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Society of Jesus

The Society of Jesus (Latin: Societas Iesu), commonly known as the Jesuits, is a Roman Catholic 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, Jacob Laines , and Nicholas Bobedilla , 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 Seljuk Turks 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 as part of the Counter-Reformation, a reactionary movement to 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.

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

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 were 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) in the 18th century, then revived in the 19th century.

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 Latin American Jesuits have taken leftist views of Catholicism, developing Theology of Liberation against the Vatican orientations. 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 like filling up a gas tank in a car.


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 presidents, causing wars, and toppling governments. 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, missionary to Asia who converted more people to Catholicism than anyone since St. Paul.

Other famous Jesuits include:

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. Other colleges and universities include (in alphabetical order):

Jesuit buildings include

See also

External links

  • The Jesuit University system in the Philippines
  • The Jesuits in the Philippines
  • The United States Jesuit Conference
  • Jesuit Volunteers of America
  • Jesuit Refugee Service
  • Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities
  • The Jesuits in Britain
  • Stonyhurst College
  • Text of the alleged Extreme Oath

Last updated: 11-05-2004 12:28:35