Books, Articles and Essays
by FR. FELIX RAJ, SJ, DIRECTOR | «
Men on A Mission
By Fr. John Felix Raj.
The author is Rector and professor of Economics at St. Xavier’s College,
Some of the best education in
India is imparted by Jesuits. This month, on July 31st, the Order remembers its
Founding Father, St. Ignatius of Loyola, who died 444 years ago.
Jesuit run not less than 25 university colleges, 5 Institutes of Business
Administration and 100 high schools in India and almost all of them are among
the most reputed in the country. In them, more than 200,000 students belonging
to every religious, linguistic and caste group, receive their education. Yet it
seems strange that not many people, not even Jesuit students, former and
present, and their parents, know what the Jesuit Order is and what it stands
for. Some ignorantly believe that it is an educational society like the Deccan
Education Society. Few realise that the Jesuit Order is the largest religious
order in the Catholic Church which herself is the biggest organised religion
with more than 1000 million adherents spread throughout the world.
The Jesuit Order, called the "Society of Jesus", was founded by
Loyola in 1534. Ignatius was one of those unusual characters of the 16th
century. A Basque nobleman, his father entrusted his education to an official at
King Ferdinand's court. Ignatius gladly went through the long training and
became a brave knight.
In May 1521, at the age of 30, Ignatius was wounded in both legs in the battle
between Francis 1, King of France and the Province of Navarre. In hospital he
underwent a painful and unsuccessful operation. During the long weary weeks of
convalescence at home Ignatius read two books, the Life of Christ by Rudolph of
Saxony and the Flos Sanctorum, which transformed his life.
In 1522 he left home and went to the shrine of Our Lady of Montserrat near
Barcelona, Spain. There he hung up his sword and dagger as a pledge of his new
consecration to Christ and His Mother. For the next year he lived on alms,
spending long hours in prayer. There he wrote his Spiritual Exercises, the most
efficient and widely used retreat manual today in the world.
Firm in his determination to serve God and His people, but realising that first
he needed the weapon of knowledge, he completed his philosophical and
theological studies at Paris University. There he met and won over six men, all
brilliant students. One of them was the then famous professor of the Paris
University, Francis Xavier, who came to India in 1536.
The day came when Ignatius and his companions decided to form themselves into a
new community. After much prayer and consultation Ignatius prepared a document,
outlining the new order, to be known as the "Society of Jesus," which was made a
Religious Order by Pope Paul III in 1534.
It was typical of Ignatius that unlike the founders of the previous religious
orders, (e.g. the Franciscans or Benedictines), he refused to attach his name to
his order but insisted on calling it the Society of Jesus to indicate that
Christ was the sole model of all its future members. This insistence explains
how the name "Jesuit" came to be attached to the members of the Society of
Jesus. Its Latin equivalent "Jesuita" meaning "like Jesus" was originally a
nickname coined by people who disliked the new religious order and its
determination to use the name 'Society of Jesus'. In the same way, at the
beginning of the Christian era, the word "Christianus" was concocted as a
nickname for the followers of Christ and it is typical that, as in the case of
the whole Church, the Society of Jesus also soon adopted its nick-name as an
acceptable synonym for common use.
It was not only its name which distinguished the new order from the others. Much
more distinct was its objectives and its way of life. Very firmly, Ignatius
refused to limit the objectives of the Society to any particular type of work.
Though the Jesuits have come to be particularly known for their educational
work, nowhere it is stated in the Constitution of the Society prepared by
Ignatius that education is to be given special importance.
The Jesuit, according to Ignatius, should be ready to undertake any work in any
part of the world which will be for the "Greater Glory of God" (the Jesuit
motto: ad majorem Dei gloriam). In particular, they should be prepared to do
any task assigned to them by the head of the Catholic Church, the Pope. Spurred
on by their motto, Jesuits fanned out to every country, chiefly to all the new
lands just "discovered" by Portuguese and Spanish explorers: North and South
America, India, China, Japan, the Philippines and other southeast Asian
countries. By the time of Ignatius' death in 1556 the Jesuits, numbering around
1,000 had spread to all four continents.
One of them was Matteo Ricci who went to China and mastered Chinese. He rapidly
became a mandarin and an advisor to the Emperor, a post held by generations of
other Jesuits who succeeded him. Ricci was the first westerner to master Chinese
and translate some of that country's classics into western languages.
Hailed by Max Muller as the "First European Sanskrit scholar”, Robert De Nobili
came to India in 1605, mastered Tamil and Sanskrit and translated the Vedas and
other Hindu scriptures. Others like Beschi and Stevens became reputed scholars
in Indian languages. Their works, in Tamil and Marathi, recognised as classics,
are studied even today. Alexander de Rhodes first gave Vietnamese a script. A
Jesuit botanist Jiri Kamel, working in Manila, gave the world the Camelia; while
one of the lunar craters is named after the Jesuit astronomer Christopher
Clavius who was also largely responsible for the reform of the calendar
resulting in the Gregorian calendar now in universal use.
The Jesuits in Latin America not only discovered cinchona, also known as
Jesuit's bark, from which quinine is derived, but also worked mightily to
protect the Indian tribes from the depredations of the Spanish colonists by
forming them into self-contained communities which would be able to feed, house,
clothe and protect themselves. The most celebrated example of this work are the
famous "Jesuit reductions of Paraguay," which is very beautifully portrayed in
the famous film “Mission” by Ronald Joffee and acted by De Niro. The success of
the Jesuits in defending the Indians so infuriated the Spanish and other
colonists that they expelled the Jesuits, destroyed the communities and finally
brought pressure on Pope Clement XIV to suppress the Society of Jesus. The Pope
yielded to the pressure and disbanded the Jesuit order "for the greater good of
the Church" in 1773. With the typical obedience, members of the Society obeyed
the unjust order without demur.
