Who Are the Jesuits? Why the First Jesuit Pope Could Signify the ‘New Evangelization’ of Christians

As the conclave in Rome elected the first Jesuit pope to power yesterday, the move has turned the spotlight on the order of the Jesuits, and how the new pope may usher in the “new evangelization” of Christians and the world at large.

The History of the Jesuits

The Society of Jesus, which later became known simply as the Jesuits, was founded in 1534 by Ignatius Loyola, a Spaniard like Pope Francis. The mission of the organization was to spread Roman Catholicism throughout the world, and to protect the power of the pope and the practices of Roman Catholicism from the Protestant Reformation, so that the pope may remain God’s authority on the earth.

“That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity, ….  if [the Church] shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black,” Loyola wrote in Rules for Thinking with the Church.

Ignacious Loyola, the co-founder of the order of the Jesuits

The Protestant Reformation, which resulted in the counter-Reformation by the Jesuits, was sparked by a monk and scholar named Martin Luther, who served the Roman Catholic Church in Wittenburg, Germany. As Luther began studying the Scriptures after he was appointed to a Chair of Biblical Theology, he became consumed with a passion to discover what it meant to be a Christian. In the Catholic Church, he had seen men trying to earn their way to Heaven, but as he read the Bible, he realized that salvation was through faith in Christ alone.

“I think I’ve found the truth at last,” the classic film Martin Luther depicts Luther as stating to a Church official. “By faith man lives and is righteous, not by what he does for himself, be it adoration of relics, singing of masses, pilgrimages to Rome, purchase of pardon for his sins, but by faith in what God has done for him already through His Son.”

Following the revelation, Luther began to challenge the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, compiling a list of 95 thesis where he asserted that Catholic doctrine contradicted the Scriptures. He was later summoned to appear before a meeting of the Church, and was declared a heretic and excommunicated.

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As Luther began to spread the Gospel throughout Germany, and others joined in to take the Scriptures to the uttermost parts of the earth, decrying Catholic doctrine, the order of the Jesuits was also formed to spread Roman Catholicism. It soon became an effort to stop Protestantism and to take the world by storm for the Catholic Church.

“As the object of the society was the propagation and strengthening of the Catholic faith everywhere, the Jesuits naturally endeavored to counteract the spread of Protestantism,” the Catholic Encyclopedia outlines. “They became the main instruments of the Counter-Reformation; the re-conquest of southern and western Germany and Austria for the Church, and the preservation of the Catholic faith in France and other countries were due chiefly to their exertions.”

Loyola later composed the Jesuit constitution, outlining the laws, mindsets and behaviors that Jesuits are to follow, namely putting the pope first in all things. The nations that Jesuits converted were required to likewise submit to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

Jesuits in Modern Times and National Reaction to the Election of a Jesuit

Georgetown University’s Jesuit Residence

While the Jesuits are no longer seen as the army that they once were, their influence remains throughout the world, including through the educational system, which trains devout Catholics to infiltrate all of society by giving them the skills to work in a variety of fields.

“The Jesuit schools [of the 16th century] played an important part in winning back to Catholicism a number of European countries which had for a time been predominantly Protestant, notably Poland and Lithuania,” reports state. “Today, Jesuit colleges and universities are located in over one hundred nations around the world.”

Seattle University notes that it “is one of 28 Jesuit universities in the United States.” Other colleges and universities include Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio; Loyola University in New Orleans, Louisiana; the University of San Francisco in California; LeMoyne College in Syracuse, New York and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

The Jesuits also continue to be a highly evangelistic and missional sect that some believe are secretly pervasive in their spread of Catholicism. Many Catholic missionaries are sent throughout the world to convert the masses to the religion, and there remains contention with Protestantism as the Roman Catholic Church is referred to by some as the “only true Church.”

With the election of Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the first Jesuit pope in history, a number of Jesuit organizations have enthusiastically applauded the move.

“It has been a truly historic day for the Society of Jesus as we learned that our brother, Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio, was selected to lead the Catholic Church as Pope Francis I,” Gregory F. Lucey of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities said in a statement following the announcement of the new pope. “As Jesuits, we emphasize social justice in our ministry, and we are gratified to have a leader who will continue to live out this mission on a global stage. We pray that the Pope’s grounding in Ignatian spirituality will guide him as he carries out this extraordinary calling to lead the Church of the 21st century.”

