Suppression of the Society of Jesus

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Society of Jesus

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The suppression of the Jesuits in the Portuguese Empire, France, the Two Sicilies, Malta, Parma and the Spanish Empire by 1767 was a result of a series of political moves in each polity rather than a theological controversy.[1] Monarchies attempting to centralize and secularize political power viewed the Jesuits as being too international, too strongly allied to the papacy, and too autonomous from the monarchs in whose territory they operated.[2] By the brief Dominus ac Redemptor (21 July 1773) Pope Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus. The Jesuits took refuge in non-Catholic nations, particularly in Prussia and Russia, where the order was ignored or formally rejected. 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 was suppressed by the Austrian government of the Low Countries.

An early ban was from the territories of the Venetian Republic between 1606 and 1656/7, begun and ended as part of disputes between the Republic and the Papacy, beginning with the Venetian Interdict.[3]


Civil suppression[edit]


The Marquis of Pombal, Louis-Michel van Loo, 1766

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 Colonia del 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 Guaraní, who lived in the mission territories, were ordered to quit their country and settle across the Uruguay. Owing to the harsh conditions, the Guaraní rose in arms against the transfer, and the so-called Guaraní War ensued. It was a disaster for the Guaraní. In Portugal a battle of inflammatory pamphlets denouncing or defending the Order escalated. The Jesuit fathers were forbidden to continue the local administration of their former missions, and the Portuguese Jesuits were deported from South America.[4]

On April 1, 1758, the Count of Oeiras (later Marquess of Pombal) persuaded the aged Pope Benedict XIV to appoint the Portuguese Cardinal Saldanha, to investigate allegations against the Jesuits.[5] 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 him. Benedict died the following month on May 3. On May 15, Saldanha, having received the papal brief only a fortnight before, declared that the Jesuits were guilty of having exercised "illicit, public, and scandalous commerce", both in Portugal and in its colonies. He had not visited Jesuit houses as ordered, and pronounced on the issues which the pope had reserved to himself.[4]

Pombal implicated the Jesuits in the Távora affair, an attempted assassination of the king on September 3, 1758, on the grounds of their friendship with some of the supposed conspirators. On 19 January 1759, he issued a decree sequestering the property of the Society in the Portuguese dominions and the following September deported the Portuguese fathers, about one thousand in number, to the Pontifical States, keeping the foreigners in prison. Among those arrested and executed was the then denounced Gabriel Malagrida, the Jesuit confessor of Leonor of Távora for crimes against the faith. After Malagrida's execution in 1759, the Order was civilly suppressed. The Portuguese ambassador was recalled from Rome and the papal nuncio expelled. Diplomatic relations between Portugal and Rome were broken off until 1770.[5]



By the mid-18th century, the Society had acquired a reputation in Europe for political maneuvering and economic exploitation. On July 21, 1773 Pope Clement XIV issued a papal bull in Rome titled: “Dominus ac Redemptor Noster ”. That decree included the following statement.

"...having further considered that the said Company of Jesus can no longer produce those abundant the present case, we are determining upon the fate of a society classed among the mendicant orders, both by its institute and by its privileges; after a mature deliberation, we do, out of our certain knowledge, and the fulness of our apostolical power, suppress and abolish the said company: we deprive it of all activity whatever...And to this end a member of the regular clergy, recommendable for his prudence and sound morals, shall be chosen to preside over and govern the said houses; so that the name of the Company shall be, and is, for ever extinguished and suppressed. ..."
— ", Pope Clement XIV, Dominus ac Redemptor Noster[6]

Monarchs in many European states grew progressively wary of what they saw as undue interference from a foreign entity. The expulsion of Jesuits from their states had the added benefit of allowing governments to impound the Society's accumulated wealth and possessions. However, historian Charles Gibson cautions, "[h]ow far this served as a motive for the expulsion we do not know."[7]

Various states took advantage of different events in order to take action. The series of political struggles between various monarchs, particularly France and Portugal, began with disputes over territory in 1750 and culminated in suspension of diplomatic relations and dissolution of the Society by the Pope over most of Europe, and even some executions. The Portuguese Empire, France, the Two Sicilies, Parma and the Spanish Empire were involved to one degree or another.

