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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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or the society of Jesus, one of the most celebrated monastic orders of the Romish church, was founded in the year 1540, by Ignatius Loyola. Forsaking the military for the ecclesiastical profession, he engaged himself in the wildest and most extravagant adventures, as the knight of the blessed virgin. After performing a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and pursuing a multitude of visionary schemes, he returned to prosecute his theological studies in the universities of Spain, when he was about thirty- three years of age. He next went to Paris, where he collected a small number of associates; and, prompted by his fanatical spirit, or the love of distinction, began to conceive the establishment of a new religious order. He produced a plan of its constitution and laws, which he affirmed to have been suggested by the immediate inspiration of Heaven, and applied to the Roman pontiff, Paul III, for the sanction of his authority to confirm the institution. At a time when the papal authority had received so severe a shock from the progress of the Reformation, and was still exposed to the most powerful attacks in every quarter, this was an offer too tempting to be resisted. The reigning pontiff, though naturally cautious, and though scarcely capable, without the spirit of prophecy, of foreseeing all the advantages to be derived from the services of this nascent order, yet clearly perceiving the benefit of multiplying the number of his devoted servants, instantly confirmed by his bull the institution of the Jesuits, granted the most ample privileges to the members of the society, and appointed Loyola to be the first general of the order.

2. The simple and primary object of the society, says a writer in the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, was to establish a spiritual dominion over the minds of men, of which the pope should appear as the ostensible head, while the real power should reside with themselves. To accomplish this object, the whole constitution and policy of the order were singularly adapted, and exhibited various peculiarities which distinguished it from all other monastic orders. The immediate design of every other religious society was to separate its members from the world; that of the Jesuits, to render them masters of the world. The inmate of the convent devoted himself to work out his own salvation by extraordinary acts of devotion and self-denial; the follower of Loyola considered himself as plunging into all the bustle of secular affairs, to maintain the interests of the Romish church. The monk was a retired devotee of heaven; the Jesuit a chosen soldier of the pope. That the members of the near order might have full leisure for this active service, they were exempted from the usual functions of other monks. They were not required to spend their time in the long ceremonial offices and numberless mummeries of the Romish worship. They attended no processions, and practised no austerities. They neither chanted nor prayed. "They cannot sing," said their enemies: "for birds of prey never do." They were sent forth to watch every transaction of the world which might appear to affect the interests of religion, and were especially enjoined to study the dispositions and cultivate the friendship of persons in the higher ranks. Nothing could be imagined more open and liberal than the external aspect of the institution, yet nothing could be more strict and secret than its internal organization. Loyola, influenced, perhaps, by the notions of implicit obedience which he had derived from his military profession, resolved that the government of the Jesuits should be absolutely monarchical. A general, chosen for life by deputies from the several provinces, possessed supreme and independent power, extending to every person, and applying to every case. Every member of the order, the instant that he entered its pale, surrendered all freedom of thought and action; and every personal feeling was superseded by the interests of that body to which he had attached himself. He went wherever he was ordered; he performed whatever he was commanded; he suffered whatever he was enjoined; he became a mere passive instrument incapable of resistance. The gradation of ranks was only a gradation in slavery; and so perfect a despotism over a large body of men, dispersed over the face of the earth, was never before realized.

