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Who are Jesuits

Who are Jesuits

Jorge Maria Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, was immediately named as “the First Jesuit Pope”, but those who knew the Church’s history well enough titled him “a Grey Pope”. The Jesuits, or more precisely the Society of Jesus, is the most significant Order of the Church and with very rich history. In the past they have been exploring new worlds, fought wars and organized plots; they were forbidden and re-established, they were the guards of Popes and the best scientists.

The foundation of Jesuit Order

The Society of Jesus was founded in 1540. Those were the years of the Protestant schism that was dividing Europe into a series of religious wars that would last over a century. Martin Luther and other reformers in Germany preached against the corruption of the Roman Curia, against the selling of indulgences and against the wealth of the Church.

foundation-of-the-jesuit-order-in-an-underground-chapel-in-montmartreFor the Catholic Church it was difficult to respond to these criticisms at the time. The Renaissance Popes such as Alexander VI - Pope Borgia - Julius II and Leo X were great patrons, intellectuals and quite liberal, but not examples of virtue and righteousness. Alexander VI had several children - including the famous Cesar Borgia - Pope Julius II went into battle with the armor on him and said Mass with his sword on the altar, while Leo X had dealt more with art than souls. The Popes of the Renaissance were like typical rulers of the age, like Medici in Florence or Gonzaga of Mantua, spending their time fighting and conquering their neighbors, spending time for artworks and lavish courts.

Even before the schism of Luther several movements within the Catholic Church were demanding reforms and greater abstaining from involvement in worldly matters. Among all, the Jesuits were the most insistent group. The Society of Jesus was officially recognized by the Pope on September 27, 1540. It was founded a few years earlier by a noble Basque, a military man who later became a saint, Ignatius of Loyola.

The Society of Jesus

A few years later the Society of Jesus became one of the most important factions of the Catholic Church, able to spread its influence in Europe, America and the Far East. For this reason Jesuits were often the subject of caricatures and stereotypes as fanatics and devotees of the Pope and their Superior General, the organizers of powerful manipulations behind the scenes. Even before Masons came into existence, many saw the hand of Jesuits behind epidemics, famines and suspicious deaths that fell over the enemies of Catholic Church. In England of Shakespeare and Elizabeth I the conspiracies of Jesuits created a real paranoia.

The stereotypes had a partial justification. The Jesuits were marked by their militaristic founder Ignatius Loyola: their famous motto was Perinde ac cadaver, "obey like a corpse" – which is better known than the official motto Ad maiorem Dei gloriam, "for the greater glory of God." Their loyalty was going directly to the Pope of Rome, often bypassing even local bishops. Their superior general - that is, the head of the order - was considered the secret cardinal of the Church, who directed the Pope as a puppet and for this reason was nicknamed the "Grey Pope".

Good education was of utmost importance for Jesuits, whether they were prepared to be experts in Theology and Canonical Low, but also linguists, historians and scientists or as an instrument to spread Catholicism. The famous Jesuit motto says “Give me a child for the first seven years of life and I will show you a man”. Even today there are many schools founded by the Society of Jesus and in many countries in Latin America Jesuit schools are of the best quality.

spain-expulsion-of-jesuitsEven in their missionary activities Jesuits were often accused of being too close to the rulers and wealthy. The Jesuits always traveled a lot, even to the Portuguese colonies in India, Japan and China. In all these countries Jesuits were trying and often succeeded to create relationships with the powerful and notables of the countries and to convert them, in order to convert the nations they governed with a single shot. Often those kings and powerful people had access to the modern weapons and guns in Europe. Sometimes in dangerous situations the Jesuits themselves were behind those guns. During the sieges of Macao and Goa, Jesuit mathematicians took an active part in the defense, helping to point the artillery with their knowledge of ballistics.

In South America, Jesuit missionaries behaved differently. There were no Daimyo Japanese or Mandarin Chinese to convert, but only tribal people, often exploited or persecuted by the Spanish and Portuguese colonial governors. The Jesuit missions were always very close to these people, as opposed to slavery and exploitation (the story told by the film Mission).

In the eighteenth century the Jesuits had accumulated so much power that one after another European kingdoms decided to expel the order from their territories. Among accusations against them were that they are seeking to subvert the social order, they are agents of the Pope and above all corrupt the youth. Forced by the various European monarchs, the Pope banned the order in 1775. From that moment Jesuits became an underground movement.

