On the occasion of the third centenary of the canonization of Saint Ignatius and Saint Francis Xavier. Apostolic Letter to Rev. Fr. Wladimir Ledochowski, Superior General of the Society of Jesus.
Beloved Son: Health and Apostolic Benediction.
As We ponder at the very beginning of Our Pontificate how to promote the greater good of Holy Church at home, and how to extend its influence and growth abroad, for this is one of the chief duties of Our office, by a fortunate coincidence, the memory of Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier, and those other Saints on whom, three centuries ago, the honor of canonization was conferred is being marked with impressive ceremonies.
Ignatius was given to the Church, the Spouse of Christ, by the bountiful goodness of God, to assist her as 'she was entering a new and critical epoch in which she was called upon to engage in a most perilous conflict Xavier was endowed with so many splendid gifts of the Holy Spirit and labored with such untiring energy to spread the light of the Gospel, that he might seem to have inherited the virtue and zeal for which the first Apostles were distinguished.
But those perilous times in which Ignatius supported the Church have not yet passed, since from them as from a root almost all of the evils of our own time have sprung. Moreover, today, as never before, "a door has been opened … great and evident" for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially in those lands where Xavier labored. For these reasons it has seemed good to Us, beloved son, to send you this letter in praise of your Father and Founder and of his most distinguished son, both for the benefit of your own Order and for the inspiration of all, it being of the highest importance that the Christian religion should flourish more and more by the principles and teaching of Ignatius, and that the Faith should be revived and spread under the leadership of Francis.
To excel in every kind of virtue is required of all who attain to the honor of sainthood by the authentic decree of the Church. However, as "star differs from star in glory" " so too saintly men, because some excel in one virtue, others in another, are distinguished one from another in marvelous variety. Thus, if we contemplate the life of Ignatius, our admiration is first aroused by his magnanimous spirit and his insatiable zeal for always promoting the greater glory of God. But since it was not in his power to engage in every kind of sacred ministry or to fulfill all the duties of Christian charity for the salvation of souls, he drew to himself a band of resolute and eager companions, to be an ever-ready fighting force to extend the Kingdom of God among Christians and barbarians alike. Again, whoever will look more deeply into this matter, will readily observe in the Saint a most remarkable spirit of obedience; he will note that this was a special gift of God to Ignatius: to lead men to practice the same virtue with greater intensity.
Now it is quite well known into what kind of a world it was the lot of Ignatius to be cast. It is no less evident that the principal cause of all the evils by which the Church was afflicted during all that furious tempest in the affairs of men was, in great part, the refusal of men to serve and obey Almighty God. Chief among those who refused this duty of obedience were men who claimed for every individual the right of private judgment in the matters of divine faith, obstinately rejecting the authority of the Catholic Church. But besides these who thus rebelled, there were a great many others who, if not by open heresy at least by their actions, had evidently cast off the yoke of Christ their God, for they lived more after the manner of pagans than Christians, just as if, with the revival of classical studies, something of the ancient paganism had also been revived. Nay, we may even claim if that unbridled license in thought and morals had not then infected Christian society like some widespread plague, the heresy of the Reformers would never have broken out in the body of the Church.
Consequently, because reverence for God's law had almost disappeared, not only among the Catholic laity but in the ranks of the clergy as well, and because the rebellion stirred up by the Reformers was tearing many peoples from the bosom of Mother Church on account of the breakdown of discipline, there went up from every faithful soul to the Divine Founder of the Church an appealing cry to be. mindful of His promise and come to the aid of His spouse in this time of dire need. God did indeed send aid in His own good time, and in wonderful wise when the Council of Trent was convoked. Besides, for the consolation of the Church, He raised up those illustrious exemplars of every Christian virtue - Charles Borromeo, Cajetan of the Theatines, Anthony Zaccaria, Philip Neri, Teresa, and others - who gave proof by their lives that sanctity would never fail in the Catholic Church, and who by their teaching, writing, and example, checked the godlessness and wickedness that were spreading everywhere. One and all they did in fact labor, and with great fruit. But as the hidden source of the evils had to be torn up by the roots, Ignatius was the one who seemed destined in the designs of God to undertake the task. First of all, he was endowed by nature with a disposition both to command and to obey. The discipline of army life strengthened this faculty from boyhood on, and being so trained, as soon as enlightened from above, he realized that he was called to promote the glory of God by saving souls, it is amazing with what eagerness and resolution he surrendered himself to campaign for the King of Heaven.
