- The Jesuits of the Low Countries: Identity and Impact (1540–1773). Proceedings of the International Congress at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven (3–5 December 2009) ed. by Rob Faesen and Leo Kenis
In keeping with the last decade’s surge in interest in the Catholic experience in the early-modern Low Countries, scholars and archivists of early-modern Netherlandish Jesuitica gathered in Leuven in 2009 for a colloquium on the state of the research field. This resulting conference volume comprises twelve articles on various historical topics, ranging from spirituality to education to mission, and six articles on the state of archival holdings for the various Jesuit provinces in the Low Countries. As such, the volume is a useful snapshot of current research into the preoccupations—educational, intellectual, and missionary—of the Society of Jesus in this region (the present-day Benelux) between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.
The essays in this volume attest to both the diversity and the energy of Jesuit activities in the Low Countries in the period; yet they also underscore the fundamental unifying goal behind of all these efforts—namely, the advancement of the Catholic Church in Netherlandish society. We learn, for example, how much effort the fathers invested in developing a legal framework for Catholic spirituality, thereby producing an impressive array of judicial literature during the period. Likewise, Belgian Jesuits developed theories of statecraft and politics that were designed to promote the restoration of Catholic piety and devotion to the reconquered Spanish Netherlands. Even as esoteric a discipline as mathematics was exploited by Jesuit scholars to advance Catholic military success. To foster greater devotion, Jesuits functioned also as active champions of the visual arts and the printing press. Jesuit missional efforts were no less impressive—Netherlandish missionaries negotiated the complicated confessional landscape of the religiously pluriform Dutch Republic and the formidable intellectual culture of Ming and Qing China with similar adeptness.
And yet, the same problem dogged the Jesuits here as elsewhere in Europe–their complicated and often tetchy relationship with their non-Jesuit confreres. Thus we find that one of the chief obstacles to Jesuit missionary activity in the Dutch Republic was not the Protestant authorities but the competition with the secular priests working there as well. Likewise for two decades the Jesuit College lived in uneasy and quarrelsome proximity to the theology faculty at the University of Leuven. One peculiarly Netherlandish manifestation of early-modern Catholic theology, Jansenism, drew the considerable enmity of the Jesuit establishment. An essay on the Jesuit polemicist Cornelius Hazart demonstrates just how strenuously the Society reacted against what it saw as a crypto-Calvinist heresy insinuating itself into orthodox Catholic doctrine.
In general the volume coheres well, although, alas, it suffers from a lacuna common to such collections—the lack of an introductory essay by the editors that weaves together common themes in a collection of otherwise diverse subjects. There are a couple of brief introductory remarks, but no effort to assess the overall state of the field based on the rich essays presented here. For the reader’s sake, some sort of [End Page 790] general remarks about where research is and where it might go would have been helpful. Nevertheless, students of all sorts of historical specialties— intellectual, religious, cultural—will find much to interest them in this conference volume.