The Society of Jesus - the Jesuits

Don Inigo Lopez de Recalde, the Ignatius Loyola of history, was youngest son of  a Spanish Grandee and born in the Castle of Loyola in 1491. Growing up in a relative luxury at the Spanish Court he sought adventure and glory as a soldier, and did so very successfully. Whilst shut up in Pampeluna and under siege by the French he sternly refused to countenance surrender and went out to do battle rather than be dishonoured. He was struck by a musket ball and fell helpless in the field to be taken by the enemy into the fallen town and undergo crude surgery. Three times his wounds were reopened and reputedly he made not a sound each time he was subjected to the surgeon`s knife.  After a long recovery period he felt a changed man and sought to become a "saint of the burning torch", a knight errant for the Virgin Mary. He spent some time in a secluded cave in Manressa wrestling with the evil spirits and voices , keeping an extremely austere  vigil  and virtually out of his mind. He was rescued by friends  and went into a Dominican convent at Manressa where he recovered his senses, albeit scourging himself frequently and spending up to seven hours a day on his knees in prayer. Here he had some thirty revelations of the Virgin that convinced him of his purpose in life.

He left Manressa and made his way to Barcelona and then Italy before returning to Barcelona in 1524 and going to school. Gaining some proficiency in Latin he went on to the University of Alcala in 1526 to study theology. In 1528 he went to the College of St Barbara in Paris, where he stayed until 1535  at a time of great religious excitement there. The agitations increased his zeal and he recruited two fellow students - Francis Xavier of Pampeluna, Navarre, and Peter Fabre of Savoy who became his first disciples. In a short time  there also joined him Jacob Lainez, Alfonso Salmeron, Nicholas Bobadilla,  and Simon Rodriguez.. Two others made their number nine  when they formed the Society led by Loyola in 1534 [ see quote below ].

An important adjunct to the decisions of the Council of Trent was the formal establishment of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).  Adopted by the Pope in 1540, the strict rules and total commitment to the Church and Pope were quickly absorbed into the teaching of new priests who received a minimum four weeks of his Spiritual Exercises. This was a four week retreat of  devotional meditation and instruction - a week on sin; a week on Christ`s kingship; a week on Christ`s Passion, and fourth week on his risen life. This training was indicative of a better type of priest becoming available as well as a rapid growth in the Jesuit fraternity from the original six, to 1500 by 1556 spread mainly  in Spain, Portugal and Italy; and lesser numbers in France Germany, the Low Countries, India, Brazil and Africa. By 1626 they numbered 15,544 and continued to increase until 1773 when France and Spain forced the Pope to suppress them. They were a powerful force in three particular areas - high quality education forming many schools and colleges thus acquiring early converts; counteracting Protestantism  by all and any means anywhere it was encountered; and, missionary expansion which was very rapid between 1550 and 1650. They had over 1000 martyrs, mostly killed in mission countries. They were regarded by many as the Pope`s shock troops, filling important places on delegations, and acted as Papal Legates thus bringing their education and skills to bear amongst foreign governments.

The Jesuits are variously suspected or denounced as the agents of the Antichrist  because of their dedication and loyalty. Not unworthy attributes in themselves but in the context of the late medieval religious warfare and the antagonism of the papacy to the Reformation, their multifaceted skills took on a much darker hue. The rules or `Institutes` of the Jesuits have never been published in full, containing as they will numerous Papal Bulls showing the inner workings of the day. But three basic doctrines were employed that allowed or justified (to themselves)  their ability to do anything whatsoever:

1.  The ends justifies the means.

2. The principle of probability. That it is safe to do any action  if it is probably right, although it may be more probably wrong. Put another way, if there are two opinions, It is allowable  to follow the less probable opinion, even though it may be the less safe one.

3. The principle of directing the intention of the act. This is based on the view that it is the soul that does the act so far as it is moral or immoral. If the soul  can abstract itself from  what the body is doing; the soul can fix itself  on some benefit or advantage of the act done by the body. Thus by mentally turning off the intention to do eg an act of vengeance, and direct it to a desire to defend one`s honour - it becomes an allowable act. This principle underlies the wanton violence, torture and burning of those deemed guilty for the Placards incident, when the intention of revenge was turned into one redeeming the honour of the Church and the Mass.

