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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 15 — The Jesuits

Chapter 7 — Jesuit management of rich widows and the heirs of great families

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How Rich Widows are to be Drawn to the Chapels and Confessionals of the Jesuits–Kept from Thoughts of a Second Marriage–Induced to Enter an Order, and Bequeath their Estates to the Society–Sons and Daughters of Widows–How to Discover the Revenues and Heirs of Noble Houses –Illustration from Spain–Borrowing on Bond–The fastructions to be kept Secret–If Discovered, to be Denied–How the Instructions came to Light.

THE sixth chapter of the Instructions treats "Of the Means to acquire the Friendship of Rich Widows." On opening this new chapter, the reflection that forces itself on one is–how wide the range of objects to which the Society of Jesus is able to devote its attention! The greatest matters are not beyond its strength, and the smallest are not beneath its notice! From counselling monarchs, and gaiding ministers of State, it turns with equal adaptability and dexterity to caring for widows. The Instructions on this head are minute and elaborate to a degree, which shows the importance the society attaches to the due discharge of what it owes to this class of its clients.

True, some have professed to doubt whether the action of the society in this matter be wholly and purely disinterested, from the restriction it puts upon the class of persons taken under its protection. The Instructions do not say "widows," but "rich widows." But all the more on that account do widows need defense against the arts of chicanery and the wiles of avarice, and how can the Fathers better accord them such than by taking measures to convey their bodies and their goods alike within the safe walls of a convent? There the cormorants and vultures of a wicked world cannot make them their prey. But let us mark how they are to proceed. First, a Father of suitable gifts is to be selected to begin operations. He must not, in point of years, exceed middle age; he must have a fresh complexion, and a gracious discourse. He is to visit the widow, to touch feelingly on her position, and the snares and injuries to which it exposes her, and to hint at the fraternal care that the society of which he is a member delights to exercise over all in her condition who choose to place themselves under its guardianship. After a few visits of this sort, the widow will probably appear at one of the chapels of the society. Should it so happen, the next step is to appoint a confessor of their body for the widow. Should these delicate steps be well got over, the matter will begin to be hopeful. It will be the confessor's duty to see that the wicked idea of marrying again does not enter her mind, and for this end he is to picture to her the delightful and fascinating freedom she enjoys in her widowhood, and over against it he is to place the cares, vexations, and tyrannies which a second matrimony would probably draw upon her. To second these representations, the confessor is empowered to promise exemption from purgatery, should the holy estate of widowhood be persevered in. To maintain this pious frame of mind on the part of the object of these solicitudes, the Instructions direct that it may be advisable to have an oratory erected in her house, with an altar, and frequent mass and confession celebrated thereat. The adorning of the altar, and the accompanying rites, will occupy the time of the widow, and prevent the thoughts of a husband entering her mind. The matter having been conducted to this stage, it will be prudent now to change the persons of trust about her, and to replace them with persons devoted to the society. The number of religious services must also be increased, especially confession, "so that," say the Instructions, "knowing their former accusations, manners, and inclinations, the whole may serve as a guide to make them obey our wills." [1]

These steps will have brought the widow very near the door of a convent. A continuance a little longer in the same cautious and skillful tactics is all that will be necessary to land her safely within its walls. The confessor must now enlarge on the quietude and eminent sanctity of the cloister how surely it conducts to Paradise; but should she be unwilling to assume the veil in regular form, she may be induced to enter some religious order, such as that of Paulina, "so that being caught in the vow of chastity, all danger of her marrying again may be over." [2] The great duty of Alms, that queen of the graces, "without which, it is to be represented to her, she cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven," is now to be pressed upon her; "which alms, notwithstanding, she ought not to dispose to every one, if it be not by the advice and with the consent of her spiritual father." [3] Under this Direction it is easy to see in what exchequer the lands, manors, and revenues of widows will ultimately be garnered.

But the Fathers deemed it inexpedient to leave such an issue the least uncertain, and accordingly the seventh chapter enters largely into the "Means of keeping in our hands the Disposition of the Estates of Widows." To shut out worldly thoughts, and especially matrimonial ones, the time of such widows must be occupied with their devotions; they are to be exhorted to curtail their expenditure and abound yet more in alms "to the Church of Jesus Christ." A dexterous confessor is to be appointed them. They are to be frequently visited, and entertained with pleasant discourse. They are to be persuaded to select a patron, or tutelary saint, say St. Francis or St. Xavier. Provision is to be made that all they do be known, by placing about them only persons recommended by the society.

