majesty to do your very best in your letters to me, as I have so often asked you and do now once more beseech you in our Lord. If I cannot obtain what I so earnestly ask of you, it will be because I am wholly unworthy, or for any other reason you may entertain. On condition that the Society, or half of it, approves, I give you my vote, whatever it may be worth, and gladly and sincerely offer to turn over to you the office I now hold. Not only do I choose you, but if you think otherwise, I am perfectly willing to choose anyone you or any of the others may name. I am convinced that whatever would be thus decided would be for the greater praise, reverence, and service of God our Lord and to my own greater peace of soul in his Divine Majesty. For it is the very truth that, absolutely speaking, my desire is to have a lowly station and be without this weight of responsibility as long as I live.

          Thus always and in everything I wish to set aside my own poor judgment. I hold now, and hope that I shall always hold, as much better whatever you or the Society, or a part of it, shall determine. And this determination I here and now with my own hand approve and confirm.

          In the meantime I return to the subject of your own personal needs. You know that it is our profession to offer ourselves to be sent wherever the vicar of Christ shall think good and as he shall decide, without asking even for any provision for the journey. In speaking for others, I did not see anything wrong in calling attention to your needs there, so that in providing, or not, for your needs, they might do as seemed to them more for God's glory. Guided therefore by the contents of your letter to me, I spoke to Cardinal Santa Croce6 and also to Cardinal Morone7. If I were in your place, I would be quite satisfied with this, and accept relief for my needs from any who offered as coming from God's hand. If occasionally I was left in want, I would think that God was pleased to try me, to give me an opportunity for more merit in His greater service, praise and glory. But I don't see why I should enlarge on this point, as I think I have long known your spirit in our Lord.

          If I have delayed in writing you, it is because I did not know where you could be found. You spoke to me of taking the baths, and I did not know where you were going to stay.

          May it please God that this letter find you in perfect health, wherever you may serve Him best and praise His most holy name.

1 Bobadilla’s true name was Nicolás Alonso y Pérez, but is known as Bobadilla because it was there that he was born about 1509. He studied at Alcalá de Henares, where he earned (1529) a bachelor’s degree. He then taught logic at Valladolid and at the same time studied theology. He decided to go to Paris (1533) to study Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and there met Ignatius. As a Jesuit he proved to be a tireless worker: in Germany (1542-1548), in Italy (1548-1559), in Dalmatia (1559-1561), and again in Italy (1561-1590). He died in Loreto on September 23, 1590, the last Ignatius’ Paris companions.
2 Bobadilla was at King Ferdinand’s court in Vienna until sometime in January 1543, when he accompanied the king to the Diet of Nuremberg, arriving there on January 13. He may not have received the first letter (no. 4) until his return to Vienna. By the time Bobadilla’s response reached Rome, and with the delay mentioned in the present letter, it is very likely that Ignatius did not write his letter until mid 1543, or perhaps later.
3 Ignatius met Dr. Pedro Ortiz in Paris. In 1529 Ortiz went to Salamanca to teach Scripture and from the end of 1530 he represented Charles V’s interest in Rome against Henry VIII’s request for a divorce. Ortiz and Ignatius became close friends in Rome and Ignatius took him through the Exercises in 1538.
4 Francisco Ortiz was a Franciscan.
5 François Le Picart was a professor in Paris, an outspoken adversary against the Protestants, and a staunch friend of the Society. During the controversies at the Sorbonne, he defended the Society.
6 Marcello Cervini, the uncle of Roberto Bellarmino, was Cardinal of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. He was later elected pope on April 9, 1555, retained his own name as Marcellus II, and died the following May 1.
7 Cardinal Giovanni Morone was Pope Paul III’s nuncio in Germany, and when he was returning there in 1542, Bobadilla traveled with him. The cardinal later played a part in the founding of the Roman and German Colleges.