A similar casuistry would thus justify the genocide of the Holocaust, the actions of numerous dictators in Africa and Eastern Europe; or indeed the decision of modern politicians to go to war in Iraq. Morals ? what are they ?

The following extract from Rev J A Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol ii, p 383-6. explains the admission and training of applicants to the Order, and the reasons for their immense discipline.

" On the 15th of August 1534, Loyola followed by his nine companions, entered the subterranean chapel of the Church of Montmartre, at Paris, and mass being said by Fabre, who had received priest`s orders, the company , after the usual vow of chastity and poverty, took a solemn oath to dedicate their lives to the conversion  of the Saracens, or, should circumstances make that attempt impossible, to lay themselves and their services unreservedly at the feet of the Pope. They sealed their oath by now receiving the Host. The day was chosen because it was the anniversary of the Assumption of the Virgin, and the place because it was consecrated to Mary, the queen of saints and angels, from whom, as Loyola firmly believed, he had received his mission. The army thus enrolled was little, and it was great. It was little when counted, it was great when weighed. In sublimity of aim, and strength of faith—using the term in its mundane sense—it wielded a power before which nothing on earth—one principle excepted—should be able to stand.'

To foster the growth of this infant Hercules, Loyola had prepared beforehand his book entitled ,Spiritual Exercises. This is a body of rules for teaching men how to conduct the work of their "conversion." It consists of four grand medita­tions, and the penitent, retiring into solitude, is to occupy absorbingly his mind on each in succession, during the space of the rising and setting of seven suns. It may be fitly styled a journey from the gates of destruction to the gates of Paradise, mapped out in stages so that it might be gone in the short period of four weeks. There are few more remarkable books in the world. It combines the self-denial and mortification of the Brahmin. with the asceticism of the anchorite, and the ecstasies of the schoolmen. It professes, like the Koran, to be a revelation. "The Book of Exercises," says a Jesuit, "was truly written by the finger of God, and delivered to Ignatius by the Holy Mother of God."

The Spiritual Exercises, we have said, was a body of rules by following which one could effect upon himself that great change which in Biblical and theological language is termed "conversion" The book displayed on the part of its author great knowledge of the human heart. The method prescribed was an adroit imitation of that process of conviction, of alarm, of enlightenment, and of peace, through which the Holy Spirit leads the soul that undergoes that change in very deed. This Divine transformation was at that hour taking place in thousands of instances in the Protestant world. Loyola, like the magicians of old who strove to rival Moses, wrought with his enchant­ments to produce the same miracle. Let us observe how he proceeded.

 The person was, first of all, to go aside from the world, by entirely isolating himself from all the affairs of life. In the solemn stillness of his chamber he was to engage in four meditations each day, the first at daybreak, the last at midnight. To assist the action of the imagination on the soul, the room was to be artificially darkened, and on its walls were to be suspended pictures of hell and other horrors. Sin, death, and judgment were exclu­sively to occupy the thoughts of the penitent during the first week of his seclusion. He was to ponder upon them till in a sense "he beheld the vast conflagration of hell; its wailings, shrieks, and blas­phemies; felt the worm of conscience; in fine, touched those fires by whose contact the souls of the reprobate are scorched."

 The second week he was to withdraw his eye from these dreadful spectacles and fix it upon the incar­nation. It is no longer the wailings of the lost that fill the ear as lie sits in his darkened chamber, it is the song of the angel announcing the birth of the Child, and " Mary acquiescing in the work of redemption." At the feet of the Trinity lie is directed to pour out the expression of the gratitude and praise with which continued medita­tion on these themes causes his soul to overflow.

