Officially the Society of Jesus and also known as the Company of Jesus, they are a body of clerics regular organized for Apostolic work, following a religious rule and relying on alms for their support. Founded at Montmartre, Paris, France in 1534 by Saint Ignatius Loyola, it was the chief instrument of the Catholic Reformation. Pope Paul III approved the new rule in 1540, and Ignatius was elected the first general of the order in 1541. The constitutions, drafted by him and based on his Spiritual Exercies were adopted in 1558. It was the first order which enjoined by its constitutions devotion to the cause of education. The ministry of the Society consists chiefly in preaching; teaching catechism; administering the sacraments; conducting missions in parishes; taking care of parishes; organizing pious confraternities; teaching in schools of every grade; writing books, pamphlets, periodical articles; going on foreign missions, and special missions when ordered by the pope. The general resides at Rome, Italy and has a council of assistants. The motto of the Society is Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (For the greater glory of God).
While the preachers and missionaries evangelized Italy, colleges were established at Padua, Venice, Naples, Bologna, Florence, Parma, and other cities. After 1544 their success in Spain was rapid and the province established in 1547 was subdivided into three in 1554.
In France many colleges were founded, beginning with the College de Clermont in 1550. Under Henry IV the Society increased rapidly. The politico-religious history of the Society under King Louis XIV centers round Jansenism and the lives of the king‘s confessors, especially PP. Annat, Ferrier, La Chaise, and Michel Le Tellier. The cause of the Jesuits was also compromised by the various quarrels of Louis XIV with Pope Blessed Innocent XI, especially concerning the regals and the Gallican Articles of 1682.
The first Jesuit to labour in Germany was Blessed Peter Faber who won to the ranks Saint Peter Canisius. The first residence was in Cologne in 1544, the first college at Vienna in 1552. Hungary was included in the province of Austria; the chief patron of the order was Cardinal Peter Pazmany. Canisius visited Poland in 1558, and animated King Sigismund to an energetic defense of Catholicism. The colleges of Braunsberg (1584) and Vilna (1569) became centers of Catholic activity in northeastern Europe. In 1608 the province was sub-divided into Lithuania and Poland.
The first settlement in Belgium was at Leuven in 1542; Flanders became a separate province in 1564. Jesuit congregations, or sodalities of the Blessed Virgin were first instituted at Rome by a Belgian Jesuit, Jean Leunis, in 1563, and were taken up enthusiastically by his native country.
The Society had great difficulty in finding an entrance into England, but early Jesuits exerted themselves on behalf of the English seminary at Douai and of the refugees at Leuven, and took charge of many colleges on the continent, Valladolid, Saint Omer, and Seville. Their period of greatest prosperity was under King James II (1685 to 1688).
Ireland was first visited in 1542, but immense difficulties had to be overcome. Many Irish colleges were founded on the continent. The greatest extension in Ireland was naturally during the dominance of the Confederation (1642 to 1654). Missionary labour was the chief occupation of the Irish Jesuits.
The Scottish mission may be said to have begun with Father James Gordon in 1584, and Fathers Edmund Hay and John Drury who came in 1581. They also conducted colleges on the continent. After the Revolution the Fathers were scattered but returned with reduced numbers.
The field of foreign missions is held in greatest esteem among the Jesuits. Saint Francis Xavier went to Goa, India in 1542, to Ceylon, Malacca in 1545; Japan in 1549. Missions on the west coast of Africa were organized from Goa. Others were founded in Abyssinia; Persia; Japan, which gradually developed into a province; China; Central and South America; Paraguay; Mexico; United States under Father Andrew White and other Jesuits from the English mission (1634), where they worked among the Indians. The French had missions as French colonies in Canada, the Antilles, Guiana, and India and missions of the Levant, in Syria, among the Maronites, etc.
In 1773 Pope Clement XIV issued the Brief of suppression by which the entire Jesuit order was suppressed throughout Christendom. He had heeled under pressure of the Spanish Court and the Duc de Choiseul and other strong influenses. In the separate countries (Portugal, France, Spain) the Jesuits had been already expelled some years before. The suppression was due to the same causes which in further development brought about the French Revolution. Empress Catherine of Russia and Frederick II of Prussia opposed this measure and maintained the Society as a teaching body, so that the Society was never wholly suppressed. During most of the time of the suppression the only priests in the United States were Jesuits. Pope Pius VII restored the Society by Brief in 1814.
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