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The Counter-Reformation: Ignatius and the Jesuits
| Fr. Charles P. Connor | An Excerpt from
Defenders of the Faith in Word and Deed
Defenders of the faith have been raised up in every era of the Church
to proclaim fidelity to the truth by their words and deeds. Some have
fought heresy and overcome confusion like Athanasius against the Arians
and Ignatius Loyola in response to the Protestant reformers. Others have
shed their blood for the faith, like the early Christian martyrs of Rome,
or Thomas More, John Fisher and Edmund Campion in Reformation England.
Still others have endured a dry martyrdom like St. Philip
Howard, Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty and Jesuit Walter Ciszek. Intellectuals
have been no less conspicuous in their zealous defense of the faith, like
Bonaventure, Albert, Thomas Aquinas, or Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The
stories of all these,and more, are told here in Fr. Charles Connor's
Defenders of the Faith in Word and Deed. Here is the story of the
Society of Jesus.
October 31, 1517, an Augustinian monk named Martin Luther, long fearful
for his own salvation, seemed to unleash tremendous personal hostility
when he nailed his famous Ninety-five Theses to the door of the cathedral
in Wittenburg, Germany. This single action has traditionally been viewed
as the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Before it ended, several
new theologies were formulated by at least two generations of reformers,
causing Christianity to fall into centuries of division.
The term sola fide ("faith alone") is often associated with Luther.
It was a belief that provided him a great deal of inner tranquility. Once,
while meditating on Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans, Luther came to
the verse that states that "man is justified by faith apart from works
of the law."  Luther took this to mean that a person does not have
the capability to work out his own salvation because of his sinful human
nature. Instead, God gives his free gift of grace, which stimulates faith
and leads to salvation. Luther rejected, it appears, the admonition of
the Apostle James that faith without good works is dead,  preferring
to concentrate only on that which gave him inner peace.
Luther also opposed the buying and selling of indulgences, a practice
quite rampant in the western Europe of his day. The Church has always
taught that an indulgence is a remission of the temporal punishment due
to sin, and Luther correctly pointed out that such forgiveness cannot
be purchased. The abuse of selling indulgences and the erroneous attitudes
it created are well illustrated by the slogan of a preacher in Luther's
time: "Another soul to heaven springs when in the box a shilling rings."
While justification and indulgences are the issues for which Luther is best
remembered, many more grievances comprised his Wittenburg list. Some two
years after he had posted them, he confided in writing to a friend that
the idea of the Pope as the anti-Christ, once repellent to him, now seemed
to have more plausibility. Luther at first had no intention of beginning
a new ecclesial body. As he meditated on Scripture, however, he began to
think that the Church should return to the gospel in its purest form as
he envisioned it, eliminating what he regarded as unnecessary liturgical
ceremony, hierarchical structure, and the like:
For Luther everything began from his fundamental experience ...
salvation comes [to human beings] from God through faith alone. God
does everything and they do nothing. Good works do not make people good,
but once people have been justified by God they do good works.... So
Luther turned his back on everything in tradition which denied the preeminence
of scripture and faith. He rejected what appeared to him as a means,
a claim on the human side to deserve salvation: the cult of the saints,
indulgences, religious vows, those sacraments which [he could not find]
attested in the New Testament. Anything not explicitly set out in scripture
was worthless. All that counted was the universal priesthood of the
In 1520, the papal bull Exsurge formally condemned forty-one of Luther's
propositions, and he was given two months to submit to the authority of
the Church. In December 1520, he publicly burned his copy of Exsurge,
and excommunication followed one month later.
Closely akin to Luther was Ulrich Zwingli in Switzerland. A former priest
and student of the Renaissance scholar Erasmus, Zwingli was based in the
city of Zurich, having moved from Glavis, the scene of his former priestly
labors. He was, from all accounts, a more inwardly secure man than Luther.
His preoccupation was not so much his own eternal destiny as it was freeing
his disciples from the shackles of Rome's domination. Following this view
and a Lutheran disposition toward "gospel purity", reformed churches were
established in Switzerland. These congregations established vernacular liturgies,
in contrast to the Latin liturgy of the Catholic Church. They also removed
statues of the saints, secularized convents, and followed other practices
emerging in neighboring Germany.
The French layman John Calvin brought a nonclerical background to Reformation
theology and represented a younger generation of reformers. Calvin was also
based in Switzerland, though in the city of Geneva. In fact, his grave can
be seen there to this day. It consists of a single pole, atop of which are
the initials "J. C." This protrudes through some greenery and is surrounded
by a small iron fence. The grave is reminiscent of the stark nature of ecclesial
architecture in Calvinistic churches, if not the severity of Calvin's thought.
