Saint Ignatius of Loyola - John Pollen

Ignatius and the British Isles

One might have thought that with the eighth Henry on the English throne, and at the height of his religious tyranny, Ignatius would have despaired of doing anything for so distant a country, where there was no law except the despot's will and no protection for those who wished to serve their God as well as they served their king. It is also true that during Ignatius's life none of his sons were able to dwell in England or to work there. Still this was not from want of good will, nor from ignorance of how to begin, nor yet from fear of taking the initiative. It was want of means which made the beginning so difficult; and Ignatius had passed away before his order was sufficiently developed to address itself with adequate forces to the difficult and dangerous work.

The first steps, however, were taken quite early, even before the first approval of the Institute in 1540. Somewhere in the year 1539 there was living in Rome a strenuous old Scotchman by the name of Robert Wauchope, who was soon after made Archbishop of Armagh by the Pope and was probably even then the agent in Rome for the Primatial See of Ireland. As his name seemed to the Italians impossible to pronounce, they called him "the blind bishop," for he was exceedingly short-sighted. But while this disabled him for work in his own diocese during the time of persecution, he was active in urging the Pope to send thither missionaries better fitted for that dangerous vineyard, and even after the first mission had proved abortive, as we shall see, he continued to urge the dispatch of new men. Pope Paul III, on his side, had at once approved of the idea and, in truth, the power of Henry in Ireland was then still to some extent circumscribed by the English Pale and there was still what seemed like a good chance of a Catholic revival among the Irish, who lived beyond it. So the Pope and Cardinal Pole, without whose advice and assistance no work for this country was then attempted in Rome, asked Ignatius to find men for the mission; and he appointed Jean Codure, and Alonzo Salmeron, for whom draft briefs were expedited in March, 1540. Their instructions comprised good works of many sorts, from starting grammar schools and savings banks, to looking for good men to be bishops and reporting on the state of religion in general.

Then delays ensued. There was important Jesuit business to be attended to, of which we have heard; and Wauchope was sent with a pontifical mission to Germany. In April, 1541, the bulls were redrafted and amplified. Then Codure's health began to fail, and he died in August. His place was filled by Father Paschase Brouet, accompanied by Francisco Zapata of Toledo, a candidate for the Society, and the labour of the pilgrimage was to count for him as part of his novitiate. In September they began their long journey on foot. Ignatius wrote to Faber that they had started omnibus dimissis, a pregnant scripture phrase for apostolic poverty. Ignatius also drew up for them special instructions on the manner of life they were to follow.

Their prospects did not grow brighter as they proceeded. At Lyons they met Cardinal David Beaton, the Primate of Scotland, to whom they carried letters of recommendation; for they had expected help from him in Scotland, on their way round to the North of Ireland. These letters they now delivered, and he gave them the best advice that he could. It was not encouraging. Henry, he said, had of late much increased his power in Ireland, and, now held "all the towns, fortresses and castles, as well as nearly all the ports." So he frankly, advised them to give up their journey. Being foreigners, he thought that their efforts would be certainly unsuccessful. But the two Jesuits were not easily to be daunted and in spite of the bad omen continued bravely on their way. They saw the need, however, of great caution, and to avoid the keen eyes of English intelligencers in the Channel ports, they walked on to Flanders, whence they finally embarked for Scotland. The sea journey in December was boisterous and they had to run into English ports twice over. They were well aware of their danger, yet could not conceal the fact that they were foreigners. Finally, however, they arrived safely at Leith on the last day of the year 1541.

In Scotland almost everyone, even the Irish, confirmed the opinion of Cardinal Beaton. Among Henry's latest crimes had been the beheading of the old and venerable Marchioness of Salisbury, and in Ireland his activities had been equally lawless and violent. He had lately managed. to impose his yoke on the chieftains outside the Pale more effectively than any of his predecessors had done; and he had now taken the proud title of King of Ireland, whereas previous kings had been satisfied with the title Lord of Ireland, which Adrian IV had granted to Henry II. The Tudor power was therefore at its height, far greater than it had been when the mission was decided upon. We can very well understand why everyone advised the Fathers to go no further.

Still the missionaries were determined to go on, and Brouet went to Glasgow to arrange for a passage, while Salmeron remained at the court of James V. The Scottish King, to whom Paul IV had commended his envoys, issued to them letters of commendation, one to the O'Neill, the other to the lords and nobles of Ireland (February 13, 1542). He probably also sent with them as guide, Farquhar Farquharson, who eventually accompanied the travellers back to Rome. With his aid the two Jesuits landed in Ireland a week later.

