1. In Europe

After the death of Diego Laynez (1565), the Society of Jesus chose as its general Francisco Borgia, whose character and career were an earnest of the time. Born rich, grandson of Pope Alexander VI, rising to be Duke of Gandia, Viceroy of Catalonia, and friend of kings, he joined the new order in 1546, gave it all his personal wealth, and earned canonization by the austere sanctity of his life. Everard Mercurian, who followed him as general, left no mark on history; but Claudio Aquaviva guided the society with such wisdom and tact through thirty-four troubled years (1581–1615) that many Jesuits now rank him highest of all their generals since Loyola. When he took command there were some five thousand Jesuits; when he died there were thirteen thousand.

Under his direction a committee of Jesuit scholars drew up (1584–99) the Ratio studiorum, which continued till 1836 to determine the order and method of studies in Jesuit colleges. Taking boys of eleven to fourteen years of age, the six-year course gave them three years of the Greek and Latin languages and literatures; the remaining years were devoted to philosophy in its broadest sense, as including natural science, logic, metaphysics, and ethics. The consensus of evidence is that all these subjects were admirably taught. The philosophy was Scholastic, but as yet there was no acceptable substitute. Biology and modern secular history, as in nearly all schools of that time, were largely ignored, perhaps because the awful sight of the struggle for existence among animals, and the almost uninterrupted pageant of war among men, offended the trustful simplicity of faith. All in all, the Ratio was a skillful compromise between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. With remarkable adaptability, the Jesuits welcomed the rebirth of the drama; they translated, wrote, and staged plays, and discovered in student dramatics a lively means of teaching speech and eloquence; in stage management and scenery they were ahead of their times. They used debates to sharpen wits and reason, but they discouraged originality of ideas in teacher and pupil alike. Their aim was apparently to produce an educated but conservative elite capable of intelligent and practical leadership, yet untroubled by doctrinal doubts and immovably rooted in the Catholic creed.

In almost all cases the Jesuit schools were founded and endowed by secular authorities, ecclesiastical leaders, or moneyed individuals, but the Jesuits kept full control. Though a few of their colleges were specifically established for the sons of the nobility, nearly all were open, without tuition fees, to any qualified student, rich or poor.38 The teachers, usually members of the order, were better trained than their Protestant analogues; they were devoted and unpaid, and their priestly garb and bearing gave them a revered authority that enabled them to keep discipline without resorting to fear or corporal punishment. Many Protestants sent their sons to Jesuit colleges,39 hoping to get for them not only a sound education in the classics, but also a superior discipline of morals, manners, and character. “As for the pedagogical part,” wrote Francis Bacon, “the shortest rule would be, ‘Consult the schools of the Jesuits,’ for nothing better has been put in practice.”40 In 1615 the Jesuits had 372 colleges; in 1700 they had 769, and twenty-four universities, scattered throughout the world. In Catholic countries secondary education fell almost entirely into their hands, giving them an immense influence in shaping the national mind.

At the other end of the scale they sought the ear of kings. Aquaviva forbade them to become royal confessors and discouraged their participation in politics; nevertheless, even in Aquaviva’s lifetime, Father Coton accepted Henry IV’s invitation to be his spiritual director; and thereafter the Jesuits agreed with their most brilliant pupil, Voltaire, that the best way to mold a nation is to mold its king. By 1700 they were confessors to hundreds of prominent personalities. Women were especially sensitive to their good manners and their tolerant acceptance of the world; and as confessors to important women the subtle fathers reached important men.

Frankly declaring their intent to mingle with mankind instead of isolating themselves in monasteries, they adapted their moral precepts to the incorrigible ways of mankind. In their judgment the strict Christian ethic was possible only for hermits and saints; the realities of human nature required some mitigation of the perfect rule. Such adjustments of the ethical code had been made by Aristotle in reaction against the perfectionism of Plato, and by the rabbis in fitting the old Hebraic laws to the novel conditions of urban life. Though in their doctrine—and usually in their own practice—the Jesuits despised the flesh, they understood the flesh, and they gave it some moral leeway lest sinners be driven into rebellion and be lost to the Church. To reduce the strain between the code of Christ and the nature of man, Jesuit and other theologians developed casuistry—the application of moral doctrines to particular cases. But let us leave this subtle science till we come to its greatest enemy, Blaise Pascal.

