The Apostle of the Indies - The First English Edition of The Life of Francis Xavier - Printed at Saint-Omer

XAVIER, SAINT FRANCIS (1506-1552). Torsellino, Orazio, S.J. (1545-1599); Fitzherbert, Thomas S.J. (1552-1640), translator

The admirable life of S. Francis Xavier. Deuided into VI. bookes written in Latin by Fa. Horatius Tursellinus of the Society of Iesus and translated into English by T.F.

Printed at Paris [i.e. Saint-Omer, At the English College Press], 1632


Quarto: 17 x 12.5 cm. [26], 616 p. Collation: π1 (engraved title), A4, ã4, ẽ4, B-Z4, Aa-Zz4, Aaa-Zzz4, Aaaa-Iiii4


A very fine copy in 19thc. calfskin, gilt, rebacked with the original spine preserved. A.e.g. Complete with the added engraved title-page by Martin Baes showing Xavier flanked by figures representing the "Indies".

Translated by Thomas Fitzherbert, S.J. (1552-1640), who supported the English Catholic cause in a variety of ways, especially on the Continent, where "where he defended the interests of Mary, queen of Scots. He also served Catherine de' Medici, and was a firm member of the Allen party among the English Catholic exiles."(DNB) He entered the Society of Jesus in 1615 and became rector of the English College in Rome in 1619. The book is dedicated to Lady Dorothy Shirley (later Stafford, néeDevereux), daughter of Robert Devereux, second Earl of Essex. In his dedicatory epistle, Fitzherbert praises Lady Dorothy (1600-1636) for her "Resolution and Constancy" in the Catholic faith "in the middst of strongest Reasons, Tryalls, & Provocations to the contrary."

Orazio Torsellino's biography of Francis Xavier was the first full summary of Xavier's life to appear in print. For his account, Torsellino depended heavily on a manuscript life written in 1580 by Xavier's coworker in the mission field, Manuel Teixeira.

"In 1552, Francis Xavier died off the coast of China after a short but spectacular career in India, Japan, and parts of present-day Indonesia. He was in the East at the behest of King John III of Portugal, who gave Xavier unstinting support during his whole missionary career.

When King John heard of Xavier's death, he immediately ordered his viceroy in India to gather testimony in view of a future canonization. Between 1556-1557, thirty-six eyewitness testimonies were taken in Goa alone. Xavier's corpse, exhumed months after his burial, was found perfectly fresh and incorrupt, though he had been buried with a large quantity of lime. Here was a striking and traditional indication of sanctity…

"For most Jesuits, proud as they were of Xavier, it would be unbecoming for him to be canonized before the founder. In their minds, however, the two men were closely linked, as is clear from the decree of the Jesuits' Fifth General Congregation, held in the winter of 1593-4, mandating Acquaviva to petition for the canonization of them both."(O'Malley, Saints or Devils Incarnate?,p. 279)

On 25 October 1619, Xavier cleared the first hurdle to achieving sainthood, when he was declared "beatus" (blessed) by Pope Paul V. Xavier was at last canonized on 12 March 1622, along with Ignatius, Filippo Neri, and Teresa of Avila.

Vivid tales of the East Indies:

In addition to serving as a vehicle for promoting the canonization of Xavier, Torsellino's life also introduced many readers to vivid accounts of life in the East Indies. Fitzherbert's first concern is of course the devotional function of the book, but in his introductory epistle he tells Lady Dorothy that she is sure to delight in the tales of the inhabitants and customs of the East Indies: "So various is the History that it cannot be but delightful and pleasant, by means of so many Countries briefly and lively described; so many different dispositions and strange manners; so many Rites and Ceremonies of false Religions, together with sundry superstitions of Idolatrous Priests; the ignorant Brachmans in India, the superstitious Cacizes in Socotora, the arrogant Bongi in Japony, must needs yield a pleasing and attractive delight to all attentive readers."

