Who was Peter Faber (Pierre Favre)?

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” With profound pleasure I am writing to the whole Soceity on the occasion of Pope Francis’s proclamation that Peter Faber, “the silent companion of the first generation of Jesuits” , is a saint. On day coinciding with his birthday, our Holy Father wanted to present to the universal Church a gift that is very significant and precious to him,” wrote Fr.Adolfo Nicolas S.J., Superior General of the Jesuits, in his letter to the whole Soceity dated 17th December 2013.
For many Catholics the response was probably, ” Peter Who?” For most Jesuits, though, the reaction was probably, “Finally!” Because Pierre Favre has been a “Blessed” since…1872.  
In the Pope’s recent interview in America, he singled out for praise the man often called the “Second Jesuit.” The interviewer, Antonio Spadaro, SJ, asked the pope the reason for his devotion to this “First Companion” of St. Ignatius of Loyola. “(Pierre Favre’s) dialogue with all,” said the pope, “even the most remote and even with his opponents; his simple piety, a certain naïveté perhaps, his being available straightaway, his careful interior discernment, the fact that he was a man capable of great and strong decisions but also capable of being so gentle and loving.” Favre spent a great deal of his Jesuit life working with Protestants during the explosive time of the Reformation; and, as the pope said, he always did so with great openness and charity–during a time when they were called “heretics.” One of the well known quotes from Pierre Favre is: “Take care, take care, never to close your heart to anyone.”
St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, considered Favre to be the man best suited to direct others in the Spiritual Exercises. But, surprisingly, Favre’s story is not nearly as well known as those of his two famous college roommates, Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier. Favre was a very humble person. Perhaps that is why he remained a Blessed and not a saint for so long! Perhaps he did not want to place himself on par with Ignatius and Xavier. Many Jesuits are devoted to this humble spiritual master. But he still remained in relative obscurity.  Indeed, that so many writers can’t even agree on a standard way of referring to the man–you will see, variously, the original French “Pierre Favre,” the somewhat modified Anglo-French “Peter Favre,” and the totally Anglicized “Peter Faber”–is an indication of the lack of attention given him.
Friends in the Lord
With his talent for friendships, Ignatius enjoyed close relations with a large circle of friends. (That is one reason for his enthusiasm for writing letters.) Indeed, the earliest way that Ignatius referred to the early Jesuits was not with phrases like “Defenders of the Faith” or “Soldiers of Christ,” but something simpler. He described his little band as “Friends in the Lord.”
Friendship was an essential part of his life. Two of his closest friends were his college roommates, Peter Favre, from the Savoy region of France, and Francisco de Javier, the Spaniard later known as St. Francis Xavier.
The three met at the Collège Sainte-Barbe at the University of Paris, then Europe’s leading university, in 1529. By the time they met Ignatius, Peter and Francis were already friends sharing lodgings. The two had studied for the last few years for their master’s degrees; both were excellent students. And both had heard stories about Ignatius before meeting him: the former soldier was a notorious figure on campus, known for his intense spiritual disciplines and habit of begging alms. At 38, Ignatius was much older than Peter and Francis, who were both 23 at the time. And his path to the university was more circuitous. After his soldiering career, his recuperation and his conversion, he had spent months in prayer trying to discern what to do with his life.


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Ultimately, he decided that an education was required. So Ignatius went to school, taking elementary grammar lessons with young boys and, later, studying at the universities of Alcalá and Salamanca. His studies provide us with one of the more remarkable portraits of his newfound humility: the once-proud soldier squeezed into a too-small desk beside young boys in the classroom, making up for lost time.
Several years later, he enrolled at the University of Paris, where he met Favre and Xavier. There, in Favre’s words, they shared “the same room, the same table and the same purse.”