The maxims of policy adopted by this celebrated society were, like its constitution, remarkable for their union of laxity and rigour. Nothing could divert them from their original object; and no means were ever scrupled which promised to aid its accomplishment. They were in no degree shackled by prejudice, superstition, or real religion. Expediency, in its most simple and licentious form, was the basis of their morals, and their principles and practices were uniformly accommodated to the circumstances in which they were placed; and even their bigotry, obdurate as it was, never appears to have interfered with their interests. The paramount and characteristic principle of the order, from which none of its members ever swerved, was simply this, that its interests were to be promoted by all possible means, at all possible expense. In order to acquire more easily an ascendancy over persons of rank and power, they propagated a system of the most relaxed morality, which accommodated itself to the passions of men, justified their vices, tolerated their imperfections, and authorized almost every action which the most audacious or crafty politician would wish to perpetrate. To persons of stricter principles they studied to recommend themselves by the purity of their lives, and sometimes by the austerity of their doctrines. While sufficiently compliant in the treatment of immoral practices they were generally rigidly severe in exacting a strict orthodoxy in opinions. "They are a sort of people," said the Abbe Boileau, "who lengthen the creed and shorten the decalogue." They adopted the same spirit of accommodation in their missionary undertakings; and their Christianity, chamelionlike, readily assumed the colour of every religion where it happened to be introduced. They freely permitted their converts to retain a full proportion of the old superstitions, and suppressed, without hesitation, any point in the new faith which was likely to bear hard on their prejudices or propensities. They proceeded to still greater lengths; and, beside suppressing the truths of revelation, devised the most absurd falsehoods, to be used for attracting disciples, or even to be taught as parts of Christianity. One of them in India produced a pedigree to prove his own descent from Brama; and another in America assured a native chief that Christ had been a valiant and victorious warrior, who, in the space of three years, had scalped an incredible number of men, women, and children. It was, in fact, their own authority, not the authority of true religion, which they wished to establish; and Christianity was generally as little known, when they quitted the foreign scenes of their labours as when they entered them.

These detestable objects and principles, however, were long an impenetrable secret: and the professed intention of the new order was to promote, with unequalled and unfettered zeal, the salvation of mankind. Its progress, nevertheless, was at first remarkably slow. Charles V, who is supposed, with his usual sagacity, to have discerned its dangerous tendency, rather checked than encouraged its advancement; and the universities of France resisted its introduction into that kingdom. Thus, roused by obstacles, and obliged to find resources within themselves, the Jesuits brought all their talents and devices into action. They applied themselves to every useful function and curious art; and neither neglected nor despised any mode, however humble, of gaining employment or reputation. The satirist's description of the Greeks in Rome has been aptly chosen to describe their indefatigable and universal industry:—

Grammaticus, rhetor, geometres, pictor, aliptes, Augur, schoenobates, medicus, magus; omnia novit Graeculus. — Juvenal. lib. v. 76.

"A Protean tribe, one knows not what to call, Which shifts to every form, and shines in all: Grammarian, painter, augur, rhetorician,

Rope-dancer, conjuror, fiddler, and physician,— All trades his own, your hungry Greekling counts."


They laboured with the greatest assiduity to qualify themselves as the instructers of youth, and succeeded, at length, in supplanting their opponents in every Catholic kingdom. They aimed, in the next place, to become the spiritual directors of the higher ranks; and soon established themselves in most of the courts which were attached to the papal faith, not only as the confessors, but frequently also as the guides and ministers, of superstitious princes. The governors of the society pursuing one uniform system with unwearied perseverance, became entirely successful; and, in the space of half a century, had in a wonderful degree extended the reputation, the number, and influence of the order. When Loyola, in 1540, petitioned the pope to authorize the institution of the Jesuits, he had only ten disciples; but in 1608 the number amounted to 10,581. Before the expiration of the sixteenth century they had obtained the chief direction of the education of youth in every Catholic country in Europe, and had become the confessors of almost all its noblest monarchs. In spite of their vow of poverty, their wealth increased with their power; and they soon rivalled, in the extent and value of their possessions, the most opulent monastic fraternities. About the beginning of the seventeenth century, they obtained from the court of Madrid the grant of the large and fertile province of Paraguay, which stretches across the southern continent of America, from the mountains of Potosi to the banks of the river La Plata; and, after every deduction which can reasonably be made from their own accounts of their establishment, enough will remain to excite the astonishment and applause of mankind. They found the inhabitants in the first stage of society, ignorant of the arts of life, and unacquainted with the first principles of subordination. They applied themselves to instruct and civilize these savage tribes. They commenced their labours by collecting about fifty families of wandering Indians, whom they converted and settled in a small township. They taught them to build houses, to cultivate the ground, and to rear tame animals; trained them to arts and manufactures, and brought them to relish the blessings of security and order. By a wise and humane policy, they gradually attracted new subjects and converts; till at last they formed a powerful and well organized state of three hundred thousand families.

