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Jesuit Generals Prior to the Suppression of the Society (1541-1773)

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St. Ignatius Loyola

(19 April 1541-31 July, 1556). The society spread rapidly, and at the time of St. Ignatius' death had twelve provinces: Italy, Sicily, Portugal, Aragon, Castile, Andalusia, Upper Germany, Lower Germany, France, India (including Japan), Brazil, and Ethiopia, the last-mentioned province lasting but a short time. It met with opposition at the University of Paris; while in Spain it was severely attacked by Melchior Cano.

James Lainez

(2 July, 1558-19 January, 1565). Lainez served two years as vicar-general, and was chosen general in the first general congregation, retarded until 1558 (19 June-10 Sept.) owing to the unfortunate war between Paul IV and Philip II. Paul IV gave orders that the Divine Office should be recited in choir, and also that the generalate should only last three years. The pope died on 18 August, 1559, and his orders were not renewed by his successor, Pius IV; indeed he refused Fr. Lainez leave to resign when his first triennium closed. Through Pius' nephew, St. Charles Borromeo, the Society now received many privileges and openings, and progress was rapid. Father Lainez himself was sent to the "Colloquy of Poissy", and to the Council of Trent (1563-4), St. Francis Borgia being left in Rome as his vicar-general. At the death of Lainez the Society numbered 3500 members in 18 provinces and 130 houses.

St. Francis Borgia

(2 July 1565-1 October, 1572). One of the most delicate tasks of his government was to negotiate with Pope St. Pius V, who desired to reintroduce the singing of Office. This was in fact begun in May, 1569, but only in professed houses, and it was not to interfere with other work. Pius also ordained (Christmas, 1566) that no candidate for any religious order for the priesthood should be ordained until after his profession; and this indirectly caused much trouble to the Society, with its distinct grades of professed and non-professed priests. All therefore had to be professed of three vows, until Gregory XIII (December, 1572) allowed the original practice to be restored. Under his administration the foreign missionary work of the order greatly increased and prospered. New missions were opened by the Society in Florida, Mexico, and Peru.

Everard Mercurian

Belgian (23 April, 1573-1 August 1580). Fr. Mercurian was born in 1514 in the village of Marcour (Luxembourg), whence his name, which he signed Everard de Marcour. He became the first non-Spanish general of the Society. Pope Gregory XIII, without commanding, had expressed his desire for this change. This, however, caused great dissatisfaction and opposition among a number of the Spanish and Portuguese members, which came to a crisis during the generalate of Father Mercurian's successor, Father Claudius Acquaviva. Father Tolet was entrusted with the task of obtaining the submission of Michael Baius to the decision of the Holy See; he succeeded, but his success later served to draw on the Society the hatred of the Jansenists. Father Mercurian, when general, brought the rules to their final form, compiling the "Summary of the Constitutions" from the manuscripts of St. Ignatius, and drawing up the "Common Rules" of the Society, and the particular rules of each office. He was greatly interested in the foreign missions and established the Marionite and English missions, and sent to the latter Blessed Edmund Campion and Father Robert Persons. Father Everard Mercurian passed thirty-two years in the Society, and died at the age of sixty-six. At that time the Society numbered 5000 members in eighteen provinces.

Claudius Acquaviva (Aquaviva)

Neapolitan (19 February, 1581-31 January, 1615). (For the disputations on grace, see Congregatio de Auxiliis). After Ignatius, Acquaviva was perhaps the ablest ruler of the Society. As a legislator he reduced to its present form the final parts of the Institute, and the Ratio Studiorum. He had also to contend with extraordinary obstacles both from without and within. The Society was banished from France and from Venice; there were grave differences with the King of Spain, with Sixtus V, with the Dominican theologians; and within the Society the rivalry between Spaniards and Italian led to unusual complications and to the calling of two extraordinary general congregations (fifth and sixth). The origin of these troubles is perhaps eventually to be sought in the long wars of religion, which gradually died down after the canonical absolution of Henry IV, 1595 (in which Fathers Georges, Toledo, and Possevinus played important parts). The fifth congregation in 1593 supported Acquaviva steadily against the opposing parties, and the sixth, in 1608, completed the union of opinions. Paul V in 1606 re-confirmed the Institute, which from now onwards may be considered to have won a stable position in the Church at large, until the epoch of the Suppression and the Revolution. Missions were established in Canada, Chile, Paraguay, the Philippine Islands, and China. At Father Acquaviva's death the Society numbered 13,112 members in 32 provinces and 559 houses.

