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The return of the Jesuits


Engraving depicting the Restoration of the Society of Jesus, 7 August 1814

Everyone knows that we Jesuits have had a rocky history.  We were fabulously successful in educating the European elite for quite some time.  Things went off the rails badly in the eighteenth century.  

We lost out to the Vatican Curia over the dispute about accommodating some Confucian and Hindu traditional rites in prayer and liturgy on the missions in China and India.  We fell out of favour with the imperial court in Portugal, then in France, and then in 1767 in Spain.  

By then many Jesuits were on the run throughout Europe.  The Portuguese were particularly upset with our defence of the locals living on the Reductions in South America.  We had some sort of notion that the locals owned the place, not their colonisers.  Ultimately the courts of Europe prevailed on Pope Clement XIV who published the brief Dominus ac Redemptor on 21 July 1773.  Having listed the many shortcomings of the Society of Jesus, he decreed:

From sure knowledge and fullness of apostolic power, we abolish and suppress the oft-mentioned Society. We take away and abrogate each and every one of its offices, ministries, administrations, houses, schools, colleges, retreats, farms, and any properties in whatsoever province, realm, and jurisdiction and in whatever way pertaining to the Society. We do away with the statutes, customs, usages, decrees, Constitutions, even those confirmed by oath, by apostolic approval, or by other means.

In much the same way that recent popes have decreed that we can never again talk about women’s ordination and that it would never be possible anyway, Clement purported to wipe out the Jesuits not just for the present, but forever.  In his mind, there could never be a restoration of the Jesuits.  He decreed:

The letter is not to be subjected to terms of the law nor are remedies to be sought in law, fact, favour, or justice. No one is to seek concessions or favours whether in court or outside the court. But we want the same present letter to be always and for ever valid, firm, and efficacious, and that it be allotted and maintain its full and entire effects and that it be inviolably observed by each and every person to whom it pertains or will in some way pertain in the future.

Bishop Bill Morris had it good, compared with us back in those days.  No such thing as due process back then.  There was one huge loophole.  The brief needed to be promulgated by the ruler in every jurisdiction where the Jesuits were.  

The good old Tsarina Catherine II, the Orthodox Empress of Russia (God bless her), had her own reasons for wanting to maintain the presence of the Jesuits in White Russia.  She refused to promulgate the brief and the Jesuits were happy to provide their services especially when the Russians took over part of East Poland with a lot of Catholics.  

Clement died a year after he published his decree.  His successor was the long-reigning Pius VI who had been educated by the Jesuits and who was known to be sympathetic to the restoration of the Society.  But he was not able to stand up to Spain. In 1801 shortly after his election as Pope, Pius VII formally approved the ongoing existence of the Society of Jesus in Poland.  Then ultimately on 7 August 1814, he issued the papal bull Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum restoring the Society of Jesus throughout the world.

Pius VII decreed: 

We concede and grant to our beloved son and priest Tadeusz Brzozowski, current superior general of the Society of Jesus, and to others legitimately deputed by him, all necessary and appropriate faculties at our pleasure and that of the Apostolic See, so that in all said states and jurisdictions, they may licitly and freely admit and accept all who seek to be admitted and incorporated into the regular order of the Society of Jesus

The show was back on the road everywhere.  Our present superior General, Fr Adolfo Nicolas, has said: ‘All the crises of history enclose a hidden wisdom that needs to be fathomed. For us, Jesuits, this is the commemoration of our greatest crisis. It is, therefore, important that we should learn from the events themselves, that we should discover the good and the bad in our behaviour in order to revive those great desires the Pope spoke of and continue the work of evangelisation, refining our brotherhood and deepening our love.’

Today (Thursday 7 August 2014), we mark the 200th anniversary of this Restoration.  Last Thursday the Church’s first Jesuit pope Francis came to lunch at the Jesuit Curia to celebrate the feast of St Ignatius Loyola, our founder.  He came on an hour’s notice.  He came in his Ford Focus.  He sat down to lunch with the Jesuit community and there was hardly a clerical collar in sight.  Also present were the seven siblings of Fr dall’Oglio SJ who was abducted in Syria a year ago.

We Jesuits still espouse the land rights of indigenous peoples.  We still think it important to take seriously local cultures and spiritualities when evangelizing.  We still educate all sorts of people, including some who are rich and powerful.  Many politicians still think we are meddling priests.  And we still get into trouble occasionally.  But for the moment both the white and black popes are one of us.  Now that is a turn-up for the books. And no one any longer talks about Clement’s ludicrous claim that his decree was “always and for ever valid”.  So please do raise a glass to the Jesuits this day, and don’t hold us responsible for everything done by our alumni who occupy the modern equivalents of the imperial courts.

