Jesuit conspiracy theories
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The earliest recorded Jesuit conspiracy theories are found in the Monita secreta, an early 17th-century document that alleged that the Jesuits were trying to gain wealth in illicit ways.
The Protestant Reformation, and especially the English Reformation, brought new suspicions against the Jesuits, who were accused of "infiltrating" political realms and non-Catholic churches. In England, it was forbidden to belong to the Jesuits, under grave penalties, including the death penalty. Jesuitism is the term their opponents coined for the practices of the Jesuits in the service of the Counter-Reformation.
The development of Jansenism in 17th-century France led to intra-church rivalries between Jesuits and Jansenists, and although the pro-papal Jesuits ultimately prevailed, it cost them dearly with regards to their reputation in the largely Gallican-influenced French Church.
Many anti-Jesuit conspiracy theories emerged in the 18th century Enlightenment, as a result of an alleged rivalry between the Freemasons and the pious Jesuits. Intellectual attacks on Jesuits were seen as an efficient rebuttal to the anti-masonry promoted by conservatives, and this ideological conspiracy pattern persisted into the 19th century as an important component of French anti-clericalism. It was, however, largely confined to political elites until the 1840s, when it entered the popular imagination through the writings of the historians Jules Michelet and Edgar Quinet of the Collège de France, who declared "la guerre aux jesuites", and the novelist Eugène Sue, who in his best-seller Le Juif errant depicted the Jesuits as a "secret society bent on world domination by all available means". Sue's heroine, Adrienne de Cardoville, said that she could not think about Jesuits "without ideas of darkness, of venom and of nasty black reptiles being involuntarily aroused in me".
Jesuit conspiracy theories from earlier eras often focused on the personality of Adam Weishaupt, a professor of law at a Jesuit school who went on to found the Bavarian Order of the Illuminati. Weishaupt was accused of being the secret leader of the New World Order, and even of being the Devil himself. Augustin Barruel, a conservative Jesuit historian, wrote at length about Weishaupt, claiming that the Illuminati had been the secret promoters of the French Revolution.
Jesuit conspiracy theories found fertile soil in Imperial Germany, where anti-Jesuits saw the order as a sinister and extremely powerful organization characterized by strict internal discipline, utter unscrupulousness in choice of methods, and undeviating commitment to the creation of a universal empire ruled by the Papacy. Citing historian Friedrich Heyer's metaphor of the specter of Jesuitism [Jesuitengespenst] and similar imagery from other authors, Róisín Healey writes: "The Jesuit of anti-Jesuit discourse had what might be called an uncanny quality: he was both subhuman and superhuman. Jesuits were allegedly so extreme in their submission to their order that they became like machines and, in their determination to achieve their goals, drew on powers unavailable to other men. The peculiar location of the Jesuit, at the boundaries of humanity, unsettled the producers and consumers of anti-Jesuit discourse. In this sense, the Jesuit specter haunted imperial Germany." Healy observes that "Feeling themselves haunted by the Jesuits, anti-Jesuits revealed themselves to be less rational than they believed." Their discourse, with its "skewed" perception of reality, "resembled, in certain respects, the 'paranoid style' of politics identified by the American historian, Richard Hofstadter".
Anti-Jesuitism played an important part in the Kulturkampf, culminating in the Jesuit Law of 1872, endorsed by Otto von Bismarck, which required Jesuits to dissolve their houses in Germany, forbade members from exercising most of their religious functions, and allowed the authorities to deny residency to individual members of the order. Some of the law's provisions were removed in 1904, but it was only repealed in 1917.
In the 1930s, Jesuit conspiracy theories were made use of by the Nazi regime with the goal of reducing the influence of the Jesuits, who ran secondary schools and engaged in youth work. A propaganda pamphlet, "The Jesuit: The Obscurantist without a Homeland" by Hubert Hermanns, warned against the Jesuits' "dark power" and "mysterious intentions". Declared "public vermin" [Volksschädlinge] by the Nazis, Jesuits were persecuted, interned, and sometimes murdered.
