To Father Adrian Adriaenssens

On Frugality in Meals


Rome, May 12, 1556

summary | text of letter | footnotes

          Adrian Adriaenssens1 was rector of the college in Louvain. Since that community was composed of people of different nations, who were accustomed to different types of food, Adriaenssens wrote to Ignatius, in a letter no longer extant, to ask his opinion on the quality of the meals that should be served in the community. Ignatius proposes that the meals be frugal, and that the food served be that which is ordinary in that locale and easily obtainable. While Ignatius writes this for those who enjoy good health, he at the same time insists that those who are ill should receive all that they need, and any extras that the physician may prescribe for them. That Ignatius is emphatic with regard to special treatment for the sick, may indicate that the rector might have been a bit too strict with them.2 Ignatius' letter was written in Latin [Ep. 11:374-375].


          The peace of Christ.

          We have received your reverence's letter dated the last of March, and to answer all your points briefly, I praise your thriftiness and economy and your doing your best to give a good example in all that concerns food. I do not think it is good, however, to withhold what the physician thinks is necessary for the recovery or the preservation of health, though he too ought to keep our poverty in mind. This much in general. It is good, moreover, to get accustomed to the more common and more easily obtainable food and drink, especially if one enjoys good health, and it is quite in keeping with reason and our Institute, which directs that Ours make use of those foods that are common and ordinary.

          Therefore, if health permits, one should get accustomed to beer, or even water, or cider, where this drink is in common use, and not make use of imported wines, at greater expense and with less edification. Some among you, however, may be in ill health, such as Master Adrian Witte,3 Master Bernard,4 and Master Pedro de Ribadeneira5 If one takes proper care of his body he will have enough strength for works of zeal and charity, and for the help and edification of his neighbor. If he does not do so, he will grow weak and feeble, and will be of little advantage to the neighbor. He will then have to receive care, as has happened to Master Bernard and Master Adrian when they were in Italy. I would by no means make these men get used to a coarser diet unless it could be done without injury to their health. Rather, I would prefer that God's servants, and all those who are ready for heavy labors for Christ, have these comforts than to see others enjoy them who are less useful for the common good.

          Care should also be taken that what is merely superfluous should not be allowed to slip in under the guise of necessity, and things that merely cater to the senses as conducive to health, thus turning a praiseworthy practice into an abuse. Should be it contrary to edification to take some of these extras in public, as those foods that have been ordered by the physician as necessary, see that they are then taken in private. In a word, all that is needed for health should be provided, but without scandal. This is what may be said in general, and prudence will make the application in particular cases. Decide what is to be done in each case after weighing all the circumstances.

          May our Lord give us the light of holy discretion to make use of creatures in the light of the Creator.

          Rome, May 12, 1556.

          Spiritual men will not think it stranger or reprehensible to have different food and drink on the same table to answer the needs of those in good or in poor health. But to avoid scandalizing those who are weaker, should there be any present, these special foods can be taken at other times. We must not forget Paul's warning against scandalizing the weak.6


1 Adriaenssens was a native of Antwerp , having been born there in 1520. He became a Jesuit at Louvain in 1545, and after ordination in Cologne (1548), spent several months (late 1548-March 1549) in Rome. Upon his return to his homeland he became rector at Louvain and died there on October 18, 1580.
2 James Brodrick, S.J., in his The Progress of the Jesuits (1566-1579) (New York: Longmans, Geen, 1947) 90, refers to Adriaenssens as one "who belonged to the school of those whose principle is, We have a law and according to that law he ought to die,"and quotes a portion from a letter that Laínez wrote to Adiaenssens: "I commend to your Reverence care for the health of Master Adrian Witte. He sadly needs your sympathy. If you hesitate as to extremes, I beg you to choose the extreme of indulgent charity rather than that of severe repression."
3 Witte was known in the Society as Candidus. He was born in Antwerp, about 1529, and joined the Jesuits in Paris in 1550. He studied in Rome and was ordained there in 1552. He was then sent to preach in Modena and by 1554 he was at Louvain. He died there in January 1558.
4 This is Bernard Olivier, mentioned in letter 27 in this collection.
5 Ribadeneira was in Flanders negotiating the establishment of new houses of the Society.
6 See 1 Cor. 8:13 and Rom. 14:21.