Suppression of the Jesuits

From Academic Kids

The Suppression of the Jesuits in Portugal, France, the Two Sicilies, Parma and the Spanish Empire by 1767 was a product of a series of political moves rather than a theological controversy. The expulsion of the Jesuits from the Roman Catholic nations of Europe and their colonial empires marked the first triumph of the secularist notions of the Enlightenment, which were to culminate in the French Revolution. Following a decree signed by Pope Clement XIV in July 1773, the Society of Jesus was suppressed in all Catholic countries. In the Orthodox nations, particularly in Russia, where the Tsar and the metropolitan did not recognize papal authority, the order was ignored. The scholarly Jesuit Society of Bollandists moved from Antwerp to Brussels, where they continued their work in the monastery of the Coudenberg; in 1788, the Bollandist Society itself was suppressed by the Austrian government of the Low Countries.

With the reaction against the democratic excesses of the Revolution, especially after 1815, the Catholic church began to play a more welcome role in official European life once more, and nation by nation the Jesuits made their way back.



The expulsion of the Jesuits from Portugal has been seen (by the Catholic Encyclopedia for example) as a quarrel with the prime minister of Joseph I of Portugal, the reformist and autocratic Sebastian Joseph de Melo, later the Marquis of Pombal. Melo's or Portugal's quarrel with the Jesuits began over an exchange of South American colonial territory with Spain. By a secret treaty of 1750, Portugal relinquished to Spain the contested colony of San Sacramento at the mouth of the Uruguay River in exchange for the Seven Reductions of Paraguay, the autonomous Jesuit missions that had been nominal Spanish colonial territory. The native Guarani who peopled the mission territories were ordered to quit their country and settle across the Uruguay, an example of population transfer. Owing to the harsh conditions and the meaningless disruption of their way of life under Jesuit tutelage, the Indians rose in arms against the transfer, and the War of Paraguay ensued, a disaster to the Guarani, in which the Jesuits appeared, from the Portuguese perspective, to have had a hand. In Portugal a battle of inflammatory pamphlets denouncing or defending the Order escalated. The Jesuit fathers, suspected of attempting to build an independent empire in the New World, were forbidden to continue the local administration of their former missions, and the Portuguese Jesuits were removed from Court.

On April 1, 1758, a brief was obtained from the aged Pope Benedict XIV, appointing the Portuguese Cardinal Saldanha, recommended by Pombal, to investigate allegations against the Jesuits that had been raised in the King of Portugal's name. Benedict was skeptical as to the gravity of the alleged abuses. He ordered a minute inquiry, but so as to safeguard the reputation of the Society, all serious matters were to be referred back to himself. Benedict died the following month, however, on May 3. On May 15, Saldanha, having received the papal brief only a fortnight before, omitting the thorough visitation of Jesuit houses that had been ordered, and pronouncing on the issues which the pope had reserved to himself, declared that the Jesuits were guilty of having exercised illicit, public, and scandalous commerce, both in Portugal and in its colonies. Pombal moved quickly during the papal sede vacante: in three weeks time the Jesuits had been stripped of all Portuguese possessions, and before Cardinal Rezzonico had been made pope, as Clement XIII, on July 6, 1758, the Portuguese dispossession of the Society was a fait accompli.

The last straw for the Court of Portugal was the attempted assassination of the king on September 3, 1758, of which the Jesuits were supposed to have had prior knowledge (see Tavora affair). Among those arrested and executed was Gabriel Malagrida, the Jesuit confessor of Leonor of Tavora. The Jesuits were expelled from the kingdom, important non-Portuguese members of the Order were imprisoned. In 1759 the Order was civilly suppressed. The Portuguese ambassador was recalled from Rome and the papal nuncio sent home in disgrace. Relations between Portugal and Rome were broken off until 1770.


The suppression of the Jesuits in France began in the French island colony of Martinique, where the Society of Jesus had a major commercial stake. They did not and could not engage in trade, buying and selling to make a profit, any more than any other religious order could do, but their large mission plantations included large local populations that worked under the usual conditions of tropical colonial agriculture of the 18th century, not easily distinguishable from the hacienda system. As the Catholic Encyclopedia expressed it in 1908, "this was allowed, partly to provide for the current expenses of the mission, partly in order to protect the simple, childlike natives from the common plague of dishonest intermediaries."