However, Catherine the Great of Russia, the powerful and self-willed queen, who
had learned to esteem Jesuit teaching methods, refused to promulgate in her
dominion the Pope’s order suppressing the Society of Jesus. Therefore the Jesuit
Order remained alive in Russia till 1814 when Pope Pius VII revoked the decree.
Then, about 600 Jesuits emerged from Russia to rebuild their beloved Society.
Admirers and friends of the Jesuits, commenting on this tragic episode in the
history of the Church and of the Society of Jesus, like to point out that an
Order, glorying in the name of Jesus, should consider itself privileged to
reproduce in its own life the death and resurrection which was the central
feature of Christ's life on earth.
The effects of the suppression are hardly evident in the restored Society of
Jesus. Jesuit involvement, scholarship, initiative and creativity continue.
Three of the most famous Jesuits of recent times have been Gerard Manley
Hopkins, the poet and founder of the romantic movement in English Poetry; Pierre
Teilhard de Chardin, the renowned paleontologist and mystic whose thought
responds to a deeper human urge of today: the need to intergrate science and
human progress with the world of the spirit; and Karl Rahner, one of the
greatest theologians of the Catholic Church.
Today, the Society of Jesus, with 21,354 members spread all over the world, has
taken up every conceivable form of work which may, in some way, lead to man's
total welfare. There are Jesuits working as social workers, doctors, research
scientists, astronomers, architects, members of Parliament, circus performers,
movie actors, journalists, psychiatrists, besides of course, the traditional
occupations of professors, teachers and preachers.
In India, the first printing press was started by the Jesuits in 1556. A
telescope was first used on Indian soil by Fr Richard at Pondicherry in 1689. He
discovered the binary nature of the star Alpha Centauri. Fr Figueredo, emissary
of Maharajah Jai Singh II of Jaipur to the King of Portugal, was largely
responsible for the Jaipur Observatory, an impressive monument to his
Fr Lafont, professor of Physics at St Xavier’s College, Calcutta, played a
leading role in popularising science. Sir J.C. Bose and Dr C.V. Raman found
encouragement for their introduction to science in the person of Fr Lafont. He
was called the "Father of Science in India." Dr. C. Bulcke, a Belgian, enriched
the Hindi and Sanskrit languages by his writings. He was an authority on the
Rama theme and a well-known lexicographer. In 1974 the Government of India
awarded him the Padma Bhushan, in recognition of his contribution to Hindi
research and language.
Modern Indology owes much to the Belgians, Johans, Dandoy, Antoine and Fallon of
St Xavier's College, Calcutta. They also enriched the Bengali and Sanskrit
languages. Fr Fallon was called the "apostle of inter-religious dialogue" in
Calcutta. Fr Jerome D' Souza of Madras was a member of the Indian Constituent
Assembly and four times India's delegate to the UN General Assembly. Frs.
Blatter and James Santapau are well-known in botanical circles for their
contribution to Indian botany. Fr. Santapau was the first chief of the Botanical
Survey of India and remained chief for six years.
One may wonder what keeps these Jesuits united or what keeps them going. The
answer lies in their basic characteristics which are, first of all the Order's
'humanism' - its refusal to condemn or despise anything human - and its
willingness to use all human knowledge and achievements in the service of God
and man. Another Jesuit characteristic is obedience or flexibility, willingness
to adjust and to compromise. There is only one thing a Jesuit is taught to be
rigid and uncompromising about and that is moral evil or sin.
Another mark of the Jesuits is their way of combining stern inner discipline
with maximum freedom for each individual Jesuit in external life and in the
choice of methods. And finally there is a certain thoroughness in all that is
undertaken. This is indicated by the frequent use of the words "Magis,"
“greater," "higher" in relation to the goals the Jesuits, as individuals and as
a group, should strive for.
A new era has opened up for, the Jesuits in the second half of the 20th century.
The second Vatican Council, a policy-setting meeting of the world's bishops,
held in 1965, opened the Church doors to the winds of change in the 20th
century. Especially after the 32nd General Congregation of the Jesuits held in
1974, a new thrust is seen in all the works of the Jesuits, as a single-minded
and wholehearted response to the multi-religious and multi-cultural realities of
the modern world. The insistence is no longer on influencing the rich, the
learned and the powerful as the best means of doing good, but rather on helping
the common man to live a decent human existence as the first prerequisite for
any spiritual concern.
In the context of glaring inequalities and widespread poverty, their response to
this reality is threefold: the promotion of justice as an integral dimension of
faith; enculturation along with an ongoing dialogue with other religions and a
dialogue with unbelievers and with those of various secular ideologies. These
three bearings now guide the course of every Jesuit activity and institution.
In India, they work among the fisher folk of the Malabar coast, Kerala; among
the poor Harijans of Tamil Nadu and Bihar, among the tribals of Maharashtra in
Nasik district; in Chotanagpur and in Santal Parganas. There is their legal aid
programme through the Indian Social institutes, Delhi and Bangalore, throughout
the country and similar works in other parts of the country. These reflect their
new thrust and their ‘preferential option for the poor', the oppressed, the
world's most needy. In the world today the Indian assistancy of the Society of
Jesus is the largest with 3,851 Jesuits, followed by USA with 3,635. Bihar alone
has 1265 Jesuits, one third of all working in India. Indian Jesuits continue
their involvement in the secular and religious fields, contributing their mite
to the total development of modern India. They must not forget to live up to
their age-old maxim of aiming at the greatest good for the greatest number of