Curing the Illnesses of the Soul
15 November 2017
At one time, when a young Jesuit finished his novitiate and started his studies of philosophy and theology, he was entrusted with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to be used as a rule of life. It came with a booklet in Latin: Industriae pro superioribus ad curandos animae morbos, written by Fr. Claudio Acquaviva (1543-1615), the fifth superior general of the Society of Jesus. Pope Francis donated a copy of a recent edition of that volume, “Remedies for Curing the Illnesses of the Soul,” to each of his collaborators in the Roman Curia at their meeting for Christmas greetings on December 22, 2016.
Acquaviva was 38 when he was elected superior general and remained in office for 35 years: the longest generalate in the history of the Society. Jesuits and historians remember him as a great superior who, during his term of office, had to face extraordinarily complicated problems. In his time, the Society increased from 5,000 to 13,000 members, from 144 to 373 colleges, from 33 to 123 pastoral residences and from 21 to 32 religious provinces. However, more important than apostolic works, during Acquaviva’s generalate many saints came from the ranks of the Society. It is difficult not to notice the fruitful role of Acquaviva as superior behind this blossoming of holiness and ministries.
Acquaviva’s dedicated concern was to maintain the original spirit of the Society. This was a difficult task because the general spiritual excellence decreased with the gradual increase in the number of members. Acquaviva undertook the task of instilling within such a large religious congregation the ideals that St. Ignatius developed and conveyed to a select minority. With this aim, Acquaviva wrote many letters to the entire Society, saturated with the Christocentric exhortation to practice the virtues of prayer and penitence, so that its members would acquire the grace to be able to pray while working and be moderate in penitence, in order to be neither too negligent nor too excessive in it. His personal spiritual writings all express a careful, fatherly, firm and evangelical teaching.
Written and designed for superiors of the Society, “Remedies for Curing the Illnesses of the Soul,” contains advice and remedies to heal divisions, weaknesses and the moral, spiritual and community defects that can obscure and compromise the religious vocation. The short essay is perhaps the highest expression of his teaching and certainly the one that has continued to be in use over the centuries.
The author, Giandomenico Mucci, is a member of the college of writers for La Civiltà Cattolica.