Suppression of the Society of Jesus


St Ignatius[This is taken from Rev. James A. MacCaffrey’s History of the Catholic Church.]

From its foundation by St. Ignatius of Loyola and its approval by Paul III. the Society of Jesus had remained true to the teaching and spirit of its holy founder and loyal to the Holy See. In the defense of the Church, especially in Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, and France, in the domain of education and of literature, in the work of spreading Christianity amongst the races and peoples in India, China, Japan, and America, the Jesuit Fathers took the foremost place. They labored incessantly to stay the inroads of heresy, to instill Catholic principles into the minds of the rising generation, and to win new recruits to take the place of those who had gone over to the enemy.

But their very success was sufficient to arouse the wrath of their adversaries and the jealousy of their rivals. Lutherans and Calvinists, enraged by the success of the Counter-Reformation, denounced the Jesuits as enemies of progress and enlightenment, whose very existence was a danger to the peace and the liberty of Europe. These charges were re-echoed by Jansenists and Gallicans, by infidel philosophers and absolutist politicians, and, stranger still, by many whose orthodoxy could not be questioned, but whose judgment was warped by their annoyance at the wonderful success of a comparatively young organization. The Jesuits were accused of favoring laxity of morals on account of the support given by some of them to Probabilism, of sympathizing with Pelagianism on account of the doctrine of Molina, of supporting tyrannicide on the strength of the work of Mariana, of upholding absolutism on account of their close relations with the rulers of France, and Spain, and of seeking to undermine governments and constitutions by their secret political schemes and their excessive wealth. Garbled extracts taken from the works of individual Jesuits were published as representing the opinions of the body, and the infamous Monita Secreta, purporting to contain the instruction of Aquaviva to his subjects, was forged (1612) to bring discredit upon the Society.

More than once the combined assaults of its enemies seemed on the point of being crowned with success. During Aquaviva’s tenure of office as general (1585-1615) the society was banished from France and from Venice, while the demands of the Spanish Jesuits for a Spanish superior, backed as it was by the influence of the court, threatened to destroy the unity of the Society. Again in the time of Paul Oliva (1664-1681) and Charles Noyelle (1682-1686) controversies regarding Jansenism, Probabilism, the Regalia, and the Gallican Declaration of the French clergy (1682), endangered the existence of the Society in France, and threatened to lead to misunderstandings with the Holy See, but under the Providence of God these dangers were averted, and the eighteenth century found the Jesuits still vigorous in Europe and not less vigorous in their labors among the heathen nations.

But their opponents though beaten time and again were not disheartened. The infidel philosophers of the eighteenth century recognized in the Jesuits the ablest defenders of the Catholic Church. If only they could succeed in removing them, as Voltaire declared, the work of destroying the Church seemed comparatively easy. Hence they united all their forces for one grand assault upon the Society as the bulwark of Christianity. They were assisted in their schemes by the Jansenists, eager to avenge the defeat they had received at the hands of the Jesuits, and by the absolutist statesmen and rulers of Europe, who aimed at the enslavement of the Church, and who feared the Jesuits as the ablest exponents of the rights of religion and of the Holy See. The Jesuits controlled to a great extent Catholic education both lay and clerical, and it was hoped that by installing teachers devoted to state supremacy and Enlightenment in their place the future of absolutism and of rationalism might be assured.

The attack on the Jesuits was begun in Portugal during the reign of Joseph Emmanuel (1750-1777). He was a man of liberal views, anxious to promote the welfare of his country, as well as to strengthen the power of the crown. In accomplishing these objects he was guided by the advice of the prime minister, Joseph Sebastian Carvalho, better known as the Marquis of Pombal. The latter had traveled much, and was thoroughly imbued with the liberal and rationalistic spirit of the age. He regarded the Catholic Church as an enemy of material progress, and the Jesuits as the worst teachers to whom the youth of any country could be entrusted. A treaty concluded with Spain, according to which the Spaniards were to surrender to Portugal seven of the Reductions of Paraguay in return for San Sacramento, afforded him the long desired opportunity of attacking the Jesuits (1750). The Indians on the Reductions, who had been converted by the Jesuits, were to be banished from their lands to make way for mining operations in search of gold, and though the Jesuits tried hard to induce their people to submit to this decree, the Indians, maddened by the injustice and cruelty of the treatment of the Portuguese, rose in revolt. The Jesuits were blamed for having fomented the rebellion. By orders of Pombal they were arrested and brought to Portugal, where the most extravagant charges were published against them in order to damage them in the eyes of the people.