As a result of the popularity of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, many have come to view the Freemasons as the lineal heirs of the Knights Templar, but other conspiracy theorists ascribe that role to the Jesuits.
In China and Japan, Jesuits were accused by several emperors of playing imperial and tribal politics, and their involvement in the affair of the "Chinese rites" ultimately obliged the Society to reduce its activities in the Far East[need quotation to verify].
Other conspiracy theories and criticisms relate to the predominant role of the Jesuits in the colonization of the New World, and to their involvement with indigenous peoples, alleging that Jesuits may unwillingly have contributed to the assimilation of indigenous nations.
In the 1980s, claims that radical Jesuits were leading revolutionary movements in Latin America led to general suspicion against the Company by right-wing Latin-American governments, and also generated a repression of liberation theology by the Holy Office.
A notable source of modern conspiracy theories involving the Jesuits is Vatican Assassins by Eric Jon Phelps, which claims that the Jesuit Superior General, or "Black Pope", is responsible for various intrigues in American foreign policy.[need quotation to verify]
The sinking of the Titanic
In their book Titanic & Olympic: The Truth Behind the Conspiracy, historians Bruce Beveridge and Steve Hall debunk various conspiracy theories about the sinking of the Titanic, including one, which they describe as falling into the category of the "completely ridiculous", that the Jesuits were responsible. In the early 20th century, the Jesuits were supposedly seeking a means to fund their schemes and wars. In 1910, at a clandestine meeting hosted by J. P. Morgan, seven major financiers controlled by or in league with the Jesuits came to an agreement on the need to eliminate outside competition in the banking world and to create a central bank backed by the United States Government, to be known later as the Federal Reserve. This scheme, however, was opposed by certain influential businessmen such as Benjamin Guggenheim, Isador Strauss and John Jacob Astor IV. In order to eliminate these three powerful "enemies", the Jesuits ordered Morgan to build the Titanic and arrange for them to board it for a pre-arranged fatal maiden voyage.
The theory makes the claim that Captain Edward Smith was a "Jesuit temporal coadjutor". The "accidental sinking" was arranged by having Smith's "Jesuit master", Father Francis Browne, board the Titanic and order Smith to run his ship at full speed through an ice field on a moonless night, ignoring any ice warnings including those from the lookouts, with the purpose of hitting an iceberg severely enough to cause the ship to founder and the three businessmen to drown. In other words, the Titanic was built and then sunk, and her crew and passengers sacrificed, to eliminate these three men. As evidence, the conspiracy theorists say that after the sinking, all opposition to the Federal Reserve disappeared. It was set up in December 1913, and eight months later the Jesuits had sufficient funding to launch a European war. Beveridge and Hall note that the theory never addresses "why conspirators in 1910 would feel sinking a ship was an economical way to eliminate 'enemies' or how they would arrange for all three victims to board a specific ship on a specific voyage two years later".
- Webster's: Jesuitism
- James Hennesey, S.J. "Review of Geoffrey Cubitt's The Jesuit Myth", Theological Studies, 56: 1 (March 1995), p. 167.
- Quoted in Geoffrey Cubitt, The Jesuit Myth: Conspiracy Theory and Politics in Nineteenth-Century France. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1993, p. 182.
- Róisín Healy. The Jesuit Specter in Imperial Germany. Boston: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003, p. 1.
- Healy, Jesuit Specter, p. 2.
- Healy, Jesuit Specter, pp. 6-7.
- "The Jesuit: The Obscurantist without a Homeland" (1933), German History in Documents and Images.
- Bruce Beveridge and Steve Hall. Titanic & Olympic: The Truth Behind the Conspiracy. Haverford, Pennsylvania: Infinity Publishing, 2004, p. i.
- "Temporal coadjutor" is an old-fashioned Latinate term for a Jesuit brother. According to Decree 7 (The Jesuit Brother) of the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus (1995), "The term 'temporal coadjutor' is no longer common and thus, in official texts, only the terms 'brother' or 'Jesuit brother' should be used."