Skip to main content
"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

On Avoiding an Overly Ornate Style: To Father Robert Claysson, Rome, March 13, 1555

Robert Claysson [1] was stationed in Paris and was a renowned and eloquent preacher. On December 1, 1554, following the instructions of his provincial, Paschase Broët, he wrote the prescribed "triannual letter" [2] to Rome. In reading it Ignatius found Claysson's style ample, inflated, and repetitious and, thus, it became the occasion for the following letter. Ignatius indicates the style he would like used when writing to Rome and recommends that it be modest and sober, and that there be a judicious selection of items. Ignatius' letter was written in Latin [Ep. 8:539-540].

The peace of Christ,

Beloved in Christ, Master Robert:

In this letter from me you will recognize my affection for you, especially because I want to call your attention, without apology or excuse, to the style of your letter. While your letter is in some respects ornate and learned, we miss the proper decorum [3] in the ornament used and in the show of learning. It is one thing to be eloquent and charming in profane speech, and another when the one speaking as a religious. Just as in a matron an ornament that is modest and chaste is to be commended, so in the style which Ours should use when speaking or writing we do not look for what is self-indulgent and adolescent, but we look for a style that is dignified and mature. This is especially so in letters, where the writing by its very nature, must be more compact and polished and manifest at the same time an abundance of ideas rather than an abundance of words.

Your charity will receive this admonition in good part, just as our charity did not permit us to let it go unnoticed. We do not dare send your letter anywhere without first making many changes in it.

Some selection of topics must also be made, and in the triannual letter, only those items should be submitted which serve for edification. In many passages indeed there is a virile enough declaration of satisfaction in sharing the cross of Christ, but in some others the spirit seems weak and much less vigorous than one would expect in a soldier of Christ.

This, beloved brother, is our censure, and from it you will see that it is not only the Sorbonne that is allowed to exercise such a privilege [4]. In return for having written to you, as I think, with such frankness, confidence, and affection, I beg the reward of your prayers, and your admonition in turn, should occasion require it.

Yours in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Rome, March 13, 1555.
1. Claysson was born in Bruges, Belgium, on December 21, 1529, and entered the Society in Paris on April 1, 1549. He taught theology in Rome (1562-1564) and returned to Bruges, where he died on November 17, 1601.
2. Claysson’s letter may be found in Litterae quadrimestres (MHSI) 3:194-196. These letters were so called because superiors outside Italy and within Europe were required to write to the general every four months. The superiors of Italian houses were to write every month, and those in missionary lands were to write once a year.
3. Here Ignatius uses the Greek word το πρεπον.
4. Though the Society enjoyed the favor of King Henry II and several bishops, it found that the Sorbonne, the Parlement, and the Bishop of Paris, Eustace du Bellay, were opposed to it. Neither the Parlement nor the Sorbonne would recognize the Society, and as recently as December 1, 1554, the Sorbonne succeeded in getting the Parlement to issue an indictment against the Society, stating that it was a menace to the faith, a disturber of peace in the Church, and that it sought to put an end to monastic life. Claysson mentions in his letter that the Bishop of Paris was still issuing threats and that they did not expect anything favorable to come form the Sorbonne’s theological faculty. Thus Ignatius, somewhat jovially, refers to the Sorbonne’s penchant for issuing censures.

I. In July 1521, a 30-year-old Basque knight, named Iñigo was brought home to recuperate after his cannonball experience in the battle of Pamplona—his watershed moment. The wounds on his lower limbs led to the first long lockdown in his life, about nine months, during which he read a life of Christ and a book on the lives of the saints, the only reading matter the Loyola castle afforded. He also killed time by recalling tales of martial valor and by day-dreaming about a great lady who captured his heart. Later when he was out of mortal danger, his attention was centered on the saints. This profoundly moved and attracted him that soon after he had barely recovered he resolved to do something about his many sins. To fulfill this he must embark on a journey towards conversion. He followed the holy austerities of the saints, eg Francis of Assisi, Onuphrius of Egypt and Dominic, that God sent as his first spiritual guides in his lifelong task towards holiness.
II. "That mission has its fullest meaning in Christ, and can only be understood through him. At its core, holiness is experiencing in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life… The contemplation of these mysteries, as St Ignatius of Loyola pointed out, leads us to incarnate them in our choices and attitudes" (Gaudete et Exsultate—Rejoice and Be Glad 20).

St Ignatius of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens c. 1622
III. "This spiritual poverty is closely linked to what St Ignatius of Loyola calls 'holy indifference', which brings us to a radiant interior freedom: 'We need to train ourselves to be indifferent to our attitude to all created things, in all that is permitted to our free will and not forbidden’ so that on our part, we do not set our hearts on good health rather than bad, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, a long life rather than a short one, and so in all the rest" (Gaudete et Exsultate—Rejoice and Be Glad 69).