The Portuguese government appealed to Benedict XIV to take action against the Society. The Pope appointed Saldanha an apostolic visitor to examine into the charges that had been made. Though the instructions laid down for the guidance of the visitor were precise in every detail, Saldanha, unmindful of the restrictions imposed by the Pope and without hearing any evidence that might favor the accused, decided against the Jesuits and procured the withdrawal of their faculties in Lisbon (1758). In September of that year a plot directed against one of the royal officials, but supposed to have for its object the murder of the king, was discovered and attributed without any evidence to the Jesuits. They and many of their supposed allies among the nobility were arrested and thrown into prison; their schools were closed, and various fruitless attempts were made to induce the younger members to disown the Society. Finally in September 1759 a decree of banishment was issued against the Jesuits. Most of them were arrested and dispatched to the Papal States, while others of them, less fortunate, were confined as prisoners in the jails of Portugal. Father Malagrida, one of the ablest and most saintly men of the Society, was put to death on a trumped-up charge of heresy (1761). Clement XIII. (1758-1769) made various attempts to save the Society, and to prevent a breach with Portugal, but Pombal determined to push matters to extremes. The Portuguese ambassador at Rome suddenly broke off negotiations with the Holy See and left the city, while the nuncio at Lisbon was escorted to the Spanish frontier (1760). For a period of ten years (1760-1770) friendly relations between Rome and Portugal were interrupted.

In France the Jesuits had many powerful friends, but they had also many able and determined enemies. The Jansenists who controlled the Parliament of Paris, the Rationalists, the Gallicans, and not a few of the doctors of the Sorbonne, though divided on nearly every other issue, made common cause against the Society. They were assisted in their campaign by Madame de Pompadour, the king’s mistress, for whom the Jesuit theology was not sufficiently lax, and by the Duc de Choiseul, the king’s prime minister. The well-known Jesuit leanings of Louis XV. and of the royal family generally, imposed a certain measure of restraint upon the enemies of the Society, until the famous La Valette law suit offered its opponents an opportunity of stirring up public feeling and of overcoming the scruples of the weak-minded king. The Jesuits had a very important mission in the island of Martinique. The natives were employed on their large mission lands, the fruits of which were spent in promoting the spiritual and temporal welfare of the people. La Valette, the Jesuit superior on the island, had been very successful in his business transactions, and encouraged by his success, he borrowed money in France to develop the resources of the mission. This money he could have repaid without difficulty, had it not been that during the war between France and England some vessels bearing his merchandise were seized by the English (1755). La Valette was in consequence of this unable to pay his creditors, some of whom sought to recover their debts by instituting a civil process against the procurator of the Paris province. For several reasons the Jesuits, though not unwilling to make a reasonable settlement, refused to acknowledge any responsibility. The creditors insisted on bringing the case to trial, and the court at Marseilles decided in their favor. The Jesuit procurator then appealed to the Parliament of Paris, at that time strongly Jansenist in its tendencies. The Parliament, not content with upholding the verdict, took advantage of the popular feeling aroused against the Society to institute a criminal process against the entire body (1761).

A commission was appointed to examine the constitutions and privileges of the Jesuits. It reported that the Society was dangerous to the state, hostile to the /Gallican Liberties/, and unlawful. The writings of Bellarmine and Busenbaum were ordered to be burned, and the famous Extrait des Assertions, a kind of blue-book containing a selection of unpopular views defended by Jesuit writers, was published to show the dangerous tendencies of the Society and to prejudice it in the eyes of the people. The Provincial of the Jesuits offered for himself and his subjects to accept the Declaration of the French clergy and to obey the instructions of the bishops, but the offer, besides being displeasing to the Roman authorities, did not soften the wrath of the anti-Jesuit party, who sought nothing less than the total destruction of the Society.

