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Jesuit History: A New Hot Topic - BY JOHN W. O'MALLEY -


i.s roRiAN.s ARE A CAUTIOUS lot and do not use the word revolution lightly. But that is the right word to describe what has been happening in the study of the history of the Societ\^ of Jesus. The seene is so differ- | ent now from what it was as recently as a dozen years ago that it is hard- g ly recognizable. All at once the Jesuits have become a hot topic—indeed, " one of the hottest—in the field of early modem history. > Of course revolutions do not spring up out of nowhere. A century ago, a group of t Spanish Jesuits launched publication of critical editions of documents from the early years P of the Societ); a project that has now reached some 135 volumes. These texts provided a ^ JOHN W. O'MALLEY, S.J.. professor of Church history at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., is the author, most recently, of Four Cultures of the Wesf (Harvard Univ. Press. 2004).

America May 9, 200.5

solid and easily accessible base for scholars. Meanwhile otber Jesuits, especially in Spain, France and Italy, began approaching the histoiy ot their order and its spirituality witb a new critical acumen. Ignacio Iparraguirre, Joseph de Gtiibert, Michel de Certeau, Mario Scaduto—these are just a tew of tbe notahle names. In North America, George Ganss, William V. Bangert, Robeit Birelcy, John Witek and John Patrick Donnelly, among others, moved the enterprise along in significant ways. But nobody anticipated that from this foundation would empt wbat we arc currendy ex{>cricncing. WHAT IS HAPPENING? First of all, tbe number of scholars publishing cm the histoiy ot the Society ofjesiis has expanded almost exponendaliy. Books—good books-—are rolling ot^ die, witb France. Italy and North Ajiierica leading tbe pack. The Institute of Jesuit Sources in St. Louis, under John Padbergs direction, continues to publish fine translations of important texts, but now the most prestigious universit}' presses—Princeton,

donsbip ofthe West to the rest ofthe globe. This has resulted in a tendency' to move the Jesuits as a topic of study beyond the confines of "church historv" into broader perspecdves. Tbe inadequacy of categories like Counter Refomiadon ;md Catholic Refomi tradidonally applied to the Jesuits bas thereby become increasingly apparent and has made the Jesuits more intriguing to scholars. Third, scholars are asking new quesdons. Instead of "How were tbe Jesuits agents ofthe Counter Refomiadon" (sdll not a bad quesdon), they are asking "What were the Jesuits like?" I his quesdon further moves the Jesuits out ofthe somedmes stale categories in whicb they were once confined. Questions like tbat have thrown wide the gates onto areas of the Jesuit enterprise of which some of us were aware but about which we knew precious little. Wo knew Jesuits were sought-afrer teachers, esteemed theologians, guides for a devout life, dreless missionaries and, of course, defenders of die Cadiolic faitb. It was along these lines that scholarship (favorable and unfavorable) tended to move. What a change today! Transcending the specter of the "Galileo case," scholarship on the Jesuits' reladonsbip to the sciences and mathemadcs, for instance, is pouring from the presses, most of it favorable. Excidng ardcles and books keep appearing on tbe Jesuits and the

u 1 uRecent scholarship

is making vivid for us the civic and cultural dimension of Jesuit spirituality.

Han'ard, Stanford and Toronto, for example—also publish on Jesuit history, a venture almost unheard of before. When I was in Italy two years ago, four different scholarly conferences were heing held on the Societ\-, none of them sponsored by the Italian Jesuits. Germany, Spain and parts of Spanish .America are beginning to show signs of a great awakening. The Jesuits are in vogue. Second, tbe status of scholars bas changed radically. Until a few years ago, Jesuits wrote about tbe Jesuits, with all tbe advantages and disadvantages that in-house scholarship entails. Today the vast majority of those writing about tbe Society are not Jesuits. Indeed many, or maybe most, of them are not Roman Catholics or even C'hristians. Yet departing from the anti-Jesuit polemic tbat traditionally marked writing on tbe Society by non-Jesuits, tbese scholars tend to be fairminded and even appreciative, willing to give the Jesuits at least an even break. This does not mean, I am sure, that we are entering a golden age when old legentls and prejudices wall once and for all be laid to rest, but there is no denying the new openness. I am speaking, of course, alx>ut serious bistor\', not the sometimes vicious drivel about the Jesuits (some of it written by Jesuits themselves or former Jesuits) to be found in abundance on the Internet and in bookstores. 'Fhe rea.sons for this change are difficult to pinpoint. Surely one factor has been a growing awareness tbat the Jesuits, in their manifold activities, provide windows onto extremely important though ofren neglected aspects of Western history. .And because the network of the Society's institutions is international, these are windows onto the relaMay 9, 2005 America

