Saint Ignatius of Loyola - John Pollen




India, Africa and America

Regarded merely as a mission, the Irish expedition was certainly a failure: but the magnificent vigour and courage there displayed were to bring forth abundant fruit in more distant, but less inhospitable regions.

In this matter of missions it was with Ignatius, as with his Master. Neither went out in person to preach to the heathen, but both knew that such missions would become essential to the development of their work. In the Acts and Epistles we find missions regarded with enthusiasm; and in the scheme of Ignatius the reports and letters of the foreign missionaries are put forward as evidence, obvious even to the dullest, that the work of the order was according to the Will of God. In following their adventures we are also studying the manifestations of Ignatius's spirit and watching the results of his training.

Francis Xavier was, as we have heard, one of the earliest of Ignatius's companions, and most intimately and affectionately united with him. When the first companions were being sent on various distant missions, Ignatius at first kept Francis near him to act as secretary and, perhaps, to succeed him as General in case his own frail health should break down. Francis took part in the discussions which preceded the foundation of the Society. But before the papal approbation was granted, he had been appointed with Simon Rodriguez, at the request of King John III of Portugal, to evangelize the far-flung colonies of that country. Portugal was then the mistress of the seas. Her merchants had established trade routes southwards, first to the Canaries, then to the Cape, finally round to India; and now they were negotiating with China and Japan. The support of such a power promised access to mission fields of the greatest importance. So Mascarenhas, the Portuguese ambassador in Rome and an admirer of Ignatius, managed without great difficulty to obtain the promise of two Jesuits, who were to have been Rodriguez (already in Spain) and Bobadilla. But when Bobadilla was taken very ill just as Mascarenhas wanted to start, Xavier took his place. Two days later, March 16, 1540, he started for Lisbon, leaving behind him in a sealed envelope, his vote for Ignatius as General.

Francis reached Lisbon about June and, as had been the case with Rodriguez, made the happiest impression at court. His bright manly and good-natured talk made him a universal favourite, and the King wanted to keep both the Fathers at Lisbon and obtain new missionaries from Ignatius. But there were none to be had; so it was settled that Rodriguez should stay behind, and that Francis should sail with the next fleet that took out reinforcements and supplies to the Indian and East Indian garrisons and colonies. Starting on April 7, 1541, the fleet made a journey of what would seem to us unendurable fatigue and labour, not reaching Goa till May 6, 1542. But Francis rose manfully to the occasion, living and conversing with the men, and taking every means to fight against monotony, to keep them amused and occupied. He became everyone's friend; and according to Ignatius's idea, having "entered with them, he brought them out with himself," and kept numbers true to their religious duties, in spite of the multitudinous adverse influences.

Arrived in Goa he employed the first five months in establishing himself in that city, going about the streets with a bell to call the children to church, where he catechized, taught and formed them with excellent success. He also became well acquainted with the clergy, the governing class and the motley inhabitants of the town, which was henceforth to be the base of his operations. In October he started on the first of his four great missionary journeys, working southward down the Pearl Coast and eventually reaching Ceylon. His imagination was fired by the thought that Saint Thomas the Apostle had once preached here, and in imitation of apostolic simplicity, he led the most poor and strenuous missionary life, penetrating into the Indian towns and villages, leading their life and preaching in their language. Amidst many successes, he found also many a cross and obstacle, the bad example and vicious habits of some of the Portuguese being especially injurious.

From September, 1545, to December, 1547, he spent his time in evangelizing first Malacca and its neighbourhood, then the Moluccas. He was here more and more among the natives, sometimes shipwrecked, sometimes in danger of death from Mohammedan pirates, sometimes in hiding from native chieftains. But the more he was cut off from intercourse with civilization and its satisfactions, the more he abounded in the graces that came from intercourse with God. His yearning affection for Ignatius and his companions comes out in little flashes such as this: in circumstances where he was unable to take even a letter with him he would cut off the signatures of letters in his correspondence, and carry them on his breast. It was during this journey that he began to learn about the islands of Japan, and the knowledge gradually enkindled in his mind the desire of introducing Christianity among them. He found a Japanese, named Anger, on his return to Malacca in 1547, and set to work to learn the language from him. Finding, however, that his presence was needed at Goa, he promptly returned there, taking Anger with him.

Ignatius, impressed by the success of Xavier, had, from time to time, sent him considerable reinforcements. The Jesuit mission in India had been raised to the status of a province, with Francis Xavier as its first provincial; hence the necessity of his return to Goa, his base, to organize. During the years 1548–1549 Francis established a series of mission centres to carry on the work he had commenced, and he braced and encouraged the distant labourers by his long and detailed letters, many of which are still preserved. In June, 1549, having acquired some acquaintance with Japanese, Francis started for the Far East in company with one Jesuit priest, one lay brother and the Japanese catechist Anger. They landed at Kagoshima in Japan, on the fifteenth of August and were soon at work translating the principal articles of the Faith and other short treatises into Japanese. Then Francis began to preach and he made some converts. But this success so irritated the local bonzes, that they drove him out of the town. He wandered toward Meaco, and the centre of Japan, often persecuted by the bonzes and disturbed by the then frequent tribal wars and feudal contentions. Conversions were fairly frequent and were destined to increase rapidly in the not distant future.

