- “And Touching our Society”: Fashioning Jesuit Identity in Elizabethan England by Thomas M. McCoog
Over the last twenty years, the study of post–Reformation English Catholicism has experienced a lively renaissance. Once a cottage industry monopolized by scholars writing from within the Catholic fold, it has now migrated from the margins to the mainstream and become one of the busiest and most vibrant fields of early-modern inquiry. Prefaced by a brief historiographical survey, this volume of collected essays by Thomas McCoog is a timely and substantial contribution to this enterprise. It brings together hitherto unpublished essays with revised versions of others that have appeared in print previously (although several of them are here translated into English for the first time). Complementing and extending McCoog’s two important books on the history of the Society of Jesus in the British Isles between 1541 and 1597, the current collection underlines the vital role played by the Jesuits in the struggle to reclaim the countries that composed them from Protestantism and to reconvert their inhabitants to the Catholic faith. It explores the challenges and opportunities the Jesuits faced in extending their activities into a region where heresy had taken firm hold, and it charts the accommodations and adaptations necessitated by living in an environment in which persecution was a fact of life. Whereas much recent work on Catholicism has sought [End Page 655] to recover the experience of the laity, McCoog’s essays rightly remind us of the continued importance of understanding developments from the perspective of the clergy themselves.
In the first two essays in this collection, McCoog emphasizes the pronounced reluctance of Superior General Everard Mercurian to sanction a Jesuit mission to England for fear that it would compromise the Society’s characteristic “way of proceeding.” He suggests that Mercurian changed his mind in the context of anticipations that the project to secure a match between Elizabeth I and the French Duke of Anjou would transform Catholicism’s political prospects. Nevertheless, Mercurian’s predictions about the complications and discords that would ensue came true: had he lived beyond 1581, McCoog concludes, the mission to Scotland would probably have been cancelled (p. 54). Likewise we learn that the celebrated martyr Edmund Campion initially resisted the call to leave Bohemia (whither he had been sent to counteract the “pestilential heresies” sown by the “first instrument of the devil” in that kingdom, John Wyclif, p. 90) and to join Robert Persons in traveling to England. It was “out of obedience, not preference [that] he crossed the Channel” (p. 99). The volume also includes transcriptions and translations of a valuable cache of letters written by Robert Southwell to Superior General Claudio Aquaviva between 1585 and 1590 that illuminate his reactions to the persecution of Catholics by the Elizabethan regime, his anxiety about mysterious prodigies, and his hatred of that “compendium of iniquity” and “monster of crimes,” Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester (p. 183).
McCoog’s research also reveals some significant tensions beneath the surface of the early Society. He investigates the case of James Bosgrave, whose arrival in England from Poland provoked scandal among his colleagues when he went to a Protestant service (ostensibly to improve his understanding of English) and denied the papal deposing power, showing how later writers subtly erased the memory of his mistakes and recast him as one of the founding fathers of the English mission. McCoog also probes the frictions between English and Spanish Jesuits in Seville between 1592 and 1605, shows how the different strategies adopted by Robert Persons and William Crichton in relation to the problem of the succession fostered disharmony within the Society’s ranks, and assesses how the Jesuits reconciled the biblical mandate to “render unto Caesar” with their religious and political objectives. In chapter 12 he argues persuasively that the development of vernacular martyrologies was in large part a by-product of the...