History of the Society of Jesus - Part III

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 III - Prompt to Serve

Father John was disturbed in the morning by the hammering that was going on and on in the huge building that was being restructured opposite his room. That building was being ‘done up". He would have preferred it as it had been in the past, and, indeed, he was moved to say that it was being "done down" or possibly "done in". Nevertheless, Fr John endeavoured, to extract exiguous comfort from the hammering, saying that it always woke him up in time for the early Mass.

He sank into his easy chair in a soft collapse like one at once absorbed in himself and fatigued. Yet, all of a sudden there flashed in his mind the thought of the letter he had received from his young friend George a couple of days before and which he had promised to reply to without undue delay. With a slap on his forehead and a twitch of his mouth he wriggled up and sauntered to his desk to write the promised reply.

George was a young man of eighteen, of middle height and chubby, with bright eyes, snub nose, and a pleasant smile which never seemed to abandon his face. He was an undergraduate at the University reading English, and interested in the early history of the Jesuits. He had written to Fr John requesting to know what the first Jesuits did once the Society was formed. Did Ignatius sort of retired once the Society was formed?

Fr John switched on the computer, and began clicking and typing:

"Dear George, thanks for your letter. How very nice of you to be interested in the early history of our Society of Jesus. Let me try and give you brief answers to your queries. No, after forming the Society, Ignatius did not fold up; rather, he set himself fully to spread out his group far and wide, ‘increase and multiply' so to speak, and be zealous labourers in the vineyard of the Lord. Ignatius had instilled into his men the idea of mobility and action, an idea which they all eloquently expressed in the oblation they made of themselves to the Pope.

"One may characterize the work undertaken by these first Jesuits as pastoral, particularly preaching and retreat giving, diplomatic or quasi-diplomatic missions, lecturing at universities, teaching in schools and colleges, and going out to foreign missions, all these under surveillance, encouragement and paternal direction of Ignatius himself. Besides, this saintly leader employed much of his time and labour writing the Constitutions of his newly formed Society, the Constitutions which because of their innovative outlook on religious life gave cause to much antagonism among some prelates and the long-established Orders in the Church.

"However, dear George, I am sure you would want me to give you more details of what these first Jesuits were doing while Ignatius was still alive with them. Hoping not to be boring or tiresome, may I refer to a few curious things that happened then. Even before he gave his formal approbation of the Society, Pope Paul III began to use these young Jesuits sending them in towns and cities which, he believed, needed reform in their Christian living. Thus, in 1539 Paschase Broët was sent to Siena, Pierre Favre and Diego Laynez to Parma, Claude Jay to Bagnorea (to reconcile old enemies), and Nicolás Bobadilla to Ischia (to reconcile Juanna of Aragon with the husband Ascanio Sforza). They then continued their priestly work at Gaeta, Naples, Bisignano.

"The Pope assigned some of these men to diplomatic or quasi-diplomatic missions of the Holy See. Favre joined the papal diplomatic corps to Germany in 1540, and Salmerón and Bröet were designated as papal nuncios to Ireland in 1541.

"Others of these young Jesuits were sent to lecture on Theology and on Scripture at Universities, as were Favre and Laynez in 1537 to the Sapienza University in Rome, and Claude Jay to Ingolstadt. Six years later Jay was joined by Salmeron and the young Dutch priest Peter Canisius.

"The Pope showed full trust in the Jesuits when in 1546 he appointed Favre, Laynez and Salmeron as his theologians at the Council of Trent. Their discourses particularly on the Dogma of Justification, a very hot issue with the Protestants at the time, won at once the hearts of all, and the Bishops asked for printed copies thereof.

"Notwithstanding the highly specialized work demanded at Trent and at Universities, still such work did not keep these first Jesuits away from a wholehearted dedication to popular preaching, giving the Spiritual Exercises, tending the sick in hospitals and doing other charitable and social work throughout the length and breadth of Central and Western Europe. Other Fathers were employed opening and directing schools and colleges in various countries in Europe, as I shall explain later.

"Dear George, it has not been my intention to give you a lecture on the history of the early Jesuits, and I must apologize if this letter of mine appears to be doing so. I only wanted to give you some idea of what these Jesuits did and the enthusiasm they fostered for their work. I still have to relate to you how this nascent Society, amid the great variety of works it  became engaged in, was able to accept two major apostolates which became identified with the Society in a special way, that is, education and foreign missions, besides the monumental work of Ignatius' Constitutions. I'll speak about these very interesting subjects next time I write to you. God bless you." 

Here Fr John stopped typing and stared fixedly at the screen of the computer, wondering whether what he wrote would satisfy his friend George. He screwed up his eyes and hoped for the best. A second letter would follow soon.

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