Calvin was obsessed with the sovereign nature of God. In his Institutes
of the Christian Religion, he develops the theory for which he is best
remembered: predestination. All creatures merited damnation, but God in
his mercy chose some for salvation. These, in turn, needed the vehicle of
a church in which to express their faith. Calvin's emphasis was very much
on the church as a local community of believers in whom power rested. His
unique brand of theology was gradually adopted by religious groups identified
as Presbyterians, Huguenots, Puritans, and Congregationalists. His ideas
spread quickly to England and to its colonies in North America. Also, they
found their way to Scotland in the person of John Knox, as well as the Low
Countries of Europe, Holland in particular.
In England, despite the fact that Henry VIII was given the title Defender
of the Faith by the Holy See for a book published under his name, the monarch
was anything but a theologian, and the Reformation in England was not theological
in origin. Henry's wife Catherine of Aragon gave him no male heirs. Wishing
to have his marriage annulled, but refused by the Church, he turned to the
English clergy with the same request and subsequently declared himself head
of the church in England. Henry's Six Articles, promulgated in 1539, kept
the essentials of the Catholic faith (even though failure to take the Act
of Supremacy recognizing Henry's headship of the church led most often to
execution). it was not until his death that Calvinistic theology began to
find its way into the Book of Common Prayer. When Henry's daughter Mary
Tudor became monarch in 1553, she briefly restored Catholicism and carried
out over two hundred executions of Protestant heretics. Upon the accession
of her half-sister Elizabeth (the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn),
Anglicanism was officially established as the state religion and the Thirty-nine
Articles spelled out the particulars of belief. They did not rid the Church
of England of as many vestiges of Romanism as some would have liked. It
seemed to be
a theology very close to neighbouring Calvinism which maintained
traditional forms like the episcopate and liturgical vestments. Both
Catholic and Protestant dissidents were mercilessly persecuted. 
The Reformation was, to be sure, no isolated event,
but a series of movements in several European countries that in varying
ways departed from Catholicism. In response to Protestantism and to the
problems it sought to address, the Catholic renewal or Counter-Reformation
became a reality. One of the magnificent fruits of that renewal was the
establishment of the Society of Jesus, founded by the Spanish Basque lgnatius
Loyola is a castle at Azpeltia, located in the Pyrenees Mountains. It
was there that Iñigo, as he was then called, was born, in 1491.
His background was military, and he fought briefly against the French
in Pamplona. A serious battle injury brought him back to his native castle
and confined him for weeks. He was a worldly sort and would love to have
occupied his hours reading romantic novels. Instead, only two books, on
the lives of the saints and the life of Christ, were available. The biographies
of the saints began to fascinate him, make him think of the uselessness
of his own life up to that point, and provoked the interior question:
If such acts of spiritual heroism were possible in the lives of others,
why would they not be possible in his?
A hunger for God began to overtake him by degrees, and after a time he
resolved to go on pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat.
Sometime during the course of that visit he determined that thenceforth
he would lead a penitential life and his stay in the nearby small town
of Manresal where he experienced solitude and prayer, confirmed his desire
all the more. He made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and then studied in
Barcelona, Alcala, and, finally, at the University of Paris, where he
received the Master of Arts in 1534. Still his fervor did not slacken.
At Paris he was to meet companions who were like-minded in spiritual outlook
and whose names would become well known in Jesuit annals: Francis Xavier
(a Spanish Basque like Ignatius), Favre, Laynez, Salmeron, Rodriguez,
Bobadilla. Together they would become "the Company", the first Jesuits,
defenders of the faith in heretical times.
On the feast of Our Lady's Assumption, August 15, 1534, these men professed
their vows in the chapel of Saint Denis on the hill of Montmartre in Paris.
They vowed to work for the glory of God. They agreed that when they finished
their studies and became priests, they would go to Jerusalem together,
but if they could not go there in a year, they would go to Rome and offer
to go anywhere the Pope deemed necessary. Their hopes of going to Palestine
would not be realized, but other needs quickly became apparent.
There being no likelihood of their being able soon to go to the
Holy Land, it was at length resolved that Ignatius, Favre, and Laynez
should go to Rome and offer the services of all to the pope, and they
agreed that if anyone asked what their association was they might answer
"the Company of Jesus", because they were united to fight against falsehood
and vice under the standard of Christ. On his road to Rome, praying
at a little chapel at La Storta, Ignatius saw our Lord, shining with
an unspeakable light, but loaded with a heavy cross, and he heard the
words, Ego vobis Romae propitius ero, "I win be favorable to
you at Rome." 
