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Home > Catholic Encyclopedia > S > Society of Jesus, History of the (1750-1773)

The Suppression of the Jesuits (1750-1773)

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The Suppression is the most difficult part of the history of the Society. Having enjoyed very high favor among Catholic peoples, kings, prelates, and popes for two centuries and a half centuries, it suddenly becomes an object of frenzied hostility, is overwhelmed with obloquy, and overthrown with dramatic rapidity. Every work of the Jesuits — their vast missions, their noble colleges, their churches — all is taken from them or destroyed. They are banished, and their order suppressed, with harsh and denunciatory words even from the pope. What makes the contrast more striking is that their protectors for the moment are former enemies — the Russians and Frederick of Prussia. Like many intricate problems, its solution is best found by beginning with what is easy to understand. We look forward a generation, and we see that every one of the thrones, the pope's not excluded, which had been active in the Suppression is overwhelmed. France, Spain, Portugal, and Italy become, and indeed still are, a prey to the extravagance of the Revolutionary movement. The Suppression of the Society was due to the same causes which in further development brought about the French Revolution. These causes varied somewhat in different countries. In France, many influences combined, as we shall see, from Jansenism to Free-thought, to the then prevalent impatience with the old order of things (see France, VI, 172). Some have thought that the Suppression was primarily due to these currents of thought. Others attribute it chiefly to the absolutism of the Bourbons. For, though in France the king was averse to the Suppression, the destructive forces acquired their power because he was too indolent to exercise control, which at that time he alone possessed. Outside France it is plain that autocracy, acting through high-handed ministers, was the determining cause.


In 1750, Joseph I of Portugal appointed Sebastian Joseph Carvalho, afterwards Marquis of Pombal as his first minister. Carvalho's quarrel with the Jesuits began with a quarrel over an exchange of Territory with Spain. San Sacramento was exchanged for the Seven Reductions of Paraguay which were under Spain. The Society's wonderful missions there were coveted by the Portuguese, who believed the Jesuits were mining gold. So the Indians were ordered to quit their country; and the Jesuits endeavored to lead them quietly to the distant land allotted to them. But owing to the harsh conditions imposed, the Indians rose in arms against the transfer, and the so-called war of Paraguay ensued, which, of course, was disasterous to the Indians. Then step by step the quarrel with the Jesuits was pushed to extremities. The weak king was persuaded to remove them from Court; a war of pamphlets against him was commenced; the Fathers were first forbidden to undertake the temporal administration of the missions, and then they were deported from America.

On 1 April 1758, a brief was obtained from the aged pope Benedict XIV, appointing Cardinal Saldanha to investigate the allegations against the Jesuits, which had been raised in the King of Portugal's name. But it does not follow that the pope had forejudged the case against the order. On the contrary, if we take into view all the letters and instructions sent to the Cardinal, we see that the pope was distinctly skeptical as to the gravity of the alleged abuses. He ordered a minute inquiry, but one conducted so as to safeguard the reputation of the Society. All matters of serious importance were to be referred back to himself. The pope died five weeks later on 3 May. On 15 May, Saldanha, having received the Brief only a fortnight before, omitting the thorough house-to-house visitation that had been ordered, and pronouncing on the issues which the pope had reserved to himself, declared that the Jesuits were guilty of having exercised illicit, public, and scandalous commerce both in Portugal and in its colonies. Three weeks later, at Pombal's instigation, all faculties were withdrawn from the Jesuits throughout the patriachate of Lisbon. Before Clement XIII had become pope (6 July, 1758) the work of the Society had been destroyed, and in 1759 it was civilly suppressed. The last step was taken in consequence of a plot against the chamberlain Texeiras, but suspected to have been aimed at the king, and of this the Jesuits were supposed to have approved. But the grounds of suspicion were never clearly stated, much less proved. The height of Pombal's persecution was reached with the burning (1761) of the saintly Father Malagrida, ostensibly for heresy; while the other Fathers, who had been crowded into prisons, were left to perish by the score. Intercourse between the Church of Portugal and Rome was broken off till 1770.


