Ignatius Loyola : Rise and Influence of the Jesuits – Beacon Lights of History, Volume VI : Renaissance and Reformation by John Lord

Beacon Lights of History, Volume VI : Renaissance and Reformation by John Lord

Beacon Lights of History, Volume VI : Renaissance and Reformation

Dante : Rise of Modern Poetry
Geoffrey Chaucer : English Life in the Fourteenth Century
Christopher Columbus : Maritime Discoveries
Savonarola : Unsuccessful Reforms
Michael Angelo : The Revival of Art
Martin Luther : The Protestant Reformation
Thomas Cranmer : The English Reformation
Ignatius Loyola : Rise and Influence of the Jesuits
John Calvin : Protestant Theology
Lord Bacon : The New Philosophy
Galileo : Astronomical Discoveries

Beacon Lights of History, Volume VI : Renaissance and Reformation
John Lord

Topics Covered
The counter-reformation effected by the Jesuits
Picture of the times; theological doctrines
The Monastic Orders no longer available
Ignatius Loyola
His early life
Founds a new order of Monks
Wonderful spread of the Society of Jesus
Their efficient organization
Causes of success in general
Virtues and abilities of the early Jesuits
Their devotion and bravery
Jesuit Missions
Veneration for Loyola; his “Spiritual Exercises”
Singular obedience exacted of the members of the Society
Absolute power of the General of the Order
Voluntary submission of Jesuits to complete despotism
The Jesuits adapt themselves to the circumstances of society
Causes of the decline of their influence
Corruption of most human institutions
The Jesuits become rich and then corrupt
Ésprit de corps of the Jesuits
Their doctrine of expediency
Their political intrigues
Persecution of the Protestants
The enemies they made
Madame de Pompadour
Suppression of the Order
Their return to power
Reasons why Protestants fear and dislike them

Ignatius Loyola : Rise and Influence of the Jesuits

A.D. 1491-1556.

Next to the Protestant Reformation itself, the most memorable moral movement in the history of modern times was the counter-reformation in the Roman Catholic Church, finally effected, in no slight degree, by the Jesuits. But it has not the grandeur or historical significance of the great insurrection of human intelligence which was headed by Luther. It was a revival of the pietism of the Middle Ages, with an external reform of manners. It was not revolutionary; it did not cast off the authority of the popes, nor disband the monasteries, nor reform religious worship: it rather tended to strengthen the power of the popes, to revive monastic life, and to perpetuate the forms of worship which the Middle Ages had established. No doubt a new religious life was kindled, and many of the flagrant abuses of the papal empire were redressed, and the lives of the clergy made more decent, in accordance with the revival of intelligence. Nor did it disdain literature or art, or any form of modern civilization, but sought to combine progress with old ideas; it was an effort to adapt the Roman theocracy to changing circumstances, and was marked by expediency rather than right, by zeal rather than a profound philosophy.

This movement took place among the Latin races,–the Italians, French, and Spaniards,–having no hold on the Teutonic races except in Austria, as much Slavonic as German. It worked on a poor material, morally considered; among peoples who have not been distinguished for stamina of character, earnestness, contemplative habits, and moral elevation,–peoples long enslaved, frivolous in their pleasures, superstitious, indolent, fond of fêtes, spectacles, pictures, and Pagan reminiscences.

The doctrine of justification by faith was not unknown, even in Italy. It was embraced by many distinguished men. Contarini, an illustrious Venetian, wrote a treatise on it, which Cardinal Pole admired. Folengo ascribed justification to grace alone; and Vittoria Colonna, the friend of Michael Angelo, took a deep interest in these theological inquiries. But the doctrine did not spread; it was not understood by the people,–it was a speculation among scholars and doctors, which gave no alarm to the Pope. There was even an attempt at internal reform under Paul III. of the illustrious family of the Farnese, successor of Leo X. and Clement VII., the two renowned Medicean popes. He made cardinals of Contarini, Caraffa, Sadoleto, Pole, Giberto,–all men imbued with Protestant doctrines, and very religious; and these good men prepared a plan of reform and submitted it to the Pope, which ended, however, only in new monastic orders.

It was then that Ignatius Loyola appeared upon the stage, when Luther was in the midst of his victories, and when new ideas were shaking the pontifical throne. The desponding successor of the Gregorys and the Clements knew not where to look for aid in that crisis of peril and revolution. The monastic orders composed his regular army, but they had become so corrupted that they had lost the reverence of the people. The venerable Benedictines had ceased to be men of prayer and contemplation as in the times of Bernard and Anselm, and were revelling in their enormous wealth. The cloisters of Cluniacs and Cistercians–branches of the Benedictines–were filled with idle and dissolute monks. The famous Dominicans and Franciscans, who had rallied to the defence of the Papacy three centuries before,–those missionary orders that had filled the best pulpits and the highest chairs of philosophy in the scholastic age,–had become inexhaustible subjects of sarcasm and mockery, for they were peddling relics and indulgences, and quarrelling among themselves. They were hated as inquisitors, despised as scholastics, and deserted as preachers; the roads and taverns were filled with them. Erasmus laughed at them, Luther abused them, and the Pope reproached them. No hope from such men as these, although they had once been renowned for their missions, their zeal, their learning, and their preaching.