Louis XV. endeavored to bring about a compromise by procuring the appointment of a vicar for France. With this object he called a meeting of the French bishops (1761), the vast majority of whom had nothing but praise for the work of the Jesuits, and wished for no change in the constitution of the Society. Similar views were expressed by the assembly of the French clergy in 1762. Clement XIII. labored energetically in defense of the Jesuits, but in open disregard of his advice and his entreaties, the decree for the suppression of the Society was passed by Parliament in 1762, though its execution was delayed by orders of the king. Meanwhile proposals were made to the Pope and to the general, Ricci, for a change in the constitution, so as to secure the appointment of an independent superior for France, which proposal was rejected by both Pope and general. In 1763 the Jesuit colleges were closed; members of the Society were required to renounce their vows under threat of banishment, and, as hardly any members complied with this condition, the decree of banishment was promulgated in 1764. Clement XIII. published a Bull defending the constitution of the Society, and rejecting the charge against its members (1765), while the French bishops addressed an earnest appeal to the king on its behalf (1765).

The example of Portugal and France was soon followed by Spain. Charles III. (1759-1788) was an able ruler, anxious to restore the former greatness of his country by encouraging the establishment of industries and by favoring the introduction of foreign capital and foreign skill. He was by no means irreligious, but he was influenced largely by the liberal tendencies of the age, as were also in a more marked degree his two principal ministers Aranda and de Roda. Popular feeling was aroused by the favor which the king showed towards French capitalists and artisans, and in some places ugly commotions took place. The ministers suggested to the king that the Jesuits were behind this movement, and were the authors of certain dangerous and inflammatory pamphlets. Secret councils were held, as a result of which sealed instructions were issued to the governors of all towns in which Jesuit houses were situated that on a fixed night the Jesuits should be arrested (1767). These orders were carried out to the letter. Close on six thousand Jesuits were taken and hurried to the coast, where vessels were waiting to transport them to the Papal States. When this had been accomplished a royal decree was issued suppressing the Society in Spain owing to certain weighty reasons which the king was unwilling to divulge. Clement XIII. remonstrated vigorously against such violent measures, but the only effect of his remonstrances was that the bishops who defended the papal interference were banished, those who would seek to favor the return of the Society were declared guilty of high treason, and the punishment of death was leveled against any Jesuit who attempted to land in Spain.

In Naples, where Ferdinand, son of Charles III. of Spain then ruled, the suppression of the Jesuits was planned and carried out by the prime minister, Tanucci, a man hardly less unfriendly to the Society than Pombal. The Jesuits were arrested without any trial, and were sent across the frontier into the Papal States (Nov. 1767). Much the same fate awaited them in the territories of the Duke of Parma and Piacenza, where the minister du Tillot had pursued for years a campaign against the rights of the Catholic Church. In 1768 Clement XIII. issued a strong protest against the policy of the Parmese government. This aroused the ire of the whole Bourbon family. France, Spain, and Naples demanded the withdrawal of this Monitorium under threat of violence. The Papal States of Avignon and Venaissin were occupied by French troops, while Naples seized Benevento and Pontecorvo. Various attempts were made to secure the support of the Empress Maria Theresa, and to stir up opposition in the smaller kingdoms of Italy. But Clement XIII., undaunted by the threats of violence of the Bourbons, refused to yield to their demands for the suppression of a Society, against which nothing had been proved, and against which nothing could be proved except its ardent defense of the Catholic Church and its attachment to the Holy See. In January 1769 an ultimatum was presented by the ambassadors of France, Spain, and Naples demanding the suppression of the Society. The Pope refused to agree to it, but before the threats it contained could be carried into execution Clement XIII. passed away (Feb. 1769).