Frank BrennanFrank Brennan SJ AO is currently in the USA taking up the Gasson Chair at Boston College.

Topic tags: Frank Brennan, Jesuits, Society of Jesus, Pope Clement XIV, inculturation



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Existing comments

The Jesuits do seem a tenacious bunch. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune - nothing they can't handle! I like the picture. And enjoy your time in Boston, Frank, just do not return with an American accent. Please.

Pam | 06 August 2014  

In Homage to Catalonia George Orwell has a character saying "the Jesuits like the night always return". Be that as it may I read a very interesting book by father Thomas Sheehan "the 1st coming" in 1984. Very interesting

NameGeoffrey Hart | 06 August 2014  

The audacity and love of a true Jesuit?: "But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ." St Paul

Paul | 06 August 2014  

In much the same way that recent popes have decreed that we can never again talk about women’s ordination and that it would never be possible anyway, Clement purported to wipe out the Jesuits not just for the present, but forever. In his mind, there could never be a restoration of the Jesuits. He decreed:. etc. etc?.. A very skimpy comparison.

Peter Bohm | 06 August 2014  

The Jesuit Reducciones were a wonderful protection for the Guarani and other indigenous peoples in the area of what is now mainly Paraguay and northern Argentina. It is a pity the Jesuits and Pombal fell out in Portugal. That was, as far as I understand, the main reason for their suppression: political pressure. The Jesuits also set up a number of schools in the India of the Raj - much beloved in our family memory - such as St Joseph's North Point which turned out quite a few colonial administrators; policemen etc. Gerald Durrell spent some time there. I'll be raising a glass in honour of the late P J "Paddy" Stephenson and Greg Dening, the latter a former Jesuit and my Professor of History at Melbourne University. Both wonderful men. Real examples.

Edward Fido | 07 August 2014  

No remedy "in law, fact, favour or justice." How has the church survived? And you did not mention the saintly Pedro Arrupe of more recent times. This is your best piece in ages, Fr Frank, set off beautifully in that final sentence which I hope is raising a wry smile around the country.

Frank | 07 August 2014  

Thanks - I'll raise a glass to the Jesuits. But it does puzzle me that they're providing little if any leadership in the most basic of issues of our time - the creeping collapse of the planet from the human assault on it. As with the spiritualities of the past that you mention which the Jesuits were prepared to learn from, can they see a path into 'eco-spirituality' (and similar descriptions of a deep-seated earth-awareness) which should hardly be down-played as a peripheral perspective. Even worse, as some church leaders and politcians would have it, as an attempt to place 'nature' ahead of humans. Could there be a more confused understanding of the significance of God's first book? Let's hope the Jesuits today are not failing to enter this area of religious growth because of some such confusion.

Len Puglisi | 07 August 2014  

The Church has had a varied history of ups and downs and the Jesuits history reflects that. Let us remember the promise that 'the gates of hell' shall not prevail against it until the end of time and rejoice in the present flowering of Jesuit leadership. Hopefully we are witnessing a true 'new springtime' leading to implementation of the New Evangelisation, real and lasting unity of the Church, effective restructuring of the Curia and governance of the Church, general use of that great gifts of the Spirit for our age - the net and all forms of modern media - together with a more humble, aware and perceptive hierarchy open to lay participation and a complete review and acceptance the place of women in God's plan under the protective mantle, guidance and support of Our Lady ... A true Risorgimento. Let's pray that the Spirit showers Pope Francis, the Bishop of Rome, with an abundance of Grace he needs to fulfill his ministry as the successor of St Peter with the charism, effectiveness and vision of St Francis being true to the real message of the Gospel and walking humbly with the people of God. Pax et Bonum.

Terry Fitzgerald | 07 August 2014  

A proud history, and much good done by many good men. This piece would have more credibility if written by an non Jesuit. Ignatius placed enormous importance on reflection and examination of conscience. For Frank to absolve the Jesuits for the behaviour and values of their students is implausibe if Jesuits say they are involved in the formation of character. Australian Jesuit colleges have become the captives of the conservative privileged parents and old boys. It mirrors the Stockholm Syndrome. When I was a Jesuit I realized I could not teach in a Jesuit school with a good conscience. On a tour of the Jesuit Curia in Rome a diocesan priest said to his confrere "If this is their poverty I would like to see their chastity".

