The Catholic Historical Review 89.3 (2003) 434-463
[Access article in PDF]
Luis Martin Garcia, the Jesuit General of the Modernist Crisis (1892-1906):
on Historical Criticism
David G. Schultenover, S.J.
It is of very great importance to...see that the art of history...be no longer made the instrument of great harm....Upright men, well versed in this branch of knowledge, are required to undertake the writing of history...for this purpose, of showing what is true and genuine, and that the insulting accusations too long accumulating against the Pontiffs may be learnedly and becomingly refuted....Since hostile weapons are drawn principally from history,...it is proper for the Church to meet those attacks with equal arms....With this view We have elsewhere decreed that Our archives shall be accessible....Our Vatican Library shall furnish the suitable materials.
—Leo XIII, Saepenumero, to the Cardinals and Vatican librarians, August 18, 1883. 1
In my book,A View from Rome: On the Eve of the Modernist Crisis, I included a section, "The Popes and Their Jesuits," discussing the special relationship between the papacy and the Society of Jesus. 2 I remarked how that relationship changed during the nineteenth century after the restoration of the Jesuits in 1814, following their suppression in 1773 and the French Revolution. In particular I noted the extraordinarily tight bond between the Jesuits and Leo XIII. In that light, it is not surprising that in any official gesture the Jesuit generals took their cue from the papacy. Parallels in the writings of Leo XIII and Luis Martín (1846-1906), the superior general of the Society of Jesus from 1892 to 1906, are striking. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that Leo's first encyclical, "On The Evils of Society," was a template for Martín's first letter, [End Page 434] "On Some Dangers of Our Times." 3 The parallels between Leo's views on the role of history, captured in the quotation above, and Martín's are no less striking; both Leo and Martín were open to yet wary of the new historical critical methods.
One reason for the close relationship between the papacy and the restored Society of Jesus in the nineteenth century is that both were extraordinarily beleaguered by revolutionary forces and sought comfort in each other's strength. Luis Martín grew up in a Spain raked by civil strife, much of it aimed at the Church in general and at the Jesuits in particular. Spanish Jesuits suffered five expulsions in 165 years along with forced closings of schools, residences, and ministries, confiscation of properties, loss of manpower through secularization, and not a little loss of life. Add to that the national suffering of multiple revolutions and frequent changes of government, capped by the catastrophe of the War of 1898. As one of Spain's Jesuit superiors, provincials, and finally as superior general of his order Luis Martín shouldered more responsibility than any other Jesuit and felt deeply the burden of these sufferings. And, of course, he had more than just Spain to worry about: Jesuits were expelled from France and Germany and endured there as well the disastrous effects of secularization.
Given these perilous conditions, we might find it surprising that Luis Martín was able to find energy for, let alone think clearly about, anything other than sheer survival and rebuilding. The fact is, the threat to life and property gave him a sense of urgency about history. The multiple expulsions, but particularly the one accompanying the so-called "glorious revolution" of 1868, impressed certain Jesuit scholars with the fragility of their histories—their memories preserved in their archives and libraries. The problem was that so much of their past was preserved only in their archives, which at any given moment could be destroyed or lost by confiscation, leaving the world without a reliable record of the Jesuit story—a record under constant threat of distortion from the liberal and revolutionary press.
Was the Jesuit story worth telling? Martí...