After two and a half years in Japan, Francis was again recalled to Goa, where friction had arisen between those preaching on the missions and those working in the college. When these troubles had been allayed, Francis's heart was again on fire for a new field of labour. This time his mind was centred o China. During his work in Japan he had heard much about the Celestial Empire, and though much was still unknown to him, he well understood how wide a field it would afford for the propagation of the Gospel. Knowing something of the extreme exclusiveness of the Celestials, he applied himself energetically to find some method of introduction. At last it was agreed that he should sail as an ambassador from the Portuguese Viceroy of India, and that high official furnished him with all necessary credentials and commissions. Leaving Goa in April, 1552, he at last reached Sancian, a small island not far from Canton, beyond which, according to Chinese orders, the Portuguese trading vessels were not allowed to proceed. There had been various hindrances raised by the Portuguese traders at Malacca and elsewhere to this missionary journey, which they seemed to fear would make trade more difficult. At Sancian the difficulties arose again and a considerable delay ensued, though according to Francis's letters, his hopes of final success never wavered. At last, however, the symptoms of serious illness made themselves evident, and he was put ashore, as the rocking of the ship aggravated his malady. There, lying on the ground under a thatch of palm leaves, unattended save by one lay brother and an old Chinaman, with his eyes fixed on the distant mainland he had come so far to evangelize, the heroic missionary breathed his last, and the ten years work of Ignatius's greatest disciple were closed.

It was marvellous that one man should in so short a space have visited so many new countries, have traversed so many seas, and converted so many thousands of unbelievers. His body resisted natural corruption, which in those countries proceeds so quickly. It was carried back to Goa and received with triumphant veneration. Nor was this the only wonder associated with his name. Even during life there were reports of his miracles; it was attested that he had even raised the dead.

So long as exaggeration is avoided, it is not unfair to regard Francis as the model of what Ignatius would have become had it been his lot to preach the gospel. Francis was Ignatius's most apt pupil, and so nearly his second self that Ignatius recalled him to take his own place as General. The letter gave a mere intimation of the command, and was signed by Ignatius's initial only, and the Saint did not doubt that Francis's obedience would have been immediate, in spite of his enthusiasm for the missionary life engendered by successful preaching. But the missionary was dead before the letter arrived.

The virtue which Francis developed to such an extraordinary degree was faith. He realized most intensely what the value of each soul was in the estimate of the Redeemer Who had loved each, and delivered Himself to death for each. To bring souls to God thus became to Francis a passion. People were astonished at this university scholar, who, remaining full of admiration for all that was highest in his old Alma Mater, also devoted himself without stint to any passing wayfarer. He would strike up intimacies with all sorts of roughs and wastrels, and that merely to get them once more into the right way; then he was off again after like uninviting quarry, without even a thought of living on amid those who would be grateful to him. His achievement was vast, though he was also sometimes unsuccessful for a time, sometimes also mistaken in his calculations. Yet perseverance never failed, and wonderful successes were not infrequent. Ignatius was kept by Providence in Rome, at the head of disciplinary arrangements, training, encouraging, correcting, directing. While scrutinizing others, he was in turn ever scrutinized by his young disciples, and tested by the standards which youth respects, especially by correctness of discipline. Our memoirs of the older Saint are thus largely from those who once looked up to him as to a schoolmaster in matters spiritual, rather than from those who lived with and loved him with the simplicity of children, or the freedom of brothers.

In Francis Xavier we see the same training and the same rules develop in quite different situations and circumstances, amidst all sorts and conditions of men, and by preference amid strangers, heathens and the uncivilized. The fire of zeal was sure to burn more fiercely and openly in the second case, with far less preoccupation about appearances.

In this way the two men act each as the other's complement, and illustrate an ideal from very different points of view. Both Christ-like, we may recognize some trait of the likeness sooner or better in the one than in the other. But different though they are, the family likeness between them in certain features is also strongly marked.

We may now return once more to Ignatius as a director of missions. In 1547 he began a mission up the Congo, again at the request of the Portuguese. Its commencement was rather successful, but with the failure of the Portuguese to establish their colony firmly the mission weakened and was soon in difficulties. The expedition of Father Nobrega to Brazil in the same year was more felicitous. Father Anchieta, who followed three years later, turned out to be a missionary of the first rank and his life work of forty years still bears extensive fruit in Southern America.

In 1555 was begun the difficult mission of Abyssinia. Christendom had for long delighted in the legend of Prester John, the priestly King who had fought battles without number with the Moslem and other unbelievers, and whose realm remained a sort of out post of Christendom. The legend was as old as the crusades, and even older, and varied greatly in detail according to travellers of different generations. Gradually, however, it became identified with the history of the Negus of Abyssinia and lent enough glamour to his fortunes to draw out sundry fervent friars in the fourteenth century, to help to evangelize that country, so difficult of access while the Mohammedans held the Nile; so difficult to live in because of the endless tribal wars. Ignatius would no doubt have heard the legend in the days when he read the romanceros;  and now that the Portuguese traders were approaching the country by the Red Sea route, an appeal to him for missionaries awakened an old enthusiasm. He applied himself with energy to the preparation of a band of missionaries, and all Rome took up the cause with interest. The Pope created Father Nunez, the mission leader, a patriarch, and he had as many as ten companions, a large mission staff for those days. Ignatius died before any result had been obtained, and this was perhaps a mercy. For though the mission reached its objective and was eventually carried on, despite the endless wars, for two centuries, the first fruits were disappointing, missionary labour so often is.

Still the mission field must have brought much consolation to Ignatius's later days. Two of his sons died martyrs, Father Antonio Criminale and Father Mendez, in 1549 and 1552, and in both cases, martyrum sanguis semen ecclesiae  (martyr's blood, seed of the Church), the faith took firm root among the witnesses of their constancy. The letters from the missions, giving accounts of the apostolic labours and the apostolic harvest, were eagerly read in Europe, and brought the achievements of the infant "Company of Jesus" vividly before the minds of the rising generation. It was, broadly stated that the new Society had won as many souls for the Church, as Luther had wrested from her. Ignatius had certainly much to thank God for, before he died.