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42. TO FATHER ANTONIO SOLDEVILA

On Humble Amendment

 Rome, April 19, 1556

summary | text of letter  | footnotes


          Antonio Soldevila1 was a Catalan who, at the time of this letter, was at the college in Naples. He had gone to Rome in 1553 and had been studying at the Roman College, but not long after his arrival some of his eccentricities began to manifest themselves. He had a reputation for being a devout and deeply spiritual individual, but at the same time he was a man of his own ideas and stubbornly held on to them. At the Roman College he tried to lead some scholastics along a spiritual road that was foreign to that of the Society. The group assembled in a room, while the community was asleep, and there indulged in extraordinary practices of penance. As a result the health of these scholastics was manifestly injured and one, a most promising student, was almost driven mad. The matter was then brought to Ignatius' attention. Soldevila was given a public penance in the refectory and Ignatius was of a mind to dismiss him, but because of Soldevila's entreaties, he relented, and sent him to work in a hospital for a few months. When Soldevila returned he appeared to have set himself straight, and hence Ignatius made him minister of the house, and when it was time to send the first contingent of Jesuits to open a new College in Genoa, Soldevila was appointed rector. The college opened in October 1554 and, not surprisingly, he proved unsatisfactory as rector and within a year he was removed from office, ordered (August 1555) to Rome and then was sent to Naples. There too his independent character came to the fore; it was said of him "that he spent half his time worrying about his health, and the other half looking for ways to get around the superior's orders." Receiving word that Soldevila was again attempting to spread his bizarre opinions among members of the Naples community, Ignatius had Polanco write this all-too-clear letter to him to put a stop to it immediately. In Ignatius' view, Soldevila is patently disobedient, and since disobedience is like a pestilence that can destroy the entire college, either he is to leave the Society on his own, or he will be dismissed from it. Ignatius, however, is willing to give Soldevila a final chance, and if he is unable to acquire the spirit of the Society and live in humility and abnegation of will and judgment, then it would be better for him to go. Polanco's letter was written in Spanish [Ep. 11:275-277].

Jhus

          The peace of Christ.

          I could wish that this my first letter to you were concerned with matters of greater spiritual comfort than this is going to be, for him who is writing it as well as for him who is going to read it. However, it is not advisable to shirk this annoyance, to wait to see whether you will improve more than seems likely, especially if we are to judge the future by the past. And yet God our Lord is almighty, great in His grace, and it is His to set our hearts aright. The desire I have for the good of your reverence gives me some hope where there is little ground for it if we take a purely human view of the situation.

          We have been informed that you have not kept the promise you made to Father Madrid2 (not to mention others) of obeying like a dead body and signalizing yourself in this respect, after all the failures of the past, of which your memory together with your conscience, if you take the trouble to recall, will bear you frequent witness. For one who has found himself so often mistaken in his own judgment, it would be reasonable to accept and put into practice that saying of Solomon: Lean not upon your own prudence [Prov. 3:5]. For beyond the fact that we are to believe the scriptures and the dictate of reason, that no one is a good judge in his own cause, experience has taught you this to your own great cost. It seems to me that because you have studied what the logicians have to say of obedience, you have profited so much that both yourself and those who associate with you are apparently making yourselves out to be great interpreters and circumscribers of obedience, going about protesting that you have no wish to kill yourselves, and so on. Nothing could be worse than such teaching, or have a more pernicious effect on the union we aim at in the Society and the perfection of obedience which ought to be governed by charity. Like a pestilence, it will not take long to infect a whole college. This is properly the spirit of pride and makes shipwreck of the simplicity and magnanimity of obedience, and its end is voluntary apostasy or dismissal to prevent others from being infected. Nevertheless, in this matter the Society will have regard for the charity it can exercise toward individuals, without prejudice however to the general good.

          We are writing to the rector3 to see that obedience is observed, and that he make out a list of those with whom each of those who need to be curbed may speak. You will have yours. Be careful not to give those to whom you do speak the doctrine mentioned above, which shall not be at all tolerated in the Society. And look to a general repentance and amendment, taking care not to fall into the old difficulties you had at Rome and at Genoa. If you cannot acquire the spirit and way of the Society, it would be better for you to go. For the rest, you may see the rector to whom we are writing.

          May it please Christ our Lord to grant us true humility and abnegation of will and judgment, so that we may deserve to begin to be His disciples. Amen.

          From Rome, April 19, 1556.

Footnotes

1 Soldevila was born in Vilallonga, in the province of Tarragona, Spain, in 1522. While studying theology in Valencia, Jerónimo Doménech accepted him into the Society (1551). He then went (1553) to Rome. After his abbreviated term as rector in Genoa, he went to Naples and spent the remainder of his life there, dying on January 26, 1601.
2 This is Cristóbal de Madrid, born in 1503 in Daimiel, diocese of Toledo, Spain. He came to Rome (1540) as theologian to Cardinal Giovan Domenico de Cupis, and entered the Society in Rome (1550). He was made superior of the professed house in Rome and during Ignatius’ last illness, Ignatius placed the government of the Society into his care and also that of Polanco. Madrid was Italian assistant (1558-1565) and died in Rome on August 13, 1573.
3 The rector in Naples was Cristóbal de Mendoza. He was a Spaniard, born in Jerez, Andalusia, and entered the Society in Rome about 1545. He became rector of the college in Naples in the summer of 1555. On July 12, 1556, three months after the above letter to Soldevila, Ignatius again wrote to Mendoza saying: "As for Soldevila, it has already been decided what he ought to do. In the event that he does not amend, and you can tell him this most clearly, if he does not change within two months, the Society can no longer put up with his carryings on" [Ep. 12:114]. Mendoza died in Plasencia, Spain, in 1577.