At this crisis Loyola and his companions volunteered their services, and offered to go wherever the Pope should send them, as preachers, or missionaries, or teachers, instantly, without discussion, conditions, or rewards. So the Pope accepted them, made them a new order of monks; and they did what the Mendicant Friars had done three hundred years before,–they fanned a new spirit, and rapidly spread over Europe, over all the countries to which Catholic adventurers had penetrated, and became the most efficient allies that the popes ever had.

This was in 1540, six years after the foundation of the Society of Jesus had been laid on the Mount of Martyrs, in the vicinity of Paris, during the pontificate of Paul III. Don Iñigo Lopez de Recalde Loyola, a Spaniard of noble blood and breeding, at first a page at the court of King Ferdinand, then a brave and chivalrous soldier, was wounded at the siege of Pampeluna. During a slow convalescence, having read all the romances he could find, he took up the “Lives of the Saints,” and became fired with religious zeal. He immediately forsook the pursuit of arms, and betook himself barefooted to a pilgrimage. He served the sick in hospitals; he dwelt alone in a cavern, practising austerities; he went as a beggar on foot to Rome and to the Holy Land, and returned at the age of thirty-three to begin a course of study. It was while completing his studies at Paris that he conceived and formed the “Society of Jesus.”

From that time we date the counter-reformation. In fifty years more a wonderful change took place in the Catholic Church, wrought chiefly by the Jesuits. Yea, in sixteen years from that eventful night–when far above the star-lit city the enthusiastic Loyola had bound his six companions with irrevocable vows–he had established his Society in the confidence and affection of Catholic Europe, against the voice of universities, the fears of monarchs, and the jealousy of the other monastic orders. In sixteen years, this ridiculed and wandering Spanish fanatic had risen to a condition of great influence and dignity, second only in power to the Pope himself; animating the councils of the Vatican, moving the minds of kings, controlling the souls of a numerous fraternity, and making his influence felt in every corner of the world. Before the remembrance of his passionate eloquence, his eyes of fire, and his countenance of seraphic piety had passed away from the minds of his own generation, his disciples “had planted their missionary stations among Peruvian mines, in the marts of the African slave-trade, among the islands of the Indian Ocean, on the coasts of Hindustan, in the cities of Japan and China, in the recesses of Canadian forests, amid the wilds of the Rocky Mountains.” They had the most important chairs in the universities; they were the confessors of monarchs and men of rank; they had the control of the schools of Italy, France, Austria, and Spain; and they had become the most eloquent, learned, and fashionable preachers in all Catholic countries. They had grown to be a great institution,–an organization instinct with life, a mechanism endued with energy and will; forming a body which could outwatch Argus with his hundred eyes, and outwork Briareus with his hundred arms; they had twenty thousand eyes open upon every cabinet, every palace, and every private family in Catholic Europe, and twenty thousand arms extended over the necks of every sovereign and all their subjects,–a mighty moral and spiritual power, irresponsible, irresistible, omnipresent, connected intimately with the education, the learning, and the religion of the age; yea, the prime agents in political affairs, the prop alike of absolute monarchies and of the papal throne, whose interests they made identical. This association, instinct with one will and for one purpose, has been beautifully likened by Doctor Williams to the chariot in the Prophet’s vision: “The spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels; wherever the living creatures went, the wheels went with them; wherever those stood, these stood: when the living creatures were lifted up, the wheels were lifted up over against them; and their wings were full of eyes round about, and they were so high that they were dreadful. So of the institution of Ignatius,–one soul swayed the vast mass; and every pin and every cog in the machinery consented with its whole power to every movement of the one central conscience.”

Luther moved Europe by ideas which emancipated the millions, and set in motion a progress which is the glory of our age; Loyola invented a machine which arrested this progress, and drove the Catholic world back again into the superstitions and despotisms of the Middle Ages, retaining however the fear of God and of Hell, which some among the Protestants care very little about.

What is the secret of such a wonderful success? Two things: first, the extraordinary virtues, abilities, and zeal of the early Jesuits; and, secondly, their wonderful machinery in adapting means to an end.

