This year, Jesuits all over the world are commemorating the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the Society of Jesus by Pope Pius VII in 1814. We would like to share some of the history and circumstances that led to the suppression of the Jesuits in 1773, to their survival in Russia, and to their eventual restoration.

We hope that you will join us in gratitude to God for preserving and sustaining the Society of Jesus as she continues to minister within the Church and within the world for the greater glory of His name.

Historical Context

Cornelius Jansen
Approved as a religious order by Pope Paul III in 1540, the Society of Jesus grew rapidly and by 1750 there were 23,000 Jesuits worldwide. With a unique charism inspired by their founder St. Ignatius of Loyola, Jesuits involved themselves in every kind of apostolic service: as missionaries, leading individuals through the spiritual exercises in retreats,opening and running schools for young people. By the mid 1600s they were considered school masters of Europe. This multi-dimensioned aspect of the Jesuit vocation together with their staunch defense of the Pope and their apparent closeness to many of the royal courts of Europe, led to a lot of jealousy and misunderstanding.

The followers of Cornelius Jansen, known as Jansenists, held a very conservative and rigorous theology and spirituality in reaction to the Protestant Reformation. They were suspicious of the Jesuits because of their more liberal interpretation of the teachings of Christ in their pastoral practice. An example of one area that created an intense debate was that of frequent communion. This was encouraged by many Jesuits, but strongly discouraged by the Jansenists.

Blaise Pascal
Also the European Age of Enlightenment during the late 17th and 18th centuries spawned many philosophers and scientists who were often atheists or agnostics. They consequently opposed the Jesuits who were exhorting the people to be faithful to the demands of their religion. Perhaps one of the more effective products of the Enlightenment and a Jansenist himself was Blaise Pascal. He was a mathematician and a philosopher who wrote a savage caricature of the Jesuits in his Provincial Diaries. This anti-Jesuit feeling started to spread and take concrete shape throughout different countries of Europe by the mid 1700s.

One of the Jesuit reductions
The Jesuits had established numerous missions, called reductions, in South America with the blessing of Spain. But in 1750 the Treaty of Madrid redrew the boundaries between the Spanish and Portugese colonies in South America. Seven of the reductions now found themselves in Portugese territory and were to be dismantled and relocated. War broke out between the native Guarani of the mission and the European troops. Portugal blamed the Jesuits for inciting the natives to war.

The Suppression

King Joseph I
The de facto head of the government in Portugal at this time was the Duke of Pombal, Sebastiso Jose de Carvalho. He rose in power and soon dominated the weak King Joseph I. Influenced by the ideas of the "enlightenment" Carvalho did not want any religious influence on government. He forbade Jesuit confessors to come to the royal palace; he persuaded Pope Benedict XIV to name his own cousin, who was a Cardinal, as an Apostolic Visitor to reform the Jesuits. The Visitor, of course, found the Portuguese Jesuits guilty of illicit commerce. In 1758 there was an attempt to assassinate King Joseph I of Portugal. The Jesuits were blamed, and Portugal became the first kingdom to expel all Jesuits from its territories, including its colonies in South America.

In France the parliament was largely dominated by anti-Catholic elements and Jansenists who hated the Jesuits for their unswerving loyalty to the Pope. A hugh financial loss incurred by the Jesuit missionary Lavallette, working in the Caribbean island of Martinique, provided them with a plausible reason to go after the Jesuits in the whole of France. So in 1762, the parliament passed a decree forbidding Jesuits to function as a religious order in France.

Pope Clement XIV
Spain was the next to expel the Jesuits. They were blamed for various riots against taxation. so on April 2, 1767 a royal decree was read out to the Jesuit communities throughout the country: "Moved by various reasons linked with my duty to keep my peoples in submission, tranquility and justice, in addition to other urgent, just and compelling reasons which I keep in my roayl breast... I have decided to order the expulsion from all my dominions... the members of the Society, both priests and lay brothers... and that all the properties of the Society in my dominions be occupied." With that, began an exodus of over 1,600 Jesuits, young and old. Fortunately one of their number was an able and dependable leader whose name will continue to surface: Joseph Pignatelli.

There was increasing pressure now on Pope Clement XIII to abolish the entire Society of Jesus. However he was adamant in protecting them, not even agreeing to make any changes in their rule or way of life. Unfortunately this champion of the Jesuits died suddenly on February 2, 1769. His successor, Clement XIV, immediately began to be pressured by rulers to carry out their wishes and get rid of the Jesuits. They even hinted at the possibility of breaking away from the Roman Church if their demand was not granted, as did Henry VIII in England two hundred years before. After procrastinating for a while the Pope finally had a brief drawn up, Dominus ac Redemptor that would suppress the Society of Jesus on August 16, 1773.

