Although several beautiful Lives of St. Francis Xavier exist-•some of them in our own language-I do not think that any excuse will be required for the attempt made in the present work to produce a new Life, which may satisfy in some sort the legitimate requirements of 0rr own time. We are accustomed to set a higher value t¥n men of former generations on those indications of personal character, in the case of great men and conspicuous Saints, which are to be found in their own words, in their letters, in anecdotes which set them familiarly before our eyes, and the like. The Catholics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would take the letter of a Saint, for instance, of St. Teresa or St. Francis Xavier, and cut it to pieces for the sake of making up a signature out of letters from separate words, or forming some holy text in the Saint's handwriting in the same way. Many valued such relics as these, without caring much for the actual words and thoughts of the Saint, which they were often content to have in a translation, or a paraphrase which preserved the general sense, but not the peculiar colouring and incommunicable character of the mind from which the words proceeded; we, on the other hand, value above all things the minute traits of character and shades of feeling which can only be discerned by close am faithful study of the mind and heart of someone in whose history we are interested, and we set the highest store on such biographies as make this study most easy to us, by putting before us in its native simplicity whatever comes to us most immediately from such a heart and mind.
There can be no doubt, that if St. Francis Xavier had lived within the present century, the first thought of his biographers would have been to collect every detail within reach, even as to the external circumstances and scenery of his career, and that, in particular, every scrap of writing that ever proceeded from his pen would have been religiously preserved and examined, even if it had not been published. Such was not the way in which biographies were written in the generation which succeeded that of Francis Xavier and Ignatius, and the lives which that generation and subsequent generations produced differ in proportion from those which we require. At this distance of time, and under all the circumstances of the case, it might be impossible, even for one with far greater opportunities than it is my lot to possess, to supply fully what is to us a sort of deficiency in earlier lives of the Saint. A very large number of his letters have perished altogether. Those which remain to us exist chiefly in a Latin translation, which appears to have the merit of conscientious fidelity, but which must certainly fail to give us much of the fire, much of the delicate grace, much of the intense tenderness, which must have breathed in every line of the originals. Moreover, a great many collateral facts, which would render the letters more-complete as an integral portion of his biography, have certainly been lost to us. There are other accessories which might be supplied, even at the present day, but which I am painfully aware are wanting in the present work. A knowledge of India and the East, including Japan, an acquaintance with the scenes of his labours, with the living effects which still remain of his preaching, notably in the south of India, with the unchanged and unchangeable aspects of nature in the gorgeous world of the 'Eastern Isles, with the half civilized and half savage tribes to whom he preached, and of whose manners he has given so striking an account-these and other similar qualifications would have enabled me not only to render the picture more full and attractive, but to supply many an absolute deficiency, and explain much that is now hardly free from obscurity.
No one will rejoice more heartily than myself should any future writer, possessed of such qualifications, undertake to write a more complete life of the Saint than this can pretend to be. In the mean time, it may serve to the glory of God and the honour of St. Francis to have done that which has been now attempted: that is, to give a clear narrative of his life as it stands in the ordinary biographies, and to use the whole of the letters and fragments which have survived to us, in the form in which we possess them, to illustrate the life and to speak to us of his character for themselves. The only former biographer of St. Francis who has made much direct use of the letters is Pere Bouhours, whose work is known in England from its translation by Dryden. But our acquaintance with the letters has been increased since his time, and he did not use those which he had as fully as might be wished. He had the advantage, which is shared by the excellent Italian writer Massei, over the earlier biographers; Turselline and Lucena, of writing after the Processes had been completed and largely used by Bartoli, who, in his Asia, has really furnished the storehouse from which all subsequent authors have supplied themselves. Massei, who wrote at Rome, where the documents on which the Processes were founded exist, tells us that he consulted them independently, and that he has here and there added details from them which Bartoli had passed over. But in the main the last named author has furnished the materials, derived mainly from the Processes and the letters to Rome from the East, on which our knowledge of the life of St. Francis Xavier has been founded. Bartoli is very full, accurate, and industrious, but the letters were less perfectly known to him than to us. We have the great advantage of the very useful though unostentatious labours of Father Menchacha, who at the end .of the last century, and during the suppression of the Society, published the letters in two volumes at Bologna, summing up at the same time, in his Prolegomena, all that can be said .about them, and going through them carefully in the ‘Chronotaxis' which forms a part of those Prolegomena, with a view to their arrangement and connexion with the life of St. Francis, Father Menchacha once or twice expresses a hope that a Life may someday be written which may give to the letters their due weight in illustrating the history. No one could have been more fit than himself, from his devotion to the Saint and his intimate knowledge of all that remains to us concerning him, to have undertaken such a task; but he has been content to make it possible for others.
