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April 7: Francis Xavier (1506): Saint and Failure

Francis Xavier and a convert

It was on this date, April 7, 1506, that the co-founder of the Jesuits or “Society of Jesus,” Francis Xavier was born Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta in the Kingdom of Navarre (currently Spain). Xavier was discovered by Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), who was 15 years his elder, while Xavier was studying at the Collège Sainte-Barbe in Paris. Ignatius admired the younger man’s learning, physical beauty and athletic ability as a runner. Xavier was soon seduced into the Company and was there with Ignatius at the founding, on 15 August 1534, becoming one of the first seven Jesuits. Thereafter, Xavier was ordained.

Apparently thinking his skill at running was vanity, Xavier tied cords around his legs to damage himself for God. His first commission was significant, considering the vanity evident in trying to convert non-Christians in Asian lands: he was sent in 1541 to the Portuguese colony in India to re-convert the Christians there! As a measure of his success there, it should be noted that the majority-Hindu India is only 2.9 % Christian in our time (only a quarter of the Muslim population). In 1546, Xavier attempted to convert the inhabitants of the Portuguese colony of Malacca and the Maluku Islands. Malacca today is 3% Christian and 66% Muslim. From 1549-1551 he spent 2½ years failing to convert the Japanese—the Christian population in Japan is 1% in our time, as 70% profess no religion whatsoever. Xavier set out for China in 1552, but died off the coast, on 2 December, having failed to set foot on the Chinese mainland. The life of Francis is proof, as the early Christians learned, that conversion is easier under threat of death; and, as Muslims to this day know, reconversion is not necessary when apostasy carries the same penalty!

Christian missionary and failure Francis Xavier was canonized a saint, along with his Jesuit leader, Ignatius, in 1662. However, 48 years earlier (1614), by order of Claudius Acquaviva, General of the Society of Jesus, Xavier’s right arm was severed at the elbow and transported to Rome. The arm rests now in the Church of the Gesù; the rest of the maimed corpse is in a church which formerly belonged to the Jesuits, the Bom Jesus Basilica at Goa, India.

The Jesuit maxim, “Give me the children until they are seven and anyone may have them afterwards,” is attributed to Xavier—and it shows the psychological truth that capturing minds before they have reached the age of reason yields good soldiers for any sort of indoctrination. Before he died, Xavier had initiated the Goa Inquisition, via a 1545 letter to John III of Portugal, to kill the apostates in that Portuguese colony with the love of Christ. It should be noted that, like the Taliban and the 2001 dynamiting of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, Afghanistan, Xavier rejoiced in the destruction of elements of indigenous cultures, saying, “I order everywhere the temples pulled down and all idols broken. I know not how to describe in words the joy I feel before the spectacle of pulling down and destroying the idols.”

Originally published April 2012 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

Ronald Bruce Meyer

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Bayle was too prudent to criticise God and immortality directly, but it is generally assumed that only an Atheist could write with such tolerant words for religious diversity.

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