THE BEGINNINGS OF THE JESUITS
by Randall Hillebrand
Ignatius Loyola was the founder and first general of the Society
of Jesus, better known today as the Jesuits. Loyola was the youngest
son of eight boys of a wealthy family of thirteen children. He was
born either in the year of 1491 or 1495 in the province of Basque near
the town of Azpeitia in Spain. This area was known for its brave and
hardy race of people that excelled in its ship building, sailing and
military spirit. Loyola was a brave soldier himself who had seen a
number of battles, but on May 20, 1521, a cannon ball fractured his
right leg and injured his left. During recovery, he asked for books
to read on romance, but all that could be found was a book on the life
of Christ and a book of different saints.
With distaste he started reading them, but soon they so gripped
him that from within him a desire arose to follow the steps of Christ
and such saints as Dominic and Francis. In May of the following year
after he had finished healing it is said that he went and spent three
days in confession with a priest for his sins. After that he went to
the altar of our Lady where he spent the night in prayer and came away
with the conviction that Christ was calling him as the captain of His
sacred army. (Harvey 1, 10-14).
Soon after this Loyola went to the outskirts of a town called
Manresa to spend time in a cave for penance and prayer. The little
town accepted him and he found lodging in the hospital of St. Lucia.
During this time at Manresa, Loyola went through a time of dryness,
weariness, sadness and bitterness. Times became very hard for him and
he could find no peace. The Dominicans of the Manresa felt sorry for
him and took him into their convent. There he fasted and prayed
almost till death until he finally came to a point where his spiritual
storm had passed and he found the peace for which he had searched.
During the time spent at the convent it is said that he had many
mysteries revealed to him and that great spiritual illumination took
place. One of the outcomes of this spiritual awakening for Loyola was
the beginnings of a book. As Loyola had thoughts that he felt might
profit others, he made note of them, and these notes later grew into
his book which he called "Spiritual Exercises." (Harney 27-30). This
book is said to have a powerful appeal to one's imagination and
emphasizes greatly the obedience one is to have to Christ and to the
church (Catholic Church).
This would be the book that would become the cornerstone of the
Jesuit order. (Linder 412). A main section in Spiritual Exercises is
a four-week course that the new recruit would have to go through. The
first week dealt with purging oneself. The second week is a crucial
week in the exercise where one would meditate on the life of Christ up
to the passion week and the kingdom of Christ. This is also the week
in which one would give himself to Christ (Election stage - climax).
The third week is when the passion week of Christ from Bethany to the
cross is discussed with an emphasis on following the footsteps of
their humble Master. The fourth week is when the recruit is prepared
to rise with the risen Christ as a knight-errant roving about, ready
to fight the good fight of faith. (Harvey 27-31).
The last part of the book, which was added later, gives eighteen
rules for thinking and acting to be in conformity with the Catholic
Church. These rules were probably in response to the reformation
taking place at that time and were meant to be protection against
heresy. (Harney 62-63).
Between the years of 1524 to 1534, Ignatius Loyola studied at
Barcelona, Alcala, Salamanca and Paris to prepare for his service to
the church. (Linder 411). It was during his student days in Paris
that Loyola started the Society of Jesus. He gathered six young men
together with him, all following his example and taking a vow of
poverty, chastity and the spiritual service of their neighbors. Not
only would they make these three vows on their own, but later they
would again take the first two vows of poverty and chastity in
addition to two others of obedience to the church, and obedience to
the Pope in accordance to their involvement with the church. The
first three of these vows were typical within the church, but the vow
of total and complete obedience to the Pope to go and do whatever he
said was unknown to the church and would become a Jesuit distinctive.
The six men that would join Loyola were Francis Xavier, Pierre Le
Favre, James Laynez, Alphonsus Salmeron, Nicholas Bobadilla and Simon
Rodriguez. These seven men soon became well-known in Italy as
preachers, leaders of retreats and hospital chaplains. In 1539 they
formed a group called the "Company of Jesus" in Rome, which was
totally dedicated to teaching children and illiterates in the law of
God. (Catherall 531).
Because of these and other efforts to help the poor and needy,
the Society of Jesus was well accepted in Europe. They not only were
concerned with the physical being of a person, but also with their
spiritual being seen in their constant evangelization of the people.
Many young men wished to join the Jesuits, but since they were
not as of yet a true organization within the Catholic Church, Ignatius
and his companions decided to draw up a constitution for the Society
to present to Pope Paul III. Because of the special vow of total
obedience to the Pope by each member, it was clear to Pope Paul III
that this Society would be of value to the Holy See. So on the
twenty-seventh of September, 1540, the Bull, Regimini Militantis
Ecclesiae was issued and the Society of Jesus was officially launched.
One provision was made in this Bull which was that the Society could
have only sixty members in its ranks. But by 1544 another Bull,
Injunctum Nobis was issued that gave the Society an unlimited number
The Society grew rapidly and soon Loyola secured permission for
the Jesuits to preach, hear confession and to fulfill all of the other
offices of the priestly office. (Harvey 60-61, 63). Also around the
beginnings of the Society, there was no one to watch over the safety
of the Pope and to help him from straying to secularism and
identification with the government. So the Jesuits were the first
group to take this position in the church as the Pope's spiritual
elite and militia. (Peeler 420)
By the end of Loyola's death in 1556, there were over a thousand
Jesuits mainly in Spain, Portugal and Italy. They were also in
France, Germany, the Low Countries, India, Brazil and Africa.
(Donnelly 413). The Society by this time made a turn in its
philosophy. No longer was it a group whose emphasis was to the poor
and needy, but now its influences would be seen and felt among the
aristocracy. This change came about because of Loyola's dedication to
the modern methods of education of his time. Jesuit schools were
founded, the first in 1548 in Messina, and the Jesuits became the
teaching order and the leading movement in Catholic higher education.
They were known for having the most effective teaching methods in
contemporary Europe. They became the Pope's strongest supporters and
were the spearhead of the intellectual attack on the Reformation.
They also became the foremost Catholic apologists. The Society became
very strong, but was suppressed in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV, but was
later restored by Pope Pius VII in 1814.
Catherall, Gordon A. "Jesuits (Society of Jesus)." The New
International Dictionary of the Christian Church. 1978 ed.
Donnelly, John P. "The Jesuits." Eerdmans' Handbook to the History of
Christianity. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.
Gontard, Friedrich. The Chair of Peter: A History of the Papacy. New
York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.
Harney, Martin P. The Jesuits in History. New York: The America Press,
Harvey, Robert. Ignatius Loyola. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing
Linder, Robert D. "Rome Responds." Eerdmans' Handbook to the History
of Christianity. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1978.
Young, William J. "Jesuits." Encyclopedia International. 1967 ed.
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