The conflicts began with trade disputes, in 1750 in Portugal, in 1755 in France, and in the late 1750s in the Two Sicilies. In 1758 the government of Joseph I of Portugal took advantage of the waning powers of Pope Benedict XIV and deported Jesuits from America after relocating the Jesuits and their native workers, and then fighting a brief conflict, formally suppressing the order in 1759. In 1762 the Parlement Français, (a court, not a legislature), ruled against the Society in a huge bankruptcy case under pressure from a host of groups - from within the Church, but also secular intellectuals and the king's mistress. Austria and the Two Sicilies suppressed the order by decree in 1767.


As the Napoleonic Wars were approaching their end in 1814, the old political order of Europe was to a considerable extent restored at the Congress of Vienna after years of fighting and revolution, during which the Church had been persecuted as an agent of the old order and abused under the rule of Napoleon. With the political climate of Europe changed and more stable, and with the powerful monarchs who had called for the suppression of the Society no longer in power, Pope Pius VII issued an order restoring the Society of Jesus in the Catholic countries of Europe. For its part, the Society of Jesus made the decision at the first General Congregation held after the restoration to keep the organization of the Society the way that it had been before the suppression was ordered in 1773.

After 1815, with the Restoration, the Catholic Church began to play a more welcome role in European political life once more. Nation by nation the Jesuits became re-established.

The modern view is that the suppression of the order was the result of a series of political and economic conflicts rather than a theological controversy and the assertion of nation-state independence against the Catholic Church. The expulsion of the Society of Jesus from the Roman Catholic nations of Europe and their colonial empires is also seen as one of the early manifestations of the new secularist zeitgeist of the Enlightenment. It peaked with the anti-clericalism of the French Revolution. The suppression was also seen as being an attempt by monarchs to gain control of revenues and trade that were previously dominated by the Society of Jesus. Catholic historians often point to a personal conflict between Pope Clement XIII (1758–1769) and his supporters within the church and the crown cardinals backed by France.

Other suppressions[edit]

In addition to 1767, the Jesuits were suppressed and banned twice more in Spain, in 1834 and in 1932. Spanish ruler Francisco Franco rescinded the final suppression in 1938.

They were also exiled from Russia in 1820.

By country[edit]


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.

The Jesuits had many opponents. 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 Jansenist 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 proposed to the Parlement by the Advocate General, Joly de Fleury 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."


Malta was at the time a vassal of the Kingdom of Sicily, and Grandmaster Manuel Pinto da Fonseca - himself a Portuguese - followed suit, expelling the Jesuits from the island and seizing their assets. These assets were used in establishing the University of Malta by a decree signed by Pinto on 22 November 1769 - an important lasting effect on the social and cultural life of Malta.[8] The Church of the Jesuits (in Maltese Knisja tal-Ġiżwiti), one of the oldest churches in Valletta, retains this name up to the present.


The independent Duchy of Parma was the smallest Bourbon court. So aggressive in its anti-clericalism was the Parmesan reaction to the news of the expulsion of the Jesuits from Naples, that pope Clement XIII addressed a public warning against it on January 30, 1768. Clement threatened the Duchy with ecclesiastical censures. At this, all the Bourbon courts turned in fury against the Holy See, demanding the entire dissolution of the Jesuits. As a preliminary, Parma at once drove the Jesuits out of its territories, confiscating all their possessions.