His commitment to a simple life impressed his new friends. So did his spiritual acumen. For Favre, a man troubled all his life by a “scrupulous” conscience, that is, an excessive self-criticism, Ignatius was a literal godsend. “He gave me an understanding of my conscience,” wrote Favre. Ultimately, Ignatius led Peter through the Spiritual Exercises, something that dramatically changed Favre’s worldview.
This happened despite some very different backgrounds. And here is one area where Ignatius and his friends highlight an insight on relationships: friends need not be cut from the same cloth. The friend with whom you the least in common may be the most helpful for your personal growth. Ignatius and Peter had, until they met, led radically different lives. Peter came to Paris at age 19 after what his biographer called his “humble birth,” having spent his youth in the fields as a shepherd. Imbued with a simple piety toward Mary, the saints, relics, processions, and shrines, and also angels, Peter clung to the simple faith of his childhood. Ignatius, on the other hand, had spent many years as a courtier and some of them as a soldier, undergone a dramatic conversion, subjected himself to extreme penances, wandered to Rome and the Holy Land in pursuit of his goal of following God’s will.
One friend had seen little of the world; the other much. One had always found religion a source of solace; the other had proceeded to God along a tortuous path.
Ultimately, Ignatius helped Peter to arrive at some important decisions through the freedom offered in the Spiritual Exercises. Peter’s indecision before this moment sounds refreshingly modern, much like the frustrating indecision of any college student today. He wrote about it in his journals:
“Before that–I mean before having settled on the course of my life through the help given to me by God through Inigo–I was always very unsure of myself and blown about by many winds: sometimes wishing to be married, sometimes a doctor, sometimes a lawyer, sometimes a professor of theology, sometimes a cleric without a degree–at times wishing me to be a monk.”
In time, Peter decided to join Ignatius on his new path, whose ultimate destination was still unclear. Peter, sometimes called the “Second Jesuit,” was enthusiastic about the risky venture from the start. “In the end,” he writes, “we became one in desire and will and one in a firm resolve to take up the life we lead today….” His friend changed his life. Later, Ignatius would say that Favre was the most skilled of all the Jesuits in giving the Spiritual Exercises.
Ignatius would change the life of his other roommate, too. Francisco de Jassu y Javier, born in 1506, in the castle of Javier, was an outstanding athlete and student. He began his studies in Paris at the age of 19. Every biographer describes Francis as a dashing young man with boundless ambition. “Don Francisco did not share the humble ways of Favre,” wrote one.
Francis Xavier was far more resistant to change than Peter Favre had been. Only after Peter left their lodgings to visit his family, when Ignatius was alone with the proud Spaniard, was he was able to slowly break down Xavier’s stubborn resistance. Legend has it that Ignatius quoted a line from the New Testament, “What does it profit them if they gain the world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” As John W. O’Malley writes in The First Jesuits, Francis’s conversion was “as firm as Favre’s but more dramatic because his life to that point had shown signs of more worldly ambitions.”
It is impossible to read the journals and letters of these three men–Ignatius the founder, Xavier the missionary, and Favre the spiritual counselor–without noticing the differences in temperaments and in talents.
In later years Ignatius would become primarily an administrator, guiding the Society of Jesus through its early days, spending much of his time laboring over the Jesuit Constitutions. Xavier became the globetrotting missionary sending back letters crammed with hair-raising adventures to thrill his brother Jesuits. (And the rest of Europe, too: Xavier’s letters were the equivalent of action-adventure movies for Catholics of the time.) Favre, on the other hand, spent the rest of his life as a spiritual counselor sent to spread the Catholic faith during the Reformation. His work was more diplomatic, requiring artful negotiation through the variety of religions wars at the time.
Their letters reveal how different were these three personalities. They also make it easy to see how much they loved one another. “I shall never forget you,” wrote Ignatius in one letter to Francis. And when, during his travels, Xavier received letters from his friends he would carefully cut out their signatures, and keep them with him–“as a treasure,” in the words of his biographer Georg Schurhammer, S.J.