The reality which they now experienced they found to be, "as bad as they had been told, if not worse." Henry was not only victor; he had forced the chieftains to acknowledge his spiritual supremacy, and they had almost all done so. There was no escape from his tyranny except by flight or concealment. It was quite in vain to undertake that work of ecclesiastical reformation which they had come to attempt, a work which can only be carried on where peace and justice are to some extent established.

The subsequent report of the nuncios names O'Neill, O'Donnell and O'Connell [Onell sic] as the greater Irish chiefs; but says that their power was much reduced. Only some wilder parts of Hibernia Silvestris  were still unsubdued and even they had small chance of permanently maintaining their liberty. The O'Neill was willing to see them in secret, but the nuncios did not think this becoming. They were sheltered by some "Nobles," who are called "Maculin, Ochen and others"; but nowhere were they safe. The picture they draw of the tribal and blood feuds, by which the power of the Irish was divided and wasted, is extremely dark. The excesses of violence and immorality to which these perpetual quarrels led, "could hardly be believed by any one who had not seen them." The evil was so great that the national character itself seemed to be injured.

There was indeed a brighter side to the picture. There were some courageous bishops (Christopher Bodkin, Archbishop of Tuam, and the Bishop of Kildare are specially mentioned) who kept true and would not desert their flocks. Also there were "honest, sincere, God-fearing men, devoted to the Apostolic See, who 'had not bent the knee before Baal,' and who received us hospitably 'as the manner of the country is,' who devoutly came to confession and communion to gain the indulgences we gave them.' But such souls were unfortunately few, "very poor, and scarce able to defend themselves, much less to protect us."

Under these circumstances, the only course for the Fathers was to withdraw from "the probable danger of a death which was not attended with the hope of gaining spiritual fruit." So after a sojourn of thirty-four days, and having given away all the money they had received as offerings, they made their escape back to Scotland, where their return had almost been despaired of. From Edinburgh on Easter day they wrote the report to Ignatius, and another copy to Cardinal Cervini, from which we have quoted.

After waiting for an answer and not receiving one, they began their return journey. If they had waited longer, orders would have come telling them to work in Scotland, but these they did not receive till they had reached Paris.

They then reconsidered the situation and resolved that it would be better to complete their journey and report to the Pope before undertaking this new commission. They left Zapata at Paris with the young men who were completing their divinity studies, and bent their footsteps Rome-ward. At Lyons they fell under suspicion. War with Spain had given birth to many rumours about Spanish spies, and the wayfarers were immediately haled to prison. Fortunately there were two Cardinals (de Tournon and Gaddi) then passing through the town, and when appealed to, they immediately explained the situation. The prisoners were soon freed and, as it had now been settled to give them fresh work of some importance in Rome, they were provided with horses and completed their journey with greater ease and expedition than they had commenced it.

So ended an episode, the failure of which came from the extraordinary vigour of Henry's tyranny. It is not that he was the only sixteenth century tyrant. On the contrary, people submitted to Henry because practically all people then lived under tyranny. It was in degree that Henry exceeded. Others as well as he usurped and exercised the power of forcing consciences. A. new article was foisted into the creed, Cuius regio, ejus religio. (Let the Lord of the land be arbiter of duties to God.) In England and Ireland the disguise was a little better. The sovereign compelled men to give him the headship which the Church at large acknowledged in the Pope; and he did this with such violence that none could resist. Practically no one dared to consort with the envoys from Rome, and no immediate remedy for this evil could be devised.

On Ignatius's side, however, we recognize all the conditions requisite for success under more usual circumstances. What constancy, what goodwill, do not these men show; what superiority to danger and difficulty, what labour, what high principle! Under our present circumstances we can never be insured against all failure: but we feel where so many conditions for success are to hand, the results will not be often disappointing.

Ignatius had drawn up three papers of instructions for his envoys. One has been alluded to, the second contained points in preparation for the journey, the third was on "conversation and negotiation in domino." Unfortunately more space than we can afford would be needed to make them clear to the average reader; for they presuppose a training in the language and ideas of Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises, and also in the terms of the old Canon Law, which are not familiar now. Still, a few headings may be considered.

