- A Brief and Exact Account: The Recollections of Simão Rodrigues on the Origin and Progress of the Society of Jesus
Among the early companions of St. Ignatius of Loyola, all great characters, two stand out as particularly difficult: Bobadilla, who described the first draft of Ignatius' Constitutions as a "prolix labyrinth," and the Portuguese Simão Rodrigues, who almost wrecked the nascent Portuguese province—at least if some accounts are to be believed. The value of the present volume is that it allows one to read a document written by Rodrigues himself. Moreover the translator-editor provides a sympathetic running commentary that highlights important aspects of the text.
There are difficulties: in the first place this "brief account" of the founding of the Society of Jesus stops short in the year 1540, when papal approval was first granted to the new order, and does not cover the crucial years when Rodrigues returned to Portugal, was appointed the first provincial superior there, and was largely responsible for its extraordinary and rapid growth—only to see his work cut short, himself exiled, and the allegiance of his province divided. The reverberations of this conflict would stretch across the Atlantic into Brazil, where missioners would be split into supporters and critics of Rodrigues.
But a second source of difficulty lies in the work before us: the author may call it "brief" and "exact," but in writing this account he adopts various personae—the evangelist, extending the Acts of the Apostles into the sixteenth century, the romance writer, inspired by chivalry and adventurous deeds and dangers, the consummate court rhetorician, instinctively seeking to persuade. The Simão who was enraptured by the teaching of Ignatius, and who won his firm support despite strong negative evidence, has to be glimpsed behind these various masks. Fortunately, this is possible, and he can be seen in his courage, his self-denial, even in his credulity. Historically his account of the first vows at Montmartre is of crucial importance. Today various historians (like several contributors to The Mercurian Project: Forming Jesuit Culture 1657–1580, ed. Thomas M. McCoog, S.J., 2004) are calling in question the negative verdict [End Page 303] on Rodrigues pronounced by earlier colleagues; that a reappraisal is needed cannot be doubted, and it is to be hoped that this publication will aid the process.