Generally, in their theology, the Jesuits leaned to liberal views. Some, like Fathers Less and Hamel at Louvain (1585), thought it unnecessary to believe that every word or every doctrine in the Bible was inspired by God.41 Nearly all Jesuits emphasized the Scholastic tenet that secular governments derive their power from the people; and not a few, like Mariana and Busenbaum, preached the right of the people, through their lawful representatives, to depose, even to kill, a “bad” king; but “bad” in this connection meant heretical, and the democratic emphasis may have come from the desire of the Jesuits, in their “ultramontanist” loyalty to Rome, to exalt the uniquely divine and supreme authority of the pope. The Jesuits upheld, against Luther, the efficacy of good works in earning salvation; they deprecated the emphasis on original sin, and they offset the dark predestinarianism of Paul, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Jansen with a reaffirmation of free will. Luis Molina, a Portuguese Jesuit, roused a theological furor by arguing that man, through his own will and works, can determine his eternal fate, and that man’s free choice can co-operate with or overcome divine grace. Dominican theologians demanded that Molina be condemned as a heretic; Jesuits came to his defense; and the controversy rose to such a temperature that Clement VIII ordered both sides to hold their peace (1596).

The comparatively humane ethics of the Jesuits combined with their radical ideas, conservative associations, and spreading power to make them unpopular with the secular Catholic clergy and hated with special warmth by the Protestants. St. Charles Borromeo charged them with being scandalously lenient with influential sinners.42 If, said Sarpi, St. Peter had been directed by a Jesuit confessor, he might have arrived at denying Christ without sin.43 Mutio Vitelleschi, who succeeded Aquaviva as general of the Jesuits, warned his order that its anxiety to accumulate wealth was arousing wide reproach.44 Protestant divines in England, committed to the doctrine that their kings ruled by divine right, were shocked by Jesuit ideas of popular sovereignty and occasional regicide. Robert Filmer denounced Cardinal Bellarmine’s opinion that “secular or civil power is … in the people, unless they bestow it on a prince.”45 German Protestants fought the Jesuits as “creatures of the Devil, whom hell has vomited forth,” and some demanded that they be burned at the stake as witches.46 In 1612 there appeared in Poland Monita secreta, purporting to be confidential instructions to Jesuits in the art of winning legacies and political power. The book went through twenty-two editions before 1700. It was believed until almost our time, but it is now generally classed as a clever satire or an impudent forgery.47

2. In Partibus Infidelium

In the eyes of Catholic populations the faults of the Jesuits were far out weighed by their merits as educators and their courage as missionaries. Other religious orders shared in the devout adventure of spreading the faith; but what could compare with the audacity, enterprise, and martyrdoms of the Jesuits in India, China, Japan, and the Americas? In India the enlightened Mogul Emperor Akbar invited some Jesuits to his court at Fatehpur Sikri (1579); he listened to them with curiosity and sympathy, but refused to dismiss his harem. An Italian aristocrat, Roberto de’ Nobili, entered the Society of Jesus, went to India as a missionary (1605), studied the Hindu creeds and rituals, adopted the dress and rules of the Brahmin caste, composed works in Sanskrit, and made some converts to Christianity. Other Jesuits became yogis and worked among the lower classes. Jesuit missionaries crossed the Himalayas into Tibet about 1624 and gave Europe its first—and for a long time its last—reliable information concerning that hidden world.

As early as 1549 the Jesuits entered Japan; by 1580 they claimed 100,000 converts; in 1587 they were ordered to leave the islands; in 1597 they and the Franciscan friars suffered a furious persecution, in which priests, monks, and thousands of Japanese Christians were crucified—a new technique which the killers claimed to have learned from the Gospels. About 1616 a fresh group of Jesuits entered Japan and garnered new converts in considerable number. But Dutch and English merchants, believing that the Jesuits were paving the way for Portuguese or Spanish trade, prodded the government into renewed persecution;48 thirty-one Jesuits were put to death, and by 1645 Christianity had disappeared from Japan.

