GHENT AND ROME. Part 1
1623 to 1637.
DURING his residence at Liege, amongst Father Gerard's correspondents were two Venerable Servants of God, Robert Cardinal Bellarmine, and Father Luis de la Puente, better known by the Latinized form of his name, de Ponte. As by a man's friends we can obtain an insight into his character, we have thought it desirable to give the few letters to Father Gerard from these two holy men that have come down to us. Cardinal Bellarmine's autograph 1 is preserved at Stonyhurst. We translate the letter from the original Latin.
"Very Reverend and beloved Father in Christ,—I have received your Reverence's letter dated from Li6ge the 23rd of November with the little presents inclosed in it, an English knife, a little case (either bone or ivory, I do not know which), and three small toothpicks. I do not know whether these were sent me for use, or as having some special meaning. Whichever it be, they are welcome as a proof of friendship and brotherhood.
"The memory of that excellent Mr. Oliver [Sir Oliver Manners, whom he had ordained seven years before], has brought me no little sadness or rather grief, not on his account who is translated from this world to the joys of Paradise, but for the sake of many whom without doubt he would have converted to a good life if Divine Providence had permitted him to live a while longer. But the good pleasure of God must ever be fulfilled, and the self-same, in order that it may be fulfilled, must ever be pleasing to us under all circumstances.
" I was pleased to read what your Reverence relates in your letter of your journeys, of your office of Master of Novices, of the building which you have bought at Liege, of the visitation of his Serene Highness Ferdinand, the Prince Bishop of Liege, and of the promise that the Priory [of Watten], on its next vacancy, shall be applied to the College. If my assistance in carrying this out can be of any use to you with the Pope, it shall not be wanting.
"Of Dr. Singleton I have heard much, and have defended him to the best of my power as long as I could, but the party opposed to him has prevailed. Nor do I see how I can help him at so great a distance, and especially as I should be suspected because I am a Jesuit. The devil is envious of the harmony between the English at Douay and the Fathers of the Society, for which the good Cardinal Allen cared so much; but all means must be tried to re-establish a true and sincere friendship and agreement in teaching; otherwise a kingdom divided against itself shall be brought to desolation. For many reasons I say freely that nothing can be done by me in his behalf; first, as I was just saying, because I should be under suspicion, being a Jesuit. Then, because I am an old man of seven-and-seventy years of age, and I daily expect the dissolution of my tabernacle. Thirdly, because I cannot think of any way by which I could help him. The common manner of helping men of this sort is to give them ecclesiastical benefices; but here in Rome the multitude of those who aspire to and seek after such benefits is so great that their number is almost infinite. Nor are they only Italians, but Spaniards also, Frenchmen, Germans, who look for nothing but benefices at Rome. I myself, who was thought to have some influence with the Pope, have laboured for more than ten years for a Spaniard, an excellent man and a great friend of mine, to obtain for him a good benefice falling vacant in his own country. I could say the same of Flemish and German friends of mine. What then would be the case with English people, in whose country there are no ecclesiastical benefices for Catholics ? But, since these temporal things are nothing when compared to eternal benefices, our friend Dr. Singleton must not be cast down if our Lord treats him now, as of old He treated His Apostles, who He willed should enter into the Kingdom of Heaven through many tribulations. But I must not be too lengthy, for I know that both he and your Reverence stand in no need of my exhortations. I know that your Reverence will have hard work to read my bad writing, but Father Coffin 2 would have it that I should write to you with my own hand.
" With this I bid your Reverence farewell. Commend me to the prayers of Dr. Singleton, and of all your College; but your Reverence's self especially, for our old friendship and brotherhood, must diligently commend me to the Lord our God. From Rome on Christmas-day, December 25 1618. 3
"Your Reverence's brother and servant in Christ,
" Robert Card. Bellarmine.
"To the Very Reverend Father John Tomson, S.J.,
" Rector of the College of the English Novices at Liege."'
The two letters which have come down to us, addressed to Father Gerard by the Venerable Father Luis de la Puente, were written as his residence at Liege was drawing to a close. We translate from Father Christopher Grene's transcript 4 from the originals.
