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Society of Jesus: Early Works

The Society of Jesus, and in particular the religious society’s early works, were fundamental in the re-strengthening of the Catholic Church during the period of the Counter Reformation.

The Jesuit missionaries, led by the founder of the Society of Jesus, Ignatius Loyola, were central in the dissemination of Christian theology during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the Jesuits’ early works and missions helped to restore the authority of the Church in Europe through the Society of Jesus’ principles of faith, honesty and loyalty to the Catholic Church.

The Early Works of the Jesuits

Following the establishment of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuit missionaries became involved in the Counter Reformation, a movement of Catholic reform that was a response to the Protestant Reformation led by Martin Luther, which rejected Church hierarchy and criticized the Church’s sale of indulgences.

The Society of Jesus played a central role in the Counter Reformation, urging followers to be faithful to the Vatican. Igantius Loyola and the Jesuit missionaries also supported the Church hierarchy, however they also recognized the need for reform within the Catholic Church and battled against such problems as spiritual disobedience, corruption and dishonesty which had begun to rise within the Church.

Ignatius Loyola also called for more comprehensive academic education for clergy members, who during this period lacked proper institutional instruction. In addition, Ignatius also promoted the Jesuit vow of rejecting greed in the quest for financial affluence and power, which had developed within the Society of Jesus. Therefore, despite their loyalty to the church, the Jesuits often clashed with the Pope and the Roman Curia, the administrative body of the Vatican.

As part of the Society of Jesus’s attempt to instill spiritual reform within Catholicism during this period, it established what was called the Ignatian retreat, a four-week period of silence and guided meditation, which was made accessible to Roman Catholics. These meditations were performed under the administration of a spiritual guide and sought to instruct individuals on the life of Jesus as well as his spiritual message. Based on contemplative mysticism, the retreats were fundamental in the Jesuits’ early missionary work.

In addition to its religious contributions during the early modern period, the Society of Jesus was also central in the sphere of educational reform. In fact, the Society of Jesus was the first religious order to open colleges and universities. By the time of Ignatius Loyola’s death in 1556, the Jesuits had established 74 colleges on three continents, further helping to promote Christianity, particularly in areas that had briefly become Protestant, such as Poland and Lithuania.

The Jesuit schools also laid the groundwork for liberal education and encompassed the principles of humanism of the Renaissance period, which affirmed the worth of all individuals. Central to the schools’ curriculum were religion, the ancient languages of Latin and Greek, Classical literature and poetry, foreign languages, philosophy and the arts.

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