Read THE AUTHOR’S ADVERTISEMENT TO THE READER. of The Life of St. Francis Xavier‚ Volume XVI, free online book, by John Dryden, on

Having already presented you with the Life of St Ignatius, I thought myself obliged to give you that of St Francis Xavier.  For, besides that it was just that the son should attend the father, it seemed to me, that these two saints being concerned so much together, the history of the apostle of India and Japan would give you a clearer knowledge of him who was founder of the Jesuits.  I may add likewise, that many considerable persons, and particularly of the court, have testified so great a desire to see a complete history of St Xavier in our language, that I thought my labour would not be unacceptable to them; and that in satisfying my own private devotion, I might at the same time content the curiosity of others.

The writings out of which I have drawn this work, have furnished me with all I could desire for the perfection of it, in what regards the truth and the ornaments of this history:  for without speaking of Turselline and Orlandino, I have diligently read Lucena and Bartoli; the first of which Wrote in Portuguese with this title, “The History of the Life of Father Francis Xavier, and of what was done in the Indies by the Religious of the Society of Jesus.”  He informs us, that he had in his hands the authentic copies of the informations which were made by order of John III. king of Portugal, concerning the actions of the blessed Father Xavier, and the originals of many letters, written from the Indies on that subject, which are to this day deposited in the archives of the university of Coimbra.  As for Bartoli, who is so famous by his writings, and who is accounted amongst the best of the Italian authors, he has extracted from the archives of the Casa Professa at Rome, and from the acts of the canonization, what he relates of our saint in the first part of the History of the Society, intitled, Asia.

Though these two historians have in some sort collected all that can be said concerning St Francis Xavier, I omitted not to take a view of what others have written on that subject; and chiefly the book of Nieremberg, which bears for title, “Claros Varones, or Illustrious Men;” the History of India, by Maffeus, and that of Jarrio; the Church History of Japan, by Solia; the Castilian History of the Missions, which the Fathers of the Society have made to the East Indies, and the kingdoms of China and Japan, composed by Lewis de Gusman; and, lastly, the Portuguese History of the Travels of Ferdinand Mendez Pinto.

But seeing St Francis Xavier himself has written some parts of those accidents which have befallen him in India and Japan, I have faithfully copied his letters, and from thence have drawn those particulars which have much conduced to my information, and clearing of the truth.  These letters have also furnished me with materials to make the narration appear more lively and moving, when you hear the saint himself speaking in his proper words, and mixing his own thoughts and reflections with his actions.  I had almost finished this my work, when I received from Spain and Italy two other lives of St Francis Xavier, which before that time I had not seen:  the one very new, which was written in Italian by Father Joseph Massei; the other more ancient, written in Spanish by Father Francis Garcia.  I found nothing in those two books which I had not observed in others; but read them with great pleasure, as being most exactly and elegantly written, each in their several tongue.

For what remains, amongst all those historians which I have cited, there is only the author of the new Italian Life, who has not followed the common error, in relation to the age of St Francis Xavier:  for the rest of them not precisely knowing the year and day of his birth, have made him ten years older than he was; placing his nativity about the time when the passage to the East Indies was discovered by Vasco de Gama.

But Father Massei has taken his measures in that particular, from Father Poussines, that judicious person to whom we are owing for the new letters of St Xavier, and who has composed a dissertation in Latin, touching the year of our apostle’s birth.

He produces, in the said treatise, a Latin paper, written in all appearance in the year 1585, and found in the records of the house of Don Juan Antonio, Count of Xavier.  That paper, ­wherein is treated of the ancestors and birth of the saint, and which very probably, as Poussines judges, is the minute of a letter sent to Rome, where Dr Navara then resided, to whom it refers you, ­that paper, I say, has these words in it:  Non scitur certo annus quo natus est P. Franciscus Xaverius.  Vulgo tamen invaluit, a quibusdam natum cum dici anno millesimo quadragintesimo nonagésimo-sexto:  which is to say, the year is not certainly known, in which Father Francis Xavier was born; but it is generally held, that some have reported he was born in the year 1496.

But it is to be observed, that these words, Non scitur certo annus quo natus est P. Franciscus Xaverius, are dashed out with the stroke of a pen.  There is also a line drawn over these other words, Natum eum dici millesimo, quadragintesimo, nonagésimo-sexto:  and this is written over head, Natus est P. Franciscus Xaverius anno millesimo quingentesimo sexto.  Father Francis Xavier was born in the year 1506.  There is also written in the margin, Natus est die 7 Aprilis, anni 1506.  He was born on the 7th of April, 1506.

That which renders this testimony more authentic, is, that at the bottom of the letter, these words, in Spanish, are written by the same hand which corrected those two passages of which I spoke:  Hallo se la razón del tiempo que el S. P. Francisco Xavier nacio, en un libro manual de su hermano el Capitan Juan de Azpilcueta:  la qual saco de un libro, de su padre Don Juan Jasso; viz.  “The time when the blessed Father Francis Xavier was born, is found in the journal of his brother Don Juan de Azpilcueta, who extracted it from the journal or manual of his father Don Juan Jasso.”  ’Tis on this foundation, that, before I had read the Life written by Father Massei, I had already closed with the opinion of Father Poussines.

As to the precise day of the father’s death, I have followed the common opinion, which I take to be the most probable, in conformity to the bull of his canonization.  For the historians who have mentioned it, agree not with each other, on what clay he died.  ’Tis said in Herbert’s Travels to the Indies and Persia, translated out of the English, “St Francis Xavier, the Jesuit of Navarre, died the 4th of December, 1552.”  Ferdinand Mendez Pinto, the Portuguese, affirms, that he died at midnight, on Saturday the 2d of December, the same year.  A manuscript letter, pretended to be written by Anthony de Sainte Foy, companion to Xavier for the voyage of China, the truth of which I suspect, relates, that the Saint died on a Sunday night at two of the clock, on the 2d of December, 1552.  Now ’tis most certain, that in the year 1552, the 2d of December fell on a Friday; so that it is a manifest mistake to say, that St Xavier died that year either on Saturday or Sunday the 2d of December.

I should apprehend, lest a life so extraordinary as this might somewhat shock the profaner sort of men, if the reputation of St Francis Xavier were not well established in the world, and that the wonderful things he did had not all the marks of true miracles.  As the author who made the collection of them has well observed, the mission of the saint gives them an authority, even in our first conceptions of them:  for being sent from God for the conversion of infidels, it was necessary that the faith should be planted in the East, by the same means as it had been through all the world, in the beginning of the church.

Besides which, never any miracles have been examined with greater care, or more judicially than these.  They were not miracles wrought in private, and which we are only to believe on the attestation of two or three interested persons, such who might have been surprised into an opinion of them; they were ordinarily public matters of fact, avowed by a whole city or kingdom, and which had for witnesses the body of a nation, for the most part Heathen, or Mahometan.  Many of these miracles have been of long continuance; and it was an easy matter for such who were incredulous, to satisfy their doubts concerning them.  All of them have been attended by such consequences as have confirmed their truth, beyond dispute:  such as were ­the conversions of kingdoms, and of kings, who were the greatest enemies to Christianity; the wonderful ardency of those new Christians, and the heroical constancy of their martyrs.  But after all, nothing can give a greater confirmation of the saint’s miracles, than his saint-like life; which was even more wonderful than the miracles themselves.  It was in a manner of necessity, that a man of so holy a conversation should work those things, which other men could not perform; and that, resigning himself to God, with an entire confidence and trust, in the most dangerous occasions, God should consign over to him some part of his omnipotence, for the benefit of souls.