"P.C." When I received your Reverence's letters I was unable to answer them at once for I was suffering from extreme weakness, which usually afflicts me every year all through the winter. Blessed be our great God, from Whose Providence come health and sickness, life and death, and whatever prosperity and adversity there is in the world. The height of felicity in this life is to be superior to all these things, seeking only God's good pleasure in all things, for life in His will, and health, honour, happiness, spiritual progress, and all sanctity consist in the fulfilment of the will of God: and so every day I would that at every breath I could say, Fiat in me, de me, et per me, et circa me, sanctissima et dulcissima voluntas Tua, in omnibus et per omnia, nunc et semper ac in ӕternum. Amen. 'May Thy most holy and most sweet will be done in me, concerning me, and by me and around me, in all things and by all things, now and always and for even Amen.' God always pours His spirit of prayer into those who so submit their will to .His; wherefore the Psalmist says, 'Be subject unto the Lord, and pray to Him/ for when any one with prompt obedience and entire resignation humbly submits himself to God, God Himself, Who does the will of those that fear Him, in a certain way is made subject to him, so that He does whatever He is asked, God becoming subject to the voice of a man—not of any man soever, but of the man who obeys God. A wonderful power of prayer and of obedience! Let us pray, dear Father, that we may be perfectly obedient, and let us obey, that we may be able to pray, and to speak worthily with God.
" It will wonderfully help both one and the other to meditate profoundly on these two things; to wit, Who God is in Himself and what He is towards us, and then what we are of ourselves and what towards God. For whilst I think of God, His Trinity and Unity, most beautiful, most wise, most holy, most full of love for me, immense and everywhere present, the fountain of all good things that are in me and beyond me, from Whom I myself depend, and all that is mine, and everything that I use and enjoy, how can I do otherwise than love Him with all my strength ? How shall I not praise Him and thank Him constantly ? How shall I not give my whole self to His service? And these affections become the more ardent as I ponder that I have nothing of myself, that I am nothing, and that I and all that is mine would be reduced to nothing unless I were preserved by Him. Now whilst, within this immensity of God, I consider what I have been and what I am towards Him, I am horrified and tremble as I ponder on my malice, my ingratitude, my slothfulness. Hence arise feelings of hatred of self, of humiliation and self-denial, and various acts and exercises of penance, which not only nourish humility by which a man through a truthful knowledge of himself becomes vile to himself, but they also arouse a most ardent charity by which he loves his Supreme Benefactor, Who has conferred and still confers so many and such great benefits on one who is ungrateful and unworthy. Thus the mind is elevated to perfect contemplation and union with God Himself, and, as it were forgetful of itself, is immersed in Him, or rather God hides it in the concealment of His countenance from all disturbance of men.
"Here is a short epitome of my mystical theology, which I have put out at rather greater length in my book; but why should I teach these things to a doctor of others and my own master? Surely I have become foolish, but your letters compelled me. Would that you would help me by your prayers, that what I write in my letters I may perform in deed. Forgive my humble and poor style, for I know not any more elegant; but I am sure that you do not care for words, but for the sense that is in the words. I value very highly the cross which you have sent me, and I will always bear it with me. I hope, by the intercession of the Blessed Virgin, who appeared in that tree, 5 and who confers such benefits on those who are there and those who visit her, that I may be a partaker of those benefits, for though I am absent in the body I am present in spirit. I humbly commend myself to the holy sacrifices of your Reverence.
" Your Reverence's unworthy servant in Christ,
" + LUDOVICUS DE PONTE. +
"Valladolid, March 23, 1621."
Postscript. —"By God's help I have finished a great work. Its title is Expositio Moralis in Canticum Canticorum, and it contains exhortations on all the mysteries and virtues of the Christian religion. It is divided into two volumes, and each volume into five books. The arrangement is new and singular, but not without foundation in the Sacred Text. The matter is grave in itself, and very copious, taken out of Holy Scripture and the holy Fathers. The style is humble, but clear and chaste, and not out of harmony with matter that is spiritual and sacred, and therefore elevated. It is printed at Paris, and will soon reach Germany and Belgium. Would that it may be to the glory of God, the edification of the Church, and of use to one's neighbour."
The other letter from the same Father was written in reply to one from Father Gerard announcing that he was about to leave Belgium.
" May the Almighty and most pitiful Lord accompany you in the journey that you are beginning, for with such a Guide and Companion you will be everywhere safe and cheerful, and making true progress. Let Him ever dwell in your memory, understanding, and will, for His most sweet providence especially protects those who make their journeys in obedience to Superiors, as Jacob did, who at his father's bidding journeyed through tl\p desert of Mesopotamia, where he heard the voice of the Lord which said to him, ' I will be thy Keeper, whithersoever thou goest' Trusting to this hope, and protected by this guardianship, you will happily fulfil what you are beginning.
" I commend myself to your Reverence's sacrifices and prayers, for my weakness oppresses me much; but may the Will of God be done in me and about me in all things, to Whom concerning all things be glory for ever. Amen.
" + LUDOVICUS DE LA PUENTE +
"Valladolid, Feb. 2, 1622."