Though the power of the Jesuits had become so extensive, and though their interests generally prospered during a period of more than two centuries, their progress was by no means uninterrupted; and, by their own misconduct, they soon excited the most formidable counteractions.

Scarcely had they effected their establishment in France, in defiance of the parliaments and universities, when their existence was endangered by the fanaticism of their own members. John Chastel, one of their pupils, made an attempt upon the life of Henry IV; and Father Guiscard, another of the order, was convicted of composing writings favourable to regicide. The parliaments seized the moment of their disgrace, and procured their banishment from every part of the kingdom, except the provinces of Bourdeaux and Toulouse. From these rallying points, they speedily extended their intrigues in every quarter, and in a few years obtained their re-establishment. Even Henry, either dreading their power, or pleased with the exculpation of his licentious habits, which he found in their flexible system of morality, became their patron, and selected one of their number as his confessor. They were favoured by Louis XIII, and his minister Richelieu, on account of their literary exertions; but it was in the succeeding reign of Louis XIV, that they reached the summit of their prosperity. The Fathers La Chaise and Le Teltier were successively confessors to the king; and did not fail to employ their influence for the interest of their order: but the latter carried on his projects with so blind and fiery a zeal, that one of the Jesuits is reported to have said of him, "He drives at such a rate, that he will overturn us all." The Jansenists were peculiarly the objects of his machinations, and he rested not till he had accomplished the destruction of their celebrated college and convent at Port Royal. Before the fall, however, of this honoured seminary, a shaft from its bow had reached the heart of its proud oppressor. The "Provincial Letters of Pascal" had been published, in which the quibbling morality and unintelligible metaphysics of the Jesuits were exposed in a strain of inimitable humour, and a style of unrivalled elegance. The impression which they produced was wide and deep, and gradually sapped the foundation of public opinion, on which the power of the order had hitherto rested. Under the regency of the duke of Orleans, the Jesuits, and all theological personages and principles were disregarded with atheistical superciliousness; but under Louis XV, they partly recovered their influence at court, which, even under Cardinal Fleury, they retained in a considerable degree. But they soon revived the odium of the public by their intolerant treatment of the Jansenists, and probably accelerated their ruin by refusing, from political rather than religious scruples, to undertake the spiritual guidance of Madame de la Pampadour, as well as by imprudently attacking the authors of the "Encyclopedie." Voltaire directed against them all the powers of his ridicule, and finished the piece which Pascal had sketched. Their power was brought to a very low ebb, when the war of 1756 broke out, which occasioned the famous law-suit that led to their final overthrow.

In the mean time the king of Portugal was assassinated; and Carvalho, the minister, who detested the Jesuits, found means to load them with the odium of the crime. Malagrida, and a few more of these fathers, were charged with advising and absolving the assassins; and, having been found guilty, were condemned to the stake. The rest were banished with every brand of infamy, and were treated with the most iniquitous cruelty. They were persecuted without discrimination, robbed of their property without pity, and embarked for Italy without previous preparation; so that, no provision having been made for their reception, they were literally left to perish with hunger in their vessels. These incidents prepared the way for a similar catastrophe in France. In March, 1762, the French court received intelligence of the capture of Martinico by the British; and, dreading a storm of public indignation, resolved to divert the exasperated feelings of the nation, by yielding the Jesuits to their impending fate. On the sixth of August, 1762, their institute was condemned by the parliament, as contrary to the laws of the state, to the obedience due to the sovereign, and to the welfare of the kingdom. The order was dissolved, and their effects alienated. But in certain quarters, where the provincial parliaments had not decided against them, Jesuits still subsisted; and a royal edict was afterward promulgated, which formally abolished the society in France, but permitted its members to reside within the kingdom under certain restrictions.