China was a challenging peril, for the emperors had promised death to any Christian daring to enter the “Middle Kingdom.” We have seen elsewhere how the Jesuit Francis Xavier died (1552) almost in sight of the China that he had resolved to convert. In 1557 Portuguese merchants established a settlement at Macao, on the southeast coast of China. There some Jesuits devoted themselves to learning Chinese dialects and ways. Finally two of them, Matteo Ricci and Michele Ruggieri, entered the province of Kwantung, armed with languages, astronomy, mathematics, clocks, watches, books, maps, and instruments. The provincial viceroy was charmed with these novelties; and as Ricci and Ruggeri assumed Chinese names and dress, lived simply, worked hard, and conducted themselves with the modesty that the Chinese expected from the children of so young and immature a civilization as Europe’s, they were allowed to remain. Ricci made his way to Canton, where he impressed the mandarins with his scientific and geographical knowledge. He constructed sundials, drew convenient and trustworthy maps, and made difficult astronomical calculations. He initiated his new friends into Christianity by writing a catechism in which the basic Christian beliefs were explained and supported by quotations from classical Oriental texts. Emboldened by the toleration he received, he moved to a suburb of Peking (1601) and sent a clock to the Emperor K’ang-hsi. When the clock stopped and no Chinese scholar could start it again, the “Son of Heaven” sent for the donor. Ricci came, fixed the clock, and introduced other scientific instruments to the curious ruler; soon Ricci and other Jesuits were established at the Ming court. The genial Emperor raised no obstacle to the conversion of many upper-class Chinese. After Ricci’s death (1610) another Jesuit, Johann Adam Schall von Bell, carried on the scientific and proselytizing work of the mission. He reformed the Chinese calendar, made superior cannon for the Chinese armies, became an intimate and honored friend of the Emperor, dressed in mandarin silks, lived in a palace, played politics, was demoted to a jail, and died within a year after his release.

The sequel of the story, reaching into the eighteenth century, might amuse a philosophical historian. The Jesuits in China, so versed in science, had shed the dogmatism of theology. When they studied the Chinese classics they were moved by the high wisdom they discovered there. The Chinese worship of ancestors appeared as an admirable inducement to moral and social stability; and there was plenty in Confucius to warrant his veneration. But other missionaries complained to the Roman Inquisition (1645) that the Jesuits were minimizing the crucifix and the doctrine of divine redemption, as likely to shock Chinese unaccustomed to the idea of men killing a god; that the Jesuits read the Mass not in Latin but in Chinese; that they allowed their converts to retain many rites of the native religion; and that Jesuit missionaries were acquiring wealth as physicians, surgeons, merchants, moneylenders, and advisers to generals and emperors. The Jesuits in their turn were appalled by Dominican and Franciscan insistence on telling the Chinese that Christianity was the sole escape from eternal damnation, and that the ancestors whom they worshiped were burning in hell. Innocent X ordered the Jesuits to forbid the sacrifices of meat and drink offered to the shades of ancestors. Meanwhile the Jesuit fathers were sending to Europe those descriptions of Chinese life, religion, and thought which were to share in disturbing Christian orthodoxy in the eighteenth century.

In South America the Jesuit missionaries won the respect and trust of the natives by opening schools and medical centers, and laboring to mitigate the brutality of the Spanish masters. They compiled dictionaries and grammars, explored the dangerous interiors, and immensely advanced geography. They sent to Europe the Peruvian bark which, as quinine, became the standard drug for treating malaria. And in Paraguay they set up a communistic Utopia.

There, in the pampas and woods bordering the Uruguay River, and above dangerous waterfalls that discouraged colonists, they organized their own Indian settlements. With the permission of Philip III of Spain, they excluded all white men except Jesuits and the colonial governor. They claimed to have found the inhabitants to be of a childlike and friendly disposition—”two hundred thousand Indians in every way fitted for the Kingdom of God.”49 They learned the language of the natives, but taught them no Spanish or Portuguese; they discouraged all intercourse with colonists. They coaxed the people into Christianity by charity, humanity, and music. They established schools for musical training; they formed orchestras that played all the major European instruments and nearly every variety of composition, even to selections from Italian operas. Soon the natives were singing massive chorales, and we are assured that in a chorus of a thousand voices not one false note was heard. A band of musicians led the natives to and from work, and accompanied their labor in shops and fields. Christian festivals were celebrated with singing, dancing, and athletic games. The Jesuit fathers composed comedies, which their flocks were taught to perform.