Jesuit Revival

In 1814, after the first abdication of Napoleon and his exile on Elba, Pius VII returned triumphantly to Rome after spending years as a prisoner in France. He was one of the few "monarchs" who had never bent to Napoleon and had an undisputed prestige. The same year of his return he re-established the Society of Jesus. During the next years there were many debates within the Church regarding the attitude to be taken towards modernity, after the French Enlightenment and the French Revolution that brought new European values, such as liberalism, equality and secularization of society.

Jesuits sided with the majority and most uncompromising people of the Church, who saw the Enlightenment and French Revolution as a work of devil, that destroyed the hierarchical and organized society that was known as Antique Rule. In 1850 they founded the Catholic Civilization; a cultural magazine that exists still today, that helped them to spread their most uncompromising views to the people. As an answer to the allegations that had been made in the past to the order, now Jesuits saw in constitutionalism and revolutions that evolved in those years a conspiracy to subdue the society to Masons. They believed the liberalism of the 19th century was a kind of Trojan horse that will lead society toward the ultimate evil, socialism.

It also specialized in attacks on Jews and in the second half of the nineteenth century attributed all failures of the modern society to a Jewish conspiracy. In 1890 they spread through parishes in all Italy a booklet on the Jewish question in Europe: It explained why Jews deserve God’s punishment and that "they are sworn enemies of the welfare of the nations in which they find themselves." As a result the Jews "have no right" to be treated like other citizens. The magazine of the Jesuits was the most influential Catholic magazine at the time. Jesuits were able to spread the belief that the Jews did not bring anything good, and the Fascist radicalism found many supporters between Catholics.

Theology of liberation

jesuits-logoSince 1950- s the Society of Jesus has faced a series of changes that have made it almost unrecognizable when compared to the Society re-established in 1814. They have changed their views to much more liberal ones. The Second Vatican Council prepared the document Dignitatis Humanae Personae where Catholic Church declared the rights to religious freedom for the first time.

Even more important were the changes carried out by Pedro Arrupe, General of the Jesuit Order from 1965 to 1983. Arrupe stressed the importance of achieving social justice and the fight against poverty in the missions. In those years while in Latin America he developed one of the cornerstones that characterized the Society of Jesus after World War II most: Liberation Theology.

It was a movement that wanted to re-read Catholic teaching from perspective of the poor, subjects of social inequality and political oppression. For critics it was nothing more as a Christian version of Marxism. The movement took its name in 1971, but already in the fifties and sixties a number of priests and members of the Jesuit Order started to emphasize the situation of economic inequality and political oppression prevalent in the South America. The term itself was invented by a Dominican, but people like Arrupe and the six Jesuits killed by the army of El Salvador in 1989 were commonly associated with the Liberation Theology of Jesuits.

Pope John Paul II was a great opponent to the Liberation Theology. He was afraid of being too close to socialism and to create a rift between the Church of the poor and Church of the rich. Its followers were disciplinary punished and John Paul II arrived and personally appointed the successor of the Arrupe, the new General of Jesuits, instead of the candidate chosen by the Congregation of the order.

Some people believe the appointment of Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi as a head of the press attaché of Vatican was a sign of a more conciliatory attitude of Benedict XVI against Jesuits. Lombardi replaced Joaquín Navarro-Valls, who was chosen by Pope John Paul II and was a member of Opus Dei.

Jesuits and Opus Dei

For several years, there has been a kind of rivalry within the Church between the Jesuits and the Opus Dei, which is not an order but a "personal prelature" which consists of priests and laity.Its history dates back to the thirties, when the Superior General of the Jesuits, Wlodzimierz Ledochowski, wrote a letter to the Pope calling the newborn Opus Dei "very harmful for the Church in Spain” and described them as a kind of "Freemasonry Christians".

Opus Dei has been criticized also recently by individual members of the Society of Jesus - which of course has never taken an official position of criticism of Opus Dei. Even recently there has been some criticism regarding Opus Dei by some individual members of the Jesuit Order, which of course never has taken an official critical position against Opus Dei.

An information leaked from Opus Dei has revealed that inside their organization they never refer to Jesuits by their name, but use instead the term “the usual”, meaning “the usual suspects Jesuits” who created many troubles to their founder Josemaria Escrivá de Balaguer, who was canonized as a Saint in 2002.