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20. TO FATHER FRANCISCO DE BORJA

On Declining Ecclesiastical Dignities

 Rome, June 5, 1552

summary | text of letter  | footnotes


          Ever since Francisco de Borja resigned his title in May 1551, his cousin, Emperor Charles V, held it unthinkable that a former duke should remain a simple priest and, thus, in March 1552, he proposed to Pope Julius III that Borja become a cardinal. The pope immediately took to the idea and rumors soon spread through Rome. Ignatius heard the rumors but waited to see if they died of themselves or whether they would be confirmed. In the latter part of May the pope mentioned, in one of his consistories, that the emperor had suggested four Spaniards for the cardinalate, and one of these was Borja. Many of the cardinals expressed their happiness in having Borja join their ranks and mentioned this to Ignatius. The founder was at first disinclined that Jesuits accept ecclesiastical dignities, and so he prayed over the matter for three days. The result was that he was now definitely opposed to the idea and so he visited several cardinals and the pope himself. In speaking to his holiness Ignatius maintained that it would be for the greater service and glory of God if Borja were to remain in the humble position that he himself had chosen. The pope was persuaded by Ignatius' reasoning and the matter was dropped. These details are found in the letter written by Polanco on June 1, 1552 [Ep. 4:255-258], and mentioned by Ignatius in the letter below. Ignatius wrote his own letter to Borja on June 5, telling him of his reaction when he heard the news about the cardinal's hat, and what he did to prevent it being given him. He also asks Borja to write him and give his own thoughts on the matter. Ignatius wrote the letter in Spanish [Ep. 4:283-285].

IHS

          May the sovereign grace and everlasting love of Christ our Lord ever be our protection and support.

          With regard to the cardinal's hat, I thought that I should give you, for God's greater glory, what I myself experienced, and speak to you as I would to my own soul. When I was informed that it was certain that the emperor had nominated you and that the pope was willing to create you a cardinal, I at once had the impulse and the prompting to do all I could to prevent it, and yet, not being certain of God's will, as I saw many reasons for both sides, I gave orders in the community that all priests should celebrate Mass and those not priests to offer their prayers for three days for divine guidance, for God's greater glory. During this period of three days I reflected and talked with others about it and felt certain fears or, at least, not that freedom of spirit to speak out against the appointment and to try to prevent it. I said to myself: "How do I know what God our Lord wishes to accomplish?" Consequently, I did not feel entirely safe in speaking out against it. At other times, as during my usual prayers, I felt that these fears had disappeared. I repeated this prayer at different intervals, sometimes with these fears and sometimes without them, until finally, on the third day, when making my usual prayer, I came to a determination so final, so peaceful and free, that I should do all I could with the pope and cardinals to prevent it. I felt sure at the time and still feel so, that if I did not act in this manner I would not be able to give a good account of myself to God our Lord—indeed, that I would give quite a bad one.

          Therefore, I have felt, and now feel, that it is God's will that I oppose this move. Even though others might think otherwise and bestow this dignity on you, I do not see that there would be any contradiction, since the same Divine Spirit could move me to this action for certain reasons and move others to the contrary for still other reasons, and thus bring about the result desired by the emperor. May God our Lord always do what will be to His greater praise and glory. I believe it would be quite fitting for you to answer the letter on this subject which Master Polanco is writing in my name, and declare the intention and purpose with which God our Lord has inspired you and may now inspire you. Your opinion would thus appear in writing and could then be produced whenever it may be called for, leaving the whole matter in the hands of God our Lord, so that His holy will may be done in all our affairs.

          Your letter of March 13, will be answered in another letter. May it please God our Lord that your journey and everything else has met with the success we have hoped for in His Divine Majesty, and that you are now in perfect health of body and mind, as I desire and constantly ask God our Lord in my poor unworthy prayers, to the greater glory of His Divine Majesty. May He in His infinite mercy be our constant help and support.

          From Rome.

Footnotes