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Jerome Nadal, S.J. 1507-1580: Tracking the First Generation of Jesuits.

In the first three decades of Jesuit history, probably no one mattered more for the evolution of the order, the Generals expected, than Jerome Nadal. A well-born Mallorcan of uneasy moods and lively spirituality, Nadal spent the second half of his long life (1507-1580) in ceaseless labor on behalf of Ignatius Loyola and his first two successors. As founder of the first Jesuit school, as promoter and expounder of the order's Constitutions, and as indefatigable visitor of its European houses, he left his footprints everywhere.

The Jesuits, looking back over their history, see themselves as having achieved a happy union of engagement and withdrawal, a this-worldly asceticism that merges prayer with social action. The early history of their order makes clear that they did not achieve this balance without much struggle, both within and without. Public traditions, private habits, and several popes impelled them towards more cloistered contemplation. Some of Loyola's first converts, especially in Spain and Portugal, leaned more to prayer and withdrawal than to apostolic labors in school and pulpit. Although it was not until the end of the 16th century, after Nadal's death, that the debate over the place of prayer came to an end, the Mallorcan's labors had done much to shape its eventual conclusion.

As Troeltsch remarked, Christian organizations, on the ancient model, often begin as "sect" and ends as "church." Like the Franciscans, yet even faster and more thoroughly, the Jesuits made this classic change at breakneck speed. They moved from band of brothers to bureaucratic structure within the 16 years of Loyola's generalate (1540-1556). This transformation coincided with exponential growth in numbers and daring ventures into Africa, Asia, and quite unfriendly parts of Europe. While legend tends to credit this expansion to plan, system, order, and uniformity, historians know that the Jesuit order was looser and more conflict-ridden than either its friends or its enemies liked to believe. The struggle over the place of prayer intersected with a second battle, waged by the Jesuit center against the centrifugal impulses of its periphery, especially in Spain and Portugal. In all this context, Nadal was the center's man on the spot. From 1553 to 1568, he was in almost perpetual motion, in a series of visitations that took him to almost every corner of Catholic Europe, from Portugal to Hungary, Moravia, and the Lower Rhine. Usually, he travelled with extensive powers, which let him make and unmake local officials, found or quash houses, admit, expel, confess, and examine men, and exhort and catechize all in matters constitutional. Some of his hosts feared that, in these labors, he pitched the letter against the spirit, for he was a prolific author of lists of rules on just about everything. The order sloughed off some of this punctilio, but much of it left its mark. At the same time, through his sermons, Nadal did much to focus the order's habits and its elan on the image of Ignatius, who, even still living, came to seem the inspired template for Jesuit spirit and action.

So a book on Nadal is very welcome. Bangert's, sadly, is a posthumous work, dedicated to the novices of the American Assistancy and touchingly introduced by McCoog, who recovered the manuscript and polished it for publication. B.'s work has the editorial precision and warm, lively prose of much Jesuit scholarship. A moral work, in the tradition of edifying history, it is not shy about passing judgment. The criteria, perforce, are Jesuit, and also Catholic and humane. Accordingly, Nadal emerges as a very human figure, quite flawed in both character and judgment, too morose, too harsh, too polemical for greatness, but all in all a good soul who achieved much. Non-Jesuit readers, and Jesuits too, might wish B., had adopted a different hermeneutic, one more alive to the pathos of the distant past and more "post-modernly" alert to problems of rhetoric. Let me explain.

B., I think, trusted too much in the transparency of his sources. Because he, they, and his imagined readers were all "inside" the Society of Jesus, he thought it licit to let the old papers speak directly. A very tempting writer's trick, it gives immediacy, or at least seems to. The nature of the sources invites quotation, for Nadal's many letters, his diaries, his instructions, his sermons, have long been in print, mostly in the Monumenta Historica, which B. followed too closely in the construction of his book. But these old writings need much more historical exegesis; B.'s illusion of transparency flattens time. Nadal's diaries, e.g., are problematic documents, often at some remove from the events related and much in need of editorial commentary. B. should not have quoted long-remembered conversations with Ignatius, e.g., as if Nadal had the words exactly. The same is true of his too-trusting use of Jesuit letters, which varied enormously in their rhetoric, for some were very public, and others for special, discreet eyes only. Thus, fulsome exultation over Nadal's recent visit, e.g., may have been more a polite grace note than a deep-felt sentiment. Sixteenth-century language does not speak to us directly; it needs an explication that respects genre, context, and rhetoric. Unfortunately, B.'s laconic footnotes do not begin to sort these matters out; the scholar who wants to know what to make of a cited text is forced back to the printed sources. Thus, there is more to Nadal's story, but a future teller should stand a bit further off from Nadal himself and range into other materials, both print and manuscript.
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Author:Cohen, Thomas V.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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