Michael D. Breen | 07 August 2014  

Lovely article, Fr Frank. My experience of the Jesuits and their (wow...expensive!) schools is that they can be a bit precious and self-congratulatory. But over all the Church and the world are far far better for them being around than would be the case if Clement had succeeded. May God continue to bless you Fr Frank and all your brothers.

Eugene | 07 August 2014  

Enjoyed the relative levity of today's piece, Fr Frank. Let us hope that in the modern world the Jesuits don't simply die out. When we face the lack of call to priesthood in the "advanced" Western world, this could be more damaging and effective than any corrupt seventeenth century colonists and power brokers might have been.

john frawley | 07 August 2014  

The Jesuits were fortunate to survive Wojtyla and his USA connections with the CIA. Joseph was very wary of the Jesuits too especially the 'black pope' at the time who was in Asia. Maybe they still exist because they were somewhat lucky. The statements on the success of their schooling approach is open to challenge within the Australian context. Many of their graduates in politics show a remarkable lack of compassion, a lot of arrogance, and a blindness to the needs of the society. Maybe too many of them have no connection to the rural communities, no exposure to poverty and no understanding of community. And as for educating the "poor". They are evident in their absence from Jesuit education in Australia. Nevertheless Frank I will raise a glass to the Jesuits today and hope they can refocus on what is important and make an effort to do better.

Laurie Sheehan | 07 August 2014  

The handful of solidly Catholic Jesuits I've known over the past few decades think the Society should be suppressed again.

HH | 07 August 2014  

Delightful license is taken with Dumas in the film version of The Man in the Iron Mask when Jeremy Irons, as Aramis, tells his two musketeer friends that he has been directed by the authorities to assassinate the Leader of the Society of the Jesuits. What’s the problem? they ask. “Because I am the Leader of the Society of the Jesuits.” Irons delivers this line with perfect emphasis on the pronoun.

Philip Harvey | 07 August 2014  

Father Brennan there is no congruence between scolding widespread querying of definitive teaching on male priesthood and the suppression of the Jesuits, The former pertains to infallible dogma, the latter to historical, political, machinations: a purification that in Divine Providence, upon Restoration, saw a new vigorous, revitalized Society, under that later glorious Superior General Joannes Philippus Roothaan, who did his novitiate on the border of Latvia and Russia protected, due to Queen Catherine.

Father John George | 07 August 2014  

I owe a large part of my spiritual journey to very many wonderful Jesuits. All my life, I will always be grateful to those SJs who gave my journey such a lift, that I always longed for and knew was possible. They changed my life through their example of living the Jesus values, through the Ignatian exercises and through the Daily Examen. I thank God for their intellectual stimulation, their wisdom and their friendship, they have enriched my life beyond description. I have learned something from every SJ I have ever met. Frank’s piece is a pertinent reminder of hang in and hang on. God bless you Frank, you are a courageous and enriching inspiration. God bless all Companions.

Jane | 07 August 2014  

cheeky. nice. the church will survive if it is forced into diversity by a faithful, foresighted few, of their times.

moira | 07 August 2014  

Thank God for the Jesuits and for Frank Brennan SJ. It is so important to have fair and just comments from someone we can trust and who knows the full picture. Thank you.

Elizabeth Gilroy | 07 August 2014  

It is hard to imagine a world without Lonergan, Rahner, Crowe and Doran and the many other Jesuit theologians who have enriched, enlightened and inspired many of us. Congratulations to all in the Society of Jesus you have much to be proud of.

John Francis Collins | 07 August 2014  

Thanks Frank. On the feast of St. Ignatius. I attended a con celebrated Mass at the Jesuit church of st Eugenia Stockholm. Partaking a glass of cider afterwards with an official of Swedish archives we discussed a shipwreck off. Finland in 1771. The ship was taking treasure to Catherine the. Great. I said how much the Society had to be grateful for to Catherine, in the words of Frederick, "her most schismatic majesty" , for protecting the Society after 16 August 1773 . My fellow Jesuit companion agreed.

