The Catholic Historical Review 89.3 (2003) 530-535
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The New Jesuit Historical Encyclopedia
Gauvin Alexander Bailey
Diccionario Histórico de la Compañía de Jesús. Edited by Charles E. O'Neill, S.J., and Joaquín M. Domínguez, S.I. 4 vols. (Rome: Institutum Historicum S.I.; Madrid: Universidad Pontificia Comillas. 2001. Pp. 980; 981-2020; 2021-3124; 3125-4110. € 300.00.)
This impressive and monumental work has long been awaited by historians of the Society of Jesus, for whom there has never before been a comprehensive, encyclopedic treatment of Jesuit history that embraces the entire world and the Old and New Societies alike. For this daunting task the editors have assembled an extraordinary number of original documents, including manuscript sources and published letters and histories. They have also enlisted a luminous assembly of scholars from around the globe, representing the most celebrated historians of the Society—including a surprising number who are now deceased. I hope one day to see this four-volume dictionary translated into English, since it would be a handy and authoritative resource for college students, scholars, and the interested public in the English-speaking world, and should grace the library of every Jesuit university.
I will say right away that the dictionary is an astonishing piece of scholarship and that it will be invaluable to historians of the Society for generations to come. It provides the first detailed and comprehensive treatment of many crucial topics, figures, and geographic regions in Jesuit history. It is especially thorough in its treatment of the foundation and development of the different Jesuit provinces, the political events and machinations which allowed the various Jesuit enterprises to survive or collapse, and in the individual biographical entries, which are excellent summaries of the lives of often very obscure figures. The dictionary is to be praised for including entries on such little-known individuals as Joseph Tieffenthaler (IV, 3796), the last missionary to the Mughal Empire, who despite being expelled in 1773 was able to enjoy a flourishing career as an astronomer, mathematician, and geographer in India. Similarly, I was delighted to see an entry for Charles Belleville (I, 404), a virtually unknown French artist with an extraordinary career that had him painting for the Chinese Emperor Kangxi in Beijing and retiring to Brazil, where he furnished many of the local [End Page 530] churches with ceiling paintings. One of the most useful sections is the complete chronological series of entries on the Generals of the Society (II, 1595-1706), from Ignatius to Kolvenbach, even including the interim Generals in Imperial Russia. Aside from basic biographical data, this multibiography has separate sections treating the Generals' programs of governance, their main contributions to the Society, their participation in the General Congregations, controversies of their tenure, their relationships with the Papacy and the provincials, and their publications and other writings. I did not count all of the entries in the dictionary, but I would estimate that biographies make up the majority. They also are among the strongest and most vivid of the entries, simply because individual Jesuits did so much that their lives are interdisciplinary by definition, and they allow different topics and geographical regions to intersect in a way that often does not occur in other sections.
Nevertheless, no work of this scope is without gaps and shortcomings, and my job would not be complete without mentioning them. My greatest disappointment with the dictionary is that, with the exception of the thematic entries, Jesuit culture receives scant attention. By this I mean topics such as arts, music, science, and literature, areas which intersected with the Jesuit experience at every juncture and which have been the focus of a recent surge of scholarly activity. It is equally disconcerting that in discussions of the overseas missions, which make up a large proportion of the four volumes, there is very little attempt to understand the culture and religion of the indigenous societies who played host to the Jesuits. Many of the entries are also quite out of date. The field of Jesuit...