Sounding Board

200 years of reinvigorated life

On Aug. 14, the Jesuits celebrate the 200th anniversary of the formal and universal restoration of the Jesuit Order (Order/Society) after being suppressed by the 1773 papal brief Dominus ac Redemptor.

After having enjoyed the highest favor for two centuries among kings and prelates, the Jesuits suddenly became the object of intense hostility during the suppression. About the suppression, St. Alphonsus Ligouri is quoted as saying: “Poor Pope! What could he do in the circumstances in which he was placed, with all the Sovereigns conspiring to demand this Suppression? As for ourselves, we must keep silence, respect the secret judgment of God, and hold ourselves in peace.”


As many Filipinos know, the Jesuits were also expelled at that time from the Philippines. The Spanish Jesuits working in the Philippines were sent into exile aboard ships and would not be able to come back until 1859, after almost 100 years. Upon their return, among the first work they were asked to do by the goverrnment was to establish the Ateneo de Manila.

Paradoxically, however, it can be said that the same papal brief which suppressed the Society at the same time allowed it to live. This is so because, in order for the papal decree of suppression to take effect, it had to be promulgated by the local sovereign. The Russian empress then, who valued among other things the education work of the Jesuits, did not promulgate the decree of suppression in Russia. The empress seemed to have an understanding with the pope who allowed her to be effectively a surrogate mother to dispersed children. Thus in Russia the Jesuits continued to exist with the reserved and verbal approval of the same pontiff who had suppressed them. And there the Society continued to attract and accept new members from other parts of the world.


In this situation, from the time of the suppression, there continued to exist both Jesuits and ex-Jesuits. The ex-Jesuits were those who had become diocesan priests allowed to work in their former parishes, or to continue to teach in the colleges where they taught before the suppression. At the same time, together with a large majority of ex-Jesuits, there existed a minority of about 200 who remained Jesuits and maintained themselves as such in White Russia. This reserve force preserved the essentials of the Ignatian spirit and introduced the devotion to the Sacred Heart, and they even increased in number since they managed to attract candidates from outside of Russia. The existence of this group facilitated the full restoration of the Order.

It was out of this group that the provinces of England, the United States, Switzerland and Parma—and from 1804, officially the two in Sicily—were formed. Before the bull of reestablishment of 1814, there were provinces and novitiates in these countries.

The reestablishment of the Society was a complex accomplishment, if one considers the coexistence of Jesuits and non-Jesuits in a Society which, it could be said, at the same time did and did not exist. The restoration, however, of the Jesuit Order was not like the restoration of a damaged building, which involves replacement of parts. Rather it consisted of supplementing or reenforcing the worn-out stones of the building.

What increased the complexity and at the same time facilitated the restoration of the Order was the fact that, while it was suppressed by the Pontiff himself, it was at allowed by him to continue in a determined region. Thus the restoration was not the reconstruction of a destroyed building, nor the repair of a deteriorated edifice, but rather the reaffirmation of the preserved model, assuring it of continued validity.

The Society was not an institution ravaged by internal wear and tear but by external forces. It remained officially suppressed in the Church, because of the pressure of political forces, but it continued to exist tolerated at first (and later reaffirmed) in some countries.

The period during which the Jesuit Order underwent the process of suppression and later restoration consisted of tumultuous years. The suppression took place during the period of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic adventures. In the macrohistory of the great events of universal history falls the microhistory of the Order and of small groups of Jesuits and ex-Jesuits. The role of individual persons and small groups of persons was important. Think of the role of the 10 Jesuits who gathered in Stonyhurst in Great Britain. Or of the 20 or so Jesuits who were in Maryland while the independence of the United states was taking shape. Or the 40 padres de la fe (Jesuits in desire) in the empire of Napoleon? Or even the Spanish Jesuits, Hispano-American and Portuguese, who lived poorly in a chaotic Catholic Italy occupied by the French. They maintained fidelity to old companions, to the conservation of old ideals, which remained more vivid when they seemed unattainable. They were the mustard seed that grew into a sturdy tree.

The pontifical restoration of the Jesuits was solemized in the bull Solicitudo omnium ecclesiarum of Aug. 8, 1814. A pope suppressed the Society and another pope restored it. The language of the bull of restoration is moderate, but there is in it a tone of rectification and reparation, of recognition of the injustice committed, and of confession of the innocence of the Jesuits.


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