Monday, December 2

Where Did the Jesuits Come From?

When Spain was taken over in the late 1400s, the Catholic Church finally had the opportunity to make a Catholic country. In order to live in Spain, if you were of a different faith you were faced with utter scrutiny and you could sometimes be tortured, interrogated or even in some cases, executed. Out of this context came the famous Ignatius of Loyola. He was well-studied and well-trained, and desired greatly to go to battle and act in a chivalrous manner. He went to defend Spain against the French in the early 1520s, and it became evident that God had other plans for Ignatius. A cannon ball destroyed his leg and almost killed Ignatius, and he was brought to his family castle to recover. After a couple of failed surgeries, Ignatius claims to have had a vision (much like St. Anthony’s) of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus in the form of a child. Having lost his mother at a young age, this maternal image appealed directly to the heart of Ignatius. After his recovery he began to write several works.

One of these works is known as The Exercises. This work detailed a process to undergo over the period of one month where you go through a series of actions in order to truly begin to find yourself and find God. Around this time, much like St. Francis several centuries before him, Ignatius formed a small band of followers known as the Society of Jesus or the Jesuits (*which Pope Francis is part of). Between the Council of Trent and the Jesuit Society, the Catholic Church had enough fuel to fight the fire of Protestantism. Ignatius burned with an unquenchable desire to convey the truth of Catholicism to others, even if it meant martyrdom for his faith. People from outside of the Catholic Church were portraying the Jesuits as pompous and arrogant men, but this could not historically be farther from the truth. We often demonize those whom we oppose or disagree with, and this was no exception.

The Jesuits were actually known to associate with people of low economic and social standing, and Ignatius became looked at different when he tried to minister to prostitutes in Rome. For some in the Catholic Church, however, the Jesuit Society was not going about the faith in the right manner. Various countries began to go through a process of Christianization, yet when Jesuit missionaries arrived in places such as Asia, South America or elsewhere, they recognized the value and importance of the religious and cultural traditions held by these people. It was unheard of at the time in the Church to actually claim that other religions held even a grain of truth – which the Jesuits were seemingly noticing – and as such, this was taken into consideration. Granted, the Jesuits claimed that although some portions of the non-Christian religions held truth, the Catholic religion was the truer or most true religion, and was therefore superior.

While many well-meaning Jesuits spread their messages, issues and deficiencies in the implementation of Catholicism in other countries led to violence and death among many. Although the Jesuits were intending on spreading the peace of the gospel message, helping the poor and the sick, their companions back in Europe did not agree with this line of thinking. In fact, it was these sort of conditions that led to minority groups or foreign groups coming to be completely victimized and in many cases, massacred. This, however, was not the only issue at the time. The French Revolution was creating problems for the Church, and it caused many bishops, nuns, priests and others to leave France – ending, in many cases, in execution. The efforts of Ignatius and the Jesuits were successful on many levels, but the Catholic Church was far from peace with the world.

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