theater, the Jesuits and dance, tbe Jesuits as [xjets, the Jesuits as patrons of Rubens and Bernini, the Jesuits as impresarios for civic celebradons, tbe Jesuits as managers of great estates, the Jesuits and women. Those are just samples. Wiiereas 10 years ago not a single CD of Jesuit music was on the market, today tbere are a ntunber. Finally, a shift has taken place from an almost excltisively European perspecdve to a muldcultural approach. "Mission history" was pracdcally an airdght category, ist)lated from tbe broader picture and segregated from it. Post-colonialism is thus finally bearing fhiit in scholarship on the Jesuits, just as postmodernism is making us more appreciadve of die different ways Jesuits interacted with cultures fomierly considered exodc. Scholarship on the Jesuit experiment in China, for example, has become a booming industry, whose areas of study include the impact of Europe on the experiment, ofthe experiment on Europe, of the Jesuits on China and, perhaps most interesdng, of China on the Jesuits. THE UPSHOT OF THIS REVOLUTION IS that t h e Jesuits o f t h e o l d

Society (that is, before the suppression ofthe order in 1773) are emerging with a new profile. We sdll see them, of course, as religious figures for whom their religious eommitment remained fmidamental. But they were something more. They

were "learned clerics," like many others of their day, hut their learning was somehow hroader, their enterprise less traditionally clerical. They had a .systemic commitment to culture that was more exjiansive than that of any other cohesive religious group, Catholic or Protestant. T would go so far as to say that integrated into their pastoral, ecclesial and religious mission was a cultural and civic mission. That latter mission was never articulated in their nomiadve documents, which is one reason why it has never been s\'stematically addressed, hut it is not for tliat reason less important. That mission, I propose, has implications for Jesuit spirituality and how we study it. The original 10 companions founded the order in 1540 as essentially a band of preachers of die Gospel, ready to he sent anywhere in the world. That definition was modified later to include "defense of the faith," as in 1550 the bull of Pope Julius III ex-pressed it—that is, the order became more selfconsciously an agent to counter the Refonnation. These selfdefinitions were explicit and done with ftjll awareness. But another self-definidon was already in the making when die Jesuits began to operate schools, a decision that changed almost every aspect of their life and work, though they took little account of it explicidy. They acquired huge properties, for instance, and engaged in sometimes frantic fundraising to keep their academic institutions afloat. But perhaps most fundamentally, they engaged in a rela-


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donship with culture that was new for clerics. They spent many more hours in the classroom than in the sacristy. Furthermore, ii:i those classrooms they were not teaching clerics, nor were they for the most part teaching the traditional clerical subjects of "philosophy" and theolog}'. They were teaching poetry, historv; oratorv', drama and otlier works ot literature. They taught this program not as a preparation for theology, the traditional clerical rationale for such study, but as a program complete in itself that would provide laymen with the learning and skills they needed to he successful in this world. Aside from a few hours of catechism per week, the Jesuit "colleges," roughly the equivalent of our high schools, taught no "religion." Yet, according to the philosophy of education to which the Jesuits subscribed, the most basic purpose of the schools was to instill the virtue oipietas—that is, to help the students develop into upright Christians with a commitment to the common good. As Juan .Alfonso de Polanco, Ignadus's secretary, put it in 1551: "Those who are now only students will grow up to be pastors, civic officials, administrators of justice, and will fill other important posts to everybody's profit and advantage." How was this goal to be accomplished? It was accomplished in part by what we would call extracurriculars— school plays, sports, production of religious spectacles. Activities like these helped lead Jesuits into new and impor-