“The Jesuits of the New Orleans Province rejoice with the whole Church at the election of Pope Francis I,” stated Mark A. Lewis of the New Orleans Jesuit branch. “While none of us know him personally, we are pleased at his solidarity with the poor.”

Barack Obama also issued a statement yesterday regarding Bergoglio’s appointment.

“On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I offer our warm wishes to His Holiness Pope Francis as he ascends to the Chair of Saint Peter and begins his papacy,” he wrote. “Just as I appreciated our work with Pope Benedict XVI, I look forward to working with His Holiness to advance peace, security and dignity for our fellow human beings, regardless of their faith. We join with people around the world in offering our prayers for the Holy Father as he begins the sacred work of leading the Catholic Church in our modern world.”

Bergoglio’s Life as a Jesuit and His Possible Influence as Pope

Bergoglio serving in his capacity as cardinal.

As Jesuits take a vow of poverty, Bergoglio, who became a Jesuit in 1958 and was promoted in 1973, was stated to have lived very simply in Argentina, riding the bus to work and living in an apartment where he cooked his own meals. While he reportedly opposes homosexuality and abortion, he also has chastised the Church for being too strict in some areas.

“In our ecclesiastical region, there are priests who don’t baptize the children of single mothers because they weren’t conceived in the sanctity of marriage,” he once stated, chastising his priests. “These are today’s hypocrites. Those who clericalize the Church. Those who separate the people of God from salvation. And this poor girl who, rather than returning the child to sender, had the courage to carry it into the world, must wander from parish to parish so that it’s baptized!”

Bergoglio was also sued in 2005 after being accused of conspiring with the junta in 1976 to kidnap two Jesuit priests. He denies the allegations.

While it is unknown as to exactly how Bergoglio’s identification as a Jesuit will play out in his role as pope, his first speech to the people subtly referenced his Jesuit leanings.

“First and foremost, I would like to pray for our emeritus Pope Benedict XVI that Christ and the Madonna watch over him,” he stated, and again remarking, “Tomorrow, I want to go pray to the Madonna that she may protect Rome.”

According to reports, Jesuits refer to the virgin Mary as Madonna Della Strada.

Because of Bergoglio’s emphasis on Mary in his first speech, and making prayer to the Madonna one of his first acts as pope, some state that it is possible that he may seek to make Mary co-redemptrix as Pope John Paul II once did. The move would thus recognize Mary as a part of the redemption of mankind.

“The revered Mother of God, … joined … with Jesus Christ in one and the same decree of predestination … as the noble associate of the divine Redeemer,” Pope Pius XII once stated.

“He may resurface that attempt,” Mike Gendron of Proclaiming the Gospel Ministries told Christian News Network. “If he goes this route and makes her co-redemptrix, it would be unprecedented.”

Dr. Terrence Tilley of Fordham University’s Department of Theology states that Bergoglio’s selection of the name “Pope Francis” might be telling.

“We don’t know what it means, but it certainly is the name of St. Francis of Assisi and Francis Xavier (the co-founder of the order of the Jesuits), both of whom were missionaries,” he said. “I think that makes a big difference and suggests that he is going to be strong for the new evangelization.”

Gendron agreed.

“The goal of every pope has been to make the entire world Catholic,” he stated. “They’re into world dominion. … Their eschatology is that Jesus won’t return until the world is Roman Catholic.”

Already, some Protestants are embracing the Roman Catholic Church and the appointment of the new pope. As previously reported, Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life and globally influential megachurch leader, was enthusiastic about the election of the new pope. Warren called for fasting and prayer this week for the cardinals that would be voting on the matter. After Bergoglio was appointed as successor, Warren Tweeted to his over 900,000 followers, “Welcome Pope Francis, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio. You have our prayers.” He included the hashtag “habemus papum,” meaning “We have a pope!”

“No, Mr. Warren. Christians don’t have a pope,” remarked one reader. “YOU might have a pope, Mr. Warren, but followers of Jesus Christ do not!”

Many evangelicals have also been joining together with Roman Catholics in efforts such as 40 Days for Life, The Manhattan Declaration and the March for Life. Vatican-instituted holidays such as Lent are also increasingly being observed by Protestant churches nationwide, as well as other days marked on the liturgical calendar.

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