The royal decree banishing the Society of Jesus from Spain and the Spanish dominions reached Manila on May 17, 1768. Between 1769 and 1771 the Jesuits in the Philippines were transported to Spain and from there deported to Italy.[9]

Poland and Lithuania[edit]

Jesuit order was disbanded in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1773; however the order branches in the lands of the Russian Partition of the First Partition of Poland were not disbanded, as Russian Empress Catherine did not acknowledge the Papal order.[10] In the Commonwealth, many of the Jesuit order possessions were taken over by the Commission of National Education, the world's first Ministry of Education. Lithuania was also very suppressionable by society.[11]


Jesuits were supported by Empress Catherine, so the order dissolution was delayed in the Russian Empire. However, a few decades later pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church influenced Tsar Alexander I to exile the Jesuits in 1820.[10][11]

Spanish Empire[edit]

The Suppression in Spain and in the Spanish colonies, and in its dependency, the Kingdom of Naples, was the last of the expulsions, with Portugal (1759) and France (1764) having already set the pattern. The Spanish crown had already begun a series of administrative and other changes in their overseas empire, such as reorganizing the viceroyalties, rethinking economic policies, and establishing a military, so that the expulsion of the Jesuits is seen as part of this general trend, known generally as the Bourbon Reforms. The aim of the reforms was to curb the increasing autonomy and self-confidence of American-born Spaniards and reassert crown control.[12] Some historians doubt that the Jesuits were guilty of intrigues against the Spanish crown that were used as the immediate cause for the expulsion.[13]

In Spain, Bourbon king Carlos III used popular resistance to his regime as a pretext to get rid of the Jesuits. After sharply increasing taxes on the people, Carlos issued an edict restricting the breadth of sombreros the people could wear, to a specified diameter. This sumptuary law aimed to prevent the people from imitating the upper classes, and from wasting too much money. Many people defied both the tax hike and the hat-trimming edict, moving about town in broad-brimmed sombreros.

When an angry crowd of those resisters converged on the royal palace, king Carlos fled to the countryside. His Flemish palace guard fired warning shots over the people's heads. A group of Jesuit priests appeared on the scene, soothed the protesters with speeches, and sent them home. Carlos decided to rescind the tax hike and hat-trimming edict, and to fire his finance minister.[14]

Far from thanking the Jesuits for saving the day, Carlos blamed them for supposedly orchestrating all the resistance from the start. He ordered the convening of a special royal commission to draw up a master plan to expel the Jesuits. The commission first met in January 1767. It modeled its plan on the tactics deployed by France's Philip IV against the Knights Templar in 1307 — emphasizing the element of surprise.[15]

Expulsion plan drawn up in secret[edit]

King Carlos' ministers 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, Carlos' anti-clerical minister in Naples, contains the ideas which — from time to time — guided Spanish policy. Carlos conducted his government through the Count of Aranda, a reader of Voltaire, and other liberals.

The commission's meeting on January 29, 1767 settled the expulsion of the Jesuits. Secret orders, to be opened at sunrise on April 2, were sent to all provincial viceroys and district military commanders in Spain. Each sealed envelope contained two documents: One was a copy of the original order expelling "all members of the Society of Jesus" from Carlos' Spanish domains and confiscating all their goods. The other instructed local officials to surround the Jesuit colleges and residences on the night of April 2, arrest the Jesuits and arrange their passage to ships awaiting them at various ports. King Carlos' closing sentence read: "If a single Jesuit, even though sick or dying, is still to be found in the area under your command after the embarkation, prepare yourself to face summary execution."[16]

Pope Clement XIII, presented with a similar ultimatum by the Spanish ambassador to the Vatican a few days before the decree would take effect, asked king Carlos, "By what authority?…" and threatened him with eternal damnation. But Carlos took no heed: Pope Clement, shoved around by west Europe's Catholic monarchs and ridiculed by common people in Rome, had no means to enforce his protest.[17]

Jesuits packed into Spanish warships[edit]

Spanish soldiers swiftly rounded up the Jesuits, marched them to the coasts, and packed them below the decks of Spanish warships headed for the Italian port of Civitavecchia in the Papal States. When they arrived, Pope Clement XIII refused to allow the ships to unload their prisoners onto papal territory. Fired upon by batteries of artillery from the shore of Civitavecchia, the Spanish warships had to look for an anchorage off the island of Corsica, then a dependency of Genoa. But since a rebellion had erupted on Corsica, it took five months before some of the Jesuits could set foot on land.