The history of society shows that no body of men ever obtained a wide-spread ascendancy, never secured general respect, unless they deserved it. Industry produces its fruits; learning and piety have their natural results. Even in the moral world natural law asserts its supremacy. Hypocrisy and fraud ultimately will be detected; no enduring reputation is built upon a lie; sincerity and earnestness will call out respect, even from foes; learning and virtue are lights which are not hid under a bushel. Enthusiasm creates enthusiasm; a lofty life will be seen and honored. Nor do people intrust their dearest interests except to those whom they venerate,–and venerate because their virtues shine like the face of a goddess. We yield to those only whom we esteem wiser than ourselves. Moses controlled the Israelites because they venerated his wisdom and courage; Paul had the confidence of the infant churches because they saw his labors; Bernard swayed his darkened age by the moral power of learning and sanctity. The mature judgments of centuries never have reversed the judgments which past ages gave in reference to their master minds. All the pedants and sophists of Germany cannot whitewash Frederic II. or Henry VIII. No man in Athens was more truly venerated than Socrates when he mocked his judges. Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, appeared to contemporaries as they appear to us. Even Hildebrand did not juggle himself into his theocratic chair. Washington deserved all the reverence he enjoyed; and Bonaparte himself was worthy of the honors he received, so long as he was true to the interests of France.

So of the Jesuits,–there is no mystery in their success; the same causes would produce the same results again. When Catholic Europe saw men born to wealth and rank voluntarily parting with their goods and honors; devoting themselves to religious duties, often in a humble sphere; spending their days in schools and hospitals; wandering as preachers and missionaries amid privations and in fatigue; encountering perils and dangers and hardships with fresh and ever-sustained enthusiasm; and finally yielding up their lives as martyrs, to proclaim salvation to idolatrous savages,–it knew them to be heroic, and believed them to be sincere, and honored them in consequence. When parents saw that the Jesuits entered heart and soul into the work of education, winning their pupils’ hearts by kindness, watching their moods, directing their minds into congenial studies, and inspiring them with generous sentiments, they did not stop to pry into their motives; and universities, when they discovered the superior culture of educated Jesuits, outstripping all their associates in learning, and shedding a light by their genius and erudition, very naturally appointed them to the highest chairs; and even the people, when they saw that the Jesuits were not stained by vulgar vices, but were hard-working, devoted to their labors, earnest, and eloquent, put themselves under their teachings; and especially when they added gentlemanly manners, good taste, and agreeable conversation to their unimpeachable morality and religious fervor, they made these men their confessors as well as preachers. Their lives stood out in glorious contrast with those of the old monks and the regular clergy, in an age of infidel levities, when the Italian renaissance was bearing its worst fruits, and men were going back to Pagan antiquity for their pleasures and opinions.

That the early Jesuits blazed with virtues and learning and piety has never been denied, although these things have been poetically exaggerated. The world was astonished at their intrepidity, zeal, and devotion. They were not at first intriguing, or ambitious, or covetous. They loved their Society; but they loved still more what they thought was the glory of God. Ad majoram Dei gloriam was the motto which was emblazoned on their standard when they went forth as Christian warriors to overcome the heresies of Christendom and the superstitions of idolaters. “The Jesuit missionary,” says Stephen, “with his breviary under his arm, his beads at his girdle, and his crucifix in his hands, went forth without fear, to encounter the most dreaded dangers. Martyrdom was nothing to him; he knew that the altar which might stream with his blood, and the mound which might be raised over his remains, would become a cherished object of his fame and an expressive emblem of the power of his religion.” “If I die,” said Xavier, when about to visit the cannibal Island of Del Moro, “who knows but what all may receive the Gospel, since it is most certain it has ever fructified more abundantly in the field of Paganism by the blood of martyrs than by the labors of missionaries,”–a sublime truth, revealed to him in his whole course of protracted martyrdom and active philanthropy, especially in those last hours when, on the Island of Sanshan, he expired, exclaiming, as his fading eyes rested on the crucifix, In te Domine speravi, non confundar in eternum. In perils, in fastings, in fatigues, was the life of this remarkable man passed, in order to convert the heathen world; and in ten years he had traversed a tract of more than twice the circumference of the earth, preaching, disputing, and baptizing, until seventy thousand converts, it is said, were the fruits of his mission.[1] “My companion,” said the fearless Marquette, when exploring the prairies of the Western wilderness, “is an envoy of France to discover new countries, and I am an ambassador of God to enlighten them with the Gospel.” Lalemant, when pierced with the arrows of the Iroquois, rejoiced that his martyrdom would induce others to follow his example. The missions of the early Jesuits extorted praises from Baxter and panegyric from Liebnitz.

