Jesuits (Reformation of Europe)



  • The Church needed well trained ministers to respond to the criticisms of the Protestants.
  • Igantius was aware he needed schools to educated future members of society but he did not envisage education for boys who did not wish to become Jesuits.
  • The first school for non-Jesuits was founded in Messina in 1547 at the request of his old friend, the Viceroy of Sicily. A second school in Sicily followed, but with the founding of the Jesuit College in Rome in 1551. Ignatius signalled th expansion of the Jesuit school system. At his death there were over 30 colleges.

Boys were admitted at age 10 and expect at least 5 years tuition. The school's clientd were the noble and upper middle classes. Education was free.

Catholic theology was the core of each college. Each lesson was opened with prayers and there was an emphasis on the primacy of the Pope. 

Colleges soon became the main focus of the Jesuit mission. They were enormously successful, simply because they gave an excellent education. 

Did you know?: Igantius banned the cane and beatings from his schools. In a Jesuit compromise, someone was hired to deliver the beatings - no Jesuit was allowed to do it himself as it was wrong.

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  • Igantius expected that the main work of his society was to carry out missionary work among those who had no Christian faith. Many of those who joined were motivated by the wish to serve in the mission fields and welcome the chance to give their lives.
  • Dangers were clear to the novices. Paintings with the most horrific tortures showed future missionaries what could be their fate. This gave them much enthusiasm.
  • Jesuits were late to mission work. Since 1500 the orders of the mendicant (given to begging) friars had been at work in the Christian missions. The Jesuits did not work in the Spanish Americas until the late 1560s.

The Jesuits concentrated on working with the ruler of Portugal, with whom they had a better political relationship. They arrived in Brazil in 1549 and they became the dominant religious order. They were also amazingly active however, they did face opposition from the local Bishops who felt that they were too tolerate to the natives.

The most famous missionary work was concentrated in the Far East. Xavier made it a base for all Jesuit activities. His work here was said to have 'electrified' Catholic Europe, inspiring many others to follow him. He did gain some converts but not among the higher classes.

"It was surprised he was not judged by most of those he met to be madman."

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  • The revival of the preaching in the Catholic Church had started well before 1517 as the evidence of the popularity of printed guidance for preachers shows. 
  • Although they had no outstanding preachers, they had some effective ones such as:

Diego Lainez - theologian and Second General of the Society: very intelligent and clever.
Alphonsus Salmeron - fine example of Jesuit multi-tasking and one of Igantius' first companions
Peter Canisius - most influential Jesuit in Germany: he had huge energy and determination.

  • Preaching was a core activity and the first section of the Jesuit Constitutions.
  • Strengthening faith and spreading the word of God was highly important.
  • Jesuits were expected to preach two to three sermons a day, often for two hours at a time.

They were told not to enter into theological debates, but to make their sermons dramatic, both visually and verbally. The effectiveness of a sermon was judged by it's ability to move people's emotions - they were expected to laugh, weep plentifully and break down if they felt their sinfulness.

The theme of their sermons were of the typical orders: vices and virtues, the pains of hell and the joys of heaven. Skilled preachers were expected to perfect this art in capturing the audience and to make them listen.

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  • The Jesuits were well respected and popular as confessors. They were unusal in that they supported frequent confessions and that they did not charge for their services. They supported confession as a general review of one's life and became skilful in offering guidance.
  • The Jesuits had a lax approach to punishment, as they fitted cases to indiviudal circumstances and were adept at explaining away cases of conscience e.g. someone would depend on motive. They were accused of hypocrisy and of having relative standards.

This made them Confessors to the aristocracy and rulers of Europe, including kings of France, Poland and Portugal as well as the German Emperors. Most notoriously, the assassination of opponents, inlcuding rulers, was justified by Jesuit theorists if it led to the greater good of the Church.

  • As confessions were secret, we do not know what was said. Nevertheless, what was good for the Church was usually good for the state. 
  • The sacrament of penance has always attracted the blackest suspicions and the legend of the Jesuit influence over their penitents has been hard to dispel.
  • There is no definite conclusion on whether the Jesuits directed the conscience of Kings into ways they would not have followed without their confessor's advice.
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