The founding of the Jesuits was a defining moment in the history of the church, as the Society of Jesus played an essential role in restoring the moral and ethical standards of the Roman Catholic Church. The order was extremely successful in this regard and the Jesuits continue to play a vital role in the papacy, even today. However, if Ignatius Loyola’s mandate as “soldiers of God under the banner of the cross” was to stop the Reformation movement from sweeping across Europe, the same cannot be said.
Since the inception of the early church, there have been a great many movements, which have either attacked or defended the authority of the church and her doctrine, thus shaping how the church exists today. Of these movements, the Protestant Reformation produced one of the largest divides the church has ever faced. John Woodbridge and Frank James illustrate, “If the Roman Inquisition was a defensive measure against the rise of Protestantism, the Jesuits represented the offensive weapon of the Counter-Reformation, [and] there was no person who embodied the Counter-Reformation more than the founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius of Loyola.” On September 27, 1540, Pope Paul III approved the Society of Jesus as a new order with the bull Regimini militantis ecclesiae (To the Government of the Church Militant). The founding of the Jesuits came five years prior to the Council of Trent in 1545, which marked the beginning of the Counter-Reformation, so this stands to reason the Society was not formed purposefully as a military order. In fact, those who joined the Society would often take vows of poverty, chastity, and would make pilgrimages to the Holy Land. Many of the Jesuit’s members were also responsible for caring for the sick and poor and one of the principal goals of the group was the education and scholarship of the people. By caring for the needs of others and focusing on education, the far-reaching spread and impact of the Jesuits would be felt across the world.
Ignatius Loyola’s Supernatural Experience
Ignatius of Loyola was born in Basque, a northern region of Spain sometime around 1491 to a noble family and he began his career as a soldier in 1509 in service to the Duke of Nájera. Woodbridge and James, illustrate how Loyola’s life would forever change on May 20, 1521: “while defending the city of Pamplona against the army of Francis I, a French cannonball shattered his right leg and injured the other leg.” Without the aid of anesthesia, Loyola had to endure multiple surgeries in excruciating pain, in an attempt to save his legs. Woodbridge and James expound, “While convalescing in his hometown in Spain, Loyola underwent a profound conversion experience. During this time he read De Vita Christi (The Life of Christ) by Ludolph of Saxony. Particularly notable was Ludolph’s proposal that the reader place himself in the gospel story.” Du Moustier illustrates, “Ludolph dwelt at length upon the events and teachings recorded in the Gospels and commented upon them abundantly from the Fathers of the Church and later spiritual authors. Loyola was certainly influenced in his conversion, by reading the Vita Christi, and Ludolph’s method of meditation left its mark on the one adopted in the Spiritual Exercises.” This conversion experience, prompted by picturing himself in the metanarrative of Jesus and the gospel, led him to write Spiritual Exercises. After this supernatural encounter, Loyola decided to become a soldier for Christ, walking away from his military career. He instead spent time in seclusion where he also underwent asceticism and more mystical experiences. The insights gained from these encounters became the basis of his theology and led him to journey to the Holy Land. On his return trip he was imprisoned by the Spanish Inquisition, on the charge of heresy, but was exonerated and eventually released. Loyola then spent seven years at the University of Paris acquiring his master’s degree. Towards the end of his education, Loyola had found six other students who shared the same passions. Some notable members were: Francis Xavier, a missionary to Japan and India, and Diego Laínez, an influential theologian at the Council of Trent and Loyola’s eventual successor. In 1530, with his six comrades by his side, Loyola’s wish of becoming soldiers of God came to pass, thus giving rise to the Jesuits.
Purpose of Jesuits
While the Counter-Reformation was not the primary reason Loyola founded the Jesuits, the Society of Jesus still played an integral role in the Counter-Reformation efforts and were considered ultimately to be a Roman Catholic missionary organization. Loyola was a captivating commander who played a vital role in winning back many of the European followers who had converted to Protestantism. His original plans for the newly formed Jesuits included traveling to Jerusalem as missionaries to the Muslims, but the war between the Turks and the Venetian Republic prevented this trip. Instead, Loyola would appear before Pope Paul III offering himself and his companions in service to the papacy. More than anything, as Woodbridge and James demonstrate, “Loyola wanted this new order to serve the Lord alone and the Church his Spouse, under the Roman pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth.” Historian Will Durant maintains, “The Society of Jesus would not only accept the old conventual vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but would go forth into the world to spread the orthodox faith, and to fight, everywhere in Christendom, against religious heresy or revolt.” In the sixteen years Loyola would lead the Jesuits, missionaries totaled more than one thousand and were sent to Brazil, India, Ethiopia and the Congo Region. The leadership of Loyola undoubtedly played a crucial role in maintaining the power of the papacy and thwarting the further progression of the Reformation movement in Europe.
