To Hannibal de Coudret

On Prudence in Reading  

 Rome, August 27, 1553

summary | text of letter | footnotes

          The Jesuit college in Messina, Italy, was established in 1548, and among the first Jesuits to go there to teach was the scholastic Hannibal de Coudret.1 He was involved in helping to prepare the school's curriculum and in determining the texts to be used by the students. Having heard that Ignatius did not want certain authors to be read in Jesuit colleges, he sent a query to Rome. Polanco answers his question and does it briefly and clearly, and at the same time informs him how the problem in treated in Rome. Ignatius felt that the works of some classical Latin authors (for example, Martial and Horace) could be expurgated and placed in the hands of the students, but others (such as Terence) could not be so cleansed, and hence should be banned. Ignatius also banned Erasmus2 and Vives,3 but the reason was not because their books, which were used in schools, contained anything harmful or immoral, but he feared that once the students became familiar with these authors, they might become admirers of their style and go on to read other books of theirs and, perhaps, be enticed to look upon the Roman Church in the same manner as these authors had done. Polanco wrote this letter in Italian [Ep. 5:421-422].


          The peace of Christ.

          Beloved in Jesus Christ, Master Hannibal:

          It is true that our Father does not wish the works of Erasmus, Vives, Terence, and of any other immoral author to be read. I, however, wish to say two things to free you from any scruple: one is that outside of Rome this rule, up to now, has not been rigorously kept, especially when these books have already been in use; the other is that here in Rome, these authors are adapted in this manner: with regard to Martial and Horace, and such like, whatever is immoral is expurgated, leaving the rest with the author's name, etc. The work "On the eight parts"4 is printed without Erasmus' name, since he did not write it. There is also a shorter version, in verse, which contains what Erasmus has said well. The same with the others. When these books are printed, they will be sent to you in Messina by our book-dealer, who does the printing. Up to now your way of going about this is not bad and you can continue.

          If Master Bernard5 has arrived, please give him our greetings. As soon as I learn where he is, I will write you.

          I earnestly commend myself to your prayers.

          Master Louis6 is very well and is still in office.

          May Jesus Christ be our continual help and favor.

          From Rome, August 27, 1553.

1 De Coudret was born in 1524, in Sallanches (Haute-Savoie), and entered the Society in Bologna in 1546. He went to Messina as a scholastic and was ordained in Palermo on May 3, 1554. He returned to Rome in 1556, and while stationed at the Roman College he translated Gonçalves da Camâra’s Spanish-Italian text of Ignatius’ Autobiography into Latin. He returned to France in 1561 and died at Avignon on September 19, 1599.
2 Ignatius was familiar with Erasmus (1466-1536), not because he had studied him or read many of his works, but it was because he had been thought a follower of Erasmus that he had been interrogated and imprisoned in Salamanca in 1527. While Ignatius was thus detained, a conference of theologians convened by the Inquisitor General was being held in Valladolid (June 12-August 13, 1527) to discuss certain propositions taken from Erasmus’ writings. It is true that Erasmus was not a reformer and that he repudiated Luther’s work, nevertheless, it was he who prepared the way for the Reformation.
3 Juan Luis Vives was a Spanish humanist and philosopher, born in Valencia in 1491. He left Spain because of the Inquisition and became professor (1519) of humanities at Louvain and there became a life-long friend of Erasmus. He then taught at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He became court counselor and private secretary to England’s Queen Catherine, but because he opposed Henry VIIII’s desire to divorce Catherine, he left England and retired to Bruges, Belgium. It was while residing in Bruges that Ignatius, visiting the city on his first begging tour, met him and had dinner with him during Lent 1529. Vives died at Bruges in 1540.
4 The small book De octo orationis partium constructione was at the time thought to have been the product of the Englishman William Lily (1468-1522), and not the work of Erasmus. There are some who are of the same opinion today.
5 Bernard Olivier was a Belgian, born in Antoing in 1523. He went to Rome in 1546 and worked with a notary, and when he entered the Society in 1549, he had already been ordained. He was minister (1550) of the house where Ignatius lived, and then rector (1551) of the Roman College, and in 1553 went to Sicily for his health. He then returned to Flanders and in May 1556 Ignatius appointed him the first provincial of Lower Germany (and Flanders). He died three months later (August 22, 1566) after visiting a Jesuit who had contracted the plague.
6 This was Louis de Coudret, Hannibal’s older brother, who entered the Society in Rome the same year as Hannibal (1546), was ordained in Rome ca. 1550-1551, and was now rector in Florence.