With such saintly suggestions from his friend Father Gerard left Liege, and it is probable that he saw Father de la Puente soon after he received this letter, for he was sent to Spain first, and then to Rome, which place he reached on the 15th of January, 1623. 6 His stay in Rome was not long, and we may assume that his explanations respecting the aid given by him to the English Virgins was satisfactory to his Superiors for he was sent back to Belgium. The charge now entrusted to him was similar to that which he had fulfilled for the past eight years. In accordance with the Institute of St Ignatius, the Society is accustomed to send its young priests, after the conclusion of their studies and before taking their last vows, to pass a year in retirement with the religious exercises and duties of the Noviceship. This year is called the Third Probation, the Tertianship, or the third year. As this is the close of the long course of probation to which the members of the Society are subjected, as those who enter it are all priests, as they have been in the Society at least ten years and often sixteen or seventeen, it will be understood that the choice of a Father for the responsible position of Superior and Instructor of the Fathers who pass through their Tertianship, is a mark of the highest esteem and confidence. This is one of the few offices in the Society to which none but a Professed Father can be appointed ; and it is laid down in the Constitutions that it is desirable that the Father chosen should have been a Superior, as for instance a Provincial whose term of office is concluded. From the appointment of Father John Gerard to be Instructor of the Fathers in their Third Probation in the English House at Ghent, we may draw our own conclusion as to the position held by him amongst the English Jesuits of his time. This office he held for four years, that is to say from 1623 to 1627.
The house of the Society in Ghent in which the English Fathers received their final preparation for the labours and perils of the English Mission was the foundation of Father John Gerard's old benefactress Anne, Countess of Arundel: yet her biographer says that her good deed in making that foundation was so secretly done that Father Gerard himself did not know who the foundress was for whom his prayers were said.
After describing the bountifulness to others of this admirable lady, the widow of the martyred Philip, Earl of Arundel, the author of her life 7 who was himself her chaplain and a Jesuit, thus records her bounty to the Society. "Besides her keeping ever some one of them in her house for the space of more than forty years, and the relieving in sundry occasions divers other particular persons of them, she gave every year a very large alms to their community here in England, and continued it to her dying day. And to the end they might not want that or a better means of support after her decease, she sent at several times 2,500/. beyond seas, there to be put in bank and increased till her death, and then the profit employed for their use and maintenance here. And, notwithstanding all that money came after [a] few years by casuality to be lost, yet was she not discouraged thereat, but afterwards buying a house in the city of Gant in Flanders, where those of them who had ended their studies might make their third probation and better prepare themselves to labour in God's vineyard according to their Institute, she furnished it with all things necessary for their use, maintained it during her life, and left competent means for the perpetual maintenance thereof, with order that whenever it shall please God to convert England again to the Catholic Faith, that house should be transported and placed in the city of Carlisle; to the end that not only those of that city and her tenants thereabouts but all the whole country adjoining might receive spiritual assistance by the preaching, teaching, and other pious labours and endeavours of those Religious persons whom she intended should be maintained therein."
The charity and devotion of Lady Arundel was imitated by her household, and her biographer says 1 that Mr. Robert Spiller, her steward for many years, "was noted to be very forward even both in relieving the poor, and farthering many deeds of charity, especially in helping the Society on all occasions. To the which he not only gave a yearly considerable alms, but both in his life and at his death was very liberal towards them, leaving a good part of his wealth for the increase and advancement of the means of that house which was erected by the Countess at Gant."
1 Stonyhurst MSS., Angl. A. vol. iii. n. 107.
2 Father Edward Coffin was Confessor of the English College for nearly twenty years, in which office he was succeeded by Father Gerard.
3 Dr. Oliver has misread this date 1611, which was before Father Gerard went to Liege and at which time Sir Oliver Manners was in Italy. Cardinal Bellarmine was born October 4, 1542, so that he was in his seventy-seventh year in 1618-9.
4 Stonyhurst MSS., Father' Grene's Collectan. P. voL ii. p. 532.
5 An allusion, no doubt, to one of the Belgian sanctuaries of our Blessed Lady, perhaps that at Montaigu. Or it may refer to the wood of the tree in which was found the image of our Lady of Foy, a village in the Province of Namur. Father Gerard sent from Rome an attestation dated July 16, 1633, to testify that he had had three images made of this wood, that he left one at Liege, took one to Ghent, which he gave to the English Benedictinesses there, and gave the third to Anne Countess of Arundel, who, it seems, gave it to the Novitiate at Watten. This paper is in the Archives de l'Etat at Brussels.
6 Stonyhurst MSS., Father Grene's Miscell. de Coll. Angl. p. 19, quoting "Baines his diary."
7 The Lives of Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, and of Anne Dacres, his wife, pp. 218—220.