The Jesuits Before and After Their Suppression
Christopher Hollis asserts that few societies of the Roman Catholic Church have exercised a more powerful influence than the Jesuits, both in Europe and overseas. Founded in 1540, suppressed in 1773, they were officially restored in 1814.
In the middle of the Sixteenth Century the Catholic Church seemed in grave danger of disintegration. Northern Europe, including England, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, had openly revolted against it. In France there were many Protestants, and in Italy there was much open unbelief; everywhere, even among those who still called themselves Catholics, Christians were sceptical of the Church’s traditional teaching and careless of its practice.
The Mohammedans had been expelled from Spain in the West; but in the East the Turks were still threatening to march up through the Balkans into the centre of Europe. The new spirit of nationalism menaced the old Catholic unity. Patriotic Englishmen objected to paying money to a Papacy that might use it to finance a war against their own country; and patriotic Germans objected to paying money that would go over the Alps to enrich unpopular Italian ecclesiastics.
The Papacy, far from being a cause of unity among Catholics, was a cause of division, since it had recently been disputed between two, and for a time even between three, prelates. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, had himself been a soldier. He saw that what the Church needed were the military virtues of unity and discipline.
To launch a counter-attack against the disintegrating forces of nationalism, he founded a Society of men who were to put themselves under strict discipline, and would add to the conventional religious vows of chastity, poverty and obedience a fourth vow of special loyalty to the Pope; who were prepared to go anywhere, to undertake any service that the Pope demanded of them. This new Society—the Jesuits—was recognized by Pope Paul III on September 27th, 1540, in a bull entitled ‘For the Regiment of the Fighting Church’—Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae.