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  • The Jesuit Missionary Ethos
  • Carolyn C. Guile and Robert A. Maryks
Andrés I. Prieto, Missionary Scientists: Jesuit Science in Spanish South America, 1570–1810 (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press, 2011). Pp. 304. $59.95.
Florence C. Hsia, Sojourners in a Strange Land: Jesuits & Their Scientific Missions in Late Imperial China (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009). Pp. 296. $45.00.
Takao Abé, The Jesuit Mission to New France: A New Interpretation in the Light of the Earlier Jesuit Experience in Japan (Leiden: Brill, 2010). Pp. 234. € 99.00/ $141.00.

Their Protestant and Jansenist enemies dubbed the Jesuits “Hermaphroditical” to describe the order’s characteristic ability to adapt. The Jesuit mandarin, the Jesuit regicide, and the Jesuit éminence gris were some of the alleged Hermaphroditical personifications. Whether this portrayal of Jesuit plasticity was biased or not, recent scholarship has shown that the Jesuits were indeed more flexible than other men religious in redefining themselves as they progressively engaged with new kinds of apostolic activities, or ministries. John W. O’Malley pointed in his seminal The First Jesuits (1993) to one of the major turning points in the development of the Jesuit apostolic self: the order’s engagement with educating the youth, a ministry that was not envisioned in the original program of the Society of Jesus (Formula Instituti) presented to the pope before its final approval in 1540, but which became so characteristic of the Jesuits that they are almost exclusively identified with it today. In my Saint Cicero and the Jesuits (2008), I suggested that this new teaching ministry, which required a systematic commitment to the study of Greco-Roman literature with a clear Renaissance fondness for Cicero, [End Page 431] redefined the Jesuit ethical self. Now, Cicero was worshiped by Jesuits not only for the quality of his Latin prose and his commitment to civic life. The epistemic probability of his rhetorical system was found attractive for the Jesuit approach to studying cases of conscience, where less or more probable opinions and changing circumstances determined different levels of the moral assessment of a sin. Again, this new probabilistic sensitivity that matured in the exemplary Roman College did not characterize the first generation of Jesuits, but developed some decades after the foundation of the society.

Arguably, because of these developments and other new ministerial perspectives, there was room for further shifts in shaping the evolving Jesuit identity. These new perspectives emerged from the society’s missionary commitment in China and Latin America, where the Jesuits—in different yet similar ways—were propelled to negotiate the place of profane sciences in their religious enterprises. Imperial China, which remained sovereign until the rise of British imperialism in the first half of the nineteenth century, and Spanish South America, which was conquered and ruled by the Spanish Crown until the independence movement of Bolívar at about the same time, offered obviously very different circumstances for this kind of negotiation. Yet the common characteristic of the Jesuits, regardless of the place of this negotiation, was their missionary ethos—their scientific activities were deeply related to the missionary self. This “Hermaphroditical” identity has been highlighted in the titles of two recently published books: Missionary Scientists: Jesuit Science in Spanish South America, 1570–1810, by Andrés I. Prieto; and Sojourners in a Strange Land: Jesuits & Their Scientific Missions in Late Imperial China, by Florence C. Hsia. the first analyzes the seminal yet neglected publications of Jesuit missionary scientists of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru (which then also included modern-day Chile, Argentina, and Paraguay), and their impact on the natural history of the so-called New World. The second studies China Jesuits from their own perspective as missionaries of scientific expertise in the context of the Republic of Letters.

Prieto’s highly instructive yet pleasantly readable, elegant book presents a persuasive examination of the origins of the order’s engagement as missionaries to the native Indians, which shows again how the Jesuits were able to redefine their missionary strategy in changed local circumstances. Similarly to the situation in 1548 in Sicilian Messina, where the invitation of the local senate drove the Jesuits into the ministry of education, the Peru Jesuits were impelled...


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