Francis Xavier: Understanding the Sixteenth-Century Missionary Through His Letters

Student Author(s)

Eric Dawson

Faculty Mentor(s)

Professor Janis Gibbs

Document Type


Event Date



Through an analysis of the letters of St. Francis Xavier, this research investigates his religious and political influence in Europe and Asia during the sixteenth century. Throughout his letters, Xavier’s zeal for the conversion of non-Christian souls was evident. He listened to confessions, gave communion, helped the sick die with dignity and had little time to rest. Even after long voyages, he often began praying with others and listening to confessions immediately. Furthermore, his religious influence on the people was coupled with a political influence. Throughout his missionary work he stayed in close contact with King John III of Portugal, writing him letters every three months. King John III trusted and supported Xavier, and often did what Xavier suggested. In 1544 Xavier sent twenty-four letters to the Fishery Coast in India, giving orders and advice to a fellow Jesuit on how to handle the warring tribes in the area. After the conflict was resolved, Xavier reportedly baptized 10,000 Indians. Lastly, the research notes Xavier’s observation of the Japanese. Initially he was excited about Japanese character and behavior, but when they were not interested in Christianity, his opinions turned sour. Xavier’s lack of sympathy toward Japanese practices and his expectations of quick conversions, along with the inability to translate properly, pushed many Japanese away from Christianity

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