The Spiritual Memoirs of Peter Faber, SJ

Miguel Ángel Fiorito, SJ

 Miguel Ángel Fiorito, SJ
 Jaime Heraclio Amadeo, SJ / Church Life / Published Date:12 February 2021/Last Updated Date:18 March 2021

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We present a classic of the spirituality of the Society of Jesus: Peter Faber’s Spiritual Memoirs, commonly known as his Memoriale, or, to give it its full title, The Memoir of some good desires and good thoughts of Father Master Peter Faber.[1]

The external man

At the time of origin of the Society of Jesus, Peter Faber was the first “companion” of St. Ignatius of Loyola (i.e., the first who was called to the idea and convinced by it) and the first priest of this mainly priestly Order.[2]

La Civilta Cattolica

He was born in 1506 and died in 1546. He began his apostolic works early: in 1539 – the year in which the first “companions” decided to ask the pope for canonical approval of the Society of Jesus – he was sent to Parma in Italy  and the surrounding regions. From there, the following year, 1540, he was sent to Germany.

Here he traveled to several of the most important cities, where the “diets” and “discussions” with which the Emperor Charles V tried to obtain religious peace were being held. The following year (1541) he was sent to Spain, passing through his own region of, Savoy.

He spent that year and the following one (1542) in the main Spanish cities, from where he was sent again to Germany, this time to the cities that constituted a sort of “frontier” between Catholic and Protestant allegiances a country where Protestantism was becoming stronger and stronger.

At the end of 1543 he was sent by Saint Ignatius to Portugal. In order to make this journey by sea, he went to Belgium, where he remained for six months, while the papal nuncio in Germany appealed to the pope to have him return there. While he waited for the pope’s reply, he introduced the Society of Jesus into Belgium and welcomed the first novices and students, among whom was the man who would become Saint Peter Canisius, the apostle of Germany.

In the middle of the following year (1544), he finally left Germany, bound for Portugal; and in 1545 he moved to Spain, with the aim of strengthening the Society of Jesus at the court of Prince Philip, the future Philip II, who governed Spain in his father’s absence.

In April 1546 he was called by the pope to take an advisory role at the Council of Trent. He reached Rome on July 17 of that year, to die in the arms of Saint Ignatius on August 1, the day on which the Church celebrate the feast of Saint Peter freed from his chains by an angel (cf. Acts 12:3-17).

In little more than seven years – from June 1539 to August 1546 – this man crossed Europe in carrying out recurrent papal missions, especially in Germany. He established the Society of Jesus in three countries: Germany, Belgium and Spain.

The inner man

A man of a profound interior life, Faber lived that absorbing exterior activity by founding it in God: of him it can be said – as of Ignatius, who was his master in spirit – that he was a “contemplative in action.”[3]

He was also a peaceful man on the outside and a sower of peace around him, but a fighter on the inside.

Both of these features manifest themselves in his Spiritual Memoirs. Let us see them in detail.

First of all, his prayer. One of the words that recurs most frequently in the Spiritual Memoirs is “desires”: Faber was a “man of desires” (cf. Dan 9:23, Vulgate). The first editors rightly entitled the work Memoir of some good desires and good thoughts of Father Master Peter Faber.

 One of the main merits of the Memoriale is that it shows how all the circumstances of life (apostolate, travels, worries, friendships… and even neglect) for Faber were transformed into matter for prayer.

Faber even profits from distractions in prayer. He recounts: “[One day,] while I was saying the office and trying to adjust my watch without need, it occurred to me to ask God for the grace to be stimulated and disposed by him to pray well. This is easier for him than it is for me to adjust or handle any material object. Hence I came to reproach myself for having far too often allowed myself to be taken in by the desire to handle and adjust such and such an object without need, whereas at that moment I should have been attentive and applied myself to my prayers or meditation. I should have devoted all my efforts to disposing myself to do well what I had to do with my hands, mouth, intelligence and soul.”[4]

Another important characteristic of the Memoriale is that it is an almost continuous dialogue not only with God (the Trinity and Jesus Christ in particular), but also with the Virgin, the saints and the angels: indeed Faber could say with Saint Paul that “our citizenship is in heaven” (cf. Phil 3:20).

