To Father Robert Claysson

On Avoiding an Overly Ornate Style


Rome, March 13, 1555

summary | text of letter | footnotes

          Robert Claysson1 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 decorum3 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.