Here is Francis Xavier, writing from India, in 1545, to his Jesuit friends in Rome, expressing love for his faraway friends.God our Lord knows how much more consolation my soul would have from seeing you than from my writing such uncertain letters as these to you because of the great distance between these lands and Rome; but since God has removed us, though we are so much alike in spirit and in love, to such distant lands, there is no reason…for a lessening of love and care in those who love each other in the Lord.
The varied accomplishments of Ignatius, Francis and Peter began with the commitment that they made to God and to one another in 1534. In a chapel in the neighborhood of Montmartre in Paris, the three men, along with four other new friends from the university–Diego Laynez, Alfonso Salmerón, Simon Rodrigues, and Nicolás Bobadilla–pronounced vows of poverty and chastity together. Together they offered themselves to God. (The other three men who would round out the list of the “First Jesuits,” Claude Jay, Jean Codure and Paschase Broët, would join after 1535.)
Even then friendship was foremost in their minds. Laynez, noted that though they did not live in the same rooms, they would eat together whenever possible, and have frequent friendly conversations, cementing what one Jesuit writer called “the human bond of union.” In a superb article in the series Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits, entitled “Friendship in Jesuit life,” Charles M. Shelton, S.J., the professor of psychology, writes, “We might even speculate whether the early Society would have been viable if the early companions had not enjoyed such a rich friendship.”
The mode of friendship among the early Jesuits flowed from Ignatius’s “way of proceeding.” For want of a better word, they did not try to possess one another. In a sense, it was a form of poverty. Their friendship was not self-centered, but other-directed, seeking the good of the other. The clearest indication of this is the willingness of Ignatius to ask Francis to leave his side and become one of the church’s great missionaries.
It almost didn’t happen. The first man that Ignatius wanted to send for the mission to “the Indies” fell ill. “Here is an undertaking for you,” said Ignatius. “Good,” said Francis, “I am ready.” Ignatius knew that if he sent Francis away he might never see his best friend again.
So did Francis. In a letter written from Lisbon, Portugal, Francis writes these poignant lines as he embarks. “We close by asking God our Lord for the grace of seeing one another joined together in the next life; for I do not know if we shall ever see each other in this….Whoever will be the first to go to the other life and does not find his brother whom he loves in the Lord, must ask Christ our Lord to unite us all there….”
During his travels, Xavier would write Ignatius letters, not simply reporting on the new countries that he had explored and the new peoples he was encountering, but expressing his continuing fondness. Both missed one another, as good friends do. Both recognized the possibility that one would die before seeing the other again.
“[You] write me of the great desires that you have to see me before you leave this life,” wrote Francis. “God knows the impression that these words of great love made upon my soul and how many tears they cost me every time I remember them.” Legend has it that Francis knelt down to read the letters he received from Ignatius.
Francis’s premonitions were accurate. After years of grueling travel that took him from Lisbon to India to Japan, Francis stepped aboard a boat bound for China, his final destination. In September 1552, twelve years after he had bid farewell to Ignatius, he landed on the island of Sancian, off the coast of China. But after falling ill with a fever, he was confined to a hut on the island, tantalizingly close to his ultimate goal. He died on December 3, and his body was first buried on Sancian and then brought back to Goa, in India.
Several months afterwards, and unaware of his best friend’s death, Ignatius living in the Jesuit headquarters in Rome, wrote Francis asking him to return home.
