- Early Modern Jesuits between Obedience and Conscience during the Generalate of Claudio Acquaviva (1581–1615) by Silvia Mostaccio
This book purports to be a sustained examination of the concept and practice of obedience of Jesuits in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, a worthy and important subject. Unfortunately, it does not do this. Instead, the book republishes in translation with some changes the author’s previously published articles with a thin connecting narrative. Publishing one’s articles between the covers of a book is a good idea, because articles often appear in widely scattered places and are hard to locate, especially when North American libraries do not buy or provide electronic access to very many books and journals published abroad. The problem here is that the book does not deliver what it promises, a sustained and developed analysis of Jesuit obedience. Sometimes the material touches on obedience only tangentially.
Chapter 1 deals with Jesuit and non-Jesuit writings about political obedience, broadly conceived. It analyzes some Jesuit catechisms for soldiers, especially Antonio Possevino’s Il soldato cristiano, which argues for blind obedience to superiors. [End Page 658] The author cites Jesuit sodalities and catechisms as emphasizing absolute obedience to ecclesiastical and temporal superiors, with the major exception of Bellarmine’s catechism. Mostaccio also sees Giovanni Botero’s argument for obedience to a virtuous prince (virtuous because he was Catholic or guided by a priest) as exemplifying a Jesuit concept of obedience. However, Botero wrote these works years after he was dismissed from the Society in 1580.
The best part of the book is chapter 2 in which the author argues that there was a simultaneous tension and equilibrium in the Jesuit Constitutions and other works. The tension was between the obligation of obedience to men, especially to superiors, and obedience to the Holy Spirit, which is made manifest in the individual’s feelings. For example, a Jesuit was obligated to make his dissent known if convinced that a command was damaging to the Society or to another Jesuit. The author looks closely at the Jesuit concept of representation (making one’s dissent known).
Chapter 3 consists of an incomplete look at a French Jesuit who denounced Ignatius Loyola’s famous letters on obedience of 1553, plus Jesuit differences with Pope Sixtus V (1585–90). Chapter 4 explores how undertaking the Spiritual Exercises led Mary Ward and Maria Maddalena de’Pazzi to venture into new paths of spirituality and action, a form of disobedience. It is an interesting chapter, but has little to do with Jesuit obedience. Overall, the author provides some interesting material and usually provides both the original texts and an English translation. There is a very full bibliography.
Although there are useful insights, more needs to be done. A thorough investigation of Jesuit obedience during the generalate of Claudio Acquaviva definitely needs to be written. It would have to discuss the two major obedience issues, not mentioned here, during his generalate. The first was the unsuccessful attempt by many Spanish and some Italian Jesuits to curtail drastically the authority of the general. The second was the successful campaign by Spanish, Portuguese, and some Italian Jesuits to bar entry into the Society of recruits from converso background and to dismiss from the Society those discovered to be of converso ancestry. The Jesuits who favored these measures disobeyed both Ignatius, whose views were the opposite, and major programmatic documents of the Society.