Jesuits

society of jesus. The name given in 1540 to a brotherhood founded six years earlier by Ignatius Loyola.* He had been joined by six others: Francis Xavier,* Pierre Le Favre (Faber), James Laynez,* Alphonsus Salmeron, Nicholas Bobadilla, and Simon Rodriguez, and they vowed to go to Palestine or anywhere the pope would send them. They soon gained a reputation in Italy as preachers, leaders of retreats, and hospital chaplains. In 1539 they formed a “Company of Jesus” in Rome, dedicated to instructing children and illiterates in the law of God. In 1540 the Society of Jesus was established by a bull entitled Regimini militantis ecclesiae. During the period 1540-55 it grew rapidly, requiring an autocratic structure, which was provided by Loyola's military training and the exercises he had worked out in The Spiritual Exercises. These were not novel, for there were parallels in the Rules of Francis and Benedict. Nevertheless, they provided the atmosphere of religious obedience so essential to such a disciplined constitution, culminating in the special promise of obedience to the pope, demanded in full commitment to the Society. Loyola refused to turn it into a contemplative order, convinced that its task was to minister to society; thus he removed the obligation of the religious to say the offices in choir. It was this readiness of Loyola to adjust the old ideals of the monks to the new demands of the age that prepared the way for their success.

They established orphanages, houses for reclaiming prostitutes, schools, centers of poor relief, and even a system of banking for the destitute peasants. Their missionary work expanded; one of their most famous missionaries was Francis Xavier. By the time of Loyola's death in 1556, the Society was one thousand strong and its direction of ministry had changed in that its influence was felt more acutely among the aristocracy than among the poor. This change was accomplished mainly through Loyola's wisdom in adopting modern methods of education. The first Jesuit secondary school was established at Messina in 1548. Colleges were founded in university settings, and the Society became a teaching order and the leading movement in Catholic higher education, providing the most effective teaching methods in contemporary Europe.

The Jesuits were the pope's strong supporters at the Council of Trent* and also found themselves spearheading the intellectual attack on the Reformation* and becoming the foremost Catholic apologists. They arrived in England in 1578 and were much feared. The eighteenth century saw them expelled from Portugal (1759), France (1764), and Spain (1767). Pressure from various states forced Clement XIV in 1773 to issue the bull Dominus ac Redemptor, suppressing the Society. Not until 1814 were they restored by Pius VII's Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum. The Society is today still a powerful force in the world of education, responsible for the Gregorian University in Rome, and nine others in their eastern missions, in addition to their many schools and academies throughout the world.

T. Hughes, The History of the Society of Jesus in North America (4 vols., 1907-17); T.J. Campbell, The Jesuits, 1534-1921 (1921); J. Brodrick, The Origin of the Jesuits (1940); M.P. Harney, The Jesuits in History (1941; rep. 1962); L. Polgar, Bibliography of the History of the Society of Jesus (1967); B. Basset, The English Jesuits (1968).