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tant relationships to music, dance and art. But the classroom was as always the center ofthe school, and there the pagans reigned. Demosthenes, Sophocles, Liv\', Virgil and their beloved Cicero—these were the authors at the center of the curriculum. The Jesuits taught these authors not simply as models of eloquence hut as thinkers with ethical and spiritual relevance. They believed these texts embodied a philosophy of upright living especially appropriate tor young laymen headed for leadership roles. The upright living that the texts held forth as an ideal had a strong civic orientation, especially notable in Cicero. 1 he virtuous person was virtuous especially by contributing to the common good, which was not something abstract but the moral and cultural good ofthe city in which the person lived. This orientation in fact corresponded to the reality of the Jesuit schools, which were founded, as Polanco implied, to perform a civic function. They were usually established at the request of the city, in some fonn or other paid for by the city and established to serve the families of the city, which, as recent scholarship has shown, entailed listening to the expectations of those families and trying to meet them. We can call them confessional schools, but we perhaps do better to call them civic institutions. But they were also cultural institutions. How otherwise can we explain tbeir promotion of six or seven choirs and a corresponding number of musicians at purely academic functions in some of their colleges? Is it not easier to see ballet at the Jesuit college in Paris, which King Louis XT\'' somedmes attended, as more a cultural function than a religious one? Why is it that most books produced at that time on the history and theory of dance were by Jesuits? The plays produced at the Jesuit schools drew large audiences from the local population; and in an era before there were public libraries, the often magnificent libraries of the Jesuit schools sometimes performed precisely that function. True, all this was done under a religious aegis, but with religion integrated into culture and not standing apart from it. WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO with Jesuit Spirituality? I find it bard to believe that this cultural aspect of the Jesuits' lives did not have an impact on tbe way they thought, felt and viewed tbeir vocation, even though they may not have been able clearly to articulate it. Most Jesuits taught the classical texts (almost no matter where they were in the world) for at least a few years of their lives, sometimes for their whole lives. They knew their Cicero better than they knew their Bible. Most of them, even wben engaged in other ministries, lived in the school communities and from there often helped orchestrate great civic celebrations that entailed music, dance, poetry, plays and elaborate parades. Did this not get into their souls? Usually, when we study spirituality, we turn to "spiriMay !), 200,5 America

tual" texts—writings about prayer, union with God, devotions and similar matters. To study Jesuit spiritualit\' we go to the Spiritual Exercises., to Ignatius' so-called autobiography, and to his other writings. Then we might go to the writings of other "great masters ofthe spiritual life." Well and good, but does not this method need to be expanded? Wliat about taking into account also wbat the recent scholarship is making so vivid for us? Do we not need to add, for instance, a civic and cultural dimension to Jesuit spirituality? Part IX of the Jesuit Constitutions, composed principally by St. Ignatius, lists virtues that the superior general of the Society of Jesus should possess, which is really a profile of the ideal Jesuit. These are the virtues, the text implies, that every Jesuit should strive for and that are thus constitutive elements of Jesuit spirituality. Among the virtues is "magnanimity and fortitude of soul." The paragraph about tbese virtues that Tgnatius wrote turns out to be a loose paraphrase of a passage by Cicero {"On Duty," De Ojficiis, 1.20.66). I know of no similar phenomenon in the foundational documents of any other religious group, and I find it congruous with wbat I have been saying. Even if you do not agree with me about the congruity, you might at least find it is interesting that in describing an important aspect of Jesuit spirituality, Ignatius had recourse not to the Bible but to Cicero. W

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Jesuit History - A Hot New Topic - America May 9, 2005  

- BY JOHN W. O'MALLEY - JOHN W. O'MALLEY, S.J.. professor of Church history at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., is the...