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The Catholic Historical Review 88.4 (2002) 782-783

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On the Suppression of the Society of Jesus.A Contemporary Account. By Giulio Cesare Cordara, S.J. (1704-1785). Translation and notes by John P. Murphy, S.J. (Chicago: Loyola Press. 1999. Pp. xix, 212. $21.95.)

The suppression of the Jesuit order by Pope Clement XIV in the year 1773 is a key episode in the complex drama that subordinated religious authority to political authority at the origins of the modern secular state. This and other episodes in the drama, from the abolition of mortmain to the confiscation of church lands to the reform of the Holy Office, are now known to us through a vast recent historiography in part inspired by the work of Franco Venturi. John P. Murphy, in the introduction to his translation of Giulio Cesare Cordara's classiccontemporary account of the suppression, focuses instead on the main features of eighteenth-century absolutism and the personal hatreds stirred up against the order because of its this-worldly commitments. His analysis thus hews quite closely to the one presented by Cordara himself. This is not to infer that Cordara's work is unproblematical; indeed, a considerable portion of it consists of a rhetorical set-piece devoted to Jesuit apologetics. In accounting for events that were going on around him, Cordara attributes particular importance to inter-order rivalry between the Jesuits and the Dominicans. He pays due attention to the personalities involved in the suppression—the scheming Marquis de Pombal, who made the most of the Paraguay revolt and the Távora assassination plot in order to inculpate the Jesuits (so Cordara insists) because of a private grudge, the weak-willed King Joseph I of Portugal, the self-serving ministers Bernardo Tanucci in Naples and Guglielmo du Tillot in Parma. The games of favors and paybacks that animated the courts of princes and popes are [End Page 782] finely delineated here. In the midst of this narrative detail, the broader picture of intense and sometimes militant anticlericalism that was an essential feature of this stage of statebuilding often gets lost. There can be no doubt that the temporary eclipse of the order (restored in 1814) marked the beginning of the end of the premodern Church. From the standpoints of the rulers, compared with the sale of lands and goods belonging to other ecclesiastical institutions, the dissolution of the Jesuits probably yielded relatively less in terms of actual treasure, and the practical political advantages were no doubt overshadowed by the disadvantages of having to replace the widespread and successful Jesuit schools by an entirely new system of public education that could only be made fully operational in subsequent generations. However, as a symbolic victory in the battle to shift the locus of authority away from church officials and toward state functionaries, and to wean the hearts of subjects away from their religious traditions and toward their national identity, the suppression was without peer. An uncalculated byproduct of the suppression, many thousands of Jesuits were released from their vows and left mainly to their own devices. In fact, the personal testimony of perplexity and loss expressed by Cordara himself, emblematic of the experiences of many of his brethren, is at once the most poignant and the most valuable portion of his story.


Brendan Dooley
International University Bremen



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