Writings by Dr. John C. Rao

A View From Rocco’s: Good Old Advice for a Drab New Year:

“When You Come to Serve the Lord, Prepare Yourself for Trial.” (Sirach, 2,1)

(The Remnant, December 31, 2013)

Is he ultimately responsible, or is he not? Without a doubt, the question of Pope Francis’ personal involvement in the current trials of the Franciscans of the Immaculate is of crucial importance to the immediate effects of an unpleasant tale of ecclesiastical intrigue so troubling the traditionalist world in these last days of the old year.

Nevertheless, even if the pope himself is finally shown to be directly behind the current assault, and the present fate of the Franciscans of the Immaculate should in consequence seem bleak, these good religious and their many friends around the globe have no right to lose hope for their eventual vindication and victory. After all, as the quotation from Sirach cited above reminds us so well, what else should those who entered the service of the Lord have expected but trials and more trials?

A glance at the historical record indicates that the many quarters from which trials for all those born of the Franciscan tradition have regularly emerged include---alas---the Papacy as well. Sometimes the popes have been correct in their troublemaking; sometimes they have been tragically unjust. But Church History reveals that when the Franciscans have experienced an unjust “low” in their relationship with one pope, they have survived to see themselves bouncing back to a stronger position in a subsequent pontificate.

Still, an even better example of an order that has suffered “highs” and “lows” based upon the union of changing papal “will” with forces that are frequently less than evangelical and charitable in nature is the Society of Jesus. Reviewing the vicissitudes of the sons of St. Ignatius offers many advantages. It underlines Sirach’s point that all those who seek to serve the Lord amidst the wearisome conditions of a changing and fallen world face serious trials. It illustrates just how soon the development of the “progressive” position now dominating the Church---and tormenting the Franciscans of the Immaculate---actually began to flex its muscles. Last, but definitely not least, such a review gives food for thought regarding just how much a misled papal political approach can result in brutalization of a religious order that is loyal to Rome, and just how much it can ignore an order’s true problems and their connection with an abandonment of the real spirit of a saintly Founder. It will take me more than one article of A View From Rocco’s to unfold this tale, which is always gripping, sometimes inspiring, and often productive of justifiable and zealous rage.

Sirach’s comments clearly warn us that clerical life will never be peaceful, and the historical record confirms the validity of his words. Aside from the ordinary personality clashes disturbing the relationships of all who work together in a given group, many other factors play a role in stirring up intra-clerical frenzy. The lower clergy has often resented the prerogatives of the higher; the higher the insubordination of the lower. Bishops and their diocesan priests have repeatedly lamented the privileges of the religious orders and their interference in parish pastoral work, with the Spanish episcopacy having worked hard at the Council of Trent to pass the reform decrees permitting local Ordinaries to get that tighter grip on the regulars within their borders that they possess in modern times.

While opportunities for quarrels inside a given religious order have always abounded, its members have perhaps never been more happily warlike than when battling against their secular clerical critics and differing groups of monks and mendicants. Newer and older orders have especially enjoyed crossing swords with one another, the former viewing the latter as corrupt or inadequate for satisfaction of contemporary needs; the latter sneering at the former as arrogant upstarts who have to be put in their place at all costs. Admittedly, there have sometimes been very good reasons for the clerical hostilities that have broken out through the centuries. Much of the time, however, this conflict has exploded without serious consideration of whether the good of the Church would be promoted through such clerical infighting or not.

Given the divisions related above, it seems pretty obvious that a new religious Society dedicated “to the greater glory of God” would run into the whole gamut of clerical anger and envy from the moment that St. Ignatius of Loyola’s specific aims became clear. Let us devote our attention in the remainder of this brief article to the basic themes underlined by the anti-Jesuit attack, without going into the details both of those complaints that may be said to have been legitimate as well as others which reveal either purely parochial nitpicking or downright disregard for the well being of the Church in general. These complaints can be summarized underneath the headings of broadly structural and broadly spiritual grievances.

Mention of structural objections to the Jesuits should perhaps begin with a note of the annoyance expressed over the name of the Society itself, which opponents found to be unspeakably arrogant in character, and redolent of a conviction that the other religious orders did not serve the purposes of Christ. Dispensation of Jesuits from the singing or recitation of the breviary in choir, so as to allow individuals more flexibility in fulfilling their personal responsibilities within the Society, appeared to be totally destructive of true religious community as traditionally known. But this unheard of individualism was also criticized as being coupled with an encouragement of a tyrannical spirit. The fact that the General Congregation of the Society that met on the death of the Father General and seemed to have precious little else to do than to elect a successor for a life term seemed to be indicative of the problem. So was the creation of an internal “caste system”, with some Jesuits ordained and admitted to “simple vows” and only an elite segment of the priestly members of the Society permitted to take “solemn vows”. These solemn vows then included a particularly dangerous special fourth vow of uncritical obedience to the potentially tyrannical commands of the pope, whose powers were therefore exalted to an unprecedented level.

