In Defense of the Jesuit Order (Sort Of)

Editor’s note: The following is not the position of 1P5, but we submit the author’s opinion to help inform discussion on the question of the always troublesome (these days) Jesuits. As we lament their present state, it is worthwhile to consider their illustrious past.

Merely saying the word “Jesuit” will likely cause a frown in believers of authentic, orthodox Catholicism. That’s totally understandable, given how far off the doctrinal and moral rails the Society of Jesus as a group has gone in its recent history.

Yet, in all honesty, I do have a soft spot in my heart for the Society of Jesus.

One big reason for that soft spot: Japan. I have been living here for around two decades, and this is where I returned to the faith after having been for many years a fallen away Catholic. That means an awful lot to me – as does the fact that it was St. Francis Xavier and the Jesuits who, in the 1500s, brought Catholicism here.

That may not seem to be a special reason to pat the Jesuits on the back; if they hadn’t brought the faith to Japan, many may say, someone else probably would have. True, but the fact of the matter is that the Jesuits did – at great risk to their lives. Numerous Society of Jesus priests and brothers were martyred here; of the 26 Holy Martyrs of Japan, for instance, three – St. Paul Miki, St. James Kasai, and St. John of Goto – were Jesuits.

The blood of Jesuit martyrs in the order’s early history was spilled in numerous places besides Japan. In Micronesia, India, the Americas, England under Elizabeth I, and elsewhere, many members of the Society in its first couple of centuries – St. Isaac Jogues and his companions, St. Edmund Campion, Blessed Felipe Songsong, St. John de Britto, and dozens of others – gave their lives for Christ via holy martyrdom.

We can also at least partially thank the Jesuits for the Church having been a great patron of science and learning over the centuries, false accusations that it’s “against science” notwithstanding. The universities that the Society of Jesus established in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries played a major role in the advancement of science and other pursuits of knowledge.

The Society also played a key role in countering the Protestant Revolution; the “Counter-Reformation” in Poland, for instance, was a smashing success largely due to Jesuit educational and catechetical activity. We seem to take it for granted that Poland is a predominantly Catholic country. Were it not for the Jesuits, it well might not be.

Today, to faithful adherents of authentic Catholicism, the glory days of the Society of Jesus are over. Gone are the days when the Jesuits were dynamic and courageous proponents of Catholic doctrinal and moral teaching and dynamically spread such teaching all over the world through their schools and missions. Today’s Jesuit universities, in horrifying contrast to those of the past, advance things that would leave St. Ignatius Loyola, the society’s founder, horrorstruck.

In our time, the face of the Society of Jesus isn’t any of its spiritual giants of the past – it’s Fr. James Martin, who seems to go out of his way to tick off faithful Catholics with stances on numerous issues, particularly sexual morality and Christology. He’s not the only one; the assertions made by Jesuits superior general Arturo Sosa Abascal in this interview, for instance, are simply stunning in their doctrinal dubiousness.

So how can a faithful Catholic cling to a soft spot in his heart for this order, even in the present day?

First, it wouldn’t be fair to lump all modern Jesuits in with the heterodox likes of the late Fr. John Hardon, one example of “good Jesuits” in our own time. No doubt, there are others.

Secondly, dissidence and heterodoxy within Catholicism aren’t unique to the Jesuits, although they are arguably the most visible and noteworthy culprits. Unfortunately, a watering down of the Catholic faith, if not outright dissent from it on many issues, is a prevalent phenomenon in the Church in general these days.

Proponents of authentic Catholicism like Fr. Hardon stick out like sore thumbs within the Society of Jesus. It’s sad that Catholic fidelity really seems to be the rare exception rather than the expected norm these days – and this regrettable reality afflicts the modern Church both within the Society of Jesus and beyond it.

This is not to say I think we should just throw up our hands and accept this situation – far from it. “Rebuilding Catholic culture, restoring Catholic tradition” means praying for and working toward a return of the authentic faith. It means doing what we can (and leaving the rest up to God in prayer) to remedy the many modern-day departures from true Catholicism’s teachings and disciplinary practices not only with regard to the Church as a whole, but for institutions within it, including the Jesuits.

Thirdly, the current crises in the Church do not mean that there’s anything wrong or faulty with Catholicism – these crises derive not from imperfections in Catholic doctrinal or moral teachings (there aren’t any!), but in human beings’ choices to deviate from those teachings or even abandon them.

Likewise, there’s nothing wrong with Jesuit spirituality – how could there be anything wrong with the Ignatian spiritual exercises, for instance, since they were given to the Church by one of its greatest saints?

Individual members of the Society of Jesus – a lot of them, it seems –aren’t just pushing things that go against what the Church teaches. They’ve also corrupted what authentic Jesuitism really stands for. That’s not the fault of Jesuit spirituality or traditions. It’s the fault of the men who’ve betrayed them.

I’ve seen quite a few posts and message on various Catholic websites calling for the Jesuits to be disbanded – which is understandable but nonetheless misguided. No faithful Catholic would say the way to address the decline and weakening of adherence to the faith is to disband the Church. Similarly, our prayer and our hope should be to support not the Society’s destruction, but its spiritual and doctrinal rehabilitation.

As far down the heterodox slope as the Jesuit order may have slid, it is still worth praying for. It is still worth saving. Putting an end to the Society of Jesus would be an exercise in surrender, which would hardly serve or befit the legacy of the many holy Jesuits who in the past have so nobly served the Church.

What to do? First of all, we must pray for the Jesuits – we must pray often and earnestly. I have recently begun to add the Society of Jesus by name to my intentions when praying the Liturgy of the Hours or the Rosary. We all need prayers, and the Jesuits are no exception.

I pray that the seemingly few Jesuits who strictly adhere to Catholic teaching be given the grace needed to persevere. I also pray that the less-than-adherent Jesuits, of whom there are apparently many, are inspired by the example of the faithful minority in their ranks – and by the lives of the great Jesuit teachers, pastors, missionaries, and martyrs of past ages – to embrace true Catholicism in all its truth and beauty.

We must also pray that the future of the Society be strengthened by way of solid, faithful vocations – that the next generations of Jesuits bring into the order a commitment to true Catholic teaching. If we know a truly faithful young man who feels called to the priesthood or religious life, how about encouraging him to consider the Jesuits? It may seem like a tall order, and the “flak” that a true follower of authentic Catholicism would likely catch from his older fellow Jesuits while in formation may feel mildly reminiscent of St. Isaac Jogue’s treatment by the Mohawks, but it would certainly have its blessings.

The soft spot in my heart for the Society of Jesus is not at all due to the condition it’s in now – far from it. It has everything to do with what the Jesuits used to be and what they can be again in the future.

The Society of Jesus used to be a great, holy Catholic order, consisting of men who advanced the faith with zeal and vigor even to the point of giving their very lives. Because all things are possible with God, there is absolutely no reason why it cannot be again.

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