The economy, as well as the government, was entirely under Jesuit control. The natives showed remarkable aptitude in duplicating European products, even complex watches, delicate lace, and musical instruments. Work was compulsory, but youths were allowed to choose their trades, and leisure was provided for recreation and cultural development. The average workday was eight hours. The Jesuits fixed the hours of work, sleep, prayer, and play. Part of the soil was individually owned; most of it was communal property. The product of communal labor was turned over to the government; part of it was set aside for sowing or for bad years; part went to pay a head tax to the Spanish king; most of it was distributed to the twenty thousand families according to their need; presumably some part went to support, on a modest level,50 the 150 Jesuits who served as directors, overseers, physicians, teachers, and priests. A royal decree, suggested by the Jesuits, forbade them to share in the profits of the economy, and required them to render a periodic accounting to their provincial head. Law was administered by native judges and police. Penalties included flogging, imprisonment, and banishment, but there was no capital punishment. Each settlement had its own hospital, college, church, and facilities for the old or infirm. It was a theocratic communism: the natives received sustenance, security, peace and a limited cultural life, in return for accepting Christianity and discipline.

Whence had the Jesuits derived the idea for this remarkable regime? Perhaps in part from More’s Utopia (1516), in part from the Gospels, in part from the constitution of their own society, which was itself a communistic isle in an individualistic sea. In any case the system proved popular with the natives; it was established by persuasion without force; it maintained itself for 130 years (c. 1620–1750); and when it was attacked from without it defended itself with an ardor that astonished its assailants. Even the skeptics of the French Enlightenment were impressed. “By means of religion,” wrote d’Alembert, “the Jesuits established a monarchical [?] authority in Paraguay, founded solely on their powers of persuasion and on their lenient methods of government. Masters of the country, they rendered happy the people under their sway.” Voltaire described the experiment as “a triumph of humanity.”51

It ended in disaster because it could not isolate itself from outside humanity. Spanish traders reproached the Jesuits with engaging in commerce; Spanish colonists resented their exclusion from an area inviting exploitation of resources and men.52 Slave-hunting bands repeatedly attacked the Jesuit settlements. The fathers and their subjects evacuated the regions that were most exposed to these raids. When the raids penetrated farther, the Jesuits secured permission from the King of Spain to arm their natives with European weapons; thereafter the raids were successfully resisted. More dangerous to the colony was the course of European politics and thought. The persistent political intrigues of Jesuits in France, Spain, and Portugal combined with the rise of free thought and anticlericalism to lead to the expulsion of the order from nearly all countries in the second half of the eighteenth century. The Marquis of Pombal, as ruling minister in Portugal, was especially active in the movement against the Jesuits. In 1750 he arranged a treaty by which Portugal ceded to Spain the colony of San Sacramento, at the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, in exchange for Spanish lands farther north—which included seven Jesuit settlements containing thirty thousand Indians. Meanwhile a false rumor was circulated that the lands in question contained gold which the Jesuits were hoarding. The Portuguese authorities ordered the fathers and the natives to leave the seven settlements within thirty days. The Jesuits (one excepted) counseled submission; the Indians preferred to resist, and they held off Portuguese attacks through five years. In 1755 the Portuguese army brought up artillery; hundreds of the Indians were massacred; the remainder fled to the forests or surrendered; the Jesuits were ordered by their European superiors to return to Spain. The experiment in what Muratori called Cristianesimo felice53 came to an end.

The story of the Jesuit missionaries in North America is better known to us, and need only be noted to round out the perspective of Jesuit activity in this age. They entered Mexico in 1572 and shared in the rapid conversion of the natives to Christianity, but the main burden of that enterprise was borne by the Dominicans and the Franciscans; these last left a trail of lovely missions and mendicant beneficence all the way from Mexico to the fascinating city that bears their founder’s name. Many Jesuits suffered torture and violent death in the attempt to win the Indians to Catholicism. Isaac Jogues was mutilated, enslaved, and slain; Jean de Brébeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Anthony Daniel and other Jesuits were burned at the stake or were boiled to death in the two years 1648–49. We may not agree with the theology that these men sought to inculcate, but we must honor their humanity and devotion, if only as a pitiful offset to the cruelty and greed of the slave-hunting, slave-driving Christian settlers who complained that the humanitarian activities of the missionaries were unfitting the Indians for civilization.

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