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Encyclopedia > Jesuit

The Society of Jesus (Latin: Societas Iesu), commonly known as the Jesuits, is a Roman Catholic religious order. It was founded in 1534 by a group of University of Paris graduate students led by Iñigo Lopez de Loyola (Ignatius of Loyola).



On August 15, 1534, Ignatius and six other students (Peter Faber, Francis Xavier, Alfonso Salmeron, James Lainez, and Nicholas Bobadilla, Spaniards, and Simon Rodrigues, a Portuguese) met in Montmartre outside Paris, probably near the modern Chapel of St Denys, Rue Antoinette, and binding themselves by a vow of poverty and chastity, founded the Society of Jesus - to "enter upon hospital and missionary work in Jerusalem, or to go without questioning wherever the pope might direct".

In 1537 they travelled to Italy to seek papal approval for their order. Pope Paul III gave them a commendation, and permitted them to be ordained priests. They were ordained at Venice by the bishop of Arbe (June 24). They devoted themselves to preaching and charitable work in Italy, as the renewed war between the emperor, Venice, the pope and the Ottoman Empire rendered any journey to Jerusalem inadvisable.

With Faber and Lainez, Ignatius made his way to Rome in October, 1538, to have the pope approve the constitution of the new order. A congregation of cardinals reported favorably upon the constitution presented, and Paul III confirmed the order through the bull Regimini militantis (September 27, 1540), but limited the number of its members to sixty. This limitation was removed through the bull Injunctum nobis (March 14, 1543). Ignatius was chosen as the first superior-general. He sent his companions as missionaries around Europe to create schools, colleges, and seminaries.

Ignatius wrote the Jesuit Constitutions, adopted in 1554, which created a monarchical organization and stressed absolute self-abnegation and obedience to Pope and superiors (perinde ac cadaver, "[well-disciplined] like a corpse" as Ignatius put it). His main principle became the Jesuit motto: Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam ("all things for the greater glory of God").

Early works

The Jesuits were founded during the Counter-Reformation, a reform movement within the Catholic Church aimed at fighting the Protestant Reformation, whose teachings were sweeping Catholic Europe. They preached total obedience to scripture and Church doctrine, Ignatius of Loyola himself declaring:

"I will believe that the white that I see is black if the hierarchical Church so defines it."

One of the main tools of the Jesuits was the Ignatian retreat. In this, people would come together under a priest for a week or longer, remaining silent while attending conferences and undergoing exercises to make themselves better people, which would include conferences and meditations on themes such as our imminent deaths and other issues.

The Jesuits also founded many schools, which, because of their advanced teaching methods and high moral tone, attracted the sons of the élite. The Jesuit schools played an important part in winning back to Catholicism a number of European countries which had for a time been predominately Protestant.

They also preached that the ceremony and decoration of organized Catholicism (which the Lutherans so despised) should be lavishly financed and executed.

The Jesuits were able to obtain significant influence in the Early Modern Period because Jesuit priests often acted as confessors to the Kings of the time. They were the leading force in the Counter-Reformation, in part because of their relatively loose structure (without the requirements of living in community, saying the holy office, etc.) allowed them to be flexible to the needs of the people at the time.


Early missions in Japan resulted in the government granting the Jesuits the feudal fiefdom of Nagasaki in 1580. This was removed in 1587 however, due to fears over their growing influence.

Two Jesuit missionaries, Gruber and D'Orville, reached Lhasa in Tibet in 1661.

Jesuit missions in Latin America were very controversial in Europe, especially in Spain and Portugal, where they were seen as interfering with the proper colonial enterprises of the royal governments. The Jesuits were often the only thing that saved the Indians from slavery. Together throughout South America but especially in present-day Brazil and Paraguay they formed Christian-Indian city-states, called reductions (Spanish Reducciones). These were societies set up in the ideal Catholic way. It is partly for this reason of protection of the Indians whom certain Spanish and Portuguese wanted to enslave, that they were suppressed.

Jesuit priests, such as Manoel da Nóbrega and José de Anchieta founded several towns in Brazil in the 16th century, including São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and were very influential in the pacification, religious conversion and education of Indian nations

Jesuit mission in China brought about the Chinese Rites controversy in the early 18th century.

Jesuit scholars working in these foreign missions to the "heathens" were very important in understanding their unknown languages and strived for producing Latinicized grammars and dictionaries, the first organized efforts at linguistics. This was done, for instance, for Japanese and Tupi-Guarani (a language group of South American aborigenes).