The Suppression in France was occasioned by the injuries inflicted by the English navy on French commerce in 1755. The Jesuit missionaries held a heavy stake in Martinique. They did not and could not trade, that is, buy cheap to sell dear, any more than any other religious. But they did sell the products of their great mission farms, in which many natives were employed, and this was allowed, partly to provide for the current expenses of the mission, partly in order to protect the simple, childlike natives from the common plague of dishonest intermediaries. Père Antoine* La Vallette, superior of the Martinique missions, managed these transactions with no little success, and success encouraged him to go too far. He began to borrow money to work the large undeveloped resources of the colony, and a strong letter from the governor of the island dated 1753 is extant in praise of his enterprise. But on the outbreak of war, ships carrying goods of an estimated value of 2,000,000 livres were captured and he suddenly became a bankrupt, for very large sum. His creditors were egged on to demand payment from the procurator of Paris, but he, relying on what certainly was the letter of the law, refused responsibility for the debts of an independent mission, though offering to negotiate for a settlement, for which he held out assured hopes. The creditors went to the courts, and an order was made (1760) obliging the Society to pay, and giving leave to distrain in the case of non-payment.

The Fathers, on the advice of their lawyers, appealed to the Grand'chambre of the Parlement of Paris. This turned out to be an imprudent step. For not only did the Parlement support the lower court, 8 May, 1761, but having once gotten the case into its hands, the Society's enemies in that assembly determined to strike a great blow at the order. Enemies of every sort combined. The Jansenists were numerous among the gens-de-robe, and at that moment were especailly keen to be revenged on the orthodox party. The Sorbonnists, too, the university rivals of the great teaching order, joined in the attack. So did the Gallicans, the Philosophes, and the Encyclopédistes. Louis XV was weak and the influence of his court divided; while his wife and children were earnestly in favor of the Jesuits, his able first minister, the Duc de Choiseul played into the hands of the Parlement, and the royal mistress, Madame de Pompadour, to whom the Jesuits had refused absolution, was a bitter opponent. The determination of the Parlement of Paris in time bore down all opposition. The attack on the Jesuits, as such, was opened by the Janseistic Abbé Chauvelin, 17 April, 1762, who denounced the Constitution of the Jesuits as the cause of the alleged defalcations of the order. This was followed by the compte-rendu on the Constitutions, 3-7 July, 1762, full of misconceptions, but not yet extravagant in hostility. Next day Chauvelin descended to a vulgar but efficacious means of exciting odium by denouncing the Jesuits' teaching and morals, especially on the matter of tyrannicide.

In the Parlement, the Jesuits' case was now desperate. After a long conflict with the crown in which the indolent minister-ridden sovereign failed to assert his will to any purpose, the Parlement issued its well-known "Extraits des assertions", a blue-book, as we might say, containing a congeries of passages from Jesuit theologians and canonists, in which they were alleged to teach every sort of immorality and error, from tyrannicide, magic, and Arianism, to treason, Socinianism, and Lutheranism. On 6 August, 1762, the final arrêt was issued condemning the Society to extinction, but the king's intervention brought eight month's delay. In favour of the Jesuits, there had been some striking testimonies, especailly from the French clergy in the two convocations summoned on 30 November, 1761, and 1 May, 1762. But the series of letters and addresses published by Clement XIII afford a truely irrefragable attestation in favour of the order. Nothing, however, availed to stay the Parlement. The king's counter-edict delayed indeed the execution of its arrêt, and meantime a compromise was suggested by the Court. If the French Jesuits would stand apart from the order, under a French vicar, with French customs, the Crown would still protect them. In spite of the dangers of refusal the Jesuits would not consent; and upon consulting the pope, he (not Ricci) used the famous phrase Sint ut sunt, aut non sint (de Ravignan, "Clement XIII", I, 105, the words are attributed to Ricci also). Louis's intervention hindered the execution of the arrêt against the Jesuits until 1 April, 1763. The colleges were then closed, and by a further arrêt of 9 March, 1764, the Jesuits were required to renounce their vows under pain of banishment. Only three priests and a few scholastics accepted the conditions. At the end of November, 1764, the king unwillingly signed an edict dissolving the Society throughout his dominions, for they were still protected by some provincial parlements, as Franche-Comté, Alsace, and Artois. But in the draft of the edict, he canceled numerous clauses, which implied that the Society was guilty; and writing to Choiseul, he concluded with the weak but significant words: "If I adopt the advice of others for the peace of my realm, you must make the changes I propose, or I will do nothing. I say no more, lest I should say too much."