It was for the purpose of making a proper beginning in this new warfare that he spent a whole night in a vigil of arms before a shrine of the Blessed Virgin; shortly after that he was instructed by the Mother of God in the cave of Manresa how he must fight the battles of the Lord, and received from her hands a perfect manual of arms—for certainly we can call it such—one that every true soldier of Jesus Christ can well follow. We call it the Spiritual Exercises, reputed to have been given to Ignatius from heaven. There are indeed other forms of exercises of real merit that are in use by others; but in the Exercises made according to the Ignatian method, the matter is so skilfully arranged, all the parts are so closely connected one with another, that provided one does not resist divine grace, they effect the complete renewal of a man and bring him into perfect submission to the will of God. When, therefore, Ignatius had thus equipped himself for his work by these Exercises, he took care to use the same means to train those whom he had enlisted in his Company. For he wanted them to set the example of obedience to God and His Vicar, the Roman Pontiff, and to practice that virtue as the distinguishing mark of his Society. He not only ordained that his sons, as a sacred duty, should renew their fervor of spirit chiefly by the use of these Exercises, but he armed them for all time with this same weapon to be employed in bringing back men whose will had become estranged from the Church, thus rendering them subject to the dominion of Jesus Christ. History bears faithful witness, and the enemies of the Church do not deny it, that the Catholic world, thus fortified by this most timely assistance of Ignatius, began at once to breathe again. It would not be an easy task to record the other great and glorious deeds accomplished for the glory of God by the Society under the rule and leadership of Ignatius. You might see his intrepid companions victoriously beating back the bold attacks of heretics, and intent on the reform of corrupt morals everywhere. They restored discipline among the clergy where it had collapsed, and they brought countless souls to the very height of Christian perfection. In addition to this, many others devoted themselves to training the young in piety and educating them in the fine arts, hoping thereby to form a truly Christian people for the future. Without ceasing they labored with marvelous zeal to convert unbelievers to the Faith and thus extend the reign of Jesus Christ by ever new conquests.
We have written all this gladly and willingly, because it furnishes proof of God's loving providence over His Church and because a like opportunity exists today in these unhappy times in which We were raised to the Chair of St. Peter. If We seek for the origin of the evils from which the human race is suffering today, We must admit that they undoubtedly sprang originally from the revolt against the divine authority of the Church started by the Reformers. Moreover, this rebellion was greatly augmented by the revolution and general disorder in the eighteenth century, when the rights of man were so brazenly asserted, and now has reached its logical consequences. We see how human reason is exalted beyond all measure. Whatever exceeds man's power to understand, whatever lies beyond the sphere of the purely natural, is scorned and rejected. Both in public and private life God's holy laws are reputed as worthless. But if you put God out, who is the very head and fount of all authority, it naturally follows that no human power will be held sacred, nor will there be any authority extant. Consequently when the divine authority of the Church is repudiated the very foundations of civil authority are seen to totter and fall; for, as man's wild and insane passions gain sway, all the Laws of human society are overthrown with impunity. We maintain that no other remedy can be applied in these times to the wretched and demoralized condition of human society except to bring the people back to the worship of God and submission to His will. All good and virtuous men desire this. Through all the numberless changes of time and fortune man's just and highest duty does not change, which is to render homage to the sovereign Creator and Preserver of the universe, and obediently submit to His will. Whenever men fail in this duty they must quickly repent if they would repair the ruin and escape the flood of misfortunes that afflict them. For the rest, the whole of Christian life can be summed up in this one virtue of obedience. In fact, the Apostle Paul seems to imply as much when with admirable brevity he describes the life of the Divine Redeemer of mankind in these few words: "He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a Cross." "For just as by the disobedience of the one man the many were constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the One the many will be constituted just."
Now the Spiritual Exercises do wonderfully help men to get back to a life of obedience; if the Ignatian plan is followed, it leads infallibly to perfect submission to the law of God, established on the eternal principles of nature and divine faith. Wherefore, desiring that the use of the Exercises may spread daily more and more, and following the example of many of Our predecessors, We have not only again recommended the Exercises to the faithful in Our Apostolic Constitution Summorum Pontificum, but We have designated St. Ignatius of Loyola heavenly patron of all Spiritual Exercises. For although, as We said, there are not wanting other methods of conducting retreats, nevertheless the Ignatian method certainly excels among them and has enjoyed a more abundant approval of the Apostolic See, for the reason that it gives greater hope, supported by experience, of more solid and lasting fruit. If therefore, faithful will make more frequent and diligent use of this instrument of sanctity, We can confidently hope that the passion for unbridled license will soon be checked, and with the return of obedience and respect for duty, human society will at last enjoy the blessing of peace so ardently longed for.
