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The Society of Jesus, commonly known as the Jesuits, was founded by Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) and quickly became a response to the new conditions of the sixteenth century. The European discovery of America (see Columbus, Christopher), the Protestant Reformation (see Christianity, Development of), the invention of the printing press, and the end of the Middle Ages all demanded a different worldview. Ignatius, son of an illustrious, aristocratic Spanish family, thought to further the family name by becoming a warrior and military hero. Instead, a severe wound that caused a permanent limp forced him to reexamine his life. He turned to God and the Church. Referring to himself in the third person, he writes of the day he saw the light:

At that time he came to have much travail with scruples... when he had such thoughts, very often the temptation came to him with great force, to jump from a big hole in his room, next to the place he prayed. But then, acknowledging that to kill himself would be a sin, he would cry out, "Lord, I shall do naught to offend thee."

Although he never described exactly what happened, when his eyes were fully opened to the mercy of God, he responded:

From that day on he was free of those scruples, being certain that our Lord had wished to free him by his mercy.

He tried to find his new vocation by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, hoping to find a place among the Franciscans as a missionary to the Turks. But his fiery temperament frightened the brothers, and his trip was a failure.

He next decided to become a hermit, but the lifestyle didn't fit him.

Deciding he needed education, the now-mature Loyola went back to school, mixing with young theology students and gaining a band of followers. His small flock swore obedience to the pope with such fervor that they were chosen by Pope Paul III to be the instrument by which the Catholic Church would challenge Protestantism at the Council of Trent. (It must be made clear that official Jesuit literature denies the Society of Jesus was formed to combat Protestantism. Such challenge nonetheless occurred, whether or not Pope Paul III or Loyola ever intended it.)

In the New World and in the Far East, Jesuits carried on a voluminous missionary activity, being known by their black robes and serious demeanor. Patterned after military organizations, the order was an efficient tool of a reformed papacy. Many of their brilliant young scholars contributed, in the words of historian Justo L. Gonzalez, "their knowledge to the polemic against Protestantism."

But this was by no means their only work. They established orphanages and houses for "reclaiming" prostitutes. They worked with the poor and outcast. By the time of Loyola's death, his order, about one thousand strong, was beginning to establish universities and other institutions of higher learning. The aristocracy began to take notice.

Their work was not without opposition, however. They were expelled from Portugal, France, and Spain, and Pope Clement XIV eventually suppressed the society, a ban that was not lifted until 1814.

The Society of Jesus today is a respected institution among leading academies and universities around the world.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



members of a Catholic monastic order, whose self-designation is Societas Jesu (Society of Jesus), founded in 1534 in Paris by Ignatius of Loyola, a member of the Spanish petty gentry, and established by Pope Paul III in 1540.

The order was created in a period during which the Reformation was achieving considerable success, and it became the chief weapon of the Counter-Reformation. Since it has as its goal the defense and propagation of Catholicism and the consolidation of the power of the papacy, the Jesuits have taken an active part in science, learning, and the education of youth and have engaged in widespread missionary work. The basic principles of the order’s structure are strict centralization, absolute submission of junior members to their elders, and the absolute authority of the order’s head—the superior general (the “black pope”), who is elected for life and who is himself subordinate directly to the pope.

The system of morality developed by the Jesuits is by themselves termed accommodative (accomodatlvd), since it provides for broad possibilities, depending upon the circumstances, for arbitrarily interpreting fundamental religious and moral requirements and for committing any transgression in the name of a “higher end”—“the greater glory of God.” Such a serviceable concept of morality is reflected in the motto that has been attributed to the Jesuits: “The end justifies the means.”

In order to achieve greater effectiveness in carrying out their work, the order permits many Jesuits to lead a secular mode of life, keeping secret their membership in the order. The extensive privileges granted by the papacy to the Jesuits (the right to wear secular clothing, freedom from many religious prescriptions and prohibitions, responsibility to the order’s administration alone, etc.) combined with compulsory spying on one another within the order and so forth facilitated the establishment of an extremely flexible and solid organization, which within a brief time extended its activity to numerous countries. During the 16th century the Jesuits not only consolidated their position in European states, but they also penetrated into India, Japan, China, and the Philippines. At the beginning of the 17th century the Jesuit State in Paraguay was established. The Jesuits’ missionary activities considerably assisted the colonial enslavement and plundering of the peoples of Asia, Africa, and South America. The Jesuits were opposed to the ideas of the Enlightenment. The order’s interference in the political life of European countries was so great that during the 18th century the governments of a number of states (Portugal, France, Spain) resorted to banishing the Jesuits. In 1773, Pope Clement XIV was compelled to formally abolish the order. During the era of the Restoration, when reactionary feudal regimes were revived, the Jesuit Order was officially restored by the papacy (1814); it was assigned the task of combating revolution.