Ignatius Loyola’s Vision for the Jesuits
When Loyola created the Society of Jesus, Woodbridge and James explain the term: “Jesuit was originally a derogatory term referring to one who employs the name of Jesus too quickly and too often… [However,] Loyola rehabilitated the term to… [mean] an elite order organized along military lines and distinguished by its iron discipline and obedience to the papacy.” Loyola sought out only devout followers and required two trial years of all candidates before any traditional vows were taken. Upon completion of this stage, the candidate would then undergo another ten years of academic study covering everything from philosophy to theology. Only after completing all of these requirements were the candidates allowed to swear an oath of allegiance to the pope. Woodbridge and James demonstrate, “In the Jesuit Constitutions, Loyola stressed that obedience to the pope must be perinde ac cadaver (in the manner of a corpse), which was Loyola’s way of demanding absolute obedience,” going as far to say in his Spiritual Exercises, “If we wish to proceed securely in all things, we must hold fast to the following principle: What seems to me white, I will believe black if the hierarchal church so defines.”
The Spiritual Exercises were meant to assist people in finding God’s will, while also providing courage, perseverance, and motivation to fulfill what God was calling the reader to do. Tim Perrine further explains, “A key theme throughout the Spiritual Exercises is discernment–the need to discern between good desires and evil desires in one’s life. It is by following the four weeks, and by utilizing such discernment, that a person can better realize God’s will for his or her own life.” While the Spiritual Exercises do not teach doctrine or morals, Antonio De Nicolâas explains, “When used by an experienced master, they prepare a person to experience and to discern the affects that accompany the practice of living the ‘memory’ of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.” Much can be learned from the writings of Loyola and there is little doubt regarding his tremendous goal of serving God, but balancing that desire while also serving the Roman pontiff was a very fine line. Loyola’s asceticism went far beyond extreme, as he believed strongly in the penance of sins, causing him to scourge and starve himself. He believed and wrote, “What appears most suitable and most secure with regard to penance is that the pain should be sensible in the flesh and not enter within the bones, so that it give pain and not illness. For this, it appears to be more suitable to scourge oneself with thin cords, which gives pain exteriorly, rather than in another way which would cause notable illness within.” His writing of the Spiritual Exercises focused on four weeks or periods of time. In the first, the focus is on human sin; in the second, the focus is on Christ’s life on earth; in the third, the focus shifts to Christ’s death on the cross; and in the forth, the focus is on the risen Christ and His life. Loyola accomplished much in his lifetime, but he would eventually succumb to a fatal case of the Roman fever on July 31, 1556. This fate was surprisingly not uncommon for many of the Jesuits, since those in the order had regular contact with the sick and dying, caring for their needs. His place in history is solidified, and as a result of his contributions to the papacy, in 1622 he would be canonized a Catholic saint by Pope Gregory XV.
Mission of Jesuits
While serving the Lord was the foundational ethos of the Jesuits, Woodbridge and James demonstrate over time, “The Jesuits were often viewed as willing to do anything to further their goals, [earning the Jesuits] the motto Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam (For the greater glory of God), which reflected the conviction that no act is evil if the intent was to bring glory to God.” This belief system contributed to the immense success of the Jesuits in three key areas: (1) the establishment of schools and universities throughout Europe; (2) worldwide missions; and (3) stopping the advancement of Protestantism in Europe. In 1548, the Jesuits opened the first college in Sicily and by 1579; the Jesuits were overseeing one hundred forty-four colleges. While Loyola had not envisioned the order’s members becoming teachers, the unwavering discipline exhibited by its members caused the Jesuits to experience great success in this profession. Ultimately, education opened the door for the order to engage in worldwide missions, even in areas who did not share the same religious views. Woodbridge and James emphasize the last key area of success was the most significant accomplishment, as the Jesuits prevented Protestantism from spreading into Poland, Lithuania, and southern Germany. Despite the Jesuits undeniable role in preventing the spread of Protestantism, the first two hundred years were focused on scholarship and serving the needy. The Society of Jesus viewed the whole world as their church, so pastoral care, missions, and hospitals were a huge part of the Jesuits’ missional focus and initiatives. However, over time, there began to be an overwhelming presence of soldiers in the Jesuits’ ranks, which would eventually contribute to immense opposition the order faced by philosophers, deists, and foreign powers.