Ignatius Loyola

Ignatius Loyola

And not less remarkable than these missionaries were those who labored in other spheres. Loyola himself, though visionary and monastic, had no higher wish than to infuse piety into the Catholic Church, and to strengthen the hands of him whom he regarded as God’s vicegerent. Somehow or other he succeeded in securing the absolute veneration of his companions, so much so that the sainted Xavier always wrote to him on his knees. His “Spiritual Exercises” has ever remained the great text-book of the Jesuits,–a compend of fasts and penances, of visions and of ecstasies; rivalling Saint Theresa herself in the rhapsodies of a visionary piety, showing the chivalric and romantic ardor of a Spanish nobleman directed into the channel of devotion to an invisible Lord. See this wounded soldier at the siege of Pampeluna, going through all the experiences of a Syriac monk in his Manresan cave, and then turning his steps to Paris to acquire a university education; associating only with the pious and the learned, drawing to him such gifted men as Faber and Xavier, Salmeron and Lainez, Borgia and Bobadilla, and inspiring them with his ideas and his fervor; living afterwards, at Venice, with Caraffa (the future Paul IV.) in the closest intimacy, preaching at Vicenza, and forming a new monastic code, as full of genius and originality as it was of practical wisdom, which became the foundation of a system of government never surpassed in the power of its mechanism to bind the minds and wills of men. Loyola was a most extraordinary man in the practical turn he gave to religious rhapsodies; creating a legislation for his Society which made it the most potent religious organization in the world. All his companions were remarkable likewise for different traits and excellences, which yet were made to combine in sustaining the unity of this moral mechanism. Lainez had even a more comprehensive mind than Loyola. It was he who matured the Jesuit Constitution, and afterwards controlled the Council of Trent,–a convocation which settled the creed of the Catholic Church, especially in regard to justification, and which admitted the merits of Christ, but attributed justification to good works in a different sense from that understood and taught by Luther.

Aside from the personal gifts and qualities of the early Jesuits, they would not have so marvellously succeeded had it not been for their remarkable constitution,–that which bound the members of the Society together, and gave to it a peculiar unity and force. The most marked thing about it was the unbounded and unhesitating obedience required of every member to superiors, and of these superiors to the General of the Order,–so that there was but one will. This law of obedience is, as every one knows, one of the fundamental principles of all the monastic orders from the earliest times, enforced by Benedict as well as Basil. Still there was a difference in the vow of obedience. The head of a monastery in the Middle Ages was almost supreme. The Lord Abbot was obedient only to the Pope, and he sought the interests of his monastery rather than those of the Pope. But Loyola exacted obedience to the General of the Order so absolutely that a Jesuit became a slave. This may seem a harsh epithet; there is nothing gained by using offensive words, but Protestant writers have almost universally made these charges. From their interpretation of the constitutions of Loyola and Lainez and Aquaviva, a member of the Society had no will of his own; he did not belong to himself, he belonged to his General,–as in the time of Abraham a child belonged to his father and a wife to her husband; nay, even still more completely. He could not write or receive a letter that was not read by his Superior. When he entered the order, he was obliged to give away his property, but could not give it to his relatives.[2] When he made confession, he was obliged to tell his most intimate and sacred secrets. He could not aspire to any higher rank than that he held; he had no right to be ambitious, or seek his own individual interests; he was merged body and soul into the Society; he was only a pin in the machinery; he was bound to obey even his own servant, if required by his Superior; he was less than a private soldier in an army; he was a piece of wax to be moulded as the Superior directed,–and the Superior, in his turn, was a piece of wax in the hands of the Provincial, and he again in the hands of the General. “There were many gradations in rank, but every rank was a gradation in slavery.” The Jesuit is accused of having no individual conscience. He was bound to do what he was told, right or wrong; nothing was right and nothing was wrong except as the Society pronounced. The General stood in the place of God. That man was the happiest who was most mechanical. Every novice had a monitor, and every monitor was a spy.[3] So strict was the rule of Loyola, that he kept Francis Borgia, Duke of Candia, three years out of the Society, because he refused to renounce all intercourse with his family.[4]

The Jesuit was obliged to make all natural ties subordinate to the will of the General. And this General was a king more absolute than any worldly monarch, because he reigned over the minds of his subjects. His kingdom was an imperium in imperio; he was chosen for life and was responsible to no one, although he ruled for the benefit of the Catholic Church. In one sense a General of the Jesuits resembled the prime minister of an absolute monarch,–say such a man as Richelieu, with unfettered power in the cause of absolutism; and he ruled like Richelieu, through his spies, making his subordinates tools and instruments. The General appointed the presidents of colleges and of the religious houses; he admitted or dismissed, dispensed or punished, at his pleasure. There was no complaint; all obeyed his orders, and saw in him the representative of Divine Providence. Complaint was sin; resistance was ruin. It is hard for us to understand how any man could be brought voluntarily to submit to such a despotism. But the novice entering the order had to go through terrible discipline,–to be a servant, anything; to live according to rigid rules, so that his spirit was broken by mechanical duties. He had to learn all the virtues of a slave before he could be fully enrolled in the Society. He was drilled for years by spiritual sergeants more rigorously than a soldier in Napoleon’s army: hence the efficiency of the body; it was a spiritual army of the highest disciplined troops. Loyola had been a soldier; he knew what military discipline could do,–how impotent an army is without it, what an awful power it is with discipline, and the severer the better. The best soldier of a modern army is he who has become an unconscious piece of machinery; and it was this unreflecting, unconditional obedience which made the Society so efficient, and the General himself, who controlled it, such an awful power for good or for evil. I am only speaking of the organization, the machinery, the régime, of the Jesuits, not of their character, not of their virtues or vices. This organization is to be spoken of as we speak of the discipline of an army,–wise or unwise, as it reached its end. The original aim of the Jesuits was the restoration of the Papal Church to its ancient power; and for one hundred years, as I think, the restoration of morals, higher education, greater zeal in preaching: in short, a reformation within the Church. Jesuitism was, of course, opposed to Protestantism; it hated the Protestants; it hated their religious creed and their emancipating and progressive spirit; it hated religious liberty.