Mutius Vitelleschi

Roman (15 November, 1615-9 February, 1645). His generalate was one of the most pacific and progressive, especially in France and Spain; but the Thirty Years' War worked havoc in Germany. The canonization of Sts. Ignatius and Francis Xavier (1622) and the first centenary of the Society (1640) were celebrated with great rejoicings. The great mission of Paraguay began, that of Japan was stamped out in blood. England was raised in 1619 to the rank of a province of the order, having been a mission until then. Missions were established in Tibet (1624), Tonkin (1627), and Maranhao (1640). (See VITELLESCHI)

Vincent Caraffa

Neapolitan (7 January 1646-8 June 1649). A few days before Father Caraffa's election as general, Pope Innocent X published a brief "Prospero felicique statui", in which he ordered a general congregation of the Society to be held every nine years; it was ordained also that no office in the Society except the position of master of novices should be held for more than three years. The latter regulation was revoked by Innocent's successor, Alexander VII on 1 January, 1658; and the former by Benedict XIV in 1746 by the Bull "Devotam", many dispensations having been granted in the mean time.

Francis Piccolomini of Sienna

(21 December, 1649-17 June, 1651). Before his election as general he had been professor of philosophy at the Roman college; he died at the age of sixty-nine, having passed fifty-three years in the Society.

Aloysius Gottifredi

Roman (21 January, 1652-12 March 1652). Father Gottifredi died at the house of the professed Fathers, Rome, within two months after his election, and before the Fathers assembled for the election and congregation had concluded their labour. He had been a professor of theology and rector at the Roman College, and later secretary of the Society under Father Mutius Vitelleschi.

Goschwin Nickel

German (b. at Jülich in 1582; 17 March, 1652-31 July, 1664). During these years the struggle with Jansenism was growing more and more heated. The great controversy on the Chinese Rites (1645) was continued (see MATTEO RICCI). Owing to his great age, Father Nickel obtained from the eleventh congregation the appointment of John Paul Oliva as vicar-general (on 7 June, 1661), with the approval of Alexander VII.

John Paul Oliva

Genoese (elected vicar cum jure successionis on 7 June, 1661) 31 July, 1664-26 November 1681. During his generalate, the Society established a mission in Persia, which at first met with great success, four hundred thousand converts being made within twenty-five years; in 1736, however, the mission was destroyed by violent persecution. Father Oliva's generalate occurred during one of the most difficult periods in the history of the Society, as the controversy on Jansenism, the droit de régale, and moral theology were being carried on by the opponents of the Society with the greatest acrimony and violence. Father John Paul Oliva laboured earnestly to keep up the Society's high reputation for learning, and in a circular letter sent to all the houses of study urged the cultivation of the oriental languages.

Charles de Noyelle

Belgian, 5 July 1682-12 December, 1868. Father de Noyelle was born at Brussels on 28 July, 1615; so great was his reputation for virtue and prudence that at his election he received unanimous vote of the congregation. He had been assistant for the Germanic provinces for more than 20 years; he died at the age of seventy, after fifty years spent in the Society. Just about the time of his election, the dispute between Louis XIV of France and Pope Innocent XI had culminated in the publication of the "Déclaration du clergéde France" (19 March, 1682). This placed the Society in a difficult position in France, as its spirit of devotion to the papacy was not in harmony with the spirit of the "Déclaration". It required all the ingenuity and ability of Pere La Chaise and Father de Noyelle to avert a disaster. Innocent XI was dissatisfied with the position the Society adopted, and threatened to suppress the order, proceeding even so far as to forbid the reception of novices.

Thyrsus González

Spaniard, 6 July, 1687-27 October, 1705. He interfered in the controversy between Probabilism and Probabiliorism, attacking the former doctrine with energy in a book published at Dilligen in 1691. As Probabilism was on the whole in favour in the Society, this caused discussions which were not quieted until the fourteenth congregation, 1696, when, with the pope's approval, liberty was left to both sides. Father Gonzalez in his earlier days had laboured with great fruit as a missionary, and after his election as general encouraged the work of popular home missions. His treatise "De infallibitate Romani pontificis in definiendis fidei et morum controversiis" which was a vigorous attack on the doctrines laid down in the "Déclaration du clergéde France" was published at Rome in 1689 by order of Pope Innocent XI; however, Innocent's successor, Alexander VIII, caused the work to be withdrawn, as its effects had been to render the relations between France and the Holy See more difficult. Father González* laboured earnestly to spread devotion to the saints of the Society; he died at the age of eighty-four, having passed sixty-three years in the order, during nineteen of which he was general.