The struggle between the Jansenists and the Jesuits remains one of the most notable conflicts and was felt in Spain, Austria, Austrian Netherlands, the city-states of Italy, and Utrecht. Woodbridge and James demonstrate, “Jansen had proposed an interpretation of St. Augustine’s posthumous work Augustinus that – in extolling God’s majesty, awesome power, justice, and righteousness – challenged any role we humans might have in winning our salvation through free will. Instead, the elect are saved by God’s grace alone” This meant when someone came to faith, he or she was transformed and as a result of that act, he or she would want to do the will of God voluntarily. Essentially, salvation should compel those who are saved to love God and others by treating everyone as a neighbor. However, as Woodbridge and James illustrate, “Molina, a Spanish Jesuit argued sufficient grace provides us with the strength to do good using our free will. God elects us according to His foreknowledge of what He knows we will do using our free choice.” The Jansenists criticized the Jesuits because of the order’s allegiance to the papal monarchy, their appreciation of pagan culture, and their worldliness. The Jesuits criticized the Jansenists as being crypto-Protestants and republicans and the Jesuits believed if man were to truly follow reason there would be no way for him or her to live a moral life. Neither side would budge on their positions and Woodbridge and James show how, “The Jansenists gained a sense of revenge against the Jesuits when the Parlements of France expelled the Society of Jesus from the kingdom and the French colonies. After this, the Jansenists took on more of a political role rather than strictly theological and this new strategy coupled with the Chinese Rites Controversy had left the reputation of the Jesuits in poor standing.
One of the most controversial acts the order was instigated in was the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which sought to assassinate King James I and members of the British Parliament. It was common knowledge Jesuits would take any action if that meant following orders from the pope or superior ranking members. Loyola taught and required complete obedience to the pope, which he said must always be perinde ac cadaver. As Mark Nicholls clarifies, “There is scope to suggest that the ringleaders were pragmatists, informed by history, and in step with the politics of the age. While they aimed at a religious upheaval, and drew on the power of religious conviction, they were essentially political creatures, who had worked for years in the political heartland.” Nicholls explains, “To understand the Gunpowder Plot, it is necessary to look beyond Fawkes and his barrels, beyond all the evidential difficulties, and to see the enterprise for what it was, a failed rebellion…The traditional, and enduring, tendency to emphasize their family connections, and their shared militant Catholicism, actually masks differences in motives and ambitions.” Following the Council of Trent, the Jesuits were charged with saving the Latin nations for the Roman Church by restating the orthodox faith, reforming ecclesiastical abuses, and restoring discipline and morality among the clergy. Diarmaid MacCulloch further reveals, “[The Jesuits’] missionary goal was to make a reality of Pope Gregory VII’s ancient vision: to see the world turning in obedience to the Church ruled over by Christ’s Vicar on Earth.” In the centuries that followed the formation of the Society, the Jesuits set up ministries around the globe and as Malachi Martin demonstrates, “There was no continent they did not reach; no known language they did not speak and study; no culture they did not penetrate; no branch of learning and science they did not explore; no work in humanism they did not undertake; and no form of death by violence they did not undergo.” Being a Jesuit meant enduring a life of great risk as many priests were martyred and persecuted by nations unresponsive to conversion to Catholicism. Durant emphasizes the Jesuits’ success was directly related to discipline citing, “Their willingness to obey was the first step in learning to command.” Following the Council of Trent, MacCulloch adds, “ The Jesuits, full of their newfound enthusiasm for confronting Protestantism… became the backbone of an increasingly militant Catholic response to the growth of the Reformation movement and Protestantism.”
Change of Command
Upon the passing of Loyola, Martin explains, “The force of his personality and the example of his presence disappeared with him. Now that he was gone, those of his original companions who survived him… found it necessary to formulate and regulate the life of each individual Jesuit with rules and prescribed practices.” Diego Laínez was one of the original six soldiers of God and became Loyola’s successor, making him the second General of the Society of Jesus (1558 – 1565). By 1565, there were three thousand five hundred Jesuits, and despite the slow growth in northern Europe, the Society experienced tremendous growth in Spain, Portugal, and Sicily. Stopping the spread of Protestantism is normally associated with the Jesuits’ mission, but in these regions, Islam’s advancement was the real threat and the order played a major role in stopping its advancement. Laínez was also the papal theologian at all three periods of the Council of Trent and was instrumental in the continued advancement of the Jesuits.
