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

On Scruples: To Father Juan Marín, Rome, June 24, 1556

Juan Marín [1] was a young Spanish Jesuit teaching in the Jesuit college in Bivona, Sicily. He did wonderful work among the people and manifested a great zeal for souls but, unfortunately, he had a scrupulous conscience and continually suffered torment therefrom. Ignatius was especially interested in him since he too had suffered from scruples and, thus, he wanted to do whatever he could to free Marín of his affliction. Writing through Polanco, Ignatius offers him remedies to overcome his scrupulosity, insisting that he must submit himself to the judgment of his superior and confide in God. Marín did not live to enjoy a scruple-free conscience, for only weeks after receiving this letter he was suddenly taken ill and died on the following day, September 16. Polanco composed this letter in Spanish [Ep. 12:30-31].


From the letters of Father Master Jerónimoand [2] also of Father Eleuthère [3], our Father has learned what God is pleased to accomplish through the ministry of Ours in your city. I am sure that He would make more use of them if your reverence's excessive scrupulosity, reinforced by the lack of humble resignation, had not proved an obstacle. Up to a certain point scruples are not harmful to the one suffering from them, when that person becomes, because of his scruples, more vigilant and careful about not offending God, and does not form a judgment that this or that is sinful, even though he has some doubt or fear that it is, and places his confidence in another person whom he should trust, setting aside his own judgment and accepting that of his adviser. If these two points to not help the scrupulous person, then he is in the gravest danger, not only of offending God by failing to avoid what he erroneously thinks is sin, but also of losing the opportunity and the ability to serve Him, and even his own natural judgment.

So Master Marín, determine to keep these two points fixed in your memory: (1) not to make any judgment or to decide by yourself that something is sinful when it is not clearly evident that it is and others do not think so; (2) when you fear that there is sin, you should refer the matter to the judgment of your superior, Father Eleuthère, and believe what he says, not because he is Master Eleuthère (even though he is a man of fine spirit and entirely trustworthy), but because he is your superior who holds the place of Christ our Lord. You should do the same with any other superior you may have: humble yourself and trust that Divine Providence will rule and guide you by means of your superior. And believe me, if you have true humility and submissiveness, your scruples will not cause you so much trouble. Pride is the fuel they feed on, and it is pride that places more reliance on one's own judgment and less on the judgment of others whom we trust.

Also beseech God in your prayers and Masses to free you from this suffering or infirmity, as far as is needful to avoid offending Him, or being an obstacle to His greater service, and ask the prayers of others for the same intention. Offering you mine, I commend myself to yours.

May Christ our Lord give us all His grace always to know and fulfill His most holy will.

From Rome, June 24, 1556.
1. Marín was born in Valencia, Spain, probably in 1529, and was commonly known among his Jesuit brethren as Valentino. He entered the Society in his native city in 1553 and then came to Italy for studies. He was ordained in Palermo in 1556 and unexpectedly died at Bivona on September 16 of that year.
2. Jerónimo Doménech was provincial in Sicily.
3. The rector at Bivona was Eleuthère Dupont, known in the correspondence as Pontanus. He was born in Lille, France, on October 27, 1527, and became a Jesuit in Paris on April 6, 1550. He was ordained in Rome in September 1555, and was then appointed rector of the community in Bivona, Sicily. He died in Brussels on January 31, 1611.

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).