During the 20th century the Jesuits have maintained their importance as the foremost detachment of militant clericalism; they are the allies of the most reactionary circles of imperialism in their struggle against socialism and communism. The order collaborated with Mussolini and Hitler. The Jesuits are active in the ideological struggle against the USSR and the socialist countries. They wage a fierce combat against Marxism, declaring it to be “outmoded” (G. Wetter et al.), or, in attempting to “accommodate” Marxism to Catholicism, they distort and emasculate its contents (I. Calvez, P. Bigo, et al.). At the same time, there is an increasing effort among the Jesuits to have the Catholic Church adapt itself more skillfully to the changing conditions of today’s world.

In 1971 the Jesuit Order numbered about 34,000 members, with the greatest number in the USA (approximately 8, 500). There are more than 1,300 newspapers and journals controlled by the Jesuits, along with many higher and secondary educational institutions. The order has capital investments in the industry of many countries, estimated at $5 billion (1958).


Jesuits in Russia. The first attempts by the Jesuits to penetrate Russia were made during the Livonian War of 1558–83. At first the Jesuits appeared in Lithuania (1569). In the 1570’s they founded educational institutions in Vilnius, Polotsk, and elsewhere. There arrived in Russia in 1581 the papal envoy, the Jesuit Antonio Possevino, who was acting in the role of intermediary between the two warring powers—the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Russian state. Possevino failed to obtain permission to build Catholic churches in Russia. Two decades later the Jesuits took an active part in organizing the Polish-Swedish intervention at the beginning of the 17th century. However, even First False Dmitrii, whom they had supported, once he acceded to the Russian throne did not allow the Jesuits into Russia.

In the early 18th century the Jesuits, among many other foreigners, managed to penetrate Russia. However, by a decree of Peter I of Apr. 18, 1719, they were banished from the Russian state. After the first partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1772) the Jesuits were again in Russia, since they had organizations in areas of Byelorussia and the Ukraine that became part of the Russian Empire. In return for their zealous service to the tsarist government, Catherine II retained the Jesuit organizations in the Russian Empire. Paul I even succeeded in 1801 in obtaining from the pope recognition of the Jesuits’ existence within the Russian Empire.

In the early 19th century Jesuit missions were established in Astrakhan’, Odessa, and other cities. However, the Jesuits’ revived activity in propagating Catholicism led in 1815 to their being forbidden to live in St. Petersburg and Moscow. On Mar. 13, 1820, Emperor Alexander I prohibited their activity in Russia, dissolved the Jesuit organizations, and confiscated their property.


Mikhnevich, D.E. Ocherki po istorii katolicheskoi reaktsii. (Iezuity), 2nd ed. Moscow, 1955.
Velikovich, L.N. “Iezuity vchera i segodnia.” Novaia i noveishaia istoriia, 1967, no. 4.
Stierli, J. Les Jésuites. Paris, 1967.
Hollis, C. A History of the Jesuits. London [1968].
Foss, M. The Founding of the Jesuits: 1540. London [1969].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
"Yes, the ground is all sown," said the Jesuit, "and we have not to fear that one portion of the seed may have fallen upon stone, another upon the highway, or that the birds of heaven have eaten the rest, AVES COELI COMEDERUNT ILLAM."
"Till tomorrow, rash youth," said the Jesuit. "You promise to become one of the lights of the Church.
Bazin, who had been standing listening to all this controversy with a pious jubilation, sprang toward them, took the breviary of the curate and the missal of the Jesuit, and walked respectfully before them to clear their way.
Ignatius did not form the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) to teach.
The Jesuits and the Thirty Years War: Kings, Courts, and Confessors, by Robert Bireley, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
This book presents a thorough study of the contribution of the most eminent Jesuits in political affairs during their founding years.
While liberals licked their wounds after 1849, a campaign of parish missions was orchestrated by Catholic bishops, utilizing mission bands of order priests, especially Jesuits. They would descend upon a locality after much publicity and stay for week or so, preaching daily sermons mostly on basic Christian or catechetical topics, with an emphasis on approaching the sacraments of penance (confession) and holy communion.
Ex-Seminarian Can Sue Jesuits For Sexual Harassment
Their topics include the Visitor and the viceroy: Juan de la Plaza and the first visitation to Jesuit Peru in 1875-79, 17th-century visitations of the transmarine houses of the English Province, a scandal in Moravia: Jesuit Visitor Nicol Avancini and the 1674 case of the Jesuits Jan Tanner and Vilem Frolich, Francisco Saldanha da Gama: the last Visitor of the Portuguese assistancy, mission context and the Jesuit Visitor: Charles Bert and the 1924 visitation of Polish Jesuits in the Zambesi Mission, and the 1961 visitation of the Australian Province by John J.
Stegman, who besides teaching is also dean of the school, noted that Jesuits who are ordained often don't end up in parish ministry Their ministry is often different from that of diocesan priests, most of whom are focused on parish ministry They will also live in religious community, while diocesan priests often live independently or with a fellow priest in a parish rectory