Spain, Naples, and Parma

The Suppression in Spain, and its quasi-dependencies, Naples and Parma, and in the Spanish colonies was carried through by autocratic kings and ministers. Their deliberations were conducted in secrecy, and they purposely kept their deliberations to themselves. It is only in late years that a clue has been traced back to Bernardo Tenucci, the anti-clerical minister of Naples, who acquired a great influence over Charles III before the king passed from the throne of Naples to that of Spain. In this minister's correspondence are found all the ideas which from time to time guided the Spanish policy. Charles, a man of good moral character, had entrusted his government to the Count Aranda and other followers of Voltaire; and he had brought from Italy a finance minister, whose nationality made the government unpopular, while his exactions led in 1766 to rioting and the publications of various squibs, lampoons, and attacks upon the administration. An extraordinary council was appointed to investigate the matter, as it was declared that people so simple as rioters could never have produced the political pamphlets. They proceeded to take secret information, the tenor of which is no longer known; but records remain to show that in September, the council had resolved to incriminate the Society, and that by 29 January 1767, its expulsion was settled. Secret orders, which were to be opened at midnight between the first and second of April, 1767, were sent to the magistrates of every town where a Jesuit resided. The plan worked smoothly. That morning, 6000 Jesuits were marching like convicts to the coast, where they were deported, first to the Papal States, and ultimately to Corsica.

Tanucci pursued a similar policy in Naples. On 3 November the religious, again without trial, and this time without even an accusation, were marched across the frontier into the Papal States, and threatened with death if they returned. It will be noted that in these expulsions, the smaller the state, the greater the contempt of the ministers for any forms of law. The Duchy of Parma was the smallest of the so-called Bourbon courts, and so aggressive in its anti-clericalism that Clement XIII addressed to it (30 January, 1768) a monitorium, or warning, that its excesses were punishable with ecclesiastical censures. At this all parties to the Bourbon "Family Compact" turned in fury against the Holy See, and demanded the entire destruction of the Society. As a preliminary, Parma at once drove the Jesuits out of its territories, confiscating as usual all their possessions.

Clement XIV

From this time till his death (2 February 1769), Clement XIII was harassed with the utmost rudeness and violence. Portions of his states were seized by force, he was insulted to his face by the Bourbon representatives, and it was made clear that, unless he gave way, a great schism would ensue, such as Portugal had already commenced. The conclave which followed lasted from 15 Feb. to May 1769. The Bourbon courts, through the so-called "crown cardinals", succeeded in excluding any of the party, nicknamed Zelanti, who would have taken a firm position in defense of the order, and finally elected Lorenzo Ganganelli, who took the name Clement XIV. It has been stated by Cretineau-Joly (Clement XIV, p. 260), that Ganganelli, before his election, engaged himself to the crown cardinals by some sort of stipulation that he would suppress the Society, which would have involved an infraction of the conclave oath. This is now disproved by the statement of the Spanish agent Azpuru, who was specially deputed to act with the crown cardinals. He wrote on 18 May, just before the election, "None of the cardinals has gone so far as to propose to anyone that the Suppression be assured by a written or spoken promise", and just after 25 May he wrote, "Ganganelli neither made a promise nor refused it". On the other hand it seems he did write words, which were taken by the crown cardinals as an indication that the Bourbons would get their way with him (de Bernis's letters of 28 July and 20 November, 1769).

No sooner was Clement on the throne than the Spanish court, backed by the other members of the "Family Compact", renewed their overpowering pressure. On 2 August, 1769, Choiseul wrote a strong letter demanding the Suppression with two months, and the pope now made his first written promise that he would grant the measure, but he declared that he must have more time. Then began a series of transaction, which some have not unnaturally been interpreted as a devices to escape by delays from the terrible act of destruction, toward which Clement was being pushed. He passed more than two years in treating with the Courts of Turin, Tuscany, Milan, Genoa, Bavaria, etc. which would not easily consent to the Bourbon projects. The same ulterior object may perhaps be detected in some of the minor annoyances now inflicted on the Society. From several colleges, such as those of Frascati, Ferrar, Bologna, and the Irish College at Rome, the Jesuits were, after a prolonged examination, ejected with much show of hostility. And there were moments, as for instance after the fall of Choiseul, when it really seemed as though the Society might have escaped; but eventually the obstinacy of Charles III always prevailed.

