Saturday, July 27, 2013

Saint Martha and the Jesuits

Pedro de Ribadeneyra 1526-1611
Cornelis Galle  1576-1650
Théodore Galle  1571-1633
Jan Collaert 1566-1628
Plate 12 is an image of Rome showing Ignatian places of devotion in Rome and 
Plate 15 is composite image of the miracles of Saint Ignatius and includes the conversion of women
Published Antwerp
Engravings 30 x 40 cm.
Boston College, Boston, USA

Monday is the Feast of St Martha of Bethany (sister of Lazarus)

Wednesday is the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits

St Ignatius and the Jesuits are often celebrated for their work in the Counter-Reformation, the Spiritual Exercises and the establishment of schools and universities, and their missionary activity

The Vita beati patris Ignatii Loyolae religionis Societatis Iesu fundatoris ad viuum expressa ex ea quam was published by the Jesuit Order to celebrate the beatification of St Ignatius in 1609

One aspect of the apostolate of St Ignatius is often overlooked. It is not widely known. 

Indeed after his death it was marginalised and in the pious biographies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries it is barely (if at all) mentioned

In 1543 St Ignatius founded a house for the reformation of Rome`s prostitutes. It was called Casa Santa Marta

There is a bit of historical irony that the first Jesuit Pope, Francis, has elected to make his home in Rome in a building also called Casa Santa Marta (Domus Santa Marta)

Both buildings were dedicated to Saint Martha, the sister of Mary and Lazarus.

Martha was of course the mistress of the house where the Lord came and was the house of those who sought out the Lord. It was a house of service dedicated to the Lord 

In one of his last messages as Pope for Lent 2013, Pope Benedict said:
"In sacred Scripture, we see how the zeal of the Apostles to proclaim the Gospel and awaken people’s faith is closely related to their charitable concern to be of service to the poor (cf. Acts 6:1-4). In the Church, contemplation and action, symbolized in some way by the Gospel figures of Mary and Martha, have to coexist and complement each other (cf. Lk 10:38-42)."
By the fifteenth century prostitution was accepted as a service industry in Italy and most of Europe. 

It was regarded as a sin but not so much for the male client. Many theologians regarded the use of prostitutes as a lesser evil

As the Catholic Reform progressed, the Oratorians had set up a convent for the reform of prostitutes. The accent was on repentance. That was in 1520

But St Ignatius` approach was different.  It was to seek out prostitutes and offer them an opportunity or have in which they could renounce their former life, reform and be reintegrated into society The aim was not to make them become members of a religious order

It was the "half way house" and the model spread throughout the major cities of Italy

Ignatius spent about ten years in this activity

Ignatius himself took an active role in  developing Casa Santa Marta, In addition to preaching to prostitutes, Ignatius raised funds to support the house and to supply dowries for women who wished to marry.

He recognized that women became prostitutes because of economic and social conditions. 

They were often fleeing abusive marriages or were without dowries required for marriage or the religious life. 

Ignatius offered the women he served a wider range of choices than other charities permitted

These women could marry, embrace religious life as conversae, or enter domestic service. 

Ignatius also recognized the intergenerational character of prostitution and provided education and dowries for the daughters of prostitutes between the ages of ten and twelve to provide them with better options than their mothers had. 

Ignatius was insistent that the prostitutes who came to Casa Santa Marta freely choose from the available options they had open to them

"Ignatius founded a residence for penitent prostitutes. 
Prostitution was a significant service industry in Rome and was more or less accepted in the fifteenth century, but the advent of syphilis and the changing moral tenor led to sixteenth-century reform movements. 
In 1520 the Oratorio del Divino Amore had established a convent for former prostitutes, based on the earlier monastic model emphasizing a strict life of penance.
Santa Marta aimed at rehabilitation of former prostitutes and their reintegration into ordinary social life. In a sense, it was similar to what we now call "half-way houses." 
Among the 170 founding members of the confraternity that administered the work were 15 cardinals, seven bishops, and several ambassadors to the papal court. Leaving financial and material matters to the lay people, Ignatius provided spiritual direction. 
Besides a concern for the moral well-being of the women, Ignatius also wanted to reform the Papal Court. 
When the mistress of the papal postmaster entered Santa Marta, the enraged postmaster began accusing the Jesuits of having their own concubines there. The accusation was serious enough that Ignatius demanded an official investigation; the result was that the Jesuits were cleared of all charges of misconduct. ... 
Father Pedro Ribadeneira described the scene of Ignatius leading to the Residence of Saint Martha some of the women he had rescued: 
"When some people told him that women like that, veterans confirmed in vice, easily go back to their former ways..., and so one ought not spend much effort to convert them, Father Ignatius responded: 'By no means. If all my efforts and concern could persuade only one of them not to sin for one night out of love for Jesus Christ, I would omit no effort whereby just for that time at least she would not offend God even though I knew that afterwards she would return again to the former ways.'"

Perhaps it is this type of Ignatian spirituality which lies behind Pope Francis and which is behind among other things his call to South American nations not to legalise drugs

See also:

Charles Chauvin « La maison Sainte Marthe, Ignace et les prostituées de Rome » Christus n°149, p.117  - 126.