Michelangelo Tamburini

Of Modena, 31 January, 1706-28 February, 1730. The long reign of Louis XIV, so favorable to the Jesuits in many respects, saw the beginning of those hostile movements which were to lead to the Suppression. The king's autocratic powers, his Gallicanism, his insistence on the repression of the Jansenists by force, the way he compelled the Society to take his part in the quarrel with Rome about the régale (1684-8), led to a false situation in which the parts might be reversed, when the all-powerful sovereign might turn against them, or by standing neutral leave them the prey of others. This was seen at his death, 1715, when the regent banished the once influential father confessor Le Tellier, while the gallicanizing archbishop of Paris, Cardinal de Noailles, laid them under an interdict (1716-29). Father Tamburini who before his election as general had taught philosophy and theology for twelve years and had been chosen by Cardinal Renauld d'Este as his theologian; he had also been provincial of Venice, secretary-general of the Society, and vicar-general. During the disputes concerning the Chinese Rites, the Society was accused of resisting the orders of the Holy See. Father Tamborini protested energetically against this calumny, and when in 1711 the procurators of all the provinces of the Society were assembled in Rome, he had them sign a protest which he dedicated to Pope Clement XI. The destruction of Port Royal and the condemnation of the errors of Quesnel by the Bull "Unigenitus" (1711) testified to the accuracy of the opinions adopted by the Society in these disputes. Father Tamburini procured the canonization of Saints Aloysius Gonzaga and Stanislaus Kostka, and the beatification of St. John Francis Régis. During his generalate the mission of Paraguay reached its highest degree of success; in one year no fewer than 77 missionaries left for it; the missionary labors of St. Francis de Geronimo and Blessed Anthony Baldinucci in Italy, and Venerable Manuel Padial in Spain, enhanced the reputation of the Society. Father Tamburini died at the age of 82, having spent sixty-five years in religion. At the time of his death, the Society contained 37 provinces, 24 houses of professed Fathers, 612 colleges, 59 novitiates, 340 residences, 200 mission stations; in addition, one hundred and fifty-seven seminaries were directed by the Jesuits.

Francis Retz

Austrian (born at Prague in 1673) 7 March, 1730-19 November 1750. Father Retz was elected general unanimously, his able administration contributed much to the welfare of the Society; he obtained the canonization of St. John Francis Regis. Father Retz's generalate was perhaps the quietest in the history of the order. At the time of his death, the Society contained 39 provinces, 24 houses of professed Fathers, 669 colleges, 61 novitiates, 335 residences, 273 mission stations 176 seminaries, and 22,589 members of whom 11,293 were priests.

Ignatius Viscanti

Milanese, 4 July, 1751-4 May 1755. It was during this generalate that the accusations of trading were first made against Father Antonine de La Valette, who was recalled from Martinique in 1753 to justify his conduct. Shortly before dying, Fr. Viscanti allowed him to return to his mission, where the failure of his commercial operations, somewhat later, gave an opportunity to the enemies of the Society in France to begin a warfare that ended only with the Suppression (see below). Trouble with Pombal also began at this time. Father Visconti died at the age of seventy-three.

Aloysius Centurioni

Genoese, 30 November, 1755-2 October 1757. During his brief generalate, the most noteworthy facts were the persecution by Pombal of the Portuguese Jesuits and the troubles caused by Father de La Valette's commercial activities and disasters. Father Centurioni died at Castel Gandolfo, at the age of seventy-two.

Lorenzo Ricci

Florentine, 21 May, 1758 until the Suppression in 1773. In 1759, the Society contained 41 provinces, 270 mission posts, and 171 seminaries. Father Ricci founded the Bavarian province of the order in 1770. His generalate saw the slow death agony of the Society; within two years the Portuguese, Brazilian and East Indian provinces and missions were destroyed by Pombal; close to two thousand members of the Society were cast destitute on the shores of Italy and imprisoned in fetid dungeons in Portugal. France, Spain, and the two Sicilies followed in the footsteps of Pombal. The Bull, "Apostolicum" of Clement XIII in favor of the Society produced no fruit. Clement XIV at last yielded to the demand for the extinction of the Society. Father Ricci was seized, and cast a prisoner into the Castel San Angelo, were he was treated as a criminal until death ended his sufferings on 24 November, 1775. In 1770, the Society contained 42 provinces, 24 houses of professed Fathers, 669 colleges, 61 novitiates, 335 residences, 273 mission stations, and about 23,000 members.

About this page

APA citation. Pollen, J.H. (1912). Jesuit Generals Prior to the Suppression of the Society (1541-1773). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Pollen, John Hungerford. "Jesuit Generals Prior to the Suppression of the Society (1541-1773)." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Michael Donahue. In gratitude for four years of Jesuit education at Loyola University of Chicago. AMDG.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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