Father Antoine La Vallette, Superior of the Martinique missions, managed these transactions with great success, and like secular proprietors of plantations he needed to borrow money to expand the large undeveloped resources of the colony. But on the outbreak of war with England, ships carrying goods of an estimated value of 2,000,000 livres were captured, and La Vallette suddenly went bankrupt for a very large sum. His creditors turned to the Order's Procurator at Paris to demand payment, but the Procurator refused responsibility for the debts of an independent mission— though he offered to negotiate for a settlement. The creditors went to the courts, and an order was made in 1760, obliging the Society to pay, and giving leave to distrain in the case of non-payment.

The Fathers, on the advice of their lawyers, appealed to the Parlement of Paris. This turned out to be an imprudent step. For not only did the Parlement support the lower court, May 8, 1761, but having once gotten the case into its hands, the Jesuits' enemies in that assembly determined to strike a blow at the Order.

Enemies of every sort combined. The Jansenists were numerous among the enemies of the orthodox party. The Sorbonne joined the Gallicans, the Philosophes, and the Encyclopédistes. Louis XV was weak; his wife and children were in favor of the Jesuits; his able first minister, the Duc de Choiseul, played into the hands of the Parlement, and the royal mistress, Madame de Pompadour, to whom the Jesuits had refused absolution, for she was living in sin with the King of France, was a determined opponent. The determination of the Parlement of Paris in time bore down all opposition.

The attack on the Jesuits was opened by the Janseniste sympathizer, the Abbé Chauvelin, April 17, 1762, who denounced the Constitution of the Jesuits, which was publicly examined and exposed in a hostile press. The Parlement issued its Extraits des assertions assembled from passages from Jesuit theologians and canonists, in which they were alleged to teach every sort of immorality and error. On August 6, 1762, the final arrêt was issued condemning the Society to extinction, but the king's intervention brought eight months' delay and meantime a compromise was suggested by the Court. If the French Jesuits would separate from the order, under a French vicar, with French customs, as with the Gallican church, the Crown would still protect them. In spite of the dangers of refusal the Jesuits would not consent. On April 1, 1763 the colleges were closed, and by a further arrêt of March 9, 1764, the Jesuits were required to renounce their vows under pain of banishment. At the end of November 1764, the king signed an edict dissolving the Society throughout his dominions, for they were still protected by some provincial parlements, as in Franche-Comté, Alsace, and Artois. But in the draft of the edict, he canceled numerous clauses that implied that the Society was guilty, and writing to Choiseul, he concluded "If I adopt the advice of others for the peace of my realm, you must make the changes I propose, or I will do nothing. I say no more, lest I should say too much."

Spain and Naples

The Suppression in Spain and in the Spanish colonies, and in its dependency, the Kingdom of Naples, was carried through in secrecy, and the ministers of Charles III kept their deliberations to themselves, as did the king who acted upon "urgent, just, and necessary reasons, which I reserve in my royal mind;". The correspondence of Bernardo Tanucci, the anti-clerical minister of Charles III in Naples contain all the ideas which from time to time guided Spanish policy. Charles conducted his government through Count Aranda, a reader of Voltaire, and other liberals. At a council meeting of January 29, 1767, the expulsion of the Society of Jesus was settled. Secret orders, which were to be opened at midnight between the first and second of April, 1767, were sent to the magistrates of every town where a Jesuit resided. The plan worked smoothly. That morning, 6000 Jesuits were marching like convicts to the coast, where they were deported, first to the Papal States, and ultimately to Corsica, which was a dependency of Genoa. Due to the isolation of the Spanish Missions of California, the decree for expulsion did not arrive in June of 1767, as in the rest of New Spain, but was delayed until the new governor, Portolà, arrived with the news on November 30. Jesuits from the fourteen operating missions at the moment reunited in Loreto, whence they left for exile on February 3, 1768. It took until 1768 for the Royal order to reach the Jesuit missions in the south of the Philippines, but by the end of the year, the Jesuits had been dispossessed throughout the Spanish dominions.

Tanucci pursued a similar policy in Bourbon Naples. On November 3 the Jesuits, without a trial or even an accusation, were simply marched across the frontier into the Papal States, and threatened with death if they returned.


The independent Duchy of Parma was the smallest Bourbon court, where Louis XV's favorite daughter was Duchess. So aggressive in its anti-clericalism was the Parmesan reaction to the news of the expulsion of the Jesuits from Naples, that Clement XIII addressed to it (January 30, 1768) a public warning, threatening the Duchy with ecclesiastical censures, not a tactful move. At this all the Bourbon courts turned in fury against the Holy See, and demanded the entire dissolution of the Jesuits. As a preliminary, Parma at once drove the Jesuits out of its territories, confiscating all their possessions.

Papal defender, Clement XIII

Return of the Jesuits

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