Upon the passing of Laínez, Francis Borgia would become the third General of the Society of Jesus (1565 – 1572). Borgia was a Spanish Jesuit and the fourth Duke of Gandía. Many to this day still associate the Borgia name with prominence within the Jesuit order. Upon Gandía’s passing, Everard Mercurian would become the first non-Spaniard General of the Society of Jesus (1573 – 1580). Pope Gregory XIII sought this outcome and Mercurian would receive the endorsement as General from the Fathers of the Congregation with a vote of twenty-seven out of forty-seven on April 23, 1573. Mercurian continued to expand the Society to over five thousand members represented in over eighteen provinces and was influential in preparing the Summary of the Constitutions from Loyola’s manuscripts and establishing the Common Rules of the Society. He would eventually succumb to the influenza outbreak while caring for and visiting the sick. As previously mentioned, this type of death was not uncommon and was viewed as being martyr of the order. Joining the order in 1567, Claudio Acquaviva would succeed Mercurian (1581 – 1615). The influence of the pope was undeniable, but Pope Gregory XIII was nonetheless surprised when Acquaviva, at the young age of thirty-seven was elected, making him the youngest General. During Acquaviva’s leadership the Jesuits continued expansion into India, Japan, and China. By the end of his command the order had established new missions in Paraguay and Canada. Acquaviva’s leadership and accomplishments are undeniable and at the time of his passing in 1615, the Society had tripled in size to over thirteen thousand members. Mutio Vitelleschi would succeed Acquaviva and would serve as General for the following thirty years (1615 – 1645). Vitelleschi was a professor of physics, theology, and philosophy at the Roman College and some scholars consider him to be the first non-Spaniard to be elected General, despite Mercurian being from Belgium. Upon Vitelleschi’s passing, Vincenzo Carafa would become the seventh General of the Society, serving only four years (1645 – 1649). Six additional Generals were selected leading up to Thyrsus González de Santalla, who became the thirteenth General, closing out the seventeenth century of Jesuits (1686 – 1705). Michelangelo Tamburini succeeded González becoming the eighteenth General, (1706 – 1730) leading to the mid to late seventeenth century, which for the Jesuits, was a time of increasing persecution and hostility from foreign nations outside of Rome. Ultimately, in 1773 Pope Clement XIV dissolved the order due to an increasing pressure from the Catholic powers and Bourbon monarchs and fear of losing the papacy city-states. As a result, the Jesuits of the sixteenth century looked much different than those in the eighteenth century, due to the rise of nationalism, leading the Jesuits to become subjugated. It was not until 1814 that Pope Pius VII gave in to popular demand and reestablished the Jesuits as an order, and they continue their missionary work to this day.
In his book Fifty Years in the Church of Rome, former catholic priest Charles Chiniquy argues: “The Jesuits are a military organization, not a religious order. Their chief is the general of an army, not the mere father abbot of a monastery. And the aim of this organization is power. Absolute power, universal power, power to control the world by the volition of a single man.” Martin adds that wars are all about power and “in war, power flows along the lines of two fundamental issues: authority and purpose.” Despite how far removed the Jesuits have become since Loyola and his six comrades shared a similar vision, David Cloud demonstrates still to this day, “Next to Loyola’s tomb in the Chiesa del Gesu, the Jesuit headquarters in Rome, is a 16th century statue depicting Mary violently casting Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Huss out of heaven because of their doctrines of “scripture alone” and “grace alone.” The statue’s title is ‘The Triumph of the Faith over Heresy’ and the Council of Trent’s proclamation specifically related to any person who believed the Bible alone was the standard for faith or that salvation was by the grace alone. It went as far as to issue a curse against anyone who believed otherwise. Cloud further demonstrates how, “In spite of the ecumenical ventures of the Catholic Church in recent decades, the Council of Trent has never been rescinded and the same monument in the Jesuit Church features an angel gleefully tearing up a small book, depicting either “heretical” Protestant books or the vernacular Bible translations that were condemned by Rome.”
For an organization founded nearly half a millennium ago, there is no denying the success and influence the Jesuits had and continue to have today, especially in light of all the other religious movements, which have failed across the world. Loyola and his six friends have grown into an order of twenty-five thousand members operating in over one hundred countries. The founding of the Jesuits has remained a defining moment in the history of the church, as the Society of Jesus not only played an essential role in restoring the moral and ethical standards of the Roman Catholic Church, but the order also cared for the needy, the sick, and educated over one million students. These initiatives opened the doors to evangelize the world and aided in the secondary objective of slowing the spread of Protestantism.