Eventually they became a religious order and took formal vows. The members
of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, truly were men of the Church. The papal
bull of institution, promulgated in 1540 during the pontificate of Pope
Paul III, stated the Society's purposes. The document "Rules for Thinking
with the Church" is also illustrative. It was composed by Ignatius himself
as an addition to his Spiritual Exercises. It represents a reply
to the Protestant challenge, affirming many long-established practices that
were under severe criticism and attack. It is a document "characterized
more perhaps by its balance and moderation than one may at first think".
 Rule Thirteen initially appears anything but moderate:
If we wish to proceed securely in all things, we must hold fast
to the following principle: What seems to me white, I will believe black
if the hierarchical Church so defines. For I must be convinced that
in Christ Our Lord, the bridegroom, and in His spouse the Church, only
one Spirit holds sway, which governs and rules for the salvation of
souls. For it is by the same Spirit and Lord who gave the Ten Commandments
that our Holy Mother Church is ruled and governed. 
In addition to absolute loyalty, Ignatius in the Constitutions leaves no
doubt that it is to be interpreted as willingness to carry out the wishes
of the Holy See:
All that His Holiness will command us for the good of souls, or
the propagation of the faith, we are bound to carry out with neither
procrastination nor excuse, at once and to the fullest extent of our
power, whether he sends us among the Turks, to the New Worlds, to the
Lutherans, or any other manner of believers or unbelievers.... This
vow may scatter 'us to the distant parts of the world. 
The work of the Jesuits in defending the faith must be looked at in the
context of the Counter-Reformation. The times called for a spirited defense
of faith; it was the time for Catholic renewal; the Church had been weakened
from within by the laxity of her own; she had been weakened from without
by the strong theological dissent of the various reformers. The Church had
to respond adequately, and the Jesuits found themselves part of this response.
In all manner of response, however, Ignatius was quite insistent that charity
prevail and that the integrity of the Church not suffer because of the misdeeds
or poorly contrived statements of those attempting to defend it:
Great care must be taken to show forth orthodox truth in such a
way that if any heretics happen to be present they may have an example
of charity and Christian moderation. No hard words should be used nor
any sort of contempt for their errors be shown. 
A man can be charitable as he clearly, unambiguously teaches Catholic truth.
This was Ignatius' aim, and education was to play a key role. If men were
adequately trained, the Church would be better served; such motivated the
opening of the Roman and German colleges in the Eternal City. The former
was established primarily though the largesse of the family of Saint Francis
Borgia, the man who would become Ignatius' successor as third General of
the Society; the latter was an educational bastion for students from all
countries affected by the Reformation.
Although an educated Jesuit was always to exercise charity, his response
to heresy must be firm and decisive. One of the truly great Jesuits to receive
instruction from Ignatius before undertaking his mission was Saint Peter
Once a man has been convicted of heretical impiety or is strongly
suspect of it, he has no right to any honour or riches: on the contrary,
these must be stripped from him ... If public professors or administrators
at the University of Vienna or the other universities have a bad reputation
in relation to the Catholic faith, they must be deprived of their degrees.
All heretical books must be burned, or sent beyond all the provinces
of the kingdom. 
Canisius' record of educational beginnings is impressive: Ingolstadt, Vienna,
Prague, Strasbourg in Alsace (where he was involved in the opening negotiations),
Innsbruck (where he introduced the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary to
collegians), Dillingen, and Fribourg. In addition, he managed time at the
Council of Trent, where his very practical advice to the Council Fathers
about the Reformation in Germany was highly regarded. Strong as his defense
of Catholicism was in day-to-day relations with German Protestants, he favored
the approach of peaceful coexistence. Some saw this as betrayal, but Canisius
felt (and later convinced Rome) that a calm, firm, and educated approach
would help Catholics win an intellectual battle they had previously been
losing. All of this is not to suggest that his career was solely academically
oriented. His sojourn in Vienna proves the contrary:
Many parishes were without clergy, and the Jesuits had to supply
the lack as well as to teach in their newly-founded college. Not a single
priest had been ordained for twenty years; monasteries lay desolate;
members of the religious orders were jeered at in the streets; nine-tenths
of the inhabitants had abandoned the faith, while the few who still
regarded themselves as Catholics had, for the most part, ceased to practice
their religion. At first Peter Canisius preached to almost empty churches,
partly because of the general disaffection and partly because his Rhineland
German grated on the ears of the Viennese; but he found his way to the
heart of the people by his indefatigable ministrations to the sick and
dying during an outbreak of the plague. The energy and enterprise of
the man was astounding; he was concerned about everything and everybody,
from lecturing in the university to visiting the neglected criminals
in the jails. 
