History of the Society of Jesus - Part II

A narrative account of the History of the Society of Jesus by Anton Azzopardi S.J.

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V 


Part II - Good Heavens, What A Society!

Father John , an industrious Jesuit in his thirties, sat at his desk in his room deeply absorbed in his reading, allayed by the soft melodious tune coming from a transistor radio in a corner. He was stoutish, but readily loved to be looked upon, and indeed referred to, as a man not fat but well-built. Relaxed in his shirt sleeves with open collar, he wore a pair of suspenders holding his baggy trousers.

A knock at the door almost startled him, for indeed he was not expecting anyone, anyhow not at that late hour of the day, 9 o'clock, when one would perhaps expect people to be out with friends or cosily huddled at home, and particularly not knocking at the doors of Jesuits.

"Come in!" gruffly intoned Fr John, without even lifting up his eyes from the intriguing book, "the door is open."

The door creaked open slowly and a silhouette of a young man loomed in the door frame against a dark background. A tiny voice wafted from it. "Is that Fr John?"

The Jesuit looked up and greeted that young man. It was Peter, one of his students. Fr John rose up, switched off the transistor radio    , and swerved round ready to listen to the young man. "Hello Peter, what has brought you here at this ungodly hour? "

"Oh Father, I am rather confused about what you told us yesterday in class. You know, you spoke about the Society of Jesus, your Order, and its wonderful history. But at home I looked up the word "Jesuit" in the dictionary and to my utter bewilderment I found that that word meant ‘a dissembling person, an equivocator and a hypocrite'. I was flabbergasted, and in my mind the nice words you used to build up that smashing edifice of Jesuit history seemed to crumble like a castle of sand."

Fr John chuckled dearly, puckered his eyebrows, and sprawled himself on an armchair, inviting Peter to relax on a chair, "My dear Peter," started Fr John, "don't you recall what I had also told you in class that notwithstanding the good that the Jesuits have done all through their history for the love of God and the Church they have often been misunderstood, hated, maligned, nay, even sent to the gallows and tortured for doing just that, doing good, preaching the word of God and defending the Church?  Wasn't that also the way Christ chose for himself, suffering antagonism, persecution and a violent death?

"Now, far it be from me," continued Fr John, "to heighten your surprise and confusion, but in order to set your mind at rest and prime you against those malignant lies and recriminations against the Society you might further come across, let me mention to you a few more of the alleged crimes which Jesuits have been accused of. I will at the same time show you in contrast how saintly the Society of Jesus has been.

"One of the diabolic forgeries against the Society was the Monita Secreta written in 1613 by a certain Jerome Zahovawski, an ex-Jesuit, giving secret instructions purportedly by the Jesuit General Fr Claudius Aquaviva to the Superiors in the Society. The General is said to instruct the Jesuits to accumulate wealth and power, to become bishops and Church dignitaries for this purpose, using whatever means however immoral, such as lies, theft, murder, regicide, hatred against other Orders and so on, in order to gain their objectives, power and wealth. I need not tell you, dear John, that such instructions not only go against human ethics and Christian morals but also against the very Constitutions of the Society which insist so much on poverty, humility, love of God and of the Church and forbid Jesuits, unless under strict obedience from the Pope, from assuming any Church dignity. The Monita was soon discovered to be a forgery, a work of hatred and personal revenge, but unfortunately it was for a long time believed by many to unmask the true character of the Jesuit, and as such did quite a lot of harm.

"In 1816, John Adams, second President of the United States, wrote to his successor Thomas Jefferson: ‘If there is a congregation of men who deserve eternal damnation both in this world and in hell, this is the Congregation of Loyola." Poor man Adams, he shared to the extreme the anti-Catholic prejudice rampant in those days in America, England and in many parts of Europe. 

"Even in Malta, though the people in general welcomed the presence of Jesuits, still in 1842 a wealthy, learned and ‘enlightened' man of the world, Camillo Sciberras, a man of revolutionary ideas,  who had fought on the side of the French in the invasion of Italy, on hearing that the Jesuits intended to open a school in Malta, sent a letter to the Governor Sir Henry F. Bouverie inveighing against the Jesuits and putting him on guard against any attempt by them to obtain a hold on education. In Malta too, the Jesuits were the target of attack by Freemasons and non-believers. In our own time, the Jesuit General Fr Wladimir Ledochowski (1915-1942) an eminently holy and energetic man, was dubbed ‘one of the twenty-five most evil man of the century.' Why? Perhaps because he was one of the staunchest defenders of the Church at a time when Europe and the world were riddled with dictators. 

"But, Father," interrupted Peter, "you told us that in the eighteenth century the Society of Jesus was suppressed even by the Church. Surely, the Church had some very good reason for doing so!"

"I was coming to that!" chuckled again Fr John. "The Jesuits in South America were spreading Christianity indeed, but they were also educating the natives, building schools and health centres for them, teaching them agriculture and trade and grouping them into small self-administered villages called Reductions. In the year 1767, they had 57 Reductions with a population of about 114,000 natives. Theirs was a story of hardship and suffering. The Jesuits defended the natives against the marauding Spanish and Portuguese slave traders. Now this slave-trade and the exploitation of the newly discovered lands were a source of fabulous income to the unscrupulous colonialists, whose only intent then was the destruction of the Reductions by all means, firearms and sword. The suspension of the slave trade caused political and economic repercussions in Spain and in Portugal, and the Jesuits were accused of wanting to build a state (the Reductions) within the State/s of Portugal and Spain."