Different historians have estimated the number of Jesuits deported at 6,000. But it is not clear whether this figure encompasses Spain alone, or extends to Spain's overseas colonies (notably Mexico and the Philippines) as well.[18] Jesuit historian Hubert Becher claims that about 600 Jesuits died during their voyage and waiting ordeal.[19]

In Naples, king Carlos' minister Bernardo Tanucci pursued a similar policy: On November 3 the Jesuits, with no trial or even an accusation, were marched across the border into the Papal States, and threatened with death if they returned.

Historian Charles Gibson calls the Spanish crown's expulsion of the Jesuits a "sudden and devastating move" to assert royal control.[20] However, the Jesuits became a vulnerable target for the crown's moves to assert more control over the church, since other religious orders and the diocesan clergy as well as the civil authorities were hostile to them, and did not protest their expulsion.[21][22] There were popular protests in some areas against the expulsion, including Mexico, which were put down by the crown by force. However, "royal magistrates and prelates seemed to vie with one another in carrying out the royal orders."[23]

Jesuits expelled from Mexico (New Spain)[edit]

In Mexico, the Jesuits had actively evangelized the Indians on the northern frontier. But their main activity involved educating criollo (American-born Spanish) elites, many of whom themselves became Jesuits. Of the 678 Jesuits expelled from Mexico, 75% were Mexican-born. In late June 1767, Spanish soldiers removed the Jesuits from their 16 missions and 32 stations in Mexico. No Jesuit, no matter how old or ill, could be excepted from the king's decree. Many died on the trek along the cactus-studded trail to the eastern port of Veracruz, where overloaded ships awaited them.[24]

There were protests in Mexico at the exile of so many Jesuit members of elite families. But the Jesuits themselves obeyed the order. Since the Jesuits had owned extensive landed estates in Mexico — which supported both their evangelization of indigenous peoples and their education mission to criollo elites — the properties became a source of wealth for the crown. The crown auctioned them off, benefiting the treasury, and their criollo purchasers gained productive well-run properties.[20][25] Many criollo families felt outraged at the crown's actions, regarding it as a "despotic act."[26] One Mexican Jesuit who lived out his life in Italian exile, Francisco Javier Clavijero, wrote an important history of Mexico with emphasis on the indigenous peoples.

Due to the isolation of the Spanish missions in Baja California, the decree for expulsion did not arrive in Baja California in June 1767, as in the rest of New Spain: It got delayed until the new governor, Gaspar de Portolá, arrived with the news on November 30. Jesuits from the 14 missions operating at the moment reunited in Loreto, whence they left for exile on February 3, 1768. The Jesuit missions in Baja California were turned over to the Franciscans. So the future missions in Alta California — which would otherwise have become Jesuit institutions — were founded by Franciscans.

The change in the Spanish colonies in the New World was particularly great, as the far-flung settlements were often dominated by missions. Almost overnight in the mission towns of Sonora and Arizona, the "black robes" (as the Jesuits were often known) disappeared and the "gray robes" (Franciscans) replaced them.[27]


It took until 1768 for the Spanish royal order to reach the Jesuit missions in the south of the Philippines. By the end of that year, the Jesuits had been dispossessed throughout Spain's dominions.

Economic impact[edit]

The suppression of the order had longstanding economic effects in the Americas, particularly those areas where they had their missions or reductions — outlying areas dominated by indigenous peoples such as Paraguay and Chiloé Archipelago. In Central Chile the suppression of the order led among other things to a sharp decrease in the import of black slaves from Peru, which although small in comparison to neighboring colonies had led the order to own the largest number of black slaves in Chile, 1300 approximately. In Misiones, in modern-day Argentina, their suppression led to the scattering and enslavement of indigenous Guaranís living in the reductions and a long-term decline in the yerba mate industry from which it only recovered in the 20th century.[28]

With the suppression of the Society of Jesus in Spanish America, Jesuit vineyards in Peru were auctioned, but new owners did not have the same expertise as the Jesuits, contributing to a production decline in wine and pisco.[29]


