Companions of Jesus

in the Kirishitan Era in Japan (1/6)
- The Fresh Spirit of Ignatius -

Satoru Obara, S. J.
Tokyo: Sophia University, Kirishitan Bunko, 1994

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St. Ignatius of Loyola, Founder of the Society of Jesus
St. Ignatius Loyola

1. The Union with God and Dispatch

On September 27, 1540, Pope Paul III signed the Bull Regimini militantis Ecclesiae, establishing the Society of Jesus. Before that King John III of Portugal had repeatedly petitioned Pope Paul III for the dispatch of Jesuits to the East Indies, which were under his protection. In compliance with the wishes of the Pope, Ignatius picked two, Simao Rodrigues and Nicolas Bobadilla, from the group of only six Jesuits in Rome at the time, and another two had already been chosen to go to Ireland and Scotland. Rodrigues then fell ill and, being unable to go to Lisbon on foot, left for Lisbon by ship. Bobadilla was to leave Rome for Lisbon on March 15, 1590, at the latest. However, he returned to Rome from his missionary work in Calabria on March 14, one day before the date of his scheduled departure. Furthermore, he was ill with fever and it seemed impossible for him to travel to Lisbon, to say nothing of the Far East. Ignatius, who was also sick in bed, called Francisco Xavier and instructed him to go instead. Ignatius had complete trust in Xavier; they had worked together from the very beginning, prayed together in the Spiritual Exercises, and taken their vows together at Montmartre. Xavier replied, "Pues, sus! Heme aqui (Surely, right away. Here I am)." His words are reminiscent of the prophecy of Isaiah: "I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?' And I said 'Here I am. Send me!'" (Isaiah 6:8-9).

Xavier made and left his three memoranda within a few days before his departure: one affirming his approval of the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, which would be signed by the Pope and set out later; a second affirming his obedience to the Father General of the Society of Jesus, who would be chosen later; and the third nominating Ignatius for the position of General, with Pierre Favre as second choice in the event of Ignatius' death. Xavier, wearing a humble cassock and with only his diary in his hand, left for Asia and never returned to Europe again.

So it was that, before official approval of the foundation of the Society of Jesus had been granted, and before the promulgation of the Constitutions, Xavier was sent by Ignatius to serve for the 'Greater Glory of the Lord'. He had no hesitation in his new mission, because the entire essence of the Society of Jesus was based on the Spiritual Exercises.

According to the Papal Bull, "the essential aim of founding the Society of Jesus is for Jesuits . . . to be engaged in giving sermons and proclaiming the words of God; to conduct various spiritual exercises; to put Christian charitable works into practice; to teach the words of God especially to children and illiterate people; to encourage Christians by confession and other sacraments; to encourage men to develop, not only in their way of life, but also in their understanding of the teaching of Christ, and to make efforts to spread the Christian faith."

The Spiritual Exercises are based on Ignatius' own religious experience at Manresa. He started with the search for the basic purpose of human existence, and reformed his life through self-purification by overcoming his sins and weaknesses and by the exercise of free will. For him, 'the imitation of God' signified choosing his own path, along which he could advance and develop an independent and objective identity. He sought perfect sanctity and love for 'the Greater Glory of the Lord', and as a service to his fellow mortals; he eschewed selfish aims and the fear of punishment, and set himself to achieve his purpose through studying and imitating Christ. It was through the Spiritual Exercises that with all our body and soul we would be able to receive the love and the cross of Jesus Christ. The "Exercises" were a form of self-training and education, through which the Jesuits could come to live with prayer as both a current running through their activities and a foundation underlying them. Those who deepened their own characters with purification and sanctification were able to serve sincerely for the sake of society and the people. And when they came to live for the love of God and the people, they could enrich themselves profoundly. The Jesuits were those who lived according to the Spiritual Exercises, that is, they had to become "companions of Jesus (Companhia de Jesu)".

Xavier reached Japan in the Far East at the end of his pilgrimage toward the 'Greater Path'. The time when his life would consummate itself in spiritual perfection was close at hand.

The essential aim of the Society of Jesus was to enable Christians to deeply understand and experience the Spiritual Exercises. However, Xavier was facing a new challenge, the challenge of evangelizing among people who had no prior knowledge of Christianity in their society, culture and tradition. Ignatius had already given clear directions on such cases in No. 351 of the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, saying '. . . with circumstances of time, place, persons, and other factors to be taken into account.' The Spiritual Exercises did not set out to bypass or ignore the culture of the native people and society, nor to deny their religious identity. The knowledge and imitation of Christ and the intimate union with God had to be integrated with--and central to--overall human development. To follow this path, one had first to form one's own independent character, later bestowing on others the sense of divine love and service. The "Exercises" served as an objective preparation for spiritual exertion and training, ultimately becoming a part of one's own soul and body. The Spiritual Exercises thus became essentially a form of education. In Coimbra a college for Jesuits was established in 1542 and in Messina a college for ordinary people was opened in 1548. In the Bull of the Pope Julius III in 1550 it is said that various courses were added to the curriculum. By the year of 1556, at the time of Ignatius' death, there were already forty-six colleges, mainly in Rome. Furthermore, several trials and efforts were made for the completion of Ratio Studiorum in 1599. In parallel with these efforts, Xavier emphasized the ideal of education in Japan which he had been observing deeply since his arrival there.

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