In the conclave that followed the Bourbon rulers made every effort to secure the election of a Pope favorable to their views. Their representatives were instructed to use the veto freely against all cardinals known to be favorable to the Jesuits. After a struggle lasting three months Cardinal Ganganelli was elected and took the title Clement XIV. (1769-1774). He restored friendly relations with Parma, opened negotiations with Portugal, created the brother of Pombal a cardinal, appointed Pereira, one of the court theologians, to a Portuguese bishopric, dispatched a nuncio to Lisbon, and brought about a formal  reconciliation (1770).

It is not true that before his election Clement XIV. had bound himself formally to suppress the Jesuits. Hardly, however, had he been crowned when demands were made upon him by the representatives of France and Spain similar to those presented to his predecessor. Clement XIV. promised to agree to the suppression (1769), but asked for time to consider such a momentous step. In the hope of satisfying the opponents of the Jesuits the Pope adopted an unfriendly attitude towards the Society, and appointed apostolic visitors to examine into the affairs of the seminaries and colleges under its control, from most of which, as a result of the investigation, the Jesuits were dismissed. He offered to bring about a complete change in the constitution of the Society, but this offer, too, was rejected. Charles III. of Spain forwarded an ultimatum in which he insisted upon the instant suppression of the Society under threat of recalling his ambassador from Rome. This ultimatum had the approval of all the Bourbon rulers. Faced with such a terrible danger, the courage of Clement XIV. failed him, and he determined to accept the suppression as the lesser of two evils (1772). In July 1773 the Brief Dominus ac Redemptor noster, decreeing the suppression of the Society in the interests of peace and religion, was signed by the Pope. The houses of the Jesuits in the Papal States were surrounded by soldiers, and the general, Ricci, was confined as a prisoner in the castle of St. Angelo. The decree was forwarded to the bishops to be communicated by them to the Jesuits resident in their dioceses. In most of the countries of Europe the decree of suppression was carried out to the letter, the Jesuits as a body submitting loyally to the decision of the Pope.

Catharine II. of Russia, however, and Frederick II. of Prussia were impressed so favorably by the work of the Jesuits as educators that they forbade the bishops to publish the decree in their territories. In 1776 an agreement was arrived at between Pius VI. and Frederick II., according to which the Jesuits in Prussian territory were to be disbanded formally and were to lay aside their dress, but they were permitted to continue under a different name to direct the colleges which they possessed. The Empress Catherine II. of Russia continued till her death to protect the Society. In 1778 she insisted upon the erection of a novitiate, for which oral permission seems to have been given by Pius VI. In the other countries many of the Jesuits labored as secular priests, others of them united in the congregation, known as the Fathers of the Faith (1797), and others still in the congregation of the Fathers of the Sacred Heart. In 1803 the English Jesuit community at Stonyhurst was allowed to affiliate with the Russian congregation; in 1804 the Society was re-established with the permission of Pius VII. in Naples, and in 1814 the Pope issued the Bull, Sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum formally re-establishing the Society. Strange to say the very next year (1815) a persecution broke out against the Jesuits in Saint Petersburg, and in 1820 they were expelled from Russian territory.

It was fear of the Bourbon rulers that forced Clement XIV. to agree to the suppression of the Jesuits. By sacrificing a society that had been noted for its loyal defense of and submission to the Pope, he had hoped to restore peace to the Church, and to avert the many calamities that threatened its very existence in France, Spain, Portugal, and Naples. But he lived long enough to realize that his weakness led only to new and more exorbitant demands, and that the professors, who had taken the chairs vacated by the Jesuits, were only too ready to place their voices and their pens at the disposal of the civil power and against the Holy See. The suppression of the Society was hailed as a veritable triumph by the forces of irreligion and rationalism. The schemes that this party had been concocting for years were at last crowned with success; the strongest of the outposts had been captured, and it only remained to make one last desperate assault on the fortress itself. The civil rulers, who had allowed themselves to be used as tools for promoting the designs of the rationalists and the Freemasons, had soon reason to regret the cruelty and violence with which they treated the Society of Jesus. In a few years the Revolution was in full swing; the thrones of France, Spain, Portugal and Naples were overturned, and those members of the royal families, who escaped the scaffold or the dungeon, were themselves driven to seek refuge in foreign lands, as the Jesuits had been driven in the days of Clement XIV.