To Father Giovanni Battista Viola

On Obedience   Rome, August, 1542

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          Father Viola1 was among the first Italians to enter the Society. In 1541 Ignatius sent him to Paris for further studies and to be, at the same time, superior of the young Jesuits attending the university. Before Viola left for Paris on October 14, 1541, Ignatius advised him that, since he would be arriving several months after the school year had begun, it would be good for him to spend his first months brushing up on his Latin and studying the Súmulas (the Summulae logicales of Peter of Spain), to be ready to begin his studies the following year. But Viola, hoping to save time and thinking that he was sufficiently prepared, immediately began his work at the university. In the end he found that it was too much for him and that he had wasted his time. During the summer of 1542 he wrote to Ignatius. Though his letter is not extant, its contents are clear from Ignatius' response. Viola complained that he had wasted eight months with his teacher and now he was asking Ignatius what he should do. Ignatius approached the question from the viewpoint of blind obedience. Viola lost time because he had not followed the instructions he received before leaving Rome. The letter's date is probably August 1542, and was written in Spanish [Ep. 1:228-229].


          May the sovereign grace and love of Christ our Lord be our never-failing help and support.

          I received your letter but I fail to understand it. In two different places you speak of obedience. In the first you say that you are ready to obey me, and in the second you say: "Because I would rather die than fail in obedience, I submit to the judgment of your reverence." Now, it seems to me that obedience seeks to be blind, and is blind in two ways: in the first it belongs to the inferior to submit his understanding, when there is no question of sin, and to do what is commanded of him; in the second it is also the inferior's duty, once the superior commands or has commanded something, to represent to the superior whatever considerations or disadvantages may occur to him, and to do so humbly and simply, without any attempt to draw the superior to either side, so that afterwards he can follow, with peace of mind, the way pointed out to him or commanded.

          Now, applying this to your obedience, I am unable to understand it. For after you have given me many good arguments to persuade me to approve another teacher, you tell me elsewhere in your letter: "It has seemed good to me to write your reverence to ask you kindly to let me know whether I should change teachers or go on wasting my time."

          You yourself can judge whether you are seeking to obey, or whether you are submitting your judgment to whatever decision I make. If you so abound in judgment of your own and are convinced that you are wasting your time, where is the submission of your judgment? Indeed, do you think that I am going to tell you to waste your time? May God our Lord never let me harm anyone when I cannot help him!

          In another place you say: "I am truly sorry to have wasted these last eight months under this teacher but, nevertheless, if you think I should go on wasting it, I will continue with him." I recall that I told you, when you left here, that by the time you reached Paris the course in the Súmulas would have been in progress for two or three months, and that you should start by studying Latin for four or five months and then take the elements of the Súmulas for three or four months so that with this preparation you could begin the regular course the following year. But following your own ideas rather than mine, you saw fit to enter a course already two or three months in session. Judge for yourself who is the cause of your wasting time!

          I close asking our Lord in His infinite goodness to give us the fullness of His perfect grace, so that we may know His most holy will and perfectly fulfill it.

          From Rome.

1 Giovanni Battista Viola was born about 1517 and came from Fornoli, near Parma, and entered the Society as a priest in February 1540. He was the first superior of the Jesuits studying in Paris and was the first rector of the new college founded (1550) there. He died in Milan on April 19, 1589.