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Reviewed by:
  • The Mercurian Project: Forming Jesuit Culture 1573–1580
  • Robert Bireley, S. J.
Thomas M. McCoog , S. J., ed. The Mercurian Project: Forming Jesuit Culture 1573-1580. Biblioteca Instituti Historici Societatis Iesu 55. The Institute of Jesuit Sources 3:18. Rome and St. Louis: Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 2004. xxx + 992 pp. + 20 color + 25 b/w pls. index. illus. tbls. map. $80. ISBN: 1-88081-53-0.

This impressive volume serves as a welcome follow-up to John O'Malley's The First Jesuits (Cambridge, MA, 1993), which tells the story of the Society of Jesus [End Page 638] up to the death of its second superior general, James Laynez, in 1565. Though strictly speaking it deals with the years of the Belgian Everard Mercurian's term as superior general from 1573 to 1580, this book necessarily dips back into the term of Francis Borgia, the Duke of Gandia, as general from 1565 to 1571, and moves forward into the early years of the long tenure of Claudia Aquaviva from 1581 to 1615. Twenty-nine authors, eighteen of them Jesuits, contribute a total of thirty articles. Many deal with specific areas: the Rhineland (Markus Pillat, S. J.), the Netherlands (Paul Begheyn, S. J.), Upper Germany (Rita Haub), France (A. Lynn Martin), Southern Italy (Mark Lewis, S. J. and Jennifer Selwyn), Portugal (Nuno da Silva Gonçalves, S. J.), Spain (A. D. Wright and Francisco de Borja Medina, S. J.), the British Isles (McCoog), Brazil (Alida C. Metcalf), China (John Witek, S. J.), and Japan (M. Antoni J. Üçerler, S. J.). Others take up specific topics such as Jesuit spirituality and prayer (Philip Endean, S. J.), Jesuit art patronage before 1580 (Gauvin Alexander Bailey), and the origins of Jesuit casuistry (James F. Keenan, S. J.). Especially fascinating and judicious is the contribution by Ronald Cueto about the Jesuit role in Portugal during the reign of the meteoric Sebastian (d. 1578) and the subsequent establishment of Philip II of Spain as king. Missing are treatments of the Society's role in Austria and Eastern Europe, India, and Spanish America. Overall the volume supports the thesis that under Mercurian significant steps were taken toward the development of a distinct Jesuit form or culture as the Society grew in numbers and in institutions. Mario Fois, S. J., writes that "his leadership was not creative, but it clarified and defined specific characteristics of the Ignatian vision" (30). Yet Mercurian does not completely escape here the charge of inflexibility or narrowness.

Born in 1514 in Marcour in the prince-bishopric of Liège, Mercurian took his master of arts at the University of Louvain in 1544 and entered the Jesuits at Paris in 1548. Summoned to Rome in 1552, he there encountered the founder, Ignatius Loyola. He rose quickly in the Jesuit hierarchy serving in Italy and in his native Netherlands before returning to Rome in 1565 to serve as assistant for Germany to the superior general Borgia. On 23 June 1573, the third general congregation of the Society elected him superior general, the first non-Spaniard to hold the position.

In an unusual papal intervention, Pope Gregory XIII had made it clear to the forty-seven delegates that he did not want another Spaniard as superior general. Most likely responsible for this papal action, according to Mario Fois, were two groups, Italian Jesuits who resented Spanish predominance in the Society in Italy and Portuguese Jesuits who wanted to prevent the election of the Spanish "New Christian" Juan Polanco, longtime secretary of Ignatius, who they thought was likely to continue admitting New Christians into the Society. Subsequently, a number of Spanish Jesuits prominent in Italy were returned to their homeland. These actions signaled "a reduction of Spanish influence within the universal Society" (962), according to Borja Medina, and helped provoke problems with the government of the Society in Spain that surfaced later under Mercurian and more pronouncedly under Aquaviva. [End Page 639]

During Mercurian's generalate the Society grew from approximately 3,900 to 5,100 members and added twenty-eight new colleges, many in areas threatened by Protestantism. By 1580 the Society counted 144 colleges, and they had become, as pastoral centers as...


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