I need not dwell on other things which made this order of monks so successful,–not merely their virtues and their mechanism, but their adaptation to the changing spirit of the times. They threw away the old dresses of monastic life; they quitted the cloister and places of meditation; they were preachers as well as scholars; they accommodated themselves to the circumstances of the times; they wore the ordinary dress of gentlemen; they remained men of the world, of fine manners and cultivated speech; there was nothing ascetic or repulsive about them, like other monks; they were all things to all men, like politicians, in order to accomplish their ends; they never were lazy, or profligate or luxurious. If their Order became enriched, they as individuals remained poor. The inferior members were not even ambitious; like good soldiers, they thought of nothing but the work assigned to them. Their pride and glory were the prosperity of their Order,–an intense esprit de corps, never equalled by any body of men. This, of course, while it gave them efficiency, made them narrow. They could see the needle on the barn-door,–they could not see the door itself. Hence there could be no agreement with them, no argument with them, except on ordinary matters; they were as zealous as Saul, seeking to make proselytes. They yielded nothing except in order to win; they never compromised their Order in their cause. Their fidelity to their head was marvellous; and so long as they confined themselves to the work of making people better, I think they deserved praise. I do not like their military organization, but I should have no more right to abuse it than the organization of some Protestant sects. That is a matter of government; all sects and all parties, Catholic and Protestant, have a right to choose their own government to carry out their ends, even as military generals have a right to organize their forces in their own way. The history of the Jesuits shows this,–that an organization of forces, or what we call discipline or government, is a great thing. A church without a government is a poor affair, so far as efficiency is concerned. All churches have something to learn from the Jesuits in the way of discipline. John Wesley learned something; the Independents learned very little,

But there is another side to the Jesuits. We have seen why they succeeded; we have to inquire how they failed. If history speaks of the virtues of the early members, and the wonderful mechanism of their Order, and their great success in consequence, it also speaks of the errors they committed, by which they lost the confidence they had gained. From being the most popular of all the adherents of the papal power, and of the ideas of the Dark Ages, they became the most unpopular; they became so odious that the Pope was obliged, by the pressure of public opinion and of the Bourbon courts of Europe, to suppress their Order. The fall of the Jesuits was as significant as their rise. I need not dwell on that fall, which is one of the best known facts of history.

Why did the Jesuits become unpopular and lose their influence?

They gained the confidence of Catholic countries because they deserved it, and they lost that confidence because they deserved to lose it,–in other words, because they became corrupt; and this seems to be the history of all institutions. It is strange, it is passing strange, that human societies and governments and institutions should degenerate as soon as they become rich and powerful; but such is the fact,–a sad commentary on the doctrine of a necessary progress of the race, or the natural tendency to good, which so many cherish, but than which nothing can be more false, as proved by experience and the Scriptures. Why were the antediluvians swept away? Why could not those races retain their primitive revelation? Why did the descendants of Noah become almost idolaters before he was dead? Why did the great Persian Empire become as effeminate as the empires it had supplanted? Why did the Jewish nation steadily retrograde after David? Why did not civilization and Christianity save the Roman world? Why did Christianity itself become corrupted in four centuries? Why did not the Middle Ages preserve the evangelical doctrines of Augustine and Jerome and Chrysostom and Ambrose? Why did the light of the glorious Reformation of Luther nearly go out in the German cities and universities? Why did the fervor of the Puritans burn out in England in one hundred years? Why have the doctrines of the Pilgrim Fathers become unfashionable in those parts of New England where they seemed to have taken the deepest root? Why have so many of the descendants of the disciples of George Fox become so liberal and advanced as to be enamoured of silk dresses and laces and diamonds and the ritualism of Episcopal churches? Is it an improvement to give up a simple life and lofty religious enthusiasm for materialistic enjoyments and epicurean display? Is there a true advance in a university, when it exchanges its theological teachings and its preparation of poor students for the Gospel Ministry, for Schools of Technology and boat-clubs and accommodations for the sons of the rich and worldly?

