1902 Encyclopedia > St Francis Borgia

St Francis Borgia
Duke of Gandia and Jesuit general
(1510-72)




ST FRANCIS BORGIA, (1510-1572), duke of Gandia, and afterwards general of the Jesuit order, was the son of John, duke of Gandia, a scion of the well-known family of Borgia or Borja to which Bopes Calixtus III. and Alexander VI. had belonged, and of Joanna of Aragon, daughter of Alphonso, a natural son of Ferdinand the Catholic. He was born at Gandia (Valencia), on the 10th of October 1510, and from his infancy was remarkable for his piety. Educated from his twelfth year at Saragossa under the charge of his uncle the archbishop, he had begun to show a strong inclina-tion towards the monastic life, when his father, wishing to divert his thoughts elsewhere, sent him in 1528 to the court of Charles V. Here he soon distinguished himself greatly by his diligence and fidelity; and on his marriage with Eleanor de Castro, a Portuguese lady of high rank, he was created by the emperor Marquis of Bombay, and at the same time received the appointment of master of the horse to the empress. He accompanied Charles on his African expedition in 1535, and also into Provence in 1536; and on the death of the empress in 1539 he was deputed to convoy the body to the burial place in Granada. Circum-stances connected with the funeral obsequies there deepened in his mind long-cherished impressions as to the vanity of all worldly things, and fixed his determination to leave the court betimes, and also, should he survive his consort, to embrace the monastic life. On his return to Toledo, however, new honours were thrust upon him, much against his will; he was made viceroy of Catalonia and commander of the order of St James. At Barcelona, the seat of his government, he lived a life of great austerity, but discharged his official duties with energy and efficiency until 1543, when, having succeeded his father in the dukedom, he at length obtained permission to resign his viceroyalty, and to retire to a more congenial mode of life at Gandia. Having already held some correspondence with Loyola, he now encouraged the recently founded order of Jesuits to the utmost of his power. One of his first cares at Gandia was to build a college for them; and on the death of Eleanor in 1546, he resolved to become himself a member of their society. The difficulties arising from political and family circumstances were removed by a papal dispensation, which allowed him, in the interests of his young children, to retain his dignities and worldly possessions for four years after he should have taken the vows. In 1550 he visited Bome, where he was received with every mark of distinction, and where he furnished the means for building the Collegium Romanum. Returning to Spain in the following year, he, with the emperor's consent, formally resigned his rank and estate in favour of his eldest son, laid aside his ducal robes, assumed the Jesuit habit, was ordained as a priest, and entered upon a life of penance and prayer. At his own earnest request, in which he was seconded by Loyola, a proposal that he should be created a cardinal by Julius III. was departed from; and at the command of his superior he employed himself in the work of itinerant preaching. In 1554 he was appointed commissary-general of the order in Spain, Portugal, and the Indies, in which capacity he showed great activity, and was successful in founding many new and thriving colleges. In 1556, shortly after the retirement from public life of his old master Charles, Borgia had an inter-view with him. Charles, unfavourable to all innovation, and looking with distrust upon Jesuit pretensions, endeavoured, it is said, to induce the commissary to transfer his allegiance to the older order of Jeronymites. This attempt, though unsuccessful, did not disturb the old relations of confidence and friendship between the two men, as was shown some time afterwards when Borgia was employed by Charles to conduct some delicate negotiations with reference to a project which was to secure for Don Carlos of Spain the succession to the Portuguese crown in the event of the death of his cousin Don Sebastian. On the death of Lainez in 1565, Francis Borgia was chosen to succeed him as third general of the Jesuits. In this capacity he showed great zeal and administrative skill; and so great was the progress of the society under his government that he has sometimes been called "its second founder." It is to be noticed, however, that the peculiarities which are under-stood to be most characteristic of the order have been derived from Loyola and Lainez rather than from Borgia, whose ideal was a pure and simple monasticism rather than a life of manifold and influential contact with the world. His death took place at Rome towards midnight on the 30th of September 1572. He was beatified by Urban VIII. in 1624, and canonized by Clement X. in 1671, his festival being afterwards (1683) fixed by Innocent XL for the 10th of October.

Several works by St Francis Borgia have been published, the principal of these being a series of Exercises similar to the Exercitia Spiritualia of Loyola, and a treatise Ehctorica Concionandi. The Opera Omnia were published at Brussels in 1675. His life was written by his confessor Ribadeneira. See also Butler's Lives of the Saints, and the Breviarium Romanum (second nocturn for 10th October).








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