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Society of Jesus: Expansion

Another important element of the history of the Society of Jesus is the period of expansion that the Christian missionary group underwent during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. After the establishment of the Jesuits in 1540, the Jesuits’ early works enabled them to spread the principles of the Christian religion in communities throughout the globe.

The Development of the Jesuit Mission

The Jesuit missions experienced significant growth in the period following the Counter Reformation, during which the Jesuit missionaries had helped to re-establish the authority of the Catholic Church and of Rome throughout much of Europe and beyond. As such, the Society of Jesus gained newfound authority.

For example, the early Jesuit missions in Japan led to the granting of the Japanese government of social feudal fiefdom of Nagasaki in the late sixteenth century, meaning that peasants were able to inherit property from their lords in return for loyalty. However, this socio-economic reform was removed after seven years due to growing concern regarding the Jesuits’ increasing influence, as the Society of Jesus also played an important missionary role in China.

In addition, Francis Xavier, the co-founder of the Society of Jesus along with Ignatius Loyola, spread the Jesuit mission to Goain, in West India. Here, Xavier preached the message of Jesus and brought the principles of the Society of Jesus to the indigenous peoples of the area.

Furthermore, the period of Jesuit expansion also saw the establishment of Jesuit missions in Latin America. This development created much tension and conflict between the Christian missionary and the monarchies of Spain and Portugal in particular. This was because the Jesuits were viewed as interfering with the monarchy’s colonial interests in Latin America. For example, the Jesuit priests protected indigenous peoples from slavery. In addition, the Society of Jesus also established city-states known as “reductions” (or reducciones in Spanish and reduções in Portuguese). These city-states were theocracies based on the divine rule of God.

The Society of Jesus also led to the creation of many towns, particularly in Brazil and Paraguay. Jesuit priests such as Manuel la Nóbrega and Jose de Anchieta were among the Jesuit missionaries who helped to establish cities such as Sào Paolo and Rio de Janiero and helped found these cities on the principles of religious conversion, education and pacifism.

However, due to the Society of Jesus’ growing influence in the Latin American colonies, the Portuguese Marquis of Pombal, Secretary of State expelled the Jesuit missionaries in 1759 from Portugal and its colonies.

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