Now the Society of Jesus went through just such a transformation as has taken place, almost within the memory of living men, in the life and habits and ideas of the people of Boston and Philadelphia and in the teachings of their universities. Some may boldly say, “Why not? This change indicates progress.” But this progress is exactly similar to that progress which the Jesuits made in the magnificence of their churches, in the wealth they had hoarded in their colleges, in the fashionable character of their professors and confessors and preachers, in the adaptation of their doctrines to the taste of the rich and powerful, in the elegance and arrogance and worldliness of their dignitaries. Father La Chaise was an elegant and most polished man of the world, and travelled in a coach with six horses. If he had not been such a man, he would not have been selected by Louis XIV. for his confidential and influential confessor. The change which took place among the Jesuits arose from the same causes as the change which has taken place among Methodists and Quakers and Puritans. This change I would not fiercely condemn, for some think it is progress. But is it progress in that religious life which early marked these people; or a progress towards worldly and epicurean habits which they arose to resist and combat? The early Jesuits were visionary, fanatical, strict, ascetic, religious, and narrow. They sought by self-denying labors and earnest exhortations, like Savonarola at Florence, to take the Church out of the hands of the Devil; and the people reverenced them, as they always have reverenced martyrs and missionaries. The later Jesuits sought to enjoy their wealth and power and social position. They became–as rich and prosperous people generally become–proud, ambitious, avaricious, and worldly. They were as elegant, as scholarly, and as luxurious as the Fellows of Oxford University, and the occupants of stalls in the English cathedrals,–that is all: as worldly as the professors of Yale and Cambridge may become in half-a-century, if rich widows and brewers and bankers without children shall some day make those universities as well endowed as Jesuit colleges were in the eighteenth century. That is the old story of our fallen humanity. I would no more abuse the Jesuits because they became confessors to the great, and went into mercantile speculations, than I would rich and favored clergymen in Protestant countries, who prefer ten per cent for their money in California mines to four per cent in national consols.

But the prosperity which the Jesuits had earned during their first century of existence excited only envy, and destroyed the reverence of the people; it had not made them odious, detestable. It was the means they adopted to perpetuate their influence, after early virtues had passed away, which caused enlightened Catholic Europe to mistrust them, and the Protestants absolutely to hate and vilify them.

From the very first, the Society was distinguished for the esprit de corps of its members. Of all things which they loved best it was the power and glory of the Society,–just as Oxford Fellows love the prestige of their university. And this power and influence the Jesuits determined to preserve at all hazards and by any means; when virtues fled, they must find something else with which to bolster themselves up: they must not part with their power; the question was, how should they keep it?

First, they adopted the doctrine of expediency,–that the end justifies the means. They did not invent this sophistry,–it is as old as our humanity. Abraham used it when he told lies to the King of Egypt, to save the honor of his wife; Caesar accepted it, when he vindicated imperialism as the only way to save the Roman Empire from anarchy; most politicians resort to it when they wish to gain their ends. Politicians have ever been as unscrupulous as the Jesuits, in adopting expediency rather than eternal right. It has been a primal law of government; it lies at the basis of English encroachments in India, and of the treatment of the aborigines in this country by our government. There is nothing new in the doctrine of expediency.

But the Jesuits are accused of pushing this doctrine to its remotest consequences, of being its most unscrupulous defenders,–so that Jesuitism and expediency are synonymous, are convertible terms. They are accused of perverting education, of abusing the confessional, of corrupting moral and political philosophy, of conforming to the inclinations of the great. They even went so far as to inculcate mental reservation,–thus attacking truth in its most sacred citadel, the conscience of mankind,–on which Pascal was so severe. They made habit and bad example almost a sufficient exculpation from crime. Perjury was allowable, if the perjured were inwardly determined not to swear. They invented the notion of probabilities, according to which a person might follow any opinion he pleased, although he knew it to be wrong, provided authors of reputation had defended that opinion. A man might fight a duel, if by refusing to fight he would be stigmatized as a coward. They did not openly justify murder, treachery, and falsehood, but they excused the same, if plausible reasons could be urged. In their missions they aimed at éclat; and hence merely nominal conversions were accepted, because these swelled their numbers. They gave the crucifix, which covered up all sins; they permitted their converts to retain their ancient habits and customs. In order to be popular, Robert de Nobili, it is said, traced his lineage to Brahma; and one of their missionaries among the Indians told the savages that Christ was a warrior who scalped women and children. Anything for an outward success. Under their teachings it was seen what a light affair it was to bear the yoke of Christ. So monarchs retained in their service confessors who imposed such easy obligations. So ordinary people resorted to the guidance of such leaders, who made themselves agreeable. The Jesuit colleges were filled with casuists. Their whole moral philosophy, if we may believe Arnauld and Pascal, was a tissue of casuistry; truth was obscured in order to secure popularity; even the most diabolical persecution was justified if heretics stood in the way. Father Le Tellier rejoiced in the slaughter of Saint Bartholomew, and Te Deums were offered in the churches for the extinction of Protestantism by any means. If it could be shown to be expedient, the Jesuits excused the most outrageous crimes ever perpetrated on this earth.

Again, the Jesuits are accused of riveting fetters on the human mind in order to uphold their power, and to sustain the absolutism of the popes and the absolutism of kings, to which they were equally devoted. They taught in their schools the doctrine of passive obedience; they aimed to subdue the will by rigid discipline; they were hostile to bold and free inquiries; they were afraid of science; they hated such men as Galileo, Pascal, and Bacon; they detested the philosophers who prepared the way for the French Revolution; they abominated the Protestant idea of private judgment; they opposed the progress of human thought, and were enemies alike of the Jansenist movement in the seventeenth century and of the French Revolution in the eighteenth. They upheld the absolutism of Louis XIV., and combated the English Revolution; they sent their spies and agents to England to undermine the throne of Elizabeth and build up the throne of Charles I. Every emancipating idea, in politics and in religion, they detested. There were many things in their system of education to be commended; they were good classical scholars, and taught Greek and Latin admirably; they cultivated the memory; they made study pleasing, but they did not develop genius. The order never produced a great philosopher; the energies of its members were concentrated in imposing a despotic yoke.