We must be excused for not giving in the words of the Fathers the fourteenth section of this chapter. That section gives

their proteges great license, indeed all license, "provided they be liberal and well-affected to our society, and that all things be carried cunningly and without scandal."

But the one great point to be aimed at is to get them to make an entire surrender of their estates to the society. This is to reach perfection now, and it may be to attain in future the yet higher reward of canonisation. But should it so happen, from love of kindred, or other motives, that they have not endowed the "poor companions of Jesus" with all their worldly goods, when they come to die, the preferable claims of "the Church of Jesus Christ" to those of kindred are to be urged upon them, and they are to be exhorted "to contribute to the finishing of our colleges, which are yet imperfect, for the greater glory of God, giving us lamps and pixes, and for the building of other foundations and houses, which we, the poor servants of the Society of Jesus, do still want, that all things may be perfected." [4]

"Let the same be done with princes," the Instructions go on to say, "and our other benefactors, who build us any sumptuous pile, or erect any foundation, representing to them, in the first place, that the benefits they thus do us are consecrated to eternity; that they shall become thereby perfect models of piety; that we will have thereof a very particular memory, and that in the next world they shall have their reward. But if it be objected that Jesus Christ was born in a stable, and had not where to lay his head, and that we, who are his companions, ought not to enjoy perishing goods, we ought to imprint strongly on their spirits that in truth, at first, the Church was also in the same state, but now that by the providence of God she is raised to a monarchy, and that in those times the Church was nothing but a broken rock, which is now become a great mountain." [5]

In the chapter that follows – the eighth, namely – the net is spread still wider. It is around the feet of "the sons and daughters of devout widows" that its meshes are now drawn. The scheme of machination and seduction unfolded in this chapter differs only in its minor points from that which we have already had disclosed to us. We pass it therefore, and go on to the ninth chapter, where we find the scheme still widening, and wholesale rapacity and extortion, sanctified of course by the end in view, still more openly avowed and enjoined. The chapter is entitled "Of the Means to Augment the Revenues of our Colleges," and these means, in short, are the astute and persistent deception, circumvention, and robbery of every class. The net is thrown, almost without disguise, over the whole community, in order that the goods, heritages, and possessions of all ranks–prince, peasant, widow, and orphan–may be dragged into the convents of the Jesuits. The world is but a large preserve for the mighty hunters of the Society of Jesus. "Above and before all other things," says this Instruction, "we ought to endeavor our own greatness, by the direction of our superiors, who are the only judges in this case, and who should labor that the Church of God may be in the highest degree of splendor, for the greater glory of God." [6]

In prosecution of this worthy end, the Secret Instructions enjoin the Fathers to visit frequently at rich and noble houses, and to "inform themselves, prudently and dexterously, whether they will not leave something to our Churches, in order to the obtaining remission of their sins, and of the sins of their kindred." [7] Confessors–and only able and eloquent; men are to be appointed as confessors to princes and statesmen –are to ascertain the name and surname of their penitents, the names of their kindred and friends, whether they have hopes of succeeding to anything, and how they mean to dispose of what they already have, or may yet have; whether they have brothers, sisters, or heirs, and of what age, inclination, and education they are. And they "should persuade them that all these questions do tend much to the clearing of the state of their conscience." [8]

There is a refreshing plainness about the following Instructions. They are given with the air of men who had so often repeated their plea "for the greater glory of God," that they themselves had come at last to believe it: –

"Our provincial ought to send expert men into all those places where there is any considerable nmnber of rich and wealthy persons, to the end they may give their superiors a true and faithful account."

"Let the stewards of our college get an exact knowledge of the houses, gardens, quarries of stone, vineyards, manors, and other riches of every one who lives near the place where they reside, and if it be possible, what degree of affection they have for us."

"In the next place we should discover every man's office, and the revenue of it, their possessions, and the articles of their contracts, which they may surely do by confessions, by meetings, and by entertainments, or by our trusty friends. And generally when any confessor lights upon a wealthy person, from whom he hath good hopes of profit, he is obliged forthwith to give notice of it, and discover it at his return."

