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Letter on 4th Centenary of Death of St Ignatius

by Pope Pius XII


This is Pope Pius XII's letter, written July 31, 1955, to John Baptist Banssens, the then-General of the Society of Jesus, to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Publisher & Date

Vatican, July 31, 1955

Beloved Son, Grace and Apostolic Blessing.

We have heard with great joy that the Society of Jesus, which you, beloved Son, have governed worthily for the past nine years, is beginning solemn celebrations in memory of its Holy Founder, the fourth centenary of whose death is approaching. In this way all your members will increase and be strengthened in the love of your Father and Founder and in a more perfect devotion to his Institute. We praise and encourage the centenary celebrations all the more because of the rich fruits that are expected to come from them, not only in the Ignatian family, but also in the souls of the faithful. For just as we said, for Our own comfort and for yours, in most cordial Apostolic Letters on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the Society: "With a grateful heart we recall the illustrious deeds that the Most Provident God hag wrought through your forebears and through you during these past four hundred years," so at present it is pleasing to bring this to mind again and to exhort you with fatherly affection to continue with most earnest endeavor, in spiritual matters especially, all the undertakings, the labors, the safeguards, which will, provide a suitable remedy for the unchanged arid increasing necessities of this our age.

We have been informed that all your Provinces through¬out the world have spontaneously proposed to celebrate this centenary year particularly in a more thorough and faithful study, and in a wider promotion, of the Spiritual Exercises of your Father and Founder. Indeed, St. Ignatius has left nothing more precious, nor more useful, nor of more lasting worth, as a heritage to his sons, than that golden book which, has constantly received the highest praise from Sovereign Pontiffs since Paul III, and from very many saints in the Church. If it is true, as Father La Palma says, that the Book of the Spiritual Exercises was the firstborn of St. Ignatius, it can equally be said that the saintly author was himself the first child of the Exercises. For it was those Exercises that enlivened his spirit, directed his first steps in the way of perfection, and gave him strength to choose a Divine King Who was worn out with labor, Who was loaded with insults, and Who suffered torments and death in the service of His Father. They enabled him to follow this King to the greatest heights of charity, so that burning with the flames of Divine Love, he wished to bring not only himself but the whole world to the feet of Christ Our Savior. Ignatius having experienced the tremendous force of the Exercises once testified that they contain "all the best means that I can think of, and feel, and understand, whereby a man may make progress himself, and bear fruit so that lie may be a help to the progress of others."

No wonder that your Holy Founder wished that all those should be tried in these Exercises who desired "to fight under the standard of the Cross, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church His Spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, Christ’s Vicar on earth." From the Exercises he himself had drawn new life. From them he wished his sons to imbibe the spirit that gave birth to the Society. That wonderful and holy fire of spirit, aroused by God’s grace working in the Exercises, would render them not only desirous, but eager and prompt to serve the divine glory and to take up strenuous labors to that end. Thus, forgetful of their own comfort, fleeing leisure, devoted to the practice of prayer that is fortified by the mortification of self, they would strive to attain the end proposed to them by the Society.

When Ignatius, by the faculty given him by Our Pre¬decessor of happy memory, Paul III, later drew up Con¬stitutions and gave them to his companions to observe, it was not his intention that dead laws should take the place of the living and life-giving law of interior love. After the foundation of the Society it was no secret what that statement meant: "to serve the Apostolic See in a special way" under the standard of the Cross. It was that Cross to which Jesus Christ fixed the decree against us which had been blotted out so that all men, freed from the power of the devil, might walk enlightened by faith and inflamed with charity. A clear precept sounded from Mount Olivet: "and you will be witnesses to Me . . . to the ends of the earth." Afterwards St. Augustine wrote: "Spread charity throughout the world if you wish to love Christ because the members of Christ lie throughout the world."

Ignatius himself was to see over a thousand of his companions fighting under the standard of the Cross, even in distant parts of Europe, America, the Indies and Ethiopia. This was indeed the beginning of that apostolate which will call his sons into the vast vineyard of the Lord: some to Missions among the infidels, which Sovereign Pontiffs, as years pass, will entrust to them, to be tended with arduous labor, with true knowledge, and even with the blood of martyrdom; others to work among the leaders of states, or among those who are forced to endure the hardships of slavery; others to schools for boys or to the chairs of Universities; others, finally, to give the Exercises to every class of men, or to enrich and enlighten the world of letters by their writings. It will be for the Constitutions to point the way by which, according to the Institute of St. Ignatius, the whole body and the individual members, dispersed indeed in every part of the world yet united among themselves and with their head by the same love of the eternal King, may reach that perfect form of life which is the most excellent fruit of the Exercises.

Beloved son, which of you during this centenary year will not hear that statement, once made by Paul, now by Ignatius: "Be ye imitators of me, brethren, and observe them who walk so you have our model." With God’s help there have never been wanting in the Society men of outstanding sanctity, who by their accurate observance of the Ignatian Exercises have preserved that model untarnished, and have derived the motive and the strength of will to live in exact accordance with the Constitutions, so that they reflect that more perfect model in themselves, and work as effectively as possible for the glory of God and the saving of souls.

Pius VII, of immortal memory, sought men of this kind when he wished to provide the bark of Peter, tossed by continuous storms, with skilled and strong oarsmen. Holy Mother Church asks the Society for workers of the same kind in these troubled times. Let present-day sons of Ignatius strive therefore to follow in their footsteps. Let them stand firm under the standard of the Cross to repel all the attacks of the rulers of this world of darkness. Let them always show exact and prompt obedience to superiors, and especially to the Sovereign Pontiff; this will be their most honored characteristic. Let love of poverty be opposed to worldly desires; a certain, austerity of life and unremitting labor to pleasure and ease. Let kindly and peace-making brotherly love towards one another and towards all men be opposed to the dissensions and. discords of the world. To "materialism" let there be opposed that most sincere and zealous faith that always recognizes, always reveres, God present in the world. If this should happily come about, the dead Ignatius will live again in his sons.

While We greet you with fatherly affection through these letters, beloved son, Our mind turns to those fathers and brothers who have suffered or who are suffering most bitter exile and extreme torments under the heavy hand of persecution. They are indeed most worthy sons, since they accord with the most illustrious memories and glories of the Society of Jesus. They are confessors of the Catholic faith, who bring the highest honors to their other brethren, and are an example to them. We pray that God may give them, strength, and We embrace them with loving solicitude. We also greet with fatherly affection all the sons of Ignatius, praying God that through the patronage of their Holy Founder and Lawgiver, under the protection of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, they may increase day by day in that virtue which will make them a strong instrument whereby all things will be rightly ordered, by the divine hand and will lead, happily to the greater glory of God.

As a testimony of Our special love for your illustrious Society of Jesus, We impart to you most lovingly in our Lord, beloved son, and to all the members entrusted to your care in whatsoever part of the world they may be, Our Apostolic Blessing.

Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s, on the thirty-first day of July, in the year nineteen-hundred and fifty-five, the seventeenth of Our Pontificate.

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