It was the 16th century and the Catholic Church was losing its followers. In 1521, Pope Leo X excommunicated Martin Luther from the Church, and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V declared Luther an outlaw. They thought they solved the problem the old way. Little did they now that they inspired a whole movement, the Protestant Reformation, that would significantly decrease the population under Vatican’s domineering influence. The initial movement that started within Germany diversified, and other reform impulses arose independently of Luther. The spread of Gutenberg’s printing press provided the means for the rapid dissemination of religious materials in the people. The largest groups were the Lutherans and Calvinists. Lutheran churches were founded mostly in Germany, the Baltic and Scandinavia, while the Reformed ones were founded in Switzerland, Hungary, France, the Netherlands and Scotland. The new movement influenced the Church of England decisively after 1547 under Edward VI and Elizabeth I, although the Church of England had been made independent under Henry VIII in the early 1530s for political rather than religious reasons.
Coincidently, or was it fate, the year 1521, that same year that saw Luther expelled from the Catholic Church, a new hope arrived. A young Spanish aristocrat by the name of Íñigo López de Loyola was, during the Battle of Pamplona, struck by a cannonball, which wounded one of his legs and broke the other. He retreated to his home and had several surgical operations, which must have been very painful in the days before anesthetics. During this time he read the De Vita Christi, by Ludolph of Saxony, and in it he proposes to the reader that he place himself at the scene of the Gospel story, that he visualize the crib at the Nativity, and so on. This work influenced the Spanish nobleman to become Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder and Superior General of the Society of Jesus, a Catholic order whose members were called Jesuits. It may seem strange that a religious order would have someone with a title of Superior General, however, it makes complete sense when it is know that the Society was founded for “whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God”. Ignatius and his men gathered and professed vows of poverty, chastity, and later obedience, including a special vow of obedience to the Pope in matters of mission direction and assignment. Ignatius’s plan of the order’s organization was approved by Pope Paul III in 1540. Since then, Jesuits have gone on to many missions to, officially, work in education (founding schools, colleges, universities and seminaries) and to do intellectual research, however, it’s true purpose was to bring forth a new and sympathetic doctrine to 112 nations on six continents and repair the Catholic Churches reputation after the Martin Luther fiasco.
In fact, one of the men recruited personally by Ignatius to the order is Francis Coster (or Frans de Costere, Latin: Franciscus Costerus), a Doctor of Philosophy and Theology from the university of Cologne. Francis had a stunning reputation as a man who was ever ready to defend the teaching of the Catholic Church, at the time engaged in the struggle with Protestant ‘new ideas’, and by word and by writing he brought people back to Catholicism. He wrote a book about the institutions of the Roman Catholic Church:
Containing five books (parts), each one describes one part of the institutions of the Brotherhood of Our Blessed Lady (Illustere