Letters to Women deserved this reprint. In these letters, readers find a different side of Ignatius of Loyola and indeed, a different attitude toward women then is commonly attributed to the founder of the Jesuits famous or infamous for not accepting the efforts of women, some represented in this volume, to found a sister order for women. Here one finds the one woman who was admitted to the Society of Jesus by Ignatius himself, Juana, regent of the Spanish kingdoms and daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Because of her sovereign position, she could not be refused. Under her Jesuit pseudonym of Mateo Sanchez, Juana made the vows of a Jesuit scholastic that bound her to the Society but gave the Society the right to dissolve them at any time. Ignatius therefore found himself as her Jesuit superior and at the same time, as a Spaniard, he was her subject. Juana remained a princess and a Jesuit until her death in 1573.
The letters to women comprise a relatively small number (139) among Ignatius’s voluminous correspondence (6,813 + 956 letters addressed to Ignatius). They were neglected until Hugo Rahner understood their importance for understanding something about the spiritual direction of women in the sixteenth century and gathered them into this volume. Rahner provided a helpful introduction to the letters that he arranged hierarchically: I: Royal Ladies, 2) Noble women, 3) Benefactresses, 4) Spiritual daughters, 5) Mothers of Jesuits, 6) Friends. Rahner writes “he [Ignatius] wished to help those souls in whom he found the capacity for the love of God, for the inner life, for works of charity. This capacity he found more in women than in men.” (p. 6) It would seem, nevertheless, that at least part of Ignatius’s motivation for leaving Spain to study at the University of Paris was to escape the requests of women for his direction. Since he didn’t know French, the ladies of France would leave him alone but the male Spanish students and professors would provide recruits for his “great work.” (p. 13)
In his letters of spiritual direction to women, Ignatius gives the same guidance as to men; this phenomenon is not rare. One can find the same ambivalence toward women in general and respect toward particular women in other saints and noted spiritual guides such as St. Augustine of Hippo and of St. Francis of Assisi among others. Cultural prejudice may dictate behavior, but the intelligence and spiritual development of women commanded reverence for God’s work with souls, as Ignatius would put it. On the other hand, when advising a woman trapped in an abusive marriage, Ignatius conforms to the usual advice of suffer and obey. Joanna of Aragon maintained her independence and refused to return to Ascanio Colonna even though Ignatius sent her a letter containing twenty six reasons why she should do so. She should simply put herself entirely in her husband’s power “as a wife is normally, and ought to be in the power of her husband . . . .” (p. 141)
Ignatius doesn’t talk of women, especially their bodies, as more sinful than men’s. Rather he speaks generally of how the instrument of the body can be turned to good or evil by a good or bad will and the development of good or bad habits. But he does advise Jesuits to shun low-born women who might try to trick them or even accuse them falsely as occurred when a woman who had gone to confession to a Jesuit then accused him of fathering her child. Only the discovery of the real father resolved the issue.
More collections of letters to women from men would help to establish what seems to be the case, that culturally transmitted stereotypes of women prevail until men of integrity deal with women of equal integrity who display the same hopes, dreams, determinations, and endowments of mind and will that men expect from other men.