Tuesday, 4 August 2015


 A hundred years ago the death of a General of the Jesuits would have created more stir in the world than in these latter days, when the order his fallen upon evil times. For in no case perhaps could the phrase " L'Etat cest moi " be more aptly applied than to the irresponsible autocrats who rule the   Order of Jesus, and so upon the character of the ruler depends to a far greater extent than in most communities the policy and influence of the society over which he rules. Father BECKX, who died recently in his ninety second year, had filled the office of general for the last thirty four years, a longer period than was enjoyed by any of his predecessors, with the exception of ACQUAVIVA, the fifth general of the order. The significance of his death, however, is lessened by the fact that about three years ago he practically abdicated in favour of a coadjutor, Father ANDERLEDY, who has now succeeded him. During his long rule, the late general has seen his order excluded from two more European countries—France and Germany—but on the other hand ho secured a great triumph at the "Vatican Council of 1870, by which the dogma of papal infallibility was proclaimed IN the teeth of a strong Catholic opposition, mainly through the efforts and influence of the Jesuits.

When IGNATIUS LOYOLA, rather more than 350 years ago, founded the Society of Jesus for the purpose of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the conversion of the infidels ; and even when a few years later he enlarged the scope of his association so as to include all that tended in the words of its motto, " To the greater glory of GOD," he can scarcely have foreseen how great a place in the history of the world the order was destined to fill, and how much work that has endured they were destined to perform in it. The Jesuits, indeed, have been the great missionaries of the world, and have thus realised the vow which, in addition to chastity, poverty, and obedience, imposes upon them the obligation of going as missionaries to whatever country they may be sent. Under this vow members of the order have at different times penetrated to India, China, Japan, to all parts and among all races of the American continent, and to many of the islands in the Pacific ; and where ever they have been they have left behind them traces of their influence in the shape of civilisation as well as religion. Of course, as is the case with most missionaries, they have been sometimes charged with introducing amongst their converts the vices as well as, and even in place of, the virtues of civilisation, and in some instances, as in Canada and South America it is probable that these accusations are in the main justified. But on the whole the record of the Jesuit missionary is a fair one, and certainly as clean as that of his Protestant rivals.

But the Jesuits did not confine themselves to missionary work abroad, and it was by their work among the countries of Europe that their influence became most strongly felt, and the opposition to them most pronounced. Both the one and the other were due to the efficient way in which the order earned out what was one of the leading principles of their society, namely, to secure the education of the young. Education, indeed, was the work to which the Jesuits applied themselves most earnestly, and in which they gained their greatest and most lasting successes. By the eminence which main members of the order attained in various branches of learning, they won for themselves a reputation as instructors which enabled them to attract the youth of every country in which they were settled. By these means they of course succeeded in spreading the principles of their order, but, on the other hand, they also acquired the jealousy and hatred of the other educational bodies whose influence they superseded. Hence, to a great extent, arose the opposition which the Jesuits have encountered during their career, and which has culminated on many occasions in their being suppressed more or less effectively, and in then present exclusion from most of the countries of Europe. 

A good deal of the antipathy, however, which has been and is still felt against the Society of Jesus, is no doubt due to the principles on which the order was originally based. The organisation is that of a despotism, based upon a military model, in which the authority of the general is sole and absolute. His power is supreme and unrestricted, save by the constitutions of the association, which he may neither disregard nor alter, and which have remained to all intents and purposes the same since the days when they were laid down by IGNATIUS. "Let them be as they are, or let them not be at all," was the reply of a former general when, in his struggle with LOUIS XV. of France, it was proposed to modify them ; and in this unyielding spirit institutions of the sixteenth century have been maintained to the present day.

But there was at the same time a vast amount of flexibility about the Jesuitical system which has contributed very largely to the success of the movement. It was the aim of the teachers not only to propound doctrines but to form characters. And to do this, every art by which the human heart is influenced was cultivated as an accessory to that deeper form of education at which the Jesuit aimed. Men and women are, in general, moved more by their feelings than by their opinions; and the Jesuits saw this fact and acted upon it. The typical Jesuit had need to be a man of the world as much as a man of GOD. Of course, such a system was open to abuse, and was not long in exciting more odium than it perhaps deserved. Casuistry was certainly pushed by the Jesuits to greater lengths than the general sense of mankind approved of, but there is no reason to suppose that the "Secret Instructions," or any similar code, ever existed save in the imagination of the enemies of the order. There is little doubt, however, that the spirit of the time is against such a system as that upon which the Society of Jesus is based. To the English race especially is any creed odious which encourages concealment and intrigue, and is dubious in its regard for truthfulness. Whether Jesuitism is destined to flourish again or to fall altogether into decay, there is little likelihood that it will ever have a strong footing in any country whose people have English blood in their veins. At the same time the society has done good work in its day ; and has been able to do so because it saw that for a church to exercise influence upon the world it must not hold aloof from the world but must be of the world itself. And in the recognition of this fact and its application by the Jesuits there may be something for us, too, to learn and take away.

The Argus 6 May 1887

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