From The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything ( ). For a short biography of Blessed Peter Favre, SJ, see this excerpt from Jesuit Saints and Martyrs, by Joseph Tylenda, S.J ( ). The best (and most accessible) biography of Favre is The Quiet Companion, by Mary Purcell ( ). It is currently out of print but well worth tracking down.-
•  St. Peter Faber
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•  Peter Faber, S.J. was a French Jesuit priest and theologian, who was a co-founder of the Society of Jesus. He was beatified by the Roman Catholic Church on 5 September 1872. Wikipedia
•  Born: April 13, 1506, Saint-Jean-de-Sixt, France
•  Died: August 2, 1546, Rome, Italy
•  Education: University of Paris
Feast Day August 2
Peter Favre was Fr. Ignatius’ first recruit. He was born on April 13, 1506, in the village of Villaret, Savoy. As a youth he shepherded his father’s flock on the high pastures of the Alps and had no other education than what one receives at home. He was endowed, however, with an extraordinary memory; he could hear a sermon in the morning and then repeat it verbatim in the afternoon for his friends. He longed to go to school, but his family was too poor, and years later he wrote in his Memorial that in his sadness at not being able to study, he wept himself to sleep every night.
Peter’s parents heard his weeping and finally acquiesced to his wishes and sent him in 1516 to a small school operated by the parish priest seven miles away. The 10-year-old quickly learned to read and write and the following year went to La Roche, a dozen miles away, where he remained until he went to the University of Paris in 1525.
Peter arrived in the French capital about October of that year and resided at the College of Sainte-Barbe, where his roommate was Francis Xavier. Francis had just come from Navarre and was the same age as Peter. Both gave themselves to their studies, beginning with philosophy and advancing to theology. In October 1529, they accepted another roommate, Ignatius of Loyola, who had been in Paris for over a year, and of whom it was said that whoever came into contact with him invariably changed for the better.
Ignatius had difficulties with Greek so Peter tutored him in Aristotle. While Peter served as Ignatius’ guide in academic matters, Ignatius served as Peter’s guide in spiritual matters. Now in his mid-twenties, Peter was still undecided about his future. Should he be a lawyer? A teacher? A priest? A monk? It was while living in Paris that he learned of Ignatius’ plan to follow Christ. This was what Peter needed to give direction to his life. Under Ignatius’ influence he decided to become a priest, and shortly before his ordination Ignatius led him through the Spiritual Exercises for a period of thirty days.
On August 15, 1534, the feast of our Lady’s assumption, Ignatius and his six companions met in the crypt of the Chapel of Saint-Denis on Montmartre, and while Fr. Favre celebrated Mass—he was the only priest among them—each pronounced his vows.
When Ignatius returned to Spain for a period of convalescence, Fr. Favre was left in charge of the group. They left Paris in November 1536 and arrived in Venice in January of the following year to find that Ignatius had arrived before them. While waiting for the sailing season to the Holy Land to open, they worked in two of the city’s hospitals. In March Ignatius sent Fr. Favre and the others to Rome to request Pope Paul III’s approval of their proposed journey. Though His Holiness readily granted their request, he at the same time informed them that it was unlikely that the group would get there, because war with the Turks seemed imminent. Fr. Favre and companions returned to Venice; since the pope’s fears proved correct, he and Ignatius directed their steps toward Rome in November to offer their services to the pope. The pope responded by appointing Fr. Favre to Rome’s Sapienza University, where he lectured on theology and Scripture until May 1539.
Fr. Favre’s stay in Parma lasted only a year. In the summer of 1540 he was instructed to accompany Dr. Pedro Ortiz, Emperor Charles V’s representative to the religious colloquy to be held between Catholics and Protestants at Worms in Germany. They arrived in Worms in late October, and though it was a Lutheran city Fr. Favre set about preaching, hearing confessions, and giving the Exercises. The colloquy was late in starting and when it did begin on January 14, 1541, it lasted only four days, for the emperor then transferred it to Ratisbon (today’s Regensburg). Fr. Favre moved to Ratisbon in February and spent the next six months working among the Catholic faithful there. He was not directly involved in the theological discussions, but he followed them closely and sent letters to Fr. Ignatius describing the events taking place in the city. Fr. Favre had more requests from priests, prelates, and princes to make the Spiritual Exercises than he himself could handle, and he wrote Fr. Ignatius that there was enough work in Ratisbon for ten more Jesuits. The colloquy’s momentum, unfortunately, began to slow down and when it came time to discuss the Eucharist and Christ’s real presence, a point bitterly disputed among the participants, the colloquy collapsed and the emperor’s fond hope of unifying the Catholics and Protestants met a sad end.
