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Sunday, 13 September 2015


In 1534 Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) formed a fraternity with six fellow Theology students at the University of Paris. They professed vows of poverty, chastity, and later obedience.

In 1537, the fraternity traveled to Italy to seek papal approval for their order. Pope Paul III gave them a commendation, and permitted Ignatius and his colleagues to be ordained priests.

These initial steps led to the founding of what would be called the Society of Jesus, whose members are known as Jesuits. The organisation was dedicated to practical work and the conversion of infidels.

The Society of Jesus received its charter from Pope Paul III on September 27, 1540. The pope confirmed the order through the bull Regimini militantis ecclesiae ("To the Government of the Church Militant"), but limited the number of its members to sixty.

Fresco depicting Ignatius of Loyola receiving papal bull Regimini militantis Ecclesiae from Pope Paul III

The Jesuit order was organised in a military fashion and Ignatius was appointed its first Superior General. Its members looked upon themselves as "Knights in the Service of Jesus."

In 1541 the Jesuit Francis Xavier (1506-1552) was commissioned by King John III of Portugal to preach the Christian faith in the Portuguese colonies in the East, thus marking the beginning of the Jesuit missions. This was a period in history when the newly formed Protestant movement concentrated on establishing itself and not looking to evangelize, whilst the Catholics sent workers to the four corners of the Earth.

The Jesuits sent three missionaries to Florida in 1566, the first Jesuits to reach North America. Unfortunately one of them, Pedro Martinez, a former rector of the Jesuit college at Valladolid was beaten to death by Indians on the beach of Fort George Island.

Out of 376 Jesuits who sailed to China between 1581 and 1712 to convert the pagan Chinese, 127 died en route before they even arrived there.

Because Jesuits took their orders from no local authority but only the popes and their own generals, they were viewed with suspicion as foreign agents.

Having in the previous few years been expelled from Portugal, France and Spain, The Society of Jesus were suppressed by Pope Clement XIV on July 21, 1773.  The Jesuits took refuge in non-Catholic nations, particularly in Prussia and Russia, where the order was either ignored or formally rejected. Their suppression was for political rather than theological reason, however ironically the Pope himself received his early education by Jesuits at Rimini.

Portrait of Clement xiv

The effect of the suppression was hurtful for the Roman church, for it shut down much mission work and many schools. Some Jesuits were allowed to remain in existence. In 1814 the Society was restored.

When Pope Francis was elected on March 13, 2013, after the previous pope, Benedict XVI, stepped down from duty, he became the first Jesuit to achieve papal office.

Unlike most religious orders, the Jesuits wear no distinctive dress.

The Jesuits today form the largest men's single religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church. As of January 1, 2015, Jesuits numbered 16,740: 11,986 priests, 2,733 students to become priests, 1,268 brothers and 753 novices.

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