The Jesuits are accused further of political intrigues; this is a common and notorious charge. They sought to control the cabinets of Europe; they had their spies in every country. The intrigues of Campion and Parsons in England aimed at the restoration of Catholic monarchs. Mary of Scotland was a tool in their hands, and so was Madame de Maintenon in France. La Chaise and Le Tellier were mere politicians. The Jesuits were ever political priests; the history of Europe the last three hundred years is full of their cabals. Their political influence was directed to the persecution of Protestants as well as infidels. They are accused of securing the revocation of the Edict of Nantes,–one of the greatest crimes in the history of modern times, which led to the expulsion of four hundred thousand Protestants from France, and the execution of four hundred thousand more. They incited the dragonnades of Louis XIV., who was under their influence. They are accused of the assassination of kings, of the fires of Smithfield, of the Gunpowder Plot, of the cruelties inflicted by Alva, of the Thirty Years’ War, of the ferocities of the Guises, of inquisitions and massacres, of sundry other political crimes, with what justice I do not know; but certain it is they became objects of fear, and incurred the hostilities of Catholic Europe, especially of all liberal thinkers, and their downfall was demanded by the very courts of Europe. Why did they lose their popularity? Why were they so distrusted and hated? The fact that they were hated is most undoubted, and there must have been cause for it. It is a fact that at one time they were respected and honored, and deserved to be so: must there not have been grave reasons for the universal change in public opinion respecting them? The charges against them, to which I have alluded, must have had foundation. They did not become idle, gluttonous, ignorant, and sensual like the old monks: they became greedy of power; and in order to retain it resorted to intrigues, conspiracies, and persecutions. They corrupted philosophy and morality, abused the confessional privilege, adopted Success as their watchword, without regard to the means; they are charged with becoming worldly, ambitious, mercenary, unscrupulous, cruel; above all, they sought to bind the minds of men with a despotic yoke, and waged war against all liberalizing influences. They always were, from first to last, narrow, pedantic, one-sided, legal, technical, pharisaical. The best thing about them, in the days of their declining power, was that they always opposed infidel sentiments. They hated Voltaire and Rousseau and the Encyclopedists as much as they did Luther and Calvin. They detested the principles of the French Revolution, partly because those principles were godless, partly because they were emancipating.

Madame de Pompadour After the painting by Fr. Boucher

Madame de Pompadour After the painting by Fr. Boucher

Of course, in such an infidel and revolutionary age as that of Louis XV, when Voltaire was the oracle of Europe,–when from his chateau near Geneva he controlled the mind of Europe, as Calvin did two centuries earlier,–enemies would rise up, on all sides, against the Jesuits. Their most powerful and bitter foe was a woman,–the mistress of Louis XV., the infamous Madame de Pompadour. She hated the Jesuits as Catharine de Medici hated the Calvinists in the time of Charles IX.,–not because they were friends of absolutism, not because they wrote casuistic books, not because they opposed liberal principles, not because they were spies and agents of Rome, not because they perverted education, not because they were boastful and mercenary missionaries or cunning intriguers in the courts of princes, not because they had marked their course through Europe in a trail of blood, but because they were hostile to her ascendency,–a woman who exercised about the same influence in France as Jezebel did at the court of Ahab. I respect the Jesuits for the stand they took against this woman: it is the best thing in their history. But here they did not show their usual worldly wisdom, and they failed. They were judicially blinded. The instrument of their humiliation was a wicked woman. So strange are the ways of Providence! He chose Esther to save the Jewish nation, and a harlot to punish the Jesuits. She availed herself of their mistakes.

It seems that the Superior of the Jesuits at Martinique failed; for the Jesuits embarked in commercial speculations while officiating as missionaries. The angry creditors of La Valette, the Jesuit banker, demanded repayment from the Order. They refused to pay his debts. The case was carried to the courts, and the highest tribunal decided against them. That was not the worst. In the course of the legal proceedings, the mysterious “rule” of the Jesuits–that which was so carefully concealed from the public–was demanded. Then all was revealed,–all that Pascal had accused them of,–and the whole nation was indignant. A great storm was raised. The Parliament of Paris decreed the constitution of the Society to be fatal to all government. The King wished to save them, for he knew that they were the best supporters of the throne of absolutism. But he could not resist the pressure,–the torrent of public opinion, the entreaties of his mistress, the arguments of his ministers. He was compelled to demand from the Pope the abrogation of their charter. Other monarchs did the same; all the Bourbon courts in Europe, for the king of Portugal narrowly escaped assassination from a fanatical Jesuit. Had the Jesuits consented to a reform, they might not have fallen. But they would make no concessions. Said Ricci, their General, Sint ut sunt, aut non sint. The Pope–Clement XIV.–was obliged to part with his best soldiers. Europe, Catholic Europe, demanded the sacrifice,–the kings of Spain, of France, of Naples, of Portugal. Compulsus feci, compulsus feci, exclaimed the broken-hearted Pope,–the feeble and pious Ganganelli. So that in 1773, by a papal decree, the Order was suppressed; 669 colleges were closed; 223 missions were abandoned, and more than 22,000 members were dispersed. I do not know what became of their property, which amounted to about two hundred millions of dollars, in the various countries of Europe.

