Shona Johnston

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online December 2012 | | DOI:

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In 1540 St. Ignatius of Loyola received papal permission to found a new religious order to be known as the Society of Jesus (also called the “Company of Jesus,” or simply the “Jesuits”). Centered on the spiritual exercises of Loyola, the Society of Jesus emphasized education, missionary work, and active engagement with the world as the only means to gain spiritual salvation. First established in Spain, the influence of the Jesuits rapidly expanded across Europe as the Catholic Church searched for a spiritual, cultural, and institutional response to the rise of Protestantism during the Reformation. In Europe, the Jesuits established new religious institutions—such as the Jesuit colleges, lay confraternities, and pastoral missions—that championed the ideas of the Counter-Reformation, sought to eliminate the corrupt practices of the uneducated clergy, and attempted to revitalize the devotional life of European Catholics. From the mid-16th century onward, the Society of Jesus expanded worldwide and established a global network of schools and missions designed to strengthen the Catholic Church in its battle with Protestantism. Portuguese and French Jesuits followed trade routes to the East Indies, establishing mission enterprises in Mughal India, Japan, and China. In Spanish America, Jesuits became agents of colonization as mission culture integrated frontier communities into the Spanish imperial system. The Portuguese Jesuits established a network of missions among the indigenous populations of Brazil, and the French Jesuits dominated cultural encounters in French North America. The success of the mission system lay in the Jesuits’ ability to adapt missionary methods to local conditions. The Jesuits became great linguists, anthropologists, and ethnographers, learning all they could about host societies in order to use indigenous structures to explain the tenets of Christianity and secure a solid footing for their missionary churches. Jesuit missionary tactics helped to preserve many aspects of indigenous culture even as the missions transformed indigenous societies beyond recognition. In some areas, such as Paraguay, indigenous communities actively worked to adapt Jesuit mission culture to their own needs and used it to successfully resist colonial authority. By the late 18th century, the degree of economic, political, and cultural power the Jesuits derived from their educational and missionary institutions made them the target of monarchical and papal attacks. European monarchs, inspired by Enlightenment thinking, promoted political and social reforms that streamlined and centralized imperial power in the hands of royal governments. These reforms clashed with the Jesuits’ dominance of indigenous populations and religious culture in the colonies. Portugal expelled the Jesuits from its territory in 1759. France and Spain followed suit in 1764 and 1767, respectively. In 1773 the pope suppressed the order, drawing to a close two centuries of Jesuit expansion.

Article.  10226 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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