Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits 44/3, Autumn 2012, 43-45, Letters to the Editor




Many thanks to you and to Barton T. Geger, SJ., for the Summer 2012 number of STUDIES, The First First Companions. We have waited so patiently for this topic to be addressed with such detail.

William V. Bangert gives us scarcely three sentences about the “first first” companions, and Barton T. Geger gives us thirty-eight pages, for which he deserves praise. Let us hope the next contribution to this fascinating, under- researched theme will be four hundred pages in length in any language.

One concern. There may be just a whiff of it, and it may not be conscious, but Father Geger seems to accommodate himself to the Protestant-dominated historiography of the Reformation. Reformation history has nowadays become decidedly critical of the Protestant truth claims of Saint Ignatius’s day and beyond. Perhaps Geger is needlessly casual when he mentions two precise symbols of “Catholic corruption” — the Old Orders and the Inquisitions. There are implications for these symbols.

We read on page 5: “… widespread among the faithful at this time was hope of a grass-roots reform movement in the Church, one untainted by associations with canonical religious life, which suffered from a reputation for laxity and decline.” Again on pages 2 and 5, he writes that some Illuminati were sentenced to burning at the stake, or that Ignatius himself might burn at the stake (p. 19). These assertions if taken without explanation may serve to mask the complex architecture of penalties possible in a Roman legal system. Due to Roman law, it was a lot harder to get burnt at the stake than we may think. Calvinists in Geneva had no moderating Roman law and did more heretic burning and witch burning than the Catholics did in Spain.

The Roman Church in England and in Spain did not need a deep reform as alleged by traditional Protestant propaganda. In regard to Germany, Hubert Jedin wrote that the Catholics were winning the debates on the subject of the Bible by the 1530s. No sane person could charge that the Bible was chained for the purpose of keeping it from the people.

Indeed it is difficult in the English speaking world to get beyond the Protestant position concerning Catholic corruption in faith and morals in the sixteenth century. This viewpoint dominated our current legacy for a very long period of time — for example, misrepresenting the history of the inquisitions and the Old Orders, what Geger refers to as “canonical religious life.” In his Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor (2009), Eamon Duffy exposes the “myth” of the corruption of the Old Orders.

Likewise, secular historians with no particular religious allegiance have emerged to reconsider the inquisitions seriously beginning in 1965 with Edward Peters’s Inquisition and continuing with Helen Rawlings and other inquisition specialists, including Henry Kamen.

I highlighted this inquisition scholarship a bit while reviewing God’s Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World by Cullen Murphy (posted on Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight as “Hysterical Anti-Catholic History” [February 23, 2012]; posted on Homiletic and Pastoral Review, March 7, 2012); also in my The Inquisitions of History. The Mythology and the Reality (posted on Ignatius Insight, April 29, 2008; revised abridged version posted on Roma Locuta Est, January 13, 2012).

We are digging out from under the rubble of Protestant-driven biases about the virtues of the Reformation, especially in the English-speaking world, where those old biases are so popularized. Brad S. Gregory in The Unintended Reformation (2012) rejects any positive view of the Reform. Younger than Christopher Dawson, who decades ago tried to dispel the misleading appellation “the dark ages” in favor of an enriched understanding of the Catholic formation of Europe, Gregory has significantly helped our thinking since the appearance of his book earlier this year.

Now Eamon Duffy has just published “The Story of the Reformation Needs Reforming,” which is definitely worth our earnest study and attention at http:/ / 9350681 / The-story-of-the -Reformation-needs-reforming.html.

An aggressive annihilation of the medieval religious synthesis brought us to our present desperate straits, as Charles Taylor put forth in his Secular Age (2007). Let us assimilate newer findings to correct the record for Catholic truth claims, notably for the era of our Holy Founder.

In a Fallen World there will be ecclesiastical corruption, but how is it to be measured?

Brian Van Hove, S.J.
Alma, Michigan


I wish to note two errors in my essay “The First First Companions.” On page 25, I asserted that Simon Rodrigues (d. 1579) outlived all the other companions, when in fact the last survivor was Nicolás Bobadilla (d. 1590). And on page 5, note 16, the citation should read “Auto 75.”

Brian Van Hove, SJ., has written a thoughtful response, in which he suggests that references to Ignatius’s peril at the hands of the Inquisition were perhaps a bit overdone; the result of my having played unwittingly into a long-standing distortion of Protestant historiography.

I am not especially well read on the history of the Inquisition, and so I take in good stead–and consider quite plausible–the possibility that Father Van Hove is correct about the historical bias. I leave that to the experts.

Did I increase the drama by making Ignatius sound closer to the stake than he really was? To be sure, it is difficult to know just how close he came. The fact that he was investigated eight times by the Inquisition, that public knowledge of those investigations preceded him from Spain to Paris to Italy, and that some of his followers fled during the Roman crisis, are all suggestive. But most notable is “Autobiography,” no. 59, in which Ignatius and Figueroa warn each other about the possibility of being burned at the stake. Figueroa was Vicar General in Alcalá for the Archbishop of Toledo, and repeatedly assisted in the investigations of Ignatius. So the very fact that Ignatius would say something like that to Figueroa was meant to imply that the times were dangerous, and no one was safe. Curiously enough, despite Ignatius’s own problems with the inquisitors, he continued to value their work, and he even brought lapsed Catholics to them to be reconciled to the Church. Hence, I doubt that he was being casual when he related the exchange with Figueroa in the “Autobiography,” a text which (it is always important to remember) was written for the edification of future Jesuits. Ignatius wished to communicate that he had been in real danger.

Barton Geger, S.J.
Regis University
Denver, Colo.

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