  1. ^ Roehner, Bertrand M. (April 1997), "Jesuits and the State: A Comparative Study of their Expulsions (1590–1990)", Religion 27 (2): 165–182, doi:10.1006/reli.1996.0048 
  2. ^ Ida Altman et al., The Early History of Greater Mexico, Pearson 2003, p. 310.
  3. ^ Review by Giuseppe Gerbino (Department of Music, Columbia University) of Edward Muir, The Culture Wars of the Late Renaissance: Skeptics, Libertines, and Opera, Harvard University Press, 2007, ISBN 9780674024816, Published on H-Italy (June, 2008)
  4. ^ a b Pollen, John Hungerford. "The Suppression of the Jesuits (1750-1773)" The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 26 March 2014
  5. ^ a b Prestage, Edgar. "Marquis de Pombal" The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 26 March 2014
  6. ^ Pope Clement XIV, Dominus ac Redemptor Noster July 21, 1773
  7. ^ Charles Gibson, Spain in America, New York: Harper and Row 1966, p. 83 footnote 28.
  8. ^ "History of the University". University of Malta. 2014. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  9. ^ de la Costa, Horacio (2014). "Jesuits in the Philippines: From Mission to Province (1581-1768)". Philippine Jesuits. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  10. ^ a b "Kasata Zakonu" [Abolishment Order]. Society of Jesus in Poland (in Polish). 2014. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  11. ^ a b Grzebień, Ludwik (2014). "Wskrzeszenie zakonu jezuitów" [The Resurrection of the Jesuits]. (in Polish). Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  12. ^ Virginia Guedea, "The Old Colonialism Ends, the New Colonialism Begins", in The Oxford History of Mexico, edited by Michael Meyer and William Beezley, New York: Oxford University Press 2000, p278..
  13. ^ James Lockhart and Stuart Schwartz, Early Latin America, New York: Cambridge University Press 1983, p. 350.
  14. ^ Manfred Barthel. The Jesuits: History and Legend of the Society of Jesus. Translated and adapted from the German by Mark Howson. William Morrow & Co., 1984, pp. 222-3.
  15. ^ Manfred Barthel. The Jesuits: History and Legend of the Society of Jesus. Translated and adapted from the German by Mark Howson. William Morrow & Co., 1984, p. 223.
  16. ^ Manfred Barthel. The Jesuits: History and Legend of the Society of Jesus. Translated and adapted from the German by Mark Howson. William Morrow & Co., 1984, pp. 223-4.
  17. ^ Manfred Barthel. The Jesuits: History and Legend of the Society of Jesus. Translated and adapted from the German by Mark Howson. William Morrow & Co., 1984, pp. 224-6.
  18. ^ Manfred Barthel. The Jesuits: History and Legend of the Society of Jesus. Translated and adapted from the German by Mark Howson. William Morrow & Co., 1984, p. 225, footnote.
  19. ^ Hubert Becher, SJ. Die Jesuiten: Gestalt und Geschichte des Ordens. Munich, 1951.
  20. ^ a b Charles Gibson, Spain in America, New York: Harper and Row, p.83-84.
  21. ^ Lockhart and Schwartz, ibid.
  22. ^ Clarence Haring, The Spanish Empire in America, Oxford University Press, 1947, p. 206.
  23. ^ Haring, ibid.
  24. ^ Don DeNevi and Noel Francis Moholy. Junípero Serra: The Illustrated Story of the Franciscan Founder of California's Missions. Harper & Row, 1985, p. 7.
  25. ^ Ida Altman et al., The Early History of Greater Mexico, Pearson 2003, pp. 310-11.
  26. ^ Susan Deans-Smith, "Bourbon Reforms", Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society, Culture, volume 1. Michael S. Werner, ed., Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn 1997, pp. 153-154.
  27. ^ Pourade, Richard F. (2014). "6: Padres Lead the Way". The History of San Diego. Retrieved 20 February 2014. 
  28. ^ Daumas, Ernesto (1930). El problema de la yerba mate. Buenos Aires: Compañia Impresora Argentina. 
  29. ^ Lacoste, Pablo (2004). "La vid y el vino en América del Sur: el desplazamiento de los polos vitivinícolas (siglos XVI al XX)". Universum (University of Talca). Retrieved 20 February 2014. 

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