"They should also inform themselves exactly whether there be any hope of obtaining bargains, goods, possessions, [9] pious gifts, and the like, in exchange for the admission of their sons into our society." [10]

"If a wealthy family have daughters only, they are to be drawn by caresses to become nuns, fit which case a small portion of their estate may be assigned for their use, and the rest will be ours." "The last heir

of a family is by all means to be induced to enter the society. And the better to relieve his mind from all fear of his parents, he is to be taught that it is more pleasing to God that he take this step without their knowledge or consent. [11] "Such a one," the Instructions add, "ought to be sent to a distance to pass his novitiate."

These directions were but too faithfully carried out in Spain, and to this among other causes is owing the depopulation of that once-powerful country. A writer who resided many years in the Peninsula, and had the best opportunities of observing its condition, says: "If a gentleman has two or three sons and as many daughters, the confessor of the family adviseth the father to keep the eldest son at home, and send the rest, both sons and daughters, into a convent or monastery; praising the monastic life, and saying that to be retired from the world is the safest way to heaven...

The fathers of these families, glad of lessening the expenses of the house, and of seeing their children provided for, do send them into the desert place of a convent, which is really the middle of the world. Now obsetwe that it is twenty to one that their heir dieth before he marrieth and have children, so the estate and everything else falls to the second, who is a professed friar, or nun, and as they cannot use the expression of meum or tuum, all goes that way to the society. And this is the reason why many families are extinguished, and their names quite out of memory, the convent so crowded, the kingdom so thin of people, and the friars, nuns, and monasteries so rich." [12]

Further, the Fathers are counseled to raise large sums of money on bond. The advantage of this method is, that when the bond-holder comes to die, it will be easy to induce him to part with the bond in exchange for the salvation of his soul. At all events, he is more likely to make a gift of the deed than to bequeath the same amount in gold. Another advantage of borrowing in this fashion, is that their pretense of poverty may still be kept up. Owners of a fourth or of a half of the property of a county, they will still be "the poor companions of Jesus." [13]

We make but one other quotation from the Secret Instructions. It closes this series of pious advices and is, in one respect, the most characteristic of them all. "Let the superior keep these secret advices with great care, and let them not be communicated but to a very few discreet persons, and that only by parts; and let them instruct others with them, when they have profitably served the society. And then let them not communicate them as rules they have received, but as the effects of their own prudence. But if they should happen to fall into the hands of strangers, who should give them an ill sense or construction, let them be assured the society owns them not in that sense, which shall be confirmed by instancing those of our order who assuredly know them not." [14]

It was some time before the contingency of exposure here provided against actually happened. But in the beginning of the seventeenth century the accidents of war dragged these Secret Instructions from the darkness in which their authors had hoped to conceal them from the knowledge of the world. The Duke of Brunswick, having plundered the Jesuits' college at Paderborn in Westphalia, made a present of their library to the Capuchins of the same town. Among the books which had thus come into their possession was found a copy of the Secret Instructions. Another copy is said to have been discovered in the Jesuits' college at Prague. Soon thereafter reprints and translations appeared in Germany, Holland, France, and England. The authenticity of the work was denied, as was to be expected; for any society that was astute enough to compile such a book would be astute enough to deny it. To only the fourth or highest order of Jesuits were these Instructions to be communicated; the others, who were ignorant of them in their written form, were brought forward to deny on oath that such a book existed, but their protestations weighed very little against the overwhelming evidence on the other side. The perfect uniformity of the methods followed by the Jesuits in all countries favored a presumption that they acted upon a prescribed rule; and the exact correspondence between their methods and the secret advices showed that this was the rule. Gretza, a well-known member of the society, affirmed that the Secreta Monita was a forgery by a Jesuit who had been dismissed with ignominy from the society in Poland, and that he published it in 1616. But the falsehood of the story was proved by the discovery in the British Museum of a work printed in 1596, twenty years before the alleged forgery, in which the Secreta Monita is copied. [15]

Since the first discovery in Paderborn, copies of the Secreta Monita have been found in other libraries, as in Prague, noted above. Numerous editions have since been published, and in so many languages, that the idea of collusion is out of the question. These editions all agree with the exception of a few unimportant variations in the reading. [16] "These private directions," says M. l'Estrange, "are quite contrary to the rules, constitutions, and instructions which this society professeth publicly in those books it hath printed on this subject. So that without difficulty we may believe that the greatest part of their governors (if a very few be excepted especially) have a double rule as well as a double habit–one for their private and particular use, and another to flaunt with before the world." [17]

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