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FATHER GIOVANNI BATTISTA VIOLA
Rome, August, 1542
summary | text
of letter | footnotes
Father Viola1 was among the first Italians to enter the Society. In 1541
Ignatius sent him to Paris for further studies and to be, at the same time,
superior of the young Jesuits attending the university. Before Viola left for
Paris on October 14, 1541, Ignatius advised him that, since he would be
arriving several months after the school year had begun, it would be good for
him to spend his first months brushing up on his Latin and studying the S˙mulas
(the Summulae logicales of Peter of Spain), to be ready to begin his
studies the following year. But Viola, hoping to save time and thinking that
he was sufficiently prepared, immediately began his work at the university. In
the end he found that it was too much for him and that he had wasted his time.
During the summer of 1542 he wrote to Ignatius. Though his letter is not
extant, its contents are clear from Ignatius' response. Viola complained that
he had wasted eight months with his teacher and now he was asking Ignatius
what he should do. Ignatius approached the question from the viewpoint of
blind obedience. Viola lost time because he had not followed the instructions
he received before leaving Rome. The letter's date is probably August 1542,
and was written in Spanish [Ep. 1:228-229].
May the sovereign
grace and love of Christ our Lord be our never-failing help and support.
I received your
letter but I fail to understand it. In two different places you speak of
obedience. In the first you say that you are ready to obey me, and in the
second you say: "Because I would rather die than fail in obedience, I
submit to the judgment of your reverence." Now, it seems to me that
obedience seeks to be blind, and is blind in two ways: in the first it belongs
to the inferior to submit his understanding, when there is no question of sin,
and to do what is commanded of him; in the second it is also the inferior's
duty, once the superior commands or has commanded something, to represent to
the superior whatever considerations or disadvantages may occur to him, and to
do so humbly and simply, without any attempt to draw the superior to either
side, so that afterwards he can follow, with peace of mind, the way pointed
out to him or commanded.
Now, applying this
to your obedience, I am unable to understand it. For after you have given me
many good arguments to persuade me to approve another teacher, you tell me
elsewhere in your letter: "It has seemed good to me to write your
reverence to ask you kindly to let me know whether I should change teachers or
go on wasting my time."
You yourself can
judge whether you are seeking to obey, or whether you are submitting your
judgment to whatever decision I make. If you so abound in judgment of your own
and are convinced that you are wasting your time, where is the submission of
your judgment? Indeed, do you think that I am going to tell you to waste your
time? May God our Lord never let me harm anyone when I cannot help him!
In another place you
say: "I am truly sorry to have wasted these last eight months under this
teacher but, nevertheless, if you think I should go on wasting it, I will
continue with him." I recall that I told you, when you left here, that by
the time you reached Paris the course in the S˙mulas would have been
in progress for two or three months, and that you should start by studying
Latin for four or five months and then take the elements of the S˙mulas
for three or four months so that with this preparation you could begin the
regular course the following year. But following your own ideas rather than
mine, you saw fit to enter a course already two or three months in session.
Judge for yourself who is the cause of your wasting time!
I close asking our
Lord in His infinite goodness to give us the fullness of His perfect grace, so
that we may know His most holy will and perfectly fulfill it.
||Giovanni Battista Viola was born about 1517 and came
from Fornoli, near Parma, and entered the Society as a priest in
February 1540. He was the first superior of the Jesuits studying in
Paris and was the first rector of the new college founded (1550)
there. He died in Milan on April 19, 1589.