Bireley, Robert. The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War: Kings, Courts, and Confessors. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Cloud, David. Contemplative Mysticism: A Powerful Ecumenical Bond. Port Huron, MI: Way of Life Literature, 2008. E-book.
De Nicolâas, Antonio T., and Ignatius. Ignatius De Loyola, Powers of Imagining: A Philosophical Hermeneutic of Imagining Through the Collected Works of Ignatius De Loyola, with a Translation of These Works. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed August 3, 2016).
Du Moustier, B. “Ludolph of Saxony.” New Catholic Encyclopedia. 2nd ed. Vol. 8. Detroit: Gale, 2003. 852-853. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3407706912 http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CCX3407706912&v=2.1&u=vic_liberty&it=r&p=GVRL&sw=w&asid=66e2642bc36309de50ec4b6f197b1065 (accessed August 19, 2016).
Durant, Will. The Reformation: The Story of Civilization V. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1953.
__________. The Renaissance: The Story of Civilization VI. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1957.
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MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. New York, NY: Penguin Group Publishing, 2009.
___________. The Reformation: A History. New York, NY: Penguin Group Publishing, 2003.
Martin, Malachi. The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Publishing, 1987.
McGoldrick, James. “The Historical Necessity For Creeds And Confessions Of Faith,” – Reformation and Revival 10, no. 2 (Spring), WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
Mullan, Father Elder S. J. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Translated from the Autograph by Father Elder Mullan. New York, NY: P.J. & Sons, 1914.
Nicholls, Mark. “STRATEGY AND MOTIVATION IN THE GUNPOWDER PLOT.” The Historical Journal 50, no. 4 (12, 2007): 787-807, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/194929080?accountid=12085. (accessed August 4, 2015).
O’Malley, John W. The Jesuits: A History from Ignatius to the Present. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., 2014.
Slivka, Daniel. “Reformation Versus Council of Trent and Rules for Interpretation,” E-Theologos. Theological revue of Greek Catholic Theological Faculty 3, no. 1 (April) 28 -37. ISSN 1335-5570
Woodbridge, John D. and Frank A. James III. Church History, Volume II: From Pre-Reformation of the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.
 Woodbridge, John D. and Frank A. James III. Church History, Volume II: From Pre-Reformation of the Present Day: The Rise and Growth of the Church in Its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 205.
 Woodbridge and James, Church History, 206.
 Woodbridge and James, Church History, 207.
 Will Durant, The Renaissance: The Story of Civilization V, (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1953), 689.
 Woodbridge and James, Church History, 207.
 Ignatius, and Elder Mullan. n.d. The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, Grand Rapids, MI: Generic NL Freebook Publisher, n.d. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed August 3, 2016).
 Antonio T. De Nicolâas, and Ignatius. Ignatius De Loyola, Powers of Imagining: A Philosophical Hermeneutic of Imagining Through the Collected Works of Ignatius De Loyola, with a Translation of These Works. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost (accessed August 3, 2016).
 S. J. Mullan, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Translated from the Autograph by Father Elder Mullan, (New York, NY: P.J. & Sons, 1914), 38.
 Woodbridge and James, Church History, 208.
 Woodbridge and James, Church History, 436.
 Woodbridge and James, Church History, 437.
 Nicholls, “STRATEGY AND MOTIVATION IN THE GUNPOWDER PLOT,” 806.
 Durant, The Renaissance, 691.
 Diarmaid MacCulloch, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, (New York, NY: Penguin Group Publishing, 2009), 688.
 Malachi Martin, The Jesuits: The Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church, (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Publishing, 1987), 27.
 Will Durant, The Reformation: The Story of Civilization VI, (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1957), 912.
 Diarmaid MacCullock, The Reformation: A History, (New York, NY: Penguin Group Publishing, 2003), 300.
 Martin, The Jesuits, 200.
 John W. O’Malley, S.J., The Jesuits: A History from Ignatius to the Present, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., 2014), 31-34.
 Martin, The Jesuits, 201-203 & 231-233.
 Robert Bireley, The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War: Kings, Courts, and Confessors, (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 22.
 O’Malley, The Jesuits, 79-80.
 Martin, The Jesuits, 14.
 David Cloud, Contemplative Mysticism: A Powerful Ecumenical Bond, (Port Huron, MI: Way of Life Literature, 2008), E-book.
 Cloud, Contemplative Mysticism, E-book.