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FATHER GASPAR BERZE
Rome, February 24, 1554
summary | text
of letter | footnotes
Gaspar Berze1 was a missionary in India who, never thinking of
himself, wore himself out for the good of souls. In April 1552 Francis Xavier
appointed him rector of Saint Paul's College in Goa, and vice-provincial.
Having heard that Berze's health was far from what it should have been,
Ignatius wanted to rein in that excessive zeal of his and, thus, he directed
Polanco to write this letter, instructing Berze to moderate his penances, and
in the matter of his health to place himself under the care of someone of his
own choosing. In addition, since the Europeans were greatly interested in
learning about exotic lands, Ignatius asks him to write about India—the
land, and its flora and fauna. Unknown to Ignatius, however, as this letter
was being drafted, Berze had been dead four months. Berze suffered an attack
while preaching and had to be carried from the pulpit; he lingered for twelve
days and then died on October 18, 1553. He literally worked himself to death
in the vineyard of the Lord. Polanco composed this letter in Spanish [Ep.
The peace of Christ.
My dear father in
May the grace and
peace of Christ our Lord be present in evergrowing measure in our souls.
I did not think that
we would be writing more than we have already done for this sailing,2
but we only recently received a letter from Portugal, written in Goa,
concerning your reverence's illness, and the work you continue to do in spite
of it, preaching and so forth. Our Father has thought it best to write this
letter to your reverence, to inform you, as coming from him, that such action
on your part does not seem wise, nor is it something that can long endure.
Though he is much edified by your holy zeal and love of mortification, he does
not think that it is seasoned with that salt which God our Lord looks for in
every sacrifice, namely, a reasonable service [Rom. 12:1], such as
Saint Paul wishes to see in those who offer themselves to God our Lord.
There are two
drawbacks in dealing with yourself so severely. The first is that without a
miracle your reverence will not last long in the holy ministries you
undertake; rather, death will tie your hands. Or you will become so ill that
you will no longer be able to continue them, which would be to put quite an
obstacle in the way of God’s service and the help of souls, in which works
you could, with better health, employ yourself for many years to come. The
second is that, being so harsh with yourself, you could easily come to be
excessively so with those under your charge. And even though you give them no
more than your example, it must result in making some of them run too fast,
and especially so among the better of your subjects.
In a word, our
Father recommends moderation to your reverence. He would not have you preach
when you are ill unless your physician says that such exercise will do you no
harm. Since in your own cause your reverence might doubt just where moderation
should begin, it would be good to choose someone who is living with you in Goa,
or someone who accompanies you, who should have authority over you in the
matter of food, sleep, and the amount of work to be undertaken. You should
obey him in the Lord on all these points. We have made use of such means here
in order to control the activity of some of the outstanding men of the Society
and who hold important positions in it. This should suffice for the care of
people in the city, who read with great profit to themselves the letters from
India, usually wish, and on various occasions have asked, for something to be
written about the general cosmography of the countries to which Ours are sent.
They would like to know, for instance, the length of the days in summer and
winter, when summer begins, whether the shadow falls to the left or to the
right. In a word, they would like information about anything that appears
extraordinary, such as unknown animals and plants, their size, and so on. And
this sauce for the taste of a certain innocent curiosity in man can be sent in
the letters themselves, or on separate sheets.
And since we have
observed in persons of quality and understanding that this exerts a very good
influence on them, it will be good if, in the letters which can be shown to
those outside the Society, less time is spent on those things which concern
members of the Society and more given to matters of general interest.
Otherwise the letters cannot be printed here without considerable editing. It
is true that what concerns members of the Society will have more edification
for our own members here; but this can be taken care of separately, if in the
latter case they miss the mark, some remedy can be applied here, though it
will cause some inconvenience. But the former cannot be supplied by us here.
Your reverence can see to it that the members of the province write as
For other matters I
refer you to the other letters, and I will say no more here than that in this
house, the Roman College, and the German College, we are all well by God’s
grace. May Jesus Christ our God and Lord, who is the health and true life of
the world, give us the health and life that is interior. Amen.
From Rome, February
||Berze was a Lowlander, having been born in Goes, in
Zeeland, in 1515. He studied at Louvain, served in the army of Charles
V, then exchanged his soldier’s uniform for the garb of a hermit at
Montserrat. He then left to go to Portugal and entered the service of
the royal treasurer. While at court he met Simão Rodrigues, who
eventually led him through the Exercises and accepted him into the
Society on April 30, 1546. Berze was ordained before the end of that
year, and shortly afterwards was assigned to India, where he imitated
Francis Xavier, not only in apostolic zeal but also in holiness.
||Polanco had written three letters to Berze
under the date of December 24, 1553, and since there were no ships
going to the East at the time, the letters had not yet left Italy.