Back to OWR Homepage Back to Christianity Flowchart

Back to
Western Christianity


Doctrines Like all Christian orders, the Jesuits (or Society of Jesus) take the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. They are distinguished from other religious orders in not following prescribed times of worship, religious dress, or penitential practices. Instead they take a special vow of obedience to the Pope, promising to serve him without condition or payment and to go anywhere in the world that he should send them. They also follow the practices prescribed in the Spiritual Exercises, a work composed by the order's founder, Ignatius Loyola, designed to lead to surrender to God through arduous spiritual training.

History The Jesuits were founded in 1534 by Ignatius Loyola and six companions with the intention of bringing Christianity to the Muslims. They were given papal recognition in 1540. By the time of Ignatius' death there were about 1000 Jesuits. By the end of the 17th century the numbers had increased to nearly 23000.
In the 16th and 17th centuries Jesuit missionaries were sent to China, India and South America. The 18th century witnessed a period of sustained attack on the order. In 1764 the King of France dissolved the Society of Jesus in his country. Following this, thousands of Jesuits in Spain and Italy were arrested and deported. Finally in 1773 the movement was suppressed by Pope Clement XIV.
Restored in 1814, the society continued to encounter hostility in the form of liberal, anticlerical governments. During the same period it returned to old mission fields, such as India and China, and re-established new ones such as Australia, North Africa, Japan and North America. During the first half of the 20th century the number of Jesuits grew steadily, particularly in the United States. Between 1916 and 1964 the Society expanded from 16,894 to 35,788 men. The last three decades, however, have witnessed an alarming decline in the Society's numbers. In spite of this the Jesuits continue to make an important contribution to education. Today some 2000 Jesuit schools, colleges, and universities remain in operation.

Symbols An object of devotion which is particularly important for the Jesuits is the sacred heart of Jesus, a symbol of Christ's love of humanity. Reverences to the sacred heart of Jesus are to be found in the writings of 12th century mystics. However, the devotion was not popularised until the 17th century when St Margaret May Alacoque, French Visitandine nun, experienced a vision in which Christ exposed his heart to her. Alacoque described the heart as on a throne formed of fire and flames, surrounded by a crown of thorns, with a cross planted in it. During the late 1760s and early 1770s the sacred heart became an object of almost universal devotion among the Jesuits.

Adherents In 1984 the Society's membership stood at 25,724 (Bangert 1986, 519).

Main Centre
 The head of the Jesuits is the Father General who resides in Rome.