And so we come to the second specific trait of Faber’s inner life: his fighting spirit.

His struggle began very early and led him to Paris in 1530 where he placed himself in the expert hands of Saint Ignatius, who guided him to an understanding of “the temptations and scruples of which I had been a prisoner for so long, without intellectual light and without experience of the path where I could find peace. The scruples came from the fear of not having confessed my sins properly for a long time […]. The temptations consisted in obscene and impure carnal images subtly presented to me by the spirit of fornication. Before Paris, I did not know this through the spirit, but only through readings and teachings.”[5]

It was a struggle that lasted until the end of his life. In January 1546, the last year of his life – and in the last entry in his Spiritual Memoirs – Faber wrote: “I felt my deficiencies resurface […]. I then felt, during these days, through the experience of temptation, that I was in need of abundant grace.”[6]

It is an inner struggle that is not to the detriment of the individual, but, if anything, to his merit: grace, which he tells us he needs “abundantly,” was granted to him aplenty. He himself informs us, referring to himself: “How you had no major temptation, in which you were not also consoled, not only through a clarity of knowledge, but also by a spirit that was contrary to sadness, fear, pusillanimity or abasement, following favorable but illusory conditions. In this, God gave an extraordinary clarity and very true insights on the subject: remedies against the spirit of fornication; means of attaining purity in matters of the flesh, remedies against the world and its spirit.”[7]

Faber’s Spiritual Memoirs are, from the first to the last page, a testimony to the truth of that Ignatian rule of discretion according to which “the enemy of human nature is lurking nearby […] and then attacks us and tries to take us where he finds us weakest and most helpless as regards our eternal salvation,”[8] and also of that Pauline dictum: “For the strength [of the Lord] is fully manifested in [Faber’s] weakness” (cf. 2 Cor 12:9).

* * *

In both these features – that of prayer and that of spiritual struggle – the valiant disciple is clearly portrayed, trained as he was in the school of the Spiritual Exercises (we recall the controversy, now passed into history, between “unionists” and “electionists”) and the consummate master in the art of spiritual guidance. After Faber’s death, Saint Ignatius, in February 1555, said of him that “of all those I knew in the Society, the first place in giving them [the Exercises] was held by Father Faber.”[9]

DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 5, no. 2 art. 14, 1020: 10.32009/22072446.0221.14

[1] This text is taken from M. Á. Fiorito, Escritos, V, Rome, La Civiltà Cattolica, 2019, 167-169

[2] Recall that Peter Faber was canonized by Pope Francis on December 17, 2013

[3] Cf. Epistolae P. Hieronymi Nadal Societatis Jesu Ab Anno 1546 Ad 1577, vol. IV, Madrid, G. López del Horno, 1905, 651

[4] P. Faber, Memorie spirituali, No. 249, Milan, Corriere della Sera – La Civiltà Cattolica, 2014

[5] Ibid., No. 9

[6] Ibid., No. 443

[7] Ibid., No. 30

[8] Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, No. 327

[9] L. G. da Câmara, Memorial, 6, 1. The original text of the Spiritual Memoirs of Blessed Faber has not come down to us – or, rather, it has not yet been found, but we should not despair that sooner or later it will be found, buried in some archive – but there are several manuscript copies, of different sizes and in two languages: Spanish and Latin. The authors who have published the Spiritual Memoirs in various modern languages have used one copy or another, in some cases more than one. We have preferred to stick to the two copies critically published in the Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu: one Latin (more complete) and the other Spanish (incomplete, with only approximately the first 180 points). The Latin copy is the most complete of all the existing ones, and some details lead us to think that it is more “original” than the others (although, as we said, there is no original in the proper sense): for example, although written in Latin, it contains some sentences in Spanish. We know that Faber knew how to speak and write Spanish, although his mother tongue was Savoyard French; but in both letters and sermons he mixed it with Latin when he wanted to be more exact or when the phrase came from his heart. Therefore we have thought that the original of the Spiritual Memoirs – a work that springs from the heart – may have been written in Latin, and that a copy of it is the one published by the Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu.