The Society of Jesus: The Rise, Fall and Resurrection of the Jesuits


The Jesuit order, of which Pope Francis is a member in our time, began its activities on September 27, 1540, under the name Society of Jesus, with the support of Venetian humanists. The company’s symbol is IHS (“Iesus Hominum Salvator” or “Jesus, Savior of Man”), and its motto is “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam” (“For the greater glory of God”).

An engraving by Willian Holl depicts Ignatius of Loyola holding a book on which is written the motto of the Society of Jesus “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam” (“For the greater glory of God”). (Wikimedia)

The society has a militaristic organization and regulations. At the head of the society is a general, or superior general, residing in Rome. This general is called the “Black Pope” because he wears a black cassock, unlike the pope who dresses in white. The black pope has a chief of staff, a secretary, a deputy general representing the society in the papacy, and deputy ministers of the administrative parts constituted by the provinces. The general is elected by the General Congregation, a council where the leaders of each province meet, for life. Only the general is elected, as all officials at all other levels are appointed by the general.

First General

A year after the founding of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius of Loyola was chosen as the first general of the order. In the following years, Ignatius drafted the statutes of the society to guide his followers. According to this, obedience to superiors was essential in the sect: “(Jesuits) must let themselves act and be transported, under the divine direction of their superiors, like a corpse which does not interfere with its movement and control. ” Thus, in the Jesuit hierarchy, the general comes first, then God.

A sign at St. Ignatius High School in Taiwan, Aug. 31, 2020. (Shutterstock)

A sign at St. Ignatius High School in Taiwan, Aug. 31, 2020. (Shutterstock)

The Jesuits, like no sect before, established schools to take over non-religious fields and began to train large numbers of scientists, architects, craftsmen and merchants. Their schools were usually not just small buildings, but rather large complexes consisting of classrooms, a theater, a courtyard, an observatory, a church, a printing house and residences. . There were no fees for students studying here. Thus, they appealed not only to the children of the nobility, but also to the gifted children of the people.

Although other Christian orders did not accept it, the Jesuit order also opened its doors to Jews. Ignatius, who had very close relations with Jewish converts and the Alumbrados sects in Spain, ordered that converts be allowed to join Jesuit society. Jeronimo Nadal, Ignatius’ absolute envoy, said it clearly: “We (Jesuits) take pleasure in accepting those of Jewish race.” For this reason, the schools opened by the Society of Jesus were supported by Jewish bankers and merchants as well as by papal families such as the Borgias and the Medicis.

The symbol of the Society of Jesus above a door.  (Shutterstock)

The symbol of the Society of Jesus above a door. (Shutterstock)

The society, which originally consisted of 10 members, had expanded to 22 towns by 1549. The number of schools grew rapidly. The Jesuits were ready to go “to the Turks, or to the New World, or to the Lutherans, or to others, infidels or believers”, by order of their general. Therefore, they opened schools not only in Spain and Italy but also in Brazil, India and Japan. Thanks to the colonies of Portugal and Spain, they became a world power by spreading to Asia and South America. When Ignatius died in Rome in 1556 at the age of 64, he left behind 35 schools.


The Jesuits knew how to adapt well to the different cultures they encountered. They built their churches in accordance with the local architecture. They chose their clothes in accordance with the local outfits. They learned the local religion and language very well. They instilled their beliefs in the people through the method of inculturation, using the local language and terminology. Raised in a humanist environment, they became Buddhists in Japan and Hindus in India. They met with the inhabitants of their locality and participated in their rites.

A painting depicts Jesuits at the court of Akbar I in India.  (Wikimedia)

A painting depicts Jesuits at the court of Akbar I in India. (Wikimedia)

The Jesuits carried out interreligious dialogue projects wherever they went. They have achieved the greatest success in India. Through the priests they sent from their centers in the city of Goa, they influenced the Sultan of India, Akbar I, and his son Jahangir. They ensured that Akbar established a new religion, which was a mixture of all religions, called Din-i-Ilahi.

The company

When the Jesuits celebrated their centenary in 1640, thanks to the money and manpower at their disposal and the Machiavellian policies they followed, they became “Imperium in Imperia”, or a “State in the State”. In Europe, almost all the private priests of Catholic kings, that is to say their confidants, belonged to the order of the Jesuits. Jesuit teachers raised the children of kings and aristocrats. The cult members had established an excellent intelligence network among themselves; they spread information from palaces and castles to each other.

The Jesuits also began to trade under the guise of supporting expensive schools. They established their own sugar and cotton plantations in North and South America. Using their global network, they traded slaves, real estate, silver, fur, clothing, silk, tobacco, cocoa, spices, wine, and jewelry around the world. They have partnered with local businesses. In many places they had a monopoly. Moreover, they did not even pay taxes in many countries. They worked as bankers and financed wars. Thus, in the 18th century, they became the first “world enterprise” in the modern sense of the word.

End of sect

Jesuits were expelled from various countries dozens of times because of their religious and political intrigues, but they managed to return. For example, after a graduate student from the Jesuit College of Clermont plotted the assassination of King Henry IV of France, the Jesuits were expelled from Paris in 1595. But after a year and a half, they returned thanks to the intercession of the pope. . Again the Jesuits, who came to Istanbul in 1609, were expelled from the city in 1628 because they were “seditious, inciting the people to rebellion”. However, they did not return until six months later, on the initiative of the French ambassador. Third General Francis Borgia had written to members of the society thus: “We entered like lambs, but we manage like wolves. We may be hunted like dogs, but we try again like eagles.”

Finally, in 1758, Portugal asked the pope to abolish the Jesuit order, accusing them of chasing power, gold and land, and of betraying the church and the crown. Following this request, the King of Portugal was the target of an unsuccessful assassination attempt by a Jesuit. In the Catholic world, hatred of the cult reached its climax. All property, real estate and furniture of the Jesuits in Portuguese-controlled lands were confiscated and the Jesuits were expelled from Portugal and its colonies.

The Expulsion of the Jesuits by Gabriel de Saint Aubin. (Wikimedia)

The next blow to the sect came from France. The stabbing of King Louis XV of France by a Jesuit in the courtyard of the Palace of Versailles in January 1757 struck the sect like lightning. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the cult’s inability to pay its debts to those it borrowed from. The Parliament of Paris in 1762 and King Louis XV in 1764 announced their decision to ban worship. The Jesuits, whose property was confiscated, were also expelled from France on the grounds that they were enemies of religion and morals.

In the Catholic world, the true face of the Jesuits is now revealed. The next step came from Spain. Members of the sect were expelled from Spanish lands on January 29, 1767, and their property and businesses were again confiscated. Spain was followed by the kingdoms of Naples and Parma. Raised by the Jesuits, Pope Clement XIII watched events in silence and always defended the sect.

Pope Clement XIV.  (Wikimedia)

Pope Clement XIV. (Wikimedia)

Under pressure from the Catholic world, finally, in February 1769, the election of the new pope began, and three months later Clement XIV ascended the papal throne. At first, the new pope also did not want to touch the sect for fear of being poisoned. However, he could only resist the insistence of the Catholic kings for four years. On July 21, 1773, by his order named Dominus ac Redemptor, the Jesuit order was banned in the Catholic world. A month later, papal officers and police stormed the Jesuit headquarters in Rome and arrested Jesuit General Lorenzo Ricci and his deputies. Ricci died two years later in the dungeon of Castel Sant’Angelo.


The Jesuits who fled the Catholic world were embraced by the Protestant world. The Jesuits continued their activities in England and its North American colonies. In fact, in 1789, under the leadership of Reverend John Carroll, they founded Georgetown Academy, which continues to exist as Georgetown University, on the banks of the Potomac River on the Atlantic side of the United States. It was the first Catholic school established in North America.

Jesuit missionary in a 1779 painting. (Wikimedia)

Jesuit missionary in a 1779 painting. (Wikimedia)

The “enlightened” monarchs of Europe also opened their lands to the Jesuit order. King Frederick II, or Frederick the Great of Prussia, and Empress Catherine II, or Catherine the Great of Russia, left the order alone despite pressure and protests from the Pope and Catholic kings.

Europe was shaken by the French Revolution, triggered by the Enlightenment, which broke out in 1789. Napoleon Bonaparte’s revolutionary army occupied Rome in 1796 and took the pope prisoner in France. Pope Pius VI died there. The Jesuit General Ricci, who died in a dungeon, was thus avenged.

Pius VII, who was proclaimed the new pope in Venice in 1800, acknowledged the presence of the sect in Russia the following year. Nevertheless, the French revolutionaries invaded Rome again in 1808 and took the pope prisoner and brought him out of the city. It was not until 1814 that the pope was able to return to Rome, and he had to sign the papal ordinance allowing the Jesuit order to continue its operations around the world that summer.


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