This seems to me to have been a clear case of religious persecution, incited by jealous governments and the infidel or the progressive spirit of the age, on the eve of the French Revolution. It simply marks the hostilities which, for various reasons, they had called out. I am inclined to think that their faults were greatly exaggerated; but it is certain that so severe and high-handed a measure would not have been taken by the Pope had it not seemed to him necessary to preserve the peace of the Church. Had they been innocent, the Pope would have lost his throne sooner than commit so great a wrong on his most zealous servants. It is impossible for a Protestant to tell how far they were guilty of the charges preferred against them. I do not believe that their lives, as a general thing, were a scandal sufficient to justify so sweeping a measure; but their institution, their régime, their organization, their constitution, were deemed hostile to liberty and the progress of society. And if zealous governments–Catholic princes themselves–should feel that the Jesuits were opposed to the true progress of nations, how much more reason had Protestants to distrust them, and to rejoice in their fall!

And it was not until the French Revolution and the empire of Napoleon had passed away, not until the Bourbons had been restored nearly half a century, that the Order was re-established and again protected by the Papal court. They have now regained their ancient power, and seem to have the confidence of Catholic Europe. Some of their most flourishing seminaries are in the United States. They are certainly not a scandal in this country, although their spirit and institution are the same as ever: mistrusted and disliked and feared by the Protestants, as a matter of course, as such a powerful organization naturally would be; hostile still to the circulation of the Scriptures among the people and free inquiry and private judgment,–in short, to all the ideas of the Reformation. But whatever they are, and however much the Protestants dislike them, they have in our country,–this land of unbounded religious toleration,–the same right to their religion and their ecclesiastical government that Protestant sects have; and if Protestants would nullify their influence so far as it is bad, they must outshine them in virtues, in a religious life, in zeal, and in devotion to the spiritual interests of the people. If the Jesuits keep better schools than Protestants they will be patronized, and if they command the respect of the Catholics for their virtues and intelligence, whatever may be the machinery of their organization, they will retain their power; and not until they interfere with elections and Protestant schools, or teach dangerous doctrines of public morality, has our Government any right to interfere with them. They will stand or fall as they win the respect or excite the wrath of enlightened nations. But the principles they are supposed to defend,–expediency, casuistry, and hostility to free inquiry and the circulation of the Scriptures in vernacular languages,–these are just causes of complaint and of unrelenting opposition among all those who accept the great ideas of the Protestant Reformation, since they are antagonistic to what we deem most precious in our institutions. So long as the contest shall last between good and evil in this world, we have a right to declaim against all encroachments on liberty and sound morality and an evangelical piety from any quarter whatever, and we are recreant to our duties unless we speak our minds. Hence, from the light I have, I pronounce judgment against the Society of Jesus as a dangerous institution, unfortunately planted among us, but which we cannot help, and can attack only with the weapons of reason and truth.

And yet I am free to say that for my part I prefer even the Jesuit discipline and doctrines, much as I dislike them, to the unblushing infidelity which has lately been propagated by those who call themselves savans,–and which seems to have reached and even permeated many of the schools of science, the newspapers, periodicals, clubs, and even pulpits of this materialistic though progressive country. I make war on the slavery of the will and a religion of formal technicalities; but I prefer these evils to a godless rationalism and the extinction of the light of faith.


Secreta Monita; Steinmetz’s History of the Jesuits; Ranke’s History of the Popes; Spiritual Exercises; Encyclopaedia Britannica; Biographie Universelle; Fall of the Jesuits, by St. Priest; Lives of Ignatius Loyola, Aquiviva, Lainez, Salmeron, Borgia, Xavier, Bobadilla; Pascal’s Provincial Letters; Bonhours’ Crétineau; Lingard’s History of England; Tierney; Lettres Aedificantes; Jesuit Missions; Mémoires Sécrètes du Cardinal Dubois; Tanner’s Societas Jesu; Dodd’s Church History.

[1] I am inclined to think that this statement is exaggerated; or, if true, that conversion was merely nominal.
[2] Ranke.
[3] Steinmetz, i. p. 252.
[4] Nicolini, p. 35.

John Calvin : Protestant Theology

Beacon Lights of History, Volume VI : Renaissance and Reformation