Before turning to the spiritual critique of the Society, let us first note that the Jesuit approach is best addressed through study of the consequences that flow from the Ignatian motto: ad maiorem Dei gloriam . This is a motto that reflected the conviction that all of nature must be utilized in the service of God. Such service was seen to be dictated both by the very fact of the universe’s contingent character as a work of the Creator, as well as by the needs of individuals inevitably forced to seek their personal salvation through their natural environment.

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam required an open attitude with respect to all of nature and to mankind’s ability to use the universe properly. This meant a willingness to appreciate not only the great achievements of Greco-Roman civilization and the educational program that the Renaissance Humanists had elaborated, but also the brilliant aspects of those new cultures of China, India, and the Americas that had just recently been opened up to Christian missionary endeavors. But the proper use of nature could only be ensured if everyone fulfilled his Christian duties. This was a two-fold project. On the one hand, it entailed deeper personal study of the tenets of the Catholic Faith, especially as codified by the great scholastics, deeper individual “mental prayer”, and more frequent personal reception of the Holy Eucharist. On the other, it demanded obedience to the commands of the Faith on the part of the various political and social leaders of Christendom, who would thus play their necessary role in creating a natural environment helpful to leading men to God.

From the standpoint of the Jesuits’ many critics, all this, once again, seemed to entail a strange mixture of personal and tyrannical clerical hubris. Jesuits expected too much of individual, natural, sinful men, who were infinitely more likely to promote a worldwide baptism of all of their own fallen ambitions and all of the fallen elements of the created world they encountered than to use nature properly, perverting revealed Faith and downgrading the importance of sanctifying grace along the way. Jesuits expected too much of the political and social world as well, calling upon sovereign states to follow the dictates of tyrannical Father Generals and popes to the detriment of the God-given authority of kings and princes and their ancient local Christian traditions. The real fruits of a supposed spiritual elevation of all of nature to the service of God would thus be the hypocritical justification of sinfulness, the profanation of the Faith and the sacraments, the worldwide “Christianization” of pagan cultures, and the encouragement of civil unrest and regicide in defense of invasive and purely political papal and Jesuitical ambitions disguised as corrective and transformative religious guidance.

With a list of grievances this long and this intense, the Society of Jesus obviously needed all of the help that it could get from the popes to whom its members took a special vow of obedience in order to make its case for the validity of its mission. But the record of its support from the Papacy is roller coaster like in the extreme. Paul III (1534-1549), Julius III (1550-1555), Marcellus II (1555), and Pius IV (1559-1565)---the last named pontiff after a brief moment of irritation with the Jesuits for their “conversion” of his formerly worldly Cardinal-Nephew, St. Charles Borromeo---did not allow the anti-Jesuit “syllabus of errors” to trouble the growth of the new order. On the other hand, Paul IV (1555-1559), one of the founders of the quite different Congregation of Clerk Regulars known popularly as the Theatines, had grave misgivings about the Society, and put major and often ferociously promoted obstacles in its path. Pope St. Pius V (1565-1571), a former friend, threatened to do the same. Everything changed during the reign of Gregory XIII (1572-1585), when the Society and its members could seemingly do no wrong whatsoever, and thrived with papal approval as never before. New existential dangers then emerged under the scepter of the vigorous Franciscan pope, Sixtus V (1585-1590).

Interestingly enough, it was only at this point that the battle over the Jesuits was really beginning to heat up. The highs and lows experienced by the Society in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries make the 1500’s look like a moment of celestial calm and absolute papal consistency in comparison! Important centuries they were, for they witnessed the birth of that modern ideology that plays a central part today in the attack on the Traditional Mass and the Franciscans of the Immaculate. The attack on the Society of Jesus was itself a major stimulus to the birth of that ideology. And it is to the intertwining of the anti-Jesuit attack with the birth of modern ideology---and the aid given by the Papacy to both of these together---that we will turn our attention in the next issues of The Remnant .

Email Dr. John Rao.

Return to main page.