What We have said until now has had particular reference to the internal welfare of the Christian community. What We would like to say, but more briefly, about Francis Xavier, refers rather to the Church's external growth, although it is also intimately connected with the plan and work of Ignatius which We have just praised. He found Xavier wholly absorbed by the follies that gain glory from the world, and in the briefest time he brought about such a change in him by his spiritual direction that he was able to send him to the farthest East, not as an ordinary missionary but as an apostle. Now this amazing conversion of the man can only be attributed to the power of the Exercises. Recall his journeys by land and sea over vast stretches of territory; he first introduced the name of Christ into Japan, which We may well call the island of martyrs. Recall the frightful dangers he endured and the incredible labors he sustained. Then, too the countless converts on whom he poured the saving water at the baptismal font, and finally the numberless miracles of every description that he worked. Next to God, Francis in his letters gave credit for all this to Ignatius, whom he used to call the "father of his soul"; for by the Exercises in retreat Ignatius had filled him with an all-absorbing knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. We must indeed extol the kindness and wisdom and providence of God who by means of the Spiritual Exercises alone, and at the time when the Church was grievously distressed by internal troubles and suffering immense losses of whole peoples, gave to the Church at a most opportune time those two defenders—one to restore internal discipline, the other to retrieve the losses of the Church by winning over those distant nations to the faith of Christ. After the long interval of time since the Apostles, Francis appears to have been the first to repeat their deeds. Not only did he, by his sweat and toil, convert many barbarous peoples and lead them to a holy life by his own practice of heroic virtue, but he established them most solidly in the Christian faith and opened up to Catholic missionaries vast regions that hitherto had been closed on every side to the preaching of Christianity. Moreover, he left to those first companions, as might have been expected, the inheritance of his spirit; and We know that even to this day they have not degenerated from his virtue but have guarded, that sacred inheritance with the greatest care. Then, too, the recollection of the memory of Francis Xavier has ever since his time been an inspiration to other preachers of the Gospel. In consideration of this and by virtue of a solemn decree of this Apostolic See, he has been declared the heavenly patron of the pontifical work the Propagation of the Faith.
Our own times bear a resemblance to those of Xavier in that the ancient Faith, while being abandoned with pride and scorn by many of our own people, tends to turn to other nations that are eagerly thirsting for it. As evidence of this We are regularly informed by the letters of missionaries that the harvest of souls in the remote fields of Africa and Asia is almost white for the reapers. This will make up for the losses which the Church is sustaining in Europe. Add to this that the faithful are showing themselves much more eager than ever before to promote the spread of the Gospel. It is therefore our most earnest desire that this spirit of zeal, evidently aroused and inspired by divine grace, should be kindled everywhere, by pointing to the example of Xavier and by begging his prayers that through his intercession "the Lord of the harvest may send forth laborers into His harvest," and that every devout Catholic may assist in this work by prayer, nor yet withhold the help of material aid.
Now, therefore, We exhort you, beloved sons, one and all members of the Society of Jesus, that on this solemn occasion you recall the memory pf your Father and Founder and his eldest son, your brother, and that following their example you may continue unceasingly your meritorious work for the Church, thus increasing the influence of your Institute that has so often been honored by this Apostolic See with highest praise.
And now We would have you gather a twofold fruit from this solemn centenary. The first is that you strive more and more every day to gain the benefits of the Spiritual Exercises for yourselves and for other souls. We know that you have already undertaken the work with the happiest results and that you are laboring with remarkable zeal for the working class. It is desirable that you devote your labors with like success to all other classes of society.
The other fruit of this celebration should be an increase in your work for Catholic Missions. We are well aware of your extraordinary zeal and activity in the Mission field. Your missionaries to the number of two thousand are distributed over some forty Missions among infidels, yet We beg God most fervently that He may intensify and foster more and more your marvelous zeal.
And that what We have written may redound to the greater glory of God, to the advantage of Holy Church, and to the salvation of souls, We impart to you, beloved son, and to all the members of the Society of Jesus under you as General, the Apostolic Benediction as a pledge of heavenly favor and assurance of Our fatherly affection.
Given at St. Peter's, Rome, the third day of December, on the Feast of St. Francis Xavier in the year 1922, the first year of Our Pontificate.
PIUS XI, POPE