A Roman Catholic society formed in 1534 by Ignatius Loyola (1491–1556) and officially instituted as an Order of the Roman church by a papal bull in 1540. According to the bull, the Jesuits were constituted “to wield the arms of God” in obedience to the pope. Their chief aim was to stamp out the Reformation (see Counter Reformation). This militant purpose is vividly portrayed by a plaster cast in the Church of the Jesuits in Rome, depicting Loyola with his foot triumphantly placed on the neck of Protestantism.

By their oath, Jesuits swear unswerving loyalty to the pope, ascribing to him the power to depose “heretical” kings and states. They renounce any allegiance due to Protestant states.

Ever since their institution, their energy and activities have been boundless. They came to have such enormous power that they posed a very real threat to lawful authority in many countries. They were expelled from one nation after another, until finally in 1773 Pope Clement XIV abolished their order entirely. But Pope Pius VII reestablished it in 1814, declaring that “if any should again attempt to abolish it he would incur the indignation of Almighty God and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul.”

Jesuit philosophy has always been synonymous with deceit, dissimulation, and immorality. It teaches that it is morally acceptable “to do evil that good may come,” holding that “the end justifies the means.” That moral flexibility has rendered the Jesuits very valuable to the Vatican in many areas. For example, they have taken the leading role in Rome’s church-unity dealings with ecumenical Protestants, where their skill in diplomatic duplicity has paid great dividends.

In recent times, however, the order has again become embroiled in controversy within the Roman church. It has championed the cause of liberation theology in Latin America and, according to some of its members, has departed from its primary task of upholding and advancing the decrees of the pope.

Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms. Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.

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