Period of troubles

See article Suppression of the Jesuits

The suppression of the Jesuits in Portugal, France, the Two Sicilies, Parma and the Spanish Empire by 1767 was troubling to the Society's defender, Pope Clement XIII. Following a decree signed by Pope Clement XIV in July 1773, the Jesuits were suppressed in all countries (other than Russia, where the Russian Orthodox government refused to recognize papal authority). Because millions of Catholics (including many Jesuits) lived in the Polish western provinces of the Russian Empire, the Society was able to maintain its legal existence and carry on its work all through the period of suppression.

After the Society was revived by Rome in the early 19th century, its members were generally supportive of Papal authority within the Church, and were intimately associated with the Ultramontanist movement and the declaration of Papal Infallibility in 1870.

Jesuits today

The Society of Jesus is very active in missionary work and in education, operating over 50 high schools and colleges in the United States alone.

Some Jesuits of Latin America and the United States have taken leftist views of Catholicism, being involved in liberation theology, which the Vatican has been reluctant to embrace. Whether taking such political positions is acceptable for Jesuits has been the theme of many debates within the Catholic Church.

Their motto is "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam," a Latin phrase, often abbreviated AMDG, which means "for the greater glory of God." This phrase is designed to reflect the idea that any work that is not evil can be meritorious for heaven if it is performed with this intention, even things considered normally indifferent.


The Jesuits have frequently been described by Catholic and Protestant enemies as engaged in various conspiracies. They have also been accused of using casuistry to obtain justifications for the unjustifiable. In several languages, "Jesuit" or "Jesuitical" therefore acquired a secondary meaning of devious around an objective truth. The Jesuits have also been targeted by many anti-Catholics like Jack Chick, Avro Manhattan, and Alberto Rivera. Among other things they point to the text of an extreme oath allegedly taken by advanced members of the order, which essentially justifies any action including infiltration of other faiths as justified in the name of the "greater good". They have been accused of murdering Popes, presidents, causing wars, and toppling governments. The Jesuits, in history, have been banned from 87 nations for political subversion in attempting to subvert the government to the Temporal Political Power of the Pope as the Supreme Universal Monarch of earth. There is also a claim among many anti-catholics that the Superior Jesuit General rules the Vatican behind the scenes. The order itself generally disputes these claims as untrue.

Famous Jesuits

Among many distinguished early Jesuits was St. Francis Xavier, a missionary to Asia who converted more people to Catholicism than anyone in Catholic history before him.

Other famous Jesuits include:

See also: the Canadian Martyrs.

Jesuit institutions

Jesuits have founded and/or managed a number of institutions, notably universities. The most prominent of these universities are in the United States where they are organized as the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. In Latin America they are organized in the Asociación de Universidades Confiadas a la Compañía de Jesús en América Latina (Association of Universities Entrusted to the Jesuits in Latin America). Jesuit colleges and universities include (in alphabetical order):

The Jesuits have also founded and maintain a number of high schools or secondary schools, many of which formed by splitting off of or in association with Jesuit colleges or universities. In the United States, these are organized into the Jesuit Secondary Education Association [1] (http://www.jsea.org/). These schools include (in alphabetical order):

Jesuit buildings include

See also

External links

  Results from FactBites:
CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: The Jesuits (The Society of Jesus) (3832 words)
The term "Jesuit" (of fifteenth-century origin, meaning one who used too frequently or appropriated the name of Jesus), was first applied to the society in reproach (1544-52), and was never employed by its founder, though members and friends of the society in time accepted the name in its
The early Jesuits were sent by Ignatius first to pagan lands or to Catholic countries; to Protestant countries only at the special request of the pope and to Germany, the cradle-land of the Reformation, at the urgent solicitation of the imperial ambassador.
As the object of the society was the propagation and strengthening of the Catholic faith everywhere, the Jesuits naturally endeavored to counteract the spread of Protestantism.
Jesuit Education (778 words)
Jesuit institutions respond well to a remark of Jesuit Father General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach: "only excellence is apostolic." Because of this, Jesuit universities set demanding standards for both students and faculty.
We want our students to be able to think and speak and write; to know something about history, literature and art; to have their minds and hearts expanded by philosophy and theology; and to have a solid understanding of math and the sciences.
But Jesuit institutions today feel compelled by our tradition to raise these questions for our students, not through sloganeering and political maneuvering, but in a way that is proper for higher education: through learning and research, reflection and creative action.
  More results at FactBites »



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