The success or otherwise of the Jesuits, founded by Ignatius Loyola, depends on a definition of ‘success’. If the Jesuits were meant to set new high standards for the Catholic Church post-Luther, then they were very successful. If they were to spearhead a movement – the Counter-Reformation – that would lead to the end of the Protestants within Europe, then they were not successful. However, in determining their success, the following points should be noted:
1. The character of Loyola is very important when explaining the success of the Jesuits. He was committed, energetic, purposeful, academic but not a intellectual. Loyola was a ‘doer’ and a natural leader. One of his followers claimed that Loyola was “always in a state of self-mastery”. Loyola was an active and capable organiser.
2. The organisation of the Jesuits was important. They were very well disciplined and they were a semi-military order. All novices had to study the Classics. Loyola’s “Constitutions” and “Spiritual Exercises” had to be read and known.
3. The Jesuits mission was huge. “Their church was the whole world” (Lockyer) Great emphasis was put on pastoral care and many Jesuits worked in hospitals. The Jesuits traveled the whole world on their mission. By the time of Loyola’s death in 1556, Jesuits were in Africa, India, Japan and America. They made the effort to ‘sell’ themselves – to be seen doing God’s work.
4. There was a great emphasis put on personal advancement within the Jesuits. There were 3 grades and it was a great personal challenge to upgrade yourself and a chance to be recognised by the Generals of the Jesuits.
5. Teachers of the highest quality were sent to help Catholic princes in Germany during the 1540’s. Jesuit colleges were established throughout Europe as a base to the Counter-Reformation. Much good work was done by Peter Canisius. “He did more than any other single person to turn back the tide of Protestantism in the area where it first started flowing.” (Lockyer). By 1600, there were 1000 Jesuits working in Germany, many at great personal risk to themselves (though this was not important to them). Colleges based on the Jesuit College in Rome were established throughout western Europe. This lead to success following on from success.
6. Loyola had never intended his followers to be teachers but he quickly recognised the importance such a role could have for Catholic success. This gave the Catholics a high intellectual standing and as all Jesuits were man of the highest quality, gave them a leading part to play in the Counter-Reformation.
7. Jesuits were seen to be going back to the ‘old ways’ and they were untainted with the poor standards of Catholics priests circa 1517.
8. The Jesuits attracted the support of wealthy Catholic families who sent their sons to Catholic schools. This gave the Jesuits influence and support at senior government level.
9. “The Jesuits were learned, cultured and accomplished and able to make their impression on society.” (Cowie)
10. “The vigorous and aggressive Catholic Church which developed during the Sixteenth Century was largely the product of the Jesuits.” (Cowie)