Pope Paul III Approves the Jesuits (1540)
On this date, September 27, in 1540, Pope Paul III officially approved the Society of Jesus – the Jesuits – through his encyclical, Regimini militantis ecclesiae. Born Alessandro Farnese on 29 February 1468 in Rome, Paul III was pope for 15 years, from 12 October 1534 until his death on 10 November 1549. Paul won his elevation though his sister Giulia's liaison with Pope Alexander VI, and managed to have four children born to him while he was yet a cardinal. But at age 66 he was retired to piety as pope.
As befits a Counter-Reformation pope, Paul tried to lessen the losses to the Catholic Church caused by its own corruption and excess, and resisted until his last breath any real reform in the church. His chief reason for approving a new Society, when gluttony and depravity tainted all monastic Orders, was to enforce orthodoxy in the church as a hedge against the Protestant heresy. He also excommunicated Henry VIII of England for divorcing Catherine of Aragon, established the Index of Prohibited Books to censor church criticism, formally established the Congregation of the Roman Inquisition or Holy Office to quash heresy, and still had time to promote two of his grandsons to cardinals – one age 14, the other age 16.
That he was a strong supporter of the arts, which every pope was who wanted tourists and cash to come to Rome, nobody questions (Titian painted the portrait used here). But the Society of foot-soldiers for the faith that Paul blessed cultivated the wealthy and powerful to win special privileges. They insinuated themselves into politics and carried out murderous intrigue during the rein of "Bloody Mary" in England (1553-1558), caused the St. Bartholomew's Massacre in France (1572), laid the foundation for the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), enslaved and exploited converts in South America for profit, and engaged in other plots too numerous to enumerate.
Paul's legacy was approving a Society that gave the world Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, Galileo's tormentor, Athanasius Kircher, the pagan apologist and dilettante of ancient Egypt, Matteo Ricci, teacher of the theory of a sun-centered system in China while Galileo was forced to deny it in Italy, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the evolutionist criticized by his church for "grave doctrinal errors,"* among others. In 1773 Pope Clement XIV, in the Bull Dominus ac Redemptor Noster, which listed and endorsed all the crimes of the Jesuits brought to his attention by fellow clerics, abolished the Society "forever." "Forever" lasted until the fall of Napoleon. The Jesuitry is with us still.
* Teilhard de Chardin's "grave doctrinal errors" are detailed at this link.
Originally published September 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.
Wrote Burns in "Epistle to Rev. John McMath," "But twenty times I rather would be // An atheist clean, // Than under gospel colours hid be // Just for a screen."