On the Feast of St. Francis Borgia


St. Francis Borgia, SJ

Despite the evident sanctity of St. Francis Borgia (1510-1572), third general of the Society of Jesus, he has not been altogether immune from criticism.  Having introduced detailed “rules” on dress, prayer, and social interaction across the course of his generalate, Borgia is not uncommonly identified as the figure overseeing the transition from a charismatic and spontaneous Society to an “order” marked by military discipline and rigid uniformity.  Whatever the justice of these remarks, I thought I would at least present the direction methods of Bl. Peter Faber, SJ (1506-1546), methods which suggest how, from the very beginning of the Society, discipline and uniformity coincided with spontaneity and charism.  (This also relates to Fr. Monnig’s post about the “religious experience” and “holiness” models of spiritual direction).

Ignatius himself considered Bl. Peter Faber the most gifted director of the Exercises, and voted to elect him the first Jesuit general (the only vote Bl. Peter received).  It was Bl. Peter Faber’s custom, however, to give “Instructions” toward the end of the Exercises in order to help exercitants “consolidate their fruit.”  This “consolidation,” not surprisingly, required that uniform disciplines be undertaken by the exercitants:

 In these [“Instructions”] Bl. Peter Faber recalls the end that must determine all the actions and the order that must be present in them so that they remain regulated according to God.

He indicates various practices for a new life that the exercitant ought to take up: [to dedicate] a quarter hour daily of examination of conscience before retiring “into perpetuity,” to devote a determinate time to prayer, to set for oneself fixed dates for confessing and receiving communion.  He insists that they continue educating themselves religiously, recommending to them that they do it with a Catechism.  He stimulates in them a desire for the salvation of souls.  The important thing is that, for the whole length of their life, they try to “walk along the way of salvation, ordering the spiritual life according to your state” (de grado vuestro).  So that the exercitant can more easily continue living in the practice of this ideal, he proposes in his “Instruction” various principles of perfection–a lovely bouquet of the fundamental truths of the Exercises.  By refreshing these principles through reading about “this way of life” and, above all, by assimilating them in prayer and holding them as a norm for the practice of daily life, they will keep themselves easily in the “fervent atmosphere” (ambiente cálido) of the Exercises [Iparraguirre, La Practica de los ejercicios en la vida de su autor, 243].

Though Bl. Peter Faber’s instructions sound somewhat calculating and regimental, he clearly sees them as means toward developing one’s personal charism and toward maintaining the “fervent atmosphere” characteristic of the new man.

In the hands of a gifted spiritual director, the “experiential” and the “holiness” model can be combined to good effect.  In the hands of the less gifted, they will perhaps tend to cancel each other out.  At any rate, to the extent that one has experienced these approaches incompatible, one will probably have serious misgivings about Borgia’s litigious generalate.  It comes across as bad spiritual direction on the corporate level.  To the extent that one has experienced these models as mutually reinforcing, however, one will likely interpret Borgia’s project as nothing other than the “consolidation” of the Society’s fruits and the maintenance of its “fervent atmosphere.”



One Response to On the Feast of St. Francis Borgia

  1. Joseph Fromm says:

    Dear Fr. Pidel,

    Thank you for such a rich post. Your highlighting of Borgia’s gift in his sentiment, “consolidate their fruit.” This idea has given me much to reflect upon and to be grateful for the gifts I have received.

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