Lambs in the midst of Wolves

Franciscan Martyrs. Mafra, Portugal.

“The Lord says: Behold, I am sending you as lambs in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be prudent as serpents and simple as doves” (Matt 10: 16)

The quotation above was used the introductory bible-verse to chapter 16 in the Franciscan Regula non Bullata from 1221. This chapter was devoted to “Those going amongst the Saracens and other non-believers. The advise was pertinent as the Franciscans believed there were two ways of living among the Muslims. Either one could live their humbly  and simply profess to be a Christian or one might boldly go there in order to preach the gospel. In that case on should not fear martyrdom. Already in 1220 five Franciscans had entered on this path. The five friars first went to Almohad Seville, where they preached the Gospel “and said many damnable things about Mohammad and his damnable law”. Accordingly the friars were imprisoned and sent to Marakech, where they began to preach anew. Finally the Caliph had them arrested, tortured and beheaded. Rumour later had it that the Caliph personally carried out the beheading and that his arm afterwards shrivelled to a pitiful stump. Whatever the truth of this, the bodies of the martyrs were taken to Portugal, where they duly performed miracles. According to a later source, Francis later exclaimed, “Now I can truly say that I have five brothers.” It is probably an unquestionable fact that Francis himself longed for a career as a martyr. (The story is told in Saint Francis and the Sultan. The curious History of a Christian-Muslim Encounter. By John Tolan. Oxford University Press 2009, pp. 6 – 7)

Perinde ac cadaver
Not so Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. In 1553 he wrote in a letter to the Portuguese Jesuits the “we may agree to being surpassed by other religious orders in terms of fasts, vigils and other austerities… but in purty and perfection of obedience… and abnegation of judgment, dearest brothers, I hope most earnestly that those who follow God within this company may be singled out”.

At stake here was obviously the foundational core of the Jesuits that they according to Ignatius were supposed to “behave: first like a cadaver possessing neither will nor understanding; second, like a small crucifix that can easily be moved from one place to another…. In such a way must I stand ready to serve the Order and be used by it in all that may be commanded of me.” (Jesuits. A Multibiography. By Jean Lacouture. English Translation: Counterpoint 1995. p 75 ff.)

Such formulations later gave rise to the epithet: “perinde ac cadaver” (like a cadaver) signifying the chameleon-like character of Jesuits hell-bent on reaching a modus vivendi whether amongst Chinese, Muslims or Protestants.

To be a Franciscan was to bear public witness and if push came to shove end life as a martyr. To be a Jesuit was to serve silently and discreetly without needlessly throwing away one’s life or one’s health.

There is no doubt that the present Pope has lived with the dilemmas posed by these two different approaches “of how to go amongst the heathens” – in his case the murderous dictator Jorge Rafael Videla and his henchmen in the death squads during the Dirty War. What to do? Be prudent as a serpent or simple as a dove?

We don’t know exactly what took place during the war and how the Argentinian Jesuit, Jorge Bergoglio, handled the challenges, he met during the terrible years of 1973 – 1979, when he was provincial of the Jesuits in Argentina. However, as to the main charge against Bergoglio – that he was involved in the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests, Orland Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were taken by Navy officers in May 1976 and held under inhumane conditions for the missionary work they conducted in the country’s slums – it seems he chose the route of the serpent by going behind the lines of the enemy and try to wriggle the priests out of the concentration camp, in which they were held. This is what he himself later claimed. A few days ago, one of the survivors – Francisco Jalics – finally broke the silence and confirmed this.  According to The Daily News, Jalics, who now lives in a monastery in Germany, cleared the air Wednesday the 21st of March (2013)  by issuing a statement: “I myself was once inclined to believe that we were the victims of a denunciation (by Bergoglio). But at the end of the ’90s, after numerous conversations, it became clear to me that this suspicion was unfounded. It is therefore wrong to assert that our capture took place at the initiative of Father Bergoglio,” he continued.

Thus it seems that “here endeth the lesson”. However, there is a postscript: By choosing the name of Francis, the present Pope has shown how important it is to know intimately the lives of the saints. Or in short: The History of the Church in its wider ramifications.


Jesuits. A Multibiography.
By Jean Lacouture. Editions Seuil 1991.
English Translation: Counterpoint 1995.

Saint Francis and the Sultan.
The curious History of a Christian-Muslim Encounter.
By John Tolan.
Oxford University Press 2009.



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