AUTHOR OF “THE DECAY OF THE CHURCH OF ROME” ETC,
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It is the historic custom of the Church of Rome to enlist in its service monastic or quasi-monastic bodies in addition to the ordinary clergy. In Its hour of greatest need, at the very outbreak of the Reformation, the Society of Jesus was formed as one of these auxiliary regiments, and in the war which the Church of Rome has waged since that date the Jesuits have rendered the most spirited and conspicuous service. Yet the procedure of this Society has differed in many important respects from that of the other regiments of the Church and a vast and unceasing controversy has gathered about it. It is probable that a thousand times, or several thousand times, more books and pamphlets and articles have been written about the Jesuits than about even the oldest and most powerful or learned of the monastic bodies. Not a work of history can be opened in any language, but it will contain more references to the Jesuits than to all the other religious orders collectively. But opinions differ as much today as they did a hundred or two hundred years ago about the character of the Jesuits, and the warmest eulogies are chilled by the most bitter and withering indictments.
What is a Jesuit? The question is asked still in every civilised land, and the answer is a confusing mass of contradictions. The most learned historians read the facts of their career so differently, that one comes to a verdict expressing deep and criminal guilt, and another acquits them with honour. Since the foundation of the Society these drastically opposed views of its action have been taken, and the praise and homage of admirers have been balanced by the intense hatred of an equal number of Catholic opponents. It would seem that some impenetrable veil lies over the history and present life of the Society, yet on both sides its judges refuse to recognise obscurity. Catholic monarchs and peoples have, time after time, driven the Jesuits ignominiously over their frontiers; Popes have sternly condemned them. But they are as active, and nearly as numerous, in the twentieth century as in the last days of the old political world.
No marshaling of historical facts will change the feeling of the pronounced admirers and opponents of the Jesuits, and it would be idle to suppose that, because the present writer is neither Roman Catholic nor Protestant, he will be awarded the virtue of impartiality. There seems, however, some need for an historical study of the Jesuits which will aim at impartiality and candour. On one side we have large and important works like Creineau-Joly’s Histoire religieuse,politique, et litteraire de la Compagnie de Jesus, and a number of smaller works, written by Catholics of England or America, from the material, and in the spirit, of the French historian’s work. Such works as these cannot for a moment be regarded as serious history. They are panegyrics or apologies: pleasant reading for the man or woman who wishes to admire, but mere untruth to the man or woman who wishes to know. Indeed, the work of M. Creineau-Joly written in conjunction with the Jesuits, which is at times recommended as the classical authority on the Society, has worse defects than the genial omission of unedifying episodes. He makes the most inflated general statements on the scantiest of material, is seriously and frequently inaccurate, makes a very generous use of the “mental reserve” which his friends advocate, and sometimes embodies notoriously forged documents without even intimating that they are questioned.
Such works naturally provoke an antagonistic class of volumes, in which the unflattering truths only are presented and a false picture is produced to the prejudice of the Jesuits. An entirely neutral volume on the Jesuits does not exist, and probably never will exist. The historian who surveys the whole of the facts of their remarkable and romantic career cannot remain neutral. Nor is it merely a question of whether the writer is a Roman Catholic or no. The work of M. Cretineau-Joly was followed in France by one written by a zealous priest, the Abbe Guettee, which tore its predecessor to shreds, and represented the Society of Jesus as fitly condemned by Pope and kings.
It will be found, at least, that the present work contains an impartial account both of the virtue and heroism that are found in the chronicles of the Jesuits, and the scandals and misdeeds that may justly be attributed to them. It is no less based on the original Jesuit documents, as far as they have been published, and the work of Cretineau-Joly, than on the antagonistic literature, as the reader will perceive. Whether or not it seems to some an indictment, it is a patient endeavor give all the facts, within the compass of the volume, enable the reader to form a balanced judgment on Society. It is an attempt to understand the Jesuits: understand the enthusiasm and fiery attachment of half of the Catholic world no less than the disdain detestation of the other, to employ the white and black, not blended into a monotonous grey but in the respective places and shades, so as to afford a truth picture of the dramatic fortunes of the Society during nearly four centuries, and some insight into the character of the men who won for it such ardent devotion and such intense hostility.