Father Menchacha's collection of the letters has existed for some years in French, having been admirably translated by M. Leon Pages, who has prefixed to his translation a succinct life of St. Francis, which, if it had been fuller, and if the letters had been incorporated with it, would have made superfluous the work which is now laid before the reader. I feel bound to say that, unpretending as this memoir is, I have found it of the very greatest service, as it adds dates and details in a number of places where they were wanting before; and I have so generally found these additions correct as to have learnt to give almost implicit confidence to any statement of M. Leon Pages, even unsupported by a reference. M. Leon Pages is now engaged on a work on the history of Christianity in Japan, and I should be extremely glad to know that the volume which relates to St. Francis Xavier's labours in that country would appear in time for use in the second volume of this work. I fear, however, that such will hardly be the case.
The earlier biographers of St, Francis must not be under-valued in comparison with their successors. Turselline appears to me to have much of that charm which hangs about such books as Ribadeneyra's Lives of the Saints-a sort of quaint unction, a simple Catholic spirit, uncritical, not so much in the sense of over credulity and want of due examination, as in that of an absolute freedom from fear and hesitation in dwelling on the religious ar:.d supernatural' aspect of the subjects treated of, and in supposing in the mind of the reader the same loving piety and glow of devotion with which the writers themselves were kindled. I have been fortunate enough to meet with an old English version of Turselline, which has enabled me to put some of the wellknown facts of the history before the reader in language corresponding to his own in this respect. Lucena's Vida da Sail Fraucesco is a grand work, possessing the same merit which I have attributed to Turselline, and, moreover, based upon an accurate knowledge of documents and of the history of the Portuguese in the East. It is a large work, here and there diffuse, but it professes to be more than a history of the personal exertions of St. Francis Xavier. I have also used the Portuguese writer Faria y Sousa, who published the annals of Portuguese Asia, Asia Portuguese, at Lisbon in 1655. He was a voluminous and industrious writer, and his facts may be thoroughly depended on. He appears to have consulted a very large number of authorities in the compilation of his history. His style is rather curt and pretentious, and he dwells entirely upon the military and political side of history. I have found him frequently confirm the statements of the biographers of St. Francis, of whom he always speaks with a veneration which seems to reflect the high honour which was always paid to the Saint by the Portuguese officers and governors of India, with a few notable exceptions.
There is every reason for believing that, to speak in general, the history of St. Francis Xavier rests upon human evidence of the very highest kind. All the marvellous actions and incidents with which it is illustrated are supported by sworn witnesses, who came forward when the Processes were formed in the East by the order of the King of Portugal. The documents at the disposal of Bartoli and Massei contained the depositions of the witnesses in each case-deposition as carefully and conscientiously drawn as any that pass current in legal investigations. Bartoli very frequently gives the exact words of the witnesses. It was not the custom in his time to add footnotes and references: the story flows on from page to page in his grand folios without interruption or the anticipation of questioning, much as the narratives of Herodotus or Thucydides. In our days, no doubt, he would add the names of the witnesses and the like: but to have done it then would have been an anachronism. I have not myself consulted the immense mass of the documents which still exist at Rome, but I have had the advantage of using a manuscript Relatio super Sanctitate et Miraculis Francisci Xaverii, drawn up before the canonization of the Saint by three distinguished Roman theologians, auditors of the Rota in the time of Paul V., men of the very highest character, who had examined the evidence formally as its judges, and who made their report to the Pope in this Relatio, upon which it seems very clear that the Bull of Canonization was founded. In this document there is a full account of the Processes, and each piece of testimony which is adduced is attributed to its proper author, and it is stated whether he was an eyewitness, or merely one who heard others speak of what had been done. I hope in the second volume to find room at least for an abstract of this very in- teresting document, which is full of consummate theological and ascetical learning.
This Second Volume has been delayed by causes beyond my control, the effect of which I trust that the reader will forgive. Though it is considerably larger than its predecessor, I have been obliged to omit many documents illustrative of the text which would have made the work more complete. But it seemed better, if possible, to comprise the whole matter within two volumes-even though the second should exceed the size originally contemplated in this Series-than to extend the book to three. I could wish to have found room for several of the letters of the friends and companions of St. Francis, especially of Father Gaspar Baertz. Some quotations from them will be found at the end of M. Leon Pages' French Translation of the Letters. I regret also in particular having been forced to leave out the long letter referred to at pp. 305 and 386 from Joam Fernandez, which is full of interest in relation to the questions of the Japanese bonzes. I must content myself with publicly thanking the kind friends who took the pains to translate it for me from the Portuguese.
One cause for delay in the completion of the present volume arose from a circumstance which it may be worthwhile to make public. I was informed in the course of the autumn that a collection of manuscript letters of St. Francis Xavier was in existence in Portugal, many if not all of which had never been published. The same kind friends to whom I have already alluded were able to make inquiries as to this collection for me, and the result was to enable me to feel certain that the letters had been brought from the archives of the CoHege of the Society at Goa in the last century, at the time of the suppression, but that they had all been already examined and translated by Father Phillippucci. There may doubtless still be existing letters of St. Francis which have never been printed, and he himself mentions several which have certainly been lost. The King of Portugal must have received many such. But I can see no ground for hoping that any considerable number will ever be recovered.
Send as free online greeting card
Email a Friend