In Spain, where they conceived their establishment to be perfectly secure, they experienced an overthrow equally complete, and much more unexpected. The necessary measures were concerted under the direction of De Choiseul, by the Marquis D'Ossun, the French ambassador at Madrid, with Charles III, king of Spain, and his prime minister, the Count D'Aranda. The execution of their purposes was as sudden as their plans had been secret. At midnight, March 31st, 1767, large bodies of military surrounded the six colleges of the Jesuits in Madrid, forced the gates, secured the bells, collected the fathers in the refectory, and read to them the king's order for their instant transportation. They were immediately put into carriages previously placed at proper stations; and were on their way to Carthagena before the inhabitants of the city had any intelligence of the transaction. Three days afterward, the same measures were adopted with regard to every other college of the order in the kingdom; and, ships having been provided at the different seaports, they were all embarked for the ecclesiastical states in Italy. All their property was confiscated, and a small pension assigned to each individual as long as he should reside in a place appointed, and satisfy the Spanish court as to his peaceable demeanour. All correspondence with the Jesuits was prohibited, and the strictest silence on the subject of their expulsion was enjoined under penalties of high treason. A similar seizure and deportation took place in the Indies, and an immense property was acquired by the government. Many crimes and plots were laid to the charge of the order; but whatever may have been their demerit, the punishment was too summary to admit of justification; and many innocent individuals were subjected to sufferings beyond the deserts even of the guilty. Pope Clement III, prohibited their landing in his dominions; and, after enduring extreme miseries in crowded transports, the survivors, to the number of two thousand three hundred, were put ashore on Corsica. The example of the king of Spain was immediately followed by Ferdinand VI, of Naples, and soon after by the prince of Parma. They had been expelled from England in 1604; from Venice in 1606; and from Portugal in 1759, upon the charge of having instigated the families of Tavora and D'Aveiro to assassinate King Joseph I. Frederick the Great, of Prussia, was the only monarch who showed a disposition to afford them protection; but in 1773 the order was entirely suppressed by Pope Clement XIV, who is supposed to have fallen a victim to their vengeance. In 1801 the society was restored in Russia by the Emperor Paul; and in 1804, by King Ferdinand, in Sardinia. In August, 1814, a bull was issued by Pope Plus VII, restoring the order to all their former privileges, and calling upon all Catholic princes to afford them protection and encouragement. This act of their revival is expressed in all the solemnity of papal authority; and even affirmed to be above the recall or reversion of any judge, with whatever power he may be clothed; but to every enlightened mind it cannot fail to appear as a measure altogether incapable of justification, from any thing either in the history of Jesuitism, or in the character of the present times.

3. It would be in vain to deny that many considerable advantages were derived by mankind from the labours of the Jesuits. Their ardour in the study of ancient literature, and their labours in the instruction of youth, greatly contributed to the progress of polite learning. They have produced a greater number of ingenious authors than all the other religious fraternities taken together; and though there never was known among their order one person who could be said to possess an enlarged philosophical mind, they can boast of many eminent masters in the separate branches of science, many distinguished mathematicians, antiquarians, critics, and even some orators of high reputation. They were in general, also, as individuals, superior in decency, and even purity of manners, to any other class of regular clergy in the church of Rome. But all these benefits by no means counterbalanced the pernicious effects of their influence and intrigues on the best interests of society.

The essential principles of the institution, namely, that their order is to be maintained at the expense of the society at large, and that the end sanctifies the means, are utterly incompatible with the welfare of any community of men. Their system of lax and pliant morality, justifying every vice, and authorizing every atrocity, has left deep and lasting ravages on the face of the moral world. Their zeal to extend the jurisdiction of the court of Rome over every civil government, gave currency to tenets respecting the duty of opposing princes who were hostile to the Catholic faith: which shook the basis of all political allegiance, and loosened the obligations of every human law. Their indefatigable industry, and countless artifices in resisting the progress of reformed religion, perpetuates the most pernicious errors of Popery, and postponed the triumph of tolerant and Christian principles. Whence, then, it may well be asked, whence the recent restoration? What long latent proof has been discovered of the excellence, or even the expedience, of such an institution? The sentence of their abolition was passed by the senates, and monarchs, and statesmen, and divines, of all religions, and of almost every civilized country in the world. Almost every land has been stained and torn by their crimes; and almost every land bears on its public records the most solemn protests against their existence.

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Jesuits'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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