Peter felt he couldn't keep his mouth shut, "Yes, Father, I understand what it was like. I saw it all in the film ‘The Mission'."

"Furthermore," resumed Fr John, "In 18th century Europe, the Jesuits had to struggle against the anticlericalism of the ‘enlightenment', the rigorism of the Jansenists and the intrigues of politicians against the Church.

"The direct attacks against the Society began in Portugal by Sebastiao José Carvalho, Marquis de Pombal, Minister of Foreign Affairs, who sought to bring the Church down on her knees and subject it to the State. Covetous for money, power and territory he accused the Jesuits of all political and economic upheavals and of disobedience to the Holy See.

He found a pretext in accusing them of regicide when on 3rd September 1758 occurred the attempted murder of King Joseph of Portugal. Though the Holy See did not want to condemn the Jesuits before clear proofs of the charges were adduced, (proofs which could not be brought forth for they did not exist) nevertheless, the King on 20th April 1759 decreed the expulsion of the Jesuits from all Portuguese territories and the confiscation of all their property.

"Similarly wild accusations were hurled against the Society in 1757 in France after the attempted murder of King Louis XV. The would-be assassin, a young man of 20, Robert Francois Damien, had formerly been employed as a servant in one of the Jesuit Houses. At that same time the case of the Jesuit Father Antoine Lavallette, the French Mission Procurator, was being heard in Parliament. This Fr Lavallette with the good intention of helping the Missions, but against the advice of his Superiors, had borrowed an enormous sum of money which he was unable to repay. In court, the Abbé de Chauvelin brought a distorted copy of the Jesuit Constitutions to prove that the Jesuits favoured corruption and regicide. The Duke of Choiseul who was conducting the case at Court convinced the King to issue the decree of expulsion of all Jesuits from all French territories, and the King complied in November 1764.

"Spain was the third country to expel the Jesuits. The Marquis Bernando Tanucci, Minister of Foreign Affairs in the Kingdom of Naples, convinced the high officials of Spain that the Jesuits were at the root of all political and economic disasters. Proof of this, he alleged, was the teaching of the Jesuit philosopher Francesco Suarez who taught that all authority came directly from the people and indirectly from God. Besides, Tanucci held that the Jesuits claimed that the Pope had a universal authority that included also their own country. This Jesuit theory, he asserted, was anti-patriotic, anti-progressive and reactionary. In 1766, riots rose in Paris owing to the rising cost of living .and the Jesuits were blamed for it. On 27 February 1767, King Charles III decreed the expulsion of all Jesuits from all Spanish territories.

"Decrees of expulsion were issued for reasons of ‘national security' in the Kingdom of Naples, Parma, and others, and in the year 1768, also in Malta. Grand Master Emmanuel Pinto wanted to emulate other European princes and so expelled the Jesuits, confiscating their property notwithstanding his having been reprimanded by the Pope.

"Pope Clement XIII defended the Society of Jesus, saying ‘We bear witness before God and before men that the Society of Jesus in general, its Institute and its spirit are completely without blame, and not only without blame but also pious and saintly both in their ideal and in the rule and principles it follow.'

"And yet there was the suppression!" blurted out Peter.

"Indeed, there was!" responded Fr John, "The enemies of the Church were not satisfied with having the Jesuits expelled from their country. They also wanted to force Pope Clement XIV to suppress the Society altogether, for otherwise, they threatened, they would sever all links with Rome and become Protestant. In a moment of fear and panic, the Pope issued the Bull of Suppression on 8th June 1773. The Society was dead for 41 years, except for a few Jesuits who with the tacit approval of the Pope still thrived in White Russia under their defender Catherine the Great. In 1814, Pope Pius VII restored the Society of Jesus to its pristine position in the Church.

"So you realize now why your dictionary attaches those derogatory meanings to the word Jesuit!

As if by a sudden impulse, the young Peter blurted out, "I certainly do!"

"There is one question," Fr John seems to conclude, "which I would put to those who inveigh against the Society. How could the Society be such an evil entity as they claim it to be, while producing so many saints, such as Sts Ignatius Loyola, Francis Xavier, Robert Bellarmine, Peter Canisius, Aloysius Gonzaga, John Berchmans,  Stanislaus Kostka, Claude de la Colombiere, Edmond Campion,  Michael Pro, and so many others, as also martyrs in the mission lands and in Europe, the vastly erudite theological and philosophical treatises in defence of the Church, not to mention the educational apostolate and the social work of charity with the poor, the destitute and the refugees?

How could the Society be evil when all through the ages even in our own time the Church itself entrusted to it the formation of young priests in seminaries all round the world, the official task of combating atheism, the task of spreading the faith and the promotion of justice? Whoever wants to harm the Church, never fails to deal the first blow to the Society of Jesus.

But I must not detain you longer, dear Peter. Come again if you feel like hearing more about the Jesuits and the Society. I have volumes of more information, which, I think, you would like to hear."

Certainly I will, Father" responded Peter with a pleasant smile on his chubby face. He heartily thanked Fr John, rose courteously and headed slowly towards the door.

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