Society of Jesus  

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A Jesuit:

  1. a member of the Society of Jesus
  2. a crafty or disingenuous person

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Society of Jesus is an order of Roman Catholic clergy, the Jesuits, having a tradition of education, theological scholarship, and missionary work. Their members are called Jesuits, Soldiers of Christ, and Foot soldiers of the Pope, because the founder, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, was a knight before becoming a priest.

Foundation

On August 15, 1534, Ignatius of Loyola (born Íñigo López de Loyola), a Spaniard of Basque origin, and six other students at the University of ParisFrancisco Xavier from Navarre, Alfonso Salmeron, Diego Laínez, Nicolás Bobadilla from Spain, Peter Faber from Savoy, and Simão Rodrigues from Portugal – met in Montmartre outside Paris, in a crypt beneath the church of Saint Denis, now Saint Pierre de Montmartre.

This group bound themselves by a vow of poverty and chastity, to "enter upon hospital and missionary work in Jerusalem, or to go without questioning wherever the pope might direct".

They called themselves the Company of Jesus, and also Amigos En El Señor or "Friends in the Lord," because they felt "they were placed together by Christ." The name had echoes of the military (as in an infantry "company"), as well as of discipleship (the "companions" of Jesus). The word "company" comes ultimately from Latin, cum + pane = "with bread," or a group that shares meals.

In 1537, they traveled to Italy to seek papal approval for their order. Pope Paul III gave them a commendation, and permitted them to be ordained priests. These initial steps led to the founding of what would be called the Society of Jesus later in 1540. The term societas in Latin is derived from socius, a partner or comrade.

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 Italian War of 1535-1538 between Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, Venice, the pope and the Ottoman Empire rendered any journey to Jerusalem impossible.

They presented the project to the Pope. After months of dispute, a congregation of cardinals reported favorably upon the Constitution presented, and Paul III confirmed the order through the bull Regimini militantis ecclesiae ("To the Government of the Church Militant"), on September 27, 1540, but limited the number of its members to sixty. This is the founding document of the Jesuits as an official Catholic religious order.

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 lays out his original vision for the company in "The Formula of the Institute", which is, in the words of Jesuit historian John O'Malley, "the fundamental charter of the order, of which all subsequent documents were elaborations and to which they had to conform." In the Formula's opening statement, one detects the echo of Ignatius' military background within his spirituality: "Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church his Spouse, under the Roman pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a vow of perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience, keep the following in mind."

According to the Formula, the Jesuits were founded "chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine." In fulfilling this mission, the first Jesuits concentrated on a few key activities. First, they founded schools throughout Europe. Jesuit teachers were rigorously trained in both classical studies and theology, and their schools reflected this. Second, they sent out missionaries across the globe to evangelize those peoples who had not yet heard the Gospel, founding missions in widely diverse regions, such as modern-day Paraguay, Japan, Ontario, and Ethiopia. Finally, they aimed to stop Protestantism from spreading and to preserve communion with Rome and the successor of Peter. The zeal of the Jesuits overcame the drift toward Protestantism in Poland-Lithuania and southern Germany.

Ignatius wrote the Jesuit Constitutions, adopted in 1554, which created a tightly centralized organization and stressed total abnegation and obedience to the Pope and their religious superiors (perinde ac cadaver, "[well-disciplined] like a corpse" as Ignatius put it).

His main principle became the unofficial Jesuit motto: Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam ("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 the spiritual life if it is performed with this intention, even things considered normally indifferent.

The Society of Jesus is classified among institutes as a mendicant order of clerks regular, that is, a body of priests organized for apostolic work, following a religious rule, and relying on alms, or donations, for support.

The term "Jesuit" (of fifteenth-century origin, meaning one who used too frequently or appropriated the name of Jesus), was first applied to the Society in reproach (1544–52). It was never used by its founder, though members and friends of the Society in time appropriated the name in its positive meaning.

From the Enlightenment to the French Revolution

Some philosophers of the Enlightenment, including Voltaire, attacked the Catholic Church, its leadership and priests claiming moral corruption of many of its clergy. These assaults in part led to the Suppression of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), and played a major part in the wholesale attacks on the very existence of the Church during the French Revolution. With the reaction against the excesses of the Revolution, especially after 1815, the Catholic church began to play a more welcome role in official European life once more, and nation by nation the Jesuits made their way back.

See also




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