Jesuits, Through the Ages
Published: Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Updated: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 03:01
As part of the university’s Jesuit Heritage Week, the Georgetown University Library Associates held an event Monday night commemorating the 200th Anniversary of the Restoration of the Society of Jesus. The gathering, which attracted nearly 100 faculty members, students and Jesuits, featured a lecture by theology professor Fr. John O’Malley, S.J., about the historical circumstances surrounding the religious order’s persecution and subsequent reestablishment.
O’Malley’s speech, in Copley Formal Lounge, delved into the history of the Jesuits between 1773, when Pope Clement XIV passed a papal brief suppressing the religious order, and 1814, when it was reinstated into the Catholic Church by Pope Pius VII.
According to O’Malley, the Jesuits’ ideology and lifestyle in the 18th century differed significantly from the rest of the Church, particularly with regard to their autonomous authority, the money they demanded to fund a global network of schools and their optimistic opinion of human nature.
“The Jesuits, some of their traits were a little more prominent, a little more out of the ordinary than for the other orders,” O’Malley said. “These were traits that aroused puzzlement, envy, fear and hate.”
O’Malley also noted the significance of three key historical events, which exacerbated growing tensions within the Church and ultimately led to the order’s expulsion: a conflict regarding the allowance of particular rights to missionary subjects in China, a condemnation by a rival Catholic faction, the Jansenists and a war in Spanish-controlled Latin America that pitted Jesuit missionaries against a combined Spanish-Portuguese military force.
“It was sort of a perfect storm, these clouds that had been gathering all at once converged, and you have a perfect storm, something that should not have happened,” O’Malley said.
After these and several other contentious incidents between Jesuits and political leaders in France, Spain and Portugal, these countries passed orders expelling or imprisoning members of the religious group. O’Malley described in detail the suffering and persecution Jesuits faced, particularly in Portugal.
“It was really brutal, the Portuguese Jesuits were herded onto ships and sent out onto the high seas,” O’Malley said. “The ones on the missions were sent back to Lisbon, where most of them rotted in prison.”
Eventually, Pope Clement XIV formally expelled the Jesuits from the Catholic Church in 1773, but after years of political tumult, as well as several written appeals to different popes, Pope Pius VII acknowledged the order’s legitimacy again in 1814. While the Jesuits were suppressed for only 41 years, a fraction of the Church’s long history, O’Malley noted the significant impact of this exile on the legacy of the religious institution.
“The Catholic cultural and ideological enterprise took a mortal blow with the suppression of the Jesuits,” O’Malley said. “It was a blow, I think you can argue, the Catholic Church has never quite recovered from.”
Particularly relevant to Georgetown University and the Maryland Jesuit community, O’Malley described that while the few American Jesuits in 1773 could not be arrested for continuing their traditions when the order was issued, these men, including the future Archbishop of Baltimore John Carroll, S.J., took the honorable step of suppressing themselves in compliance with papal decree.
“He was an ex-Jesuit,” O’Malley said of Georgetown’s founder. Therefore, when Georgetown was founded in 1789, it was not actually a Jesuit institution, as the religious order had ceased to formally exist.
In his concluding remarks, O’Malley described several valuable historical artifacts, currently stored in Lauinger Library’s Special Collections Research Center, which pertain directly to the story of the Jesuits’ expulsion and reinstitution into the Catholic Church. The audience present for Monday’s event was able to view some of these items, including a papal bull ordering the suppression of the order and a letter from John Carroll rejoicing in the restoration of the Jesuits.
Following the event, alumnus Brian Spoon (COL ’00) described the event as interesting and valuable, particularly commending Fr. O’Malley’s knowledge of the history behind Georgetown’s Jesuit roots.
“I thought it was fabulous, Fr. O’Malley is just a wonderful resource in terms of history, especially in showcasing what our founder went through to make this institution,” Spoon said. “To see so many people out here tonight, it’s wonderful.”