In the middle of 1772 Charles sent a new ambassador to Rome, Don Joseph Moñino, afterwards Count Florida Blanca, a strong, hard man, "full of artifice, sagacity, and dissimulation, and no one more set on the suppression of the Jesuits". Heretofore, the negotiations had been in the hands of clever, diplomatic Cardinal de Bernis, French ambassador to the pope. Moñino now took the lead, de Bernis now coming in afterward as a friend to urge the acceptance of his advice. At last, on 6 September, Moñino gave in a paper suggesting a line for the pope to follow, which he did in part adopt, in drawing up the brief of Suppression. By November the end was coming in sight, and in December Clement put Moñino into communication with a secretary; and they drafted the instrument together, the minute being ready by 4 January, 1773. By 6 February, Moñino had got it back from the pope in a form to be conveyed to the Bourbon courts, and by 8 June, their modifications having been taken account of, the minute was thrown into its final form and signed. Still the pope delayed until Monino constrained him to get copies printed; and as these were dated, no delay was possible beyond that date, which was 16 August, 1773. A second brief was issued which determined the manner in which the Suppression was to be carried out. To secure secrecy, one regulation was introduced which led, in foreign countries, to some unexpected results. The Brief was not to be published, Urbi et Orbi, but only to each college or place by the local bishop. At Rome, the father-general was confined first, at the English College, then in Castel S. Angelo, with his assistants. The papers of the Society were handed over to a special commission, together with its title deeds and store of money, 40,000 scudi (about $50,000), which belonged almost entirely to definite charities. An investigation of the papers was begun, but never brought to any issue.

In the Brief of Suppression, the most striking feature is the long list of allegations against the Society, with no mention of what is favorable; the tone of the brief is very adverse. On the other hand the charges are recited categorically; they are not definitely stated to have been proved. The object is to represent the order as having occasioned perpetual strife, contradiction, and trouble. For the sake of peace the Society must be suppressed. A full explanation of these and other anomalous features cannot yet be given with certainty. The chief reason for them no doubt was that the Suppression was an administrative measure, not a judicial sentence based on judicial inquiry. We see that the course chosen avoided many difficulties, especially the open contradiction of preceding popes, who had so often praised or confirmed the Society. Again, such statements were less liable to be controverted; there were different ways of interpreting the Brief which commended themselves to Zelanti and Bourbonici respectively. The last word on the subject is doubtless that of Alphonsus di Ligouri: "Poor pope! What could he do in the circumstances in which he was placed, with all the Sovereigns conspiring to demand this Suppression? As for ourselves, we much keep silence, respect the secret judgment of God, and hold ourselves in peace".


Crétineau-Joly, Clement XIV et les jésuites (Paris, 1847); Danvilla y Collado, Reinado de Carlos III (Madrid, 1893); Delplace, La suppression des jésuites in Etudes (Paris, 5-20 July, 1908); Ferrar del Rio, Hist. del Reinado de Carlos III (Madrid, 1856); de Ravignan, Clément XIII et Clément XIV (Paris, 1854); Rosseau, Règne de Charles III d'Espagne (Paris, 1907); Smith, Suppression of the Soc. of Jesus in The Month (London, 1902-3); Theiner, Gesch. des Pontificats Clement XIV (Paris, 1853; French tr., Brussels, 1853); Kobler, Die Aufhebung der Gesellschaft Jesu (Linz, 1873); Weld, Suppression of the Soc. of Jesus in the Portuguese Dominions (London, 1877); Zalenski, The Jesuits in White Russia (in Polish, 1874; French tr. Paris, 1886); Carayon, Le père Ricci et la suppression de la comp. de Jésus (Pointiers, 1869); Saint-Priest, Chute des jésuites (Paris, 1864); Nippold, Jesuitenorden von seiner weiderherstellung (Mannheim, 1867).

About this page

APA citation. Pollen, J.H. (1912). The Suppression of the Jesuits (1750-1773). In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Pollen, John Hungerford. "The Suppression of the Jesuits (1750-1773)." 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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