Michael Duck | 07 August 2014  

The first Jesuit I met was Brian Stoney who mentored me into solidarity with vulnerable people as we worked in Fitzroy creating a space for men with chronic alcoholic issues. My days in Melbourne were enriched with a connection with the Jesuit House at Parkville and some study under Noel Ryan. Friends from those days included the witty Michael McGirr and the urbane Michael Smith. As I ventured into the mosh pit of Catholic journalism I looked to the experience of Michael Kelly, Andy Hamilton and Richard Leonard. The list would not be complete without acknowledging the poetry of Peter Steele who like Gerard Manly Hopkins I admired from the written page.My shelves have been populated with the writings of Christopher Gleeson, Brendan Byrne and John Wilcken.I have sung the music of Christopher Willcock and stayed awake for my Trinty classes with Peter Beer. And now firmly immersed into the commitment to social change and solidarity with the First peoples of this land I tip my biretta to those great "meddlesome priests" Frank Brennan and Mark Raper Finally I give thanks to the Jesuits for one of my regular places of pilgrimage at St Canice's Church in Kings Cross.

Tony Robertson | 07 August 2014  

Many years ago I was involved in a discussion of just how "naughty" and all the "bad" things that the SJs have been responsible for over the centuries.. As the discussion progressed one member of the group, made a one sentence contribution : " Of course you know that the Jesuits are responsible for the death of Phar Lap." From that point onwards the critical voices lost their credibility. There is also the old joke about the Franciscan and the Jesuit - The Franciscan asked his superior if he could smoke while he meditated while the Jesuit asked his superior if he could meditate while he smoked.

Nick Agocs | 07 August 2014  

"The Return of the Jesuits - The Musical" I'd pay good money to see that. But where would be the "Love Interest"? I hear you ask. Ah! that was the genius of Ignatius - each Jesuit is to strive by prayer and meditation on a daily basis to get to know Jesus more clearly, love Him more dearly and follow Him more nearly. Not my will but God's will be done. Of course some Jesuits have fallen short of Ignatius' ideal (No surprises there) but most of the Jesuits I have known strike me as men who have modeled their role as bearers of the Good News on Jesus Christ Himself especially in His inclusiveness.

Uncle Pat | 07 August 2014  

Father Brennan your suggestion of no process "back then" needs canonical nuance and in situ realpolititik. #The super-eminent canonist Pope Benedict XIV initiated painstaking process. to avoid a multinational Jesuit-o-caust" . #Re process: "On 1 April 1758, a brief was obtained from the aged pope Benedict XIV,(; 1675 – 1758), appointing Cardinal Saldanha to investigate the allegations against the Jesuits, which had been raised in the King of Portugal's name. But it does not follow that the pope had forejudged the case against the order. On the contrary, if we take into view all the letters and instructions sent to the Cardinal, we see that the pope was distinctly skeptical as to the gravity of the alleged abuses. He ordered a minute inquiry, but one conducted so as to safeguard the reputation of the Society."-Cath Encyclopaedia[CE] #Nonetheless "in a later brief, Clement XIV(1705 – 1774] proclaims his duty in the interest of peace to sacrifice things most dear to himself. so he had examined the Society of Jesus and found that at its birth seeds of strife and jealousy germinated within it, and against other orders, the secular clergy, and princes. Since it could no longer be fruitful or useful and hindered the peace of the Church, society was suppressed"[CE 2003]

Father John George | 07 August 2014  

Whilst I'm sure you actually know this, Fr, Pope Clement could not make a disciplinary decision that is binding on future popes. Since the dissolution of the Jesuits was a jurdical and not a doctrinal decree, the "always and for ever valid" is a desire, rather than a binding statement.

Lobi | 08 August 2014  

Thank you Fr John George. I am feeling much better now.

Frank Brennan SJ | 08 August 2014  

All lovely word, but let's focus on TODAY and I ask the Jesuits: "What you you doing, for Christ's sake?"

AURELIUS | 08 August 2014  

Hey Aurelius, the Jesuits have produced a Pope 'today" beat that.

Father John George | 08 August 2014  

If the Jesuits are so called counter-cultured and the vanguard of progressive change, why is Fr Frank Brennan so comfortable with Christian antagonists- the anti-life Greens and leftie Laborites? HAS he faced a rabid audience recently, like Jesus?

kevin mcmahon | 08 August 2014  

Thanks Frank for an illuminating article. Loved your pithy final sentence! Here's to Frank, Pope Francis and all Jesuits! You have my vote! Enjoy your celebrations!

Mary | 09 August 2014  

Well, done, Frank. Amusing and insightful as usual.

Tony | 10 August 2014  

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