Brief of Suppression:
Dominus ac Redemptor
The document begins with a text from Jeremiah that it is not enough "to plant and to build," but it is also necessary at times to "uproot and to destroy." It goes on to say that the Society had always been an object of dissension, implying that its members are troublemakers and rebellious. The Pope concludes with his decision to "extinguish and suppress" the Society of Jesus. In essence he was forced to suppress the Jesuits in order to prevent a greater schism within the Church.

A commission of cardinals was entrusted with the task of informing the Jesuits about the content of the brief and of handling the many practical problems that would ensue concerning the disposition of their property and goods. Two days later, a letter from the Cardinal president of the commission ordered bishops to proclaim and publish the brief in every Jesuit house, residence, or school, in the presence of the assembled community of Jesuits. This unusual method of promulgating the content of the Pope's brief created a situation which led to a number of problems, but was providential in the long run as we shall see.

Without delay, however, on the very evening of August 16, the brief of suppression was read to Father General Lorenzo Ricci and the other officials at the Jesuit headquarters in Rome. A few days later they were taken and jailed in Castel Sant'Angelo, the papal prison. Ricci eventually died there two years later.

The Survival

When the Jesuits were suppressed in Spain, Joseph Pignatelli was exiled with his hundreds of Jesuit brothers. He acted as their superior for a while, but when they became more fragmented and separated after the brief of 1773, he maintained contact with many of his dispersed brethren.

Because of the manner chosen by Rome for disseminating the decree of suppression, namely that the local bishops were responsible for promulgating it in their region of authority, it allowed for the possibility of survival. Non-catholic countries such as Prussia and Russia forbade the bishops to promulgate the brief and ordered the Jesuits to carry on their academic activities just as if nothing had happened.

Catherine the Great
One of the key figures for the survival of the Society was the Empress of Russia – Catherine the Great. Catherine believed education could change the hearts and minds of the Russian people and turn them away from backwardness. So when the brief of suppression was issued, she refused to allow her bishops to endorse it because she wanted to retain the Jesuit schools. She also made it known that any Jesuit would be welcome who wanted to cross over to her country. This left the Jesuits in 'White Russia' in limbo, but also eventually with a chance to regroup and rebuild. In 1780 a novitiate was opened in Polotsk in order to train more men for the various apostolic works being undertaken in Russia.

Pope Pius VI, who succeeded Pope Clement XIV, gave oral approval of these developments in Russia. Joseph Pignatelli attempted to become a member of this Jesuit remnant, but was unable to get to Russia. However, he accepted an invitation from Ferdinand, Duke of Parma, to reestablish the Society in his territory. With several Jesuits from Russia, the Jesuit community was reestablished in 1797. Pignatelli renewed his vows and was appointed director of novices. Later he was appointed provincial in Italy.

Joseph Pignatelli
In the midst of the Napoleonic wars, Pignatelli shepherded these re-founded Jesuit communities and hoped one day to see the full restoration of the Society of Jesus. Unfortunately he died before that would become a reality. Due to his efforts to keep the Jesuit ideals and community alive, St. Joseph Pignatelli is nonetheless considered the restorer of the Society of Jesus.

The Restoration

During this time of the suppression, Europe underwent the turmoil and destruction of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars. These brought great suffering to the people. Many began to express their wish that the Jesuits be restored to their former state. Pope Pius VI himself wanted to do just that, but he was seized in 1798 and was taken away in exile to France where he died the next year.

Pope Pius VII

Bull of Restoration:
Sollicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum
His successor Pius VII was determined to restore the Society as soon as he could. The actual restoration began in Parma, Naples and the Two Sicilies upon the request of King Ferdinand in 1802. The request was first sent to Joseph Pignatelli, who was already provincial of Italy at the time. Napoleon took Pius VII as prisoner to France but released him soon after his military defeat in Russia. After his return to the Vatican, the pope acted with a sense of urgency to follow through on his resolve. On August 7, 1814, he published the bull Sollicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum restoring the Society of Jesus fully. That morning the pope went to the Church of the Gesù where many survivors of the pre-suppression Society and the local Cardinals were waiting for him. After celebrating Mass at the altar of St. Ignatius, the bull was read out and handed over to the Italian Provincial, Fr. Panizoni. Panizoni was representing Father General Tadeusz Brzozowski, a Polish Jesuit, who was elected in 1814 but was prohibited from leaving Russia by Czar Alexander I. Brzozowski thus became the first superior general of the restored Society.

The 41 years of suppression had very detrimental effects on Jesuit missions in far-away places like China, India, North and South America. There were very few Jesuits to replace the aging veterans. It was over a decade before the seedlings of these apostolates would be able to sprout and blossom once again under the guidance of the next superior general, Fr. Jan Roothaan.

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