 The third week is to witness the solemn act of the soul's enrolment in the army of that Great Captain, who "bowed the heavens and came down" in his Incarnation. Two cities are before the devotee—Jerusalem and Babylon—in which will he choose to dwell? Two standards are displayed in his sight—under which will he fight? Here a broad and brave pennon floats freely on the wind. Its golden folds bear the motto, "Pride, Honour, Riches." Here is another, but how unlike the motto inscribed upon it, "Poverty. Shame, Humility." On all sides resounds the cry "To arms!" He must make his choice, and he must make it now, for the seventh sun of his third week is hastening to the .setting. It is tinder the banner of Poverty that he elects to win the incorruptible crown.

 Now comes his fourth and last week, and with it there comes a great change in the subjects of his meditation. He is to dismiss all gloomy ideas, all images of terror; the gates of Hades are to be closed, and those of a new life opened. It is morn­ing with him, it is a spring-time that has come to him, and he is to surround himself with light, and flowers, and odours. It is the Sabbath of a spiritual creation ; he is to rest, and to taste in that rest the prelude of the everlasting joys. This mood of mind lie is to cultivate while seven suns rise and set upon him. He is now perfected and fit to fight in the army of the Great Captain.

 A not unsimilar course of mental discipline, as our history has already shown, did Wicliffe, Luther, and Calvin pass through before they became captains in the army of Christ. They began in a horror of great darkness; through that cloud there broke upon them the revelation of the "Crucified ;" throwing the arms of their faith around the Tree of Expiation, and clinging to it, they entered into peace, and tasted the joys to come. How like, yet how unlike, are these two courses! In the one the penitent finds a Saviour on whom he leans; in the other lie lays hold on a rule by which he works, and works as methodically and regularly as a piece of machinery. Beginning on a certain day, he finishes, like stroke of clock, duly as the seventh sun of the fourth week is sulking below the horizon. We trace in the one the action of the imagination, fostering one over-mastering passion into strength, till the person becomes capable of attempting the most daring enterprises, and enduring the most dreadful sufferings. In the other we behold the intervention of a Divine Agent, who plants in the soul a new principle, and thence educes a new life.

 The war in which Loyola and his nine companions enrolled themselves when on the 15th of August, 1534, they made their vow in the Church of Montmartre, was to be waged against the Saracens of the East. They acted so far on their original design as to proceed to Venice, where they learned that their project  was meanwhile impracticable The war that had just broken out  between the Republic and the Porte  had closed the gates of Asia. They took this  as an intimation  that their field of operations was to lie in the Western world. Returning on their path they now directed their steps towards Rome. In every town through which they passed on their way to the Eternal City, they left behind them an immense reputation for sanctity by their labours in the hospitals, and their earnest addresses to the populace on the streets. As they drew nigh to Rome, and the hearts of some of his companions were beginning to despond, Loyola was cheered by a vision, in which Christ appeared and said to him, "In Rome will I be gracious unto thee."' The hopes this vision inspired were not to be disappointed. Entering the gates of the capital of Christendom, and throwing themselves at the feet of Paul III., they met a most gracious reception. The Pope hailed their offer of assistance as most opportune. Mighty dangers at that hour threatened the Papacy, and with the half of Europe in revolt, and the old monkish orders become incapable, the new and unexpected aid seemed sent by Heaven. The rules and constitution of the new order were drafted, and ultimately approved, by the Pope. Two peculiarities in the constitution of the proposed order specially recommended it in the eyes of Paul III. The first was its vow of unconditional obedience. The society swore to obey the Pope as an army obeys its general. It was not canonical but military obedience which its members offered him. They would go to whatsoever place, at whatsoever time, and on whatsoever errand he should be pleased to order them. They were, in short to be not so much monks as soldiers. The second peculiarity was that their services were to be wholly gratuitous; never would they ask so much as a penny from the Papal See.

It was resolved that the new order should bear the name of The Company of Jesus. Loyola modestly declined the honour of being accounted its founder. Christ himself, he affirmed, had dictated to him its constitution in his cave at Manressa. He was its real Founder : whose name then could it so appropriately bear as His? The bull constituting it was issued on the 27th of September 1540, and was entitled Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae, and bore that the persons it enrolled into an army were to bear "the standard of the Cross, to wield the arms of God, to serve the only Lord, and the Roman Pontiff, His Vicar on earth."

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