- Working in the Vineyard of the Lord: Jesuit Confraternities in Early Modern Italy
Lance Lazar's study of the earliest confraternities associated with the Jesuit order in Rome makes an important contribution both to the history of the Jesuits and, more broadly, to the field of confraternity studies. Furthermore, by examining the earliest confraternities organized by Jesuits, which were formed to assist prostitutes and their children and to support Jews and Muslims on their conversion to Christianity, Lazar engages other themes which have broad application, notably the history of attitudes toward outcasts in the sixteenth century.
The introduction surveys the themes of the book and sets the study within the context of the changing religious culture of the sixteenth century. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 then examine three confraternities and the institutions of assistance that they administered. Chapter 2 deals with the Casa di S. Marta, a home for women seeking to leave prostitution, and its confraternity, the Compagnia della Grazia. Chapter 3 investigates the Compagnia delle Vergini Miserabili di S. Caterina della Rosa, known as S. Caterina, a conservatory for the daughters of prostitutes and, eventually, other poor girls. Chapter 4 examines the Casa dei Catecumeni and the Arciconfraternita di S. Giuseppe, established to give support to converts to Christianity. The final chapter surveys the broad range of confraternities founded by the order and proposes that the concerns evident in the earliest groups served as a model for action for later Jesuit associations.
Throughout the book, Lazar does an admirable job of situating the development of these confraternities not only within the context of the outlook, experience, and early work of Ignatius Loyola, but more broadly within the changing climate of both church and society during an intense period of reform. He argues that the associations reflected the early modern concern with the "identification of and coercive attention to the Other and the outcast" (7), emphasizing that all three of the confraternities were created both to assist and control groups that had long been identified as marginal. He also argues that the Jesuits' involvement in these confraternities exemplified the order's interest in "outreach and apostolic activity" (152) and that the confraternities reflected the "profound changes in mentalité sweeping across Europe" in the sixteenth century (150).
Lazar's understanding of the context in which these groups arose is one of the [End Page 1188] significant strengths of the book. His examination of the Casa di S. Marta and the Compagnia della Grazie, for instance, includes a careful study of the position of the prostitute in medieval and early modern society. It is unfortunate that the sources for this confraternity do not allow Lazar to comment at any length on the actual experiences of women within S. Marta, since extant sources for the organization of the association provide vivid descriptions about encounters between the Jesuit organizers and the subjects of their assistance. For instance, one contemporary commentator describes Ignatius "running before a young and pretty street girl, in order to save her from the clutches of the most cruel tyrant and to lead her into safety in the hands of Christ" (51). It would be interesting to know whether Ignatius's intense preoccupation with the reform of these women's lives was matched by the women's own desire to escape their circumstances. Sources for the other two institutions, that of S. Caterina and the Casa dei Catecumeni, provide more detail about the experiences of those who were assisted by these confraternities. The archives of S. Caterina, for instance, yield information about the origins, age, and status of girls entering the conservatory, as well as their activities within it. Lazar also analyzes the conversion stories of two Jews who became attached to the Casa dei Catecumeni to illustrate the complicated position of such institutions in early modern society.
Lazar has drawn upon an impressive variety of primary and secondary sources for this study. The...