The First Edition of Maffei’s Life of Ignatius

IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, SAINT (1491-1556), Maffei, Giovanni Pietro (1536-1603)

De Vita et Morib. Ignatii Loiolae: qui Societatem Iesu fundavit, libri III

Rome: Apud F. Zannettum, 1585


Quarto: 20 x 14.5 cm †2, A-Z4, Aa-Cc4, Dd2


Bound in contemporary vellum. A fine, fresh copy with small, discreet repairs to the inner margin of the first leaf and the outer blank margin of another. Light toning to a couple of signatures otherwise bright and crisp.

Maffei, author of the influential history of the Jesuit missions in Asia, wrote his life of Ignatius to advance the Jesuits’ case for the canonization of the Society’s founder. In his opening letter to the Jesuit General Claudio Acquaviva, Maffei tells us that he composed the work at the behest of the previous general of the order, Everard Mercurian. The year in which this biography appeared (1585) was an inauspicious year for the Jesuits, for it was the first year of the reign of Pope Sixtus V, who was hostile to the order. The cause of sainthood was not advanced until 1605, when Pope Paul V appointed a commission to consider the case for the canonization of Ignatius. Ignatius was beatified in 1609 and was, at last, canonized in 1622.

Maffei’s important and influential Life of Loyola remained, along with that of Ribadeneira, “the main source for subsequent biographies until the 18th century.”(O’Reilly) This is due in large part to the fact that Maffei had access to three of the earliest biographical accounts of Ignatius, all written before Ignatius’ death. While “these documents were known and read within the Society during Ignatius’ lifetime… in 1567 they were withdrawn from general circulation, apparently at Ribadeneira’s prompting”(O‘Reilly), and did not become known again until, in the case of one of the texts, the 18th century, and in the case of the other two, until the 20th century.

“The first [of these texts] is in the form of a letter, dated 16 June 1547, by Ignatius’ close friend and companion, Diego Laínez. It is addressed to Juan Polanco, who had been appointed secretary to Ignatius a few months earlier, and was anxious to gather information about the origins of the Society. The second is by Polanco himself: a chronicle, in Spanish, on the origins of the order, which he completed in 1547 or 1548. It is based on information that he had gathered, including Laínez’ letter, and on what he had learned from the other founders, among them Ignatius. The third is Ignatius’ own account of his life, which he dictated between 1553 and 1556 to a Portuguese Jesuit, Luis Gonçalves da Cámara. The text, which has come to be known as the Autobiography, is in Spanish and Italian.”(O’Reilly, Ignatius of Loyola and the Counter-Reformation: The Hagiographic Tradition, The Heythrop Journal, XXXI, 1990 pp. 439-470)

Backer-Sommervogel V, 296; Palau 14, 6954