One point much insisted upon is the practice of Apostolic poverty by the envoys. Though they might travel at the Pope's expense, the money was to be carried and dealt out by Zapata; and when they arrived at the scene of their future labours, they were for a while actually to beg their bread, and they should begin by so doing. One thinks of Tetzel, and his disastrously easy receipt of alms but a few years before. One remembers also the fees which legates and nuncios required on occasion of the exercise of their faculties, and the complaints which this had occasioned for many generations back. One sees that a remedy, and a somewhat heroic one, was to be applied, though in fact nothing of the sort proposed could then be practised.

Begging in this way was familiar in the Middle Ages, though it sounds strange enough to us now. Another feature which may be thought remarkable by those who know how strongly Ignatius insisted upon obedience, is that here he appointed no definite superior, and he ordered that doubts as to the line to be followed were to be solved semper ad plures voces, "always by the greater vote." Perhaps he thought the authority of one over two others, too restricted to secure good discipline for the group. In the event, the experiment in "government by consent" worked well, and in his willingness to try it, Ignatius gave evidence of his adaptibility.

Ignatius's points "for conversation and negotiation in domino," while full of characteristic touches, are not easy to render into modern English, because he so often sums up in a word or two, some special line of thought which can not be readily grasped except by those familiar with The Exercises. Thus their translator must often expand and paraphrase in order to make his work intelligible.

If you want to negotiate for Christ, says Ignatius, learn a lesson from the devil, who, by his cunning, manages to negotiate even with good people, about actions to which they; are really quite averse. How does he do that? "He begins with  the person tempted, and ends with  himself." If his proposed victim is soft and sluggish, he begins with thoughts of ease, slides off to those of fleshly comfort, and so in turn proposes and negotiates about sinful pleasure. If the person tempted has self-respect, he may begin with some punctilio of honour, branch off on to what is irritating, and work around till he is negotiating on the subject of pride.

Fas est et ab hoste doceri. For Christ's sake employ the same method to attain a good end. Study first the nature of those you deal , with. Be gay and fresh with the young and vivacious; be grave and steady with the older and more sedate, always praise what is laud able; and this semper ad bonum, always aiming at eventual good. If you gain their love, you will be able to lead them to the good you have in view. You will come in their way and go out your own.

"With those who are sad, and under trial, be gracious, speak freely and fully, and show cheerfulness of heart and countenance. This will counteract their dominant sentiment ad majorem edificationem et consolationem."

"In all conversations, but especially in composing quarrels, and in spiritual conferences, be on your guard; accounting that everything said may be, or will, become public."

"In expediting business, be liberal of time. That is to say, if you promise for to-morrow; to-day, if possible, let it be done."

The last point forms an amusing comment on the weakness of Ignatius's countrymen, whose besetting sin is said to be summed up in the word manana, "to-morrow, to-morrow, and to-morrow."

Ignatius's first efforts for England ended unsuccessfully, but he did not give up the idea of assistance. He kept closely in touch with Cardinal Pole; and this not only for his own sake, but also because it was more or less certain that, when the Holy See should resume negotiations with England, Pole, would be y the intermediary. When at last at Queen Mary's accession, the Cardinal actually started as legate, Ignatius again endeavoured to impress upon him the value of the service which the college in Rome could offer to England. This college, popularly known as the Germanico, had lately been founded for training priests to labour in Northern Europe. Ignatius urged that English scholars should be sent over to Rome, to be trained for the priesthood. The future was to show that the means proposed were of even greater importance than either as yet foresaw. It was, no doubt, only the unexpected brevity of Pole's mission which prevented his making use of Ignatius's offer.

Nor was it Pole alone whom Ignatius addressed in his desire to send his religious subjects to work in Britain. He approached Philip II through the Jesuit Fathers then in Flanders; and besides, he ordered prayers for England throughout the Society. "We have ordered prayers everywhere, and by many posts," he wrote to Pole, "and we are sure that it was not the evil will of the people, but the malignity of the rulers, which has been the cause of the late troubles."

Ignatius was earnest in his desire to send preachers to England at once, but Pole and the Spaniards moved slowly, and it was only when Mary was dying, and Philip was sending the Count of Feria as a special ambassador, that Father de Ribadeneira went to England as his chaplain. But this Father had little or no scope for action. The only extant letter from him gives us no details of the great changes then taking place, though in his later printed books this talented writer does give the story in brief. On the other hand the Conde, afterwards Duke of Feria, played an important though, under the circumstances, not a very effective part in the great change; his dispatches are full of detail and deeply interesting. The prayers which Ignatius ordered for the conversion of England are continued to the present day, but they are now said not for England alone, but for "The conversion of Northern Nations."