Such accomplishments could, no doubt, have been recounted in any of the
cities where Canisius spent any length of time. Christopher Hollis, in his
study of the Jesuits, sums up the work of this saint, now venerated as a
Doctor of the Church:
The general effect of Canisius' work was immense. He turned the
course of history. In each of the great colleges he built there were
up to a thousand students. He was the first Jesuit to enter Poland.
By 1600, there were 466 Jesuits there. When he entered Germany in 1550,
he entered with 2 Jesuits as his companions. When he left it over 30
years later there were 1,111 Jesuits at work in the country. 
Germany was, of course, not the only scene of the Reformation. Jesuits labored
in many countries on the Continent, and also in England. Even before the
English mission was a reality, Ignatius ordered prayers for the conversion
of England and for the English and Welsh martyrs of penal times, twenty-six
of whom had been Jesuits. Centuries later Henry Edward Manning, Cardinal
Archbishop of Westminster, himself a convert to Catholicism (and from his
tone no particular friend of the Reformation), wrote about the work of the
It was exactly what was wanted at the time to counteract the revolt
of the sixteenth century. The revolt was disobedience and disorder in
the most aggressive form. The Society was obedience and order in the
most solid compactness.... They also won back souls by their preaching
and spiritual guidance. They preached 'Jesus Christ and Him crucified'.
This had been their central message, and by it they have deserved and
won the confidence and obedience of Souls. 
Jesuit missionary activity was strongly influenced by two sources: Ignatius'
Spiritual Exercises and the Imitation of Christ by Thomas
a Kempis. The Society's founder tried to induce in the life of each Jesuit
a peaceful state of mind without inordinate attachments. Such inner tranquility
would help one in moments of crisis and in the major decisions of life.
With a peaceful mind, each of life's situations could be assessed in the
light of God's glory and the salvation of one's immortal soul. The Imitation
spoke to the heart of the disciple and always tried to elicit a generous
response. It is in this context that all Jesuit renewal should be judged.
British historian Thomas Macaulay, writing in grand style, captures these
The order possessed itself once of all the strongholds which command
the public mind, of the pulpit, of the press, of the confessional, of
the academies. Wherever the Jesuit preached, the church was too small
for the audience. The name of a Jesuit on a title-page secured the circulation
of a book. It was in the ears of a Jesuit that the powerful, the noble,
the beautiful, breathed the secret history of their lives. It was at
the feet of the Jesuit that the youth of the higher and middle class
were brought up from childhood to manhood. 
It was to be the lot of Ignatius to spend most of his Jesuit life in Rome,
so vast an undertaking was it to direct the Society's business. He saw the
Society of Jesus grow from the original company to one thousand members
in nine countries and provinces in Europe, India, and Brazil. His death
came suddenly on July 31, 1556, in Rome. One may still see the room, along
with the adjoining quarters, where he wrote his Society's Constitutions.
His tomb is venerated in the magnificent church of the Gesù on Rome's
famous Corso Vittorio Emmanuele. His was a life lived for Christ and in
defense of his Church, or as one commentator has put it, "To gain others
to Christ he made himself all things to all men, going in at their
door and coming out at his own." 
 Rom 3:28.
 James 2:17.
 Jean Comby with Diarmaid MacCulloch, How to Read Church History
(New York: Crossroad, 1991), 2:11.
 Ibid., 13.
 Ibid., 21.
 Herbert Thurston, S.J., and Donald Attwater, eds., Butler's Lives
of the Saints (Westminster, Md.: Christian Classics, 1988), 3:224.
 John C. Olin, The Catholic Reformation: Savonarola to Ignatius Loyola
(New York: Harper and Row, 1969), 202.
 The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl,
S.J. (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), 160.
 Jean Lacouture, Jesuits: A Multibiography (Washington, D.C.:
Counterpoint, 1995), 76.
 Thurston and Attwater, Butler's Lives of the Saints, 3:225-26.
 Ignatius of Loyola to Peter Canisius, August 13, 1554, cited in Comby
and MacCulloch, How to Read Church History, 2:30.
 Thurston and Attwater, Butler's Lives of the Saints, 2:168-69.
 Christopher Hollis, The Jesuits: A History (New York: Macmillan
pany, 1968), 25.
 Thurston and Attwater, Butler's Lives of the Saints, 3:225.
 Thomas Macaulay, Essay on Von Rank's History of the Papacy,
cited in Hollis, Jesuits, 27.
 Thurston and Attwater, Butler's Lives of the Saints, 3:227.
Father Charles Connor is the historian of the Diocese of Scranton and
pastor at St. John the Evangelist Church, Susquehanna. He is the host of
programs on EWTN and author of Classic
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