Xavier's Missionary Activities in the East:

"Xavier landed at Goa, 6 May, 1542. The first five months he spent in preaching and ministering to the sick in the hospitals. About October, 1542, he started for the pearl fisheries of the extreme southern coast of the peninsula, desirous of restoring Christianity which, although introduced years before, had almost disappeared on account of the lack of priests. He devoted almost three years to the work of preaching to the people of Western India, converting many, and reaching in his journeys even the Island of Ceylon. In the spring of 1545 Xavier started for Malacca, where he labored for the last months of that year, and about January, 1546, Xavier went to the Moluccas, where the Portuguese had some settlements, and for a year and a half he preached the Gospel to the inhabitants of Amboyna, Ternate, Baranura, and other islands which it has been difficult to identify.

"By July, 1547, he was again in Malacca. Here he met a Japanese called Anger (Han-Sir), from whom he obtained much information about Japan. His zeal was at once aroused by the idea of introducing Christianity into Japan, but for the time being the affairs of the Society demanded his presence at Goa, whither he went, taking Anger with him. During the six years that Xavier had been working in the East, other Jesuit missionaries had arrived at Goa, sent from Europe by Ignatius of Loyola; moreover some who had been born in the country had been received into the Society. In 1548 Xavier sent these missionaries to the principal centers of India, where he had established missions, so that the work might be preserved and continued. He also established a novitiate and house of studies, and having received into the Society Father Cosme de Torres, a Spanish priest whom he had met in the Maluccas, he started with him and Brother Juan Fernandez for Japan towards the end of June, 1549. Anger, who had been baptized at Goa and given the name of Pablo de Santa Fe, accompanied them.

"They landed at the city of Kagoshima in Japan on 15 August, 1549. The entire first year was devoted to learning the Japanese language and translating into Japanese, with the help of Pablo de Santa Fe, the principal articles of faith and short treatises that were to be employed in preaching and catechizing. When he was able to express himself, Xavier began preaching and made some converts, but these aroused the ill will of the Bonzes, who had him banished from the city. Leaving Kagoshima about August, 1550, he penetrated to the center of Japan, and preached the Gospel in some of the cities of southern Japan. Towards the end of that year he reached Meaco, then the principal city of Japan, but he was unable to make any headway here because of the dissensions then rending the country. He retraced his steps to the center of Japan, and during 1551 preached in some important cities, forming the nucleus of several Christian communities, which in time increased with extraordinary rapidity.

"After working about two years and a half in Japan he left this mission in charge of Father Cosme de Torres and Brother Juan Fernandez, and returned to Goa, arriving there at the beginning of 1552. Here domestic troubles awaited him. Certain disagreements between the superior who had been left in charge of the missions and the rector of the college had to be adjusted. This, however, being arranged, Xavier turned his thoughts to China, and began to plan an expedition there. During his stay in Japan he had heard much of the Celestial Empire, and though he probably had not formed a proper estimate of its extent and greatness, he nevertheless understood how wide a field it afforded for the spread of the Gospel. With the help of friends he arranged an embassy, obtained from the Viceroy of India the appointment of ambassador, and in April, 1552, he left Goa. At Malacca the party encountered difficulties because the influential Portuguese disapproved of the expedition, but Xavier knew how to overcome this opposition, and in the autumn he arrived in a Portuguese vessel at the small island of Shangchuan near the coast of China. While planning the best means for reaching the mainland, he was taken ill, and as the movement of the vessel seemed to aggravate his condition, he was removed to the land, where a rude hut had been built to shelter him. In these wretched surroundings he breathed his last. His body is still enshrined at Goa in the church that formerly belonged to the Society. In 1614 by order of Claudius Acquaviva, General of the Society of Jesus, the right arm was severed at the elbow and conveyed to Rome, where the present altar was erected to receive it in the church of the Gesù."(CE)

Allison and Rogers 824; ESTC S118493; STC (2nd ed.), 24140