In July 1544 Fr. Favre was assigned to Portugal at the request of King John III, who wanted him to pursue establishing the Society in that country. Fr. Favre spent the next two years in Portugal and Spain. Then in the spring of 1546, Pope Paul appointed him one of the papal theologians at the ecumenical council being held at Trent. Fr. Favre again had to set about traveling, but his health was greatly weakened from the frequent bouts of fever that he had suffered over the past years. He wanted to visit Fr. Ignatius before going to Trent in northern Italy so he sailed from Barcelona and made his way to Rome, arriving on July 17. He had not seen Ignatius for seven years and their greeting was as warm as the Italian sun above them. Before Fr. Favre had a chance to set out for Trent, the fever again attacked him. Though only 40 years old, he knew that his end was coming and waited for it peacefully. On July 31 he made his confession, and on the morning of August 1 he heard Mass and received the last sacraments. That afternoon, while in the company of Fr. Ignatius, the gentle Fr. Favre went to God in the company of the angels to whom he was singularly devoted. Fr. Favre was buried in the church of Our Lady of the Way in Rome, but when the church of the Gesù was being erected in 1569 on the site of the former church, Fr. Favre’s remains and those of other early Jesuits were reinterred.
On September 5, 1872, Pope Pius IX, acknowledging the cult that had been paid to Peter Favre in his native Savoy, confirmed it by apostolic decree and declared that he was among the blessed in heaven. Bl. Peter Favre’s memorial is celebrated on August 2.
Father, Lord of heaven and earth, you revealed yourself to St. Peter Favre, your humble servant, in prayer and in the service of his neighbor. Grant that we may find you and love you in everything and in every person. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
from Jesuit Saints and Martyrs, 2nd Edition © 1998 Loyola Press
St. Peter Faber, SJ (1506–1546)
Saint Peter Faber, a master of the Spiritual Exercises, was the first of St. Ignatius Loyola’s six companions. Peter Faber and Ignatius met in Paris, where Faber had come to study after life as a shepherd on the mountains of Savoy. Peter Faber was the first of the companions to be ordained.
Peter Faber had a gentle spirit and a tendency to be very hard on himself. Ignatius proved to be the perfect mentor for him, and Faber eventually became the master of the Spiritual Exercises. While hard on himself, Faber was gentle with others and became a gifted pastor of souls, winning others for Jesus.
Faber was sent to Germany in 1541, where he found the state of the Church in such disarray that it left his heart “tormented by a steady and intolerable pain.” He worked for the renewal of the Church a person at a time, leading many in the Spiritual Exercises. Princes, prelates, and priests would especially find Peter Faber a gentle source of instruction and guidance leading to renewal.
Between 1544 and 1546, Peter Faber tirelessly continued his work in Portugal and Spain. Throughout all of his mission years in Germany, Spain, and Portugal, Faber traveled on foot. His final journey in 1546 was to Rome where, exhausted from his labors, he died in St. Ignatius’s arms at the age of 40.
Related Links
St. Peter Favre (Faber)
Biography by Joseph N. Tylenda, SJ
dotMagis Blog Posts
Blog posts about Peter Faber, SJ.
St. Peter Favre and the Spirituality within the Spiritual Exercises
Marian Cowan, CSJ, comments on the spirituality within the Spiritual Exercises as seen in the writings of Peter Favre, SJ. The presentation was given during the Province Days of the Wisconsin Province of the Society of Jesus.
The Spirituality of Peter Faber (PDF)
By Severin Leitner
This 20-page article from the Review of Ignatian Spirituality knits together the life and spirituality of Peter Faber, one of the first Jesuits.
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