Francis Xavier

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Francisco Xavier asking John III of Portugal for an expedition

Francis Xavier, S.J. (7 April 1506; 3 December 1552), was a Navarrese Basque Roman Catholic missionary, born in Javier (Xavier in Navarro-Aragonese or Xabier in Basque), Kingdom of Navarre (present day Spain), and a co-founder of the Society of Jesus. He was a companion of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and one of the first seven Jesuits who took vows of poverty and chastity at Montmartre, Paris, in 1534. He led an extensive mission into Asia, mainly in the Portuguese Empire of the time and was influential in evangelization work, most notably in India. The Goa Inquisition was proposed by St. Francis Xavier. He also was the first Christian missionary to venture into Japan, Borneo, the Maluku Islands, and other areas. In those areas, struggling to learn the local languages and in the face of opposition, he had less success than he had enjoyed in India. Xavier was about to extend his missionary preaching to China when he died on Shangchuan Island.

Quotes[edit]

  • To a considerable extent the shape of Xavier's missionary work was determined by this threefold authority. Personally the most modest of men, his imagination was fired by the progress of Portuguese discovery and by the thought of lands and empires to be brought within the kingdom of Christ. He had not gone out to be the supervisor of a little handful of Jesuits in a small corner of India. His own temperament may have been restless; but there is a certain magnificence in a restlessness which led him to contain within a single glance India and the Moluccas, Japan, and, even beyond Japan, China.
    • Neill, S. (2004). A history of Christianity in India: The beginning to AD 1707. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Almost from the time of Xavier's actual presence on the Coast, the work of legend-building began, and it came to be firmly believed that he possessed miraculous powers, which extended even to the raising of the dead. Xavier never made such extravagant claims for himself.
    • Neill, S. (2004). A history of Christianity in India: The beginning to AD 1707. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Everyone who came in contact with Xavier seems to have agreed that he was a saint. Men might disagree with him; but in all the extensive records there is not a single word that runs contrary to the general verdict as to his saintliness. There are many references to the long hours that he spent in prayer and in rapt contemplation of his Lord. He disclaimed anything in the way of miraculous powers; in his devotions there was nothing that could be called mystical in any strict sense of that term. He seems to have followed the broad lines of medieval devotional practice, profoundly influenced by the Spiritual Exercises of his master Ignatius. Xavier, like Ignatius, was in all things a medieval man, untouched by any of the new currents of thought in theology or in the daily affairs of life. It is probable that, in the ten years of his sojourn in the East, he never possessed a Bible or even a New Testament. Apart from his breviary and his missal, his sole companion seems to have been the work of Marcus Marulus, Opus de religiose vivendi institutione, a thick book of 680 pages, published at Cologne in 1531. He seems rarely to have based his discourses directly on the Bible...
    • Neill, S. (2004). A history of Christianity in India: The beginning to AD 1707. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Following the baptisms, the new Christians return to their homes and come back with their wives and families to be in their turn prepared for baptism. After all had been baptised, I order that the temples of the false Gods be pulled down and idols broken. I know not how to describe in words the joy I feel before the spectacle of pulling down and destroying the idols by the very people who formerly worshipped them.
    • Letter dated February 8, 1545, to the Society of Jesus. Quoted from Goel, S. R. (1985). St. Francis Xavier: The man and his mission.
  • According to my experience, the only effective way to spread religion in India is for the King to proclaim by means of an edict to all his officials in India that he shall put trust only in those who will exert themselves to extend the reign of religion by every means in their power. The King must definitely order them to exert themselves with zeal to multiply the number of Christians in Cape Comorin [Kanyakumari] in order to attract to the faith of Jesus Christ the island of Ceylon, and to muster all the pious people, be they members of our Society [the Jesuits] or other that may seem fit for propagating religion.... If the King publishes such an edict and treats severely those who disobey it, a great number of natives will embrace the faith of Jesus Christ; otherwise no success can be expected.
