The Suppression of the Jesuits, 1773

After being expelled from Portugal, writes J.S. Cummins, France and Spain, the Jesuit order was suppressed by a reluctant Pope.

‘The causes which occasioned the ruin of this mighty body, as well as the circumstances and effects with which it has been attended in the different countries of Europe [are] objects extremely worthy of the attention of every intelligent observer of affairs.’

Thus wrote the historian, William Robertson. The expulsion of the Jesuits from Portugal, France and Spain was considered by Voltaire to be ‘the greatest event which has distinguished the century in which we live’. It also deeply affected America: Magnus Morner finds it ‘the most important single event in Latin American history between conquest and emancipation’.

The ‘Papal grenadiers’ distinguished themselves in every sphere: at court, in the pulpit and confessional, in colleges and universities, and on the missions. For they were, said Robert Burton, the janissaries of the Church: the rest were but asses. Spiritual achievement and material wealth went together, making the Jesuits a uniquely powerful force: ‘there is nothing’, complained Pascal, ‘quite like the Jesuits.’ Undoubtedly, they dominated the Tridentine era.

And their expansion was rapid: when Loyola died in 1556 there were 1,000 Jesuits divided into twelve ‘provinces’; when Father General Acquaviva died in 1615, there were 13,112 members of the Society; by 1750 there were 22,589 Jesuits in thirty-nine provinces throughout the world, controlling about 700 colleges and 900 residences and mission-stations. The landleaping Jesuits’ most successful missions were those of Paraguay1 and China, but they could also apply to themselves the line:

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