    • Letter dated 20th January 1548, to Fr. Simao Rodrigues. quoted from Goel, S. R. (1985). St. Francis Xavier: The man and his mission.
  • The second necessity for the Christians is that your Majesty establish the Holy Inquisition, because there are many who live according to the Jewish law, and according to the Mahomedan sect, without any fear of God or shame of the world. And since there are many spread all over the fortresses, there is the need of the Holy Inquisition and of many preachers. Your Majesty should provide such necessary things for your loyal and faithful subjects in India.
    • Letter addressed to the King of Portugal on May 16, 1545. Joseph Wicki, Documenta Indica, Vol. IV, Rome, 1956. quoted from Goel, S. R. (1985). St. Francis Xavier: The man and his mission.
  • St Xavier had come to the East representing both the Pope ‑ as a Legate ‑ and the King as an inspector of missions. As missionary work was a State enterprise charged to the Crown's revenues in Portugal, this identification of national, interests with religious activity should not be a matter of surprise.
    • K. M. Panikkar. Asia and Western Dominance: a survey of the Vasco Da Gama epoch of Asian history, 1498–1945.
  • Xavier lived up to this tradition of the Church on the Coromandel Coast. He discovered that, though baptised in 1534, the Parava fisherman could hardly be called Christians in practice. Some of them still made their living by making images of Hindu deities. All of them were worshipping these “evil spirits”. According to the History of Christianity in India published by the United Theological Seminary, Bangalore, in 1982: “When the boys informed him that someone had made an idol, he went with them and had it broken into a thousand pieces. In spite of all his advice someone persisted in making idols, he would have them punished by the patangatis (heads of Parava villages) or banished to another village. One day when he heard that idols had been worshipped in the house of a Christian, he ordered the hut to be burned down as a warning to others (ref. Volume 1).
    • History of Christianity in India published by the United Theological Seminary, 1982. quoted in Goel, S. R. (1985). St. Francis Xavier: The man and his mission.
  • Later on, he mounted the same iconoclastic campaign on the Malabar Coast. According to the same History, “When the whole village was baptised, Xavier would get them to pull down their village temple and break into small pieces the idols it contained.” He did this at a time the Tiruvadi Raja of Quilon had given him 2000 fanams to build churches. The poor fishermen were in no position to resist him because the Portuguese pirates were always at hand to assist the missionary. Xavier took great delight in what he had done in Malabar. On February 8, 1545, he wrote to the Society of Jesus: “Following the baptisms, the new Christians return to their homes and come back with their wives and families to be in their turn prepared for baptism. After all had been baptised, I order that the temples of the false Gods be pulled down and idols broken. I know not how to describe in words the joy I feel before the spectacle of pulling down and destroying the idols by the very people who formerly worshipped them.”
    • History of Christianity in India, Quoted from Goel, S. R. (1985). St. Francis Xavier: The man and his mission.
  • One of Xavier's colleagues in this mission of christianising the Hindus was Miguel Vaz, the Vicar General of India appointed by Rome. In consultation with Xavier he wrote a long letter to the King of Portugal in November 1545. The letter outlined a forty­one point plan for spreading the “light of Christianity.” Point No. 3 reads as follows: “Since idolatry is so great an offence against God, as is manifest to all, it is just that your Majesty should not permit it within your territories and an order should be promulgated in Goa to the effect that in the whole island there should not be any temple public or secret; contravention thereof should entail grave penalties; that no official should make idols in any form, neither of stone, nor of wood, nor of copper, nor of any other metal; ... and that persons who are in charge of St. Paul's should have the power to search the houses of the Brahmins and other Hindus, in case there exists a presumption or suspicion of the existence of idols there.” On March 8, 1547 the King ordered his Viceroy at Goa that all Hindu temples should be destroyed forthwith.
    • Letter dated November 1545. (Joseph Wicki, Documenta Indica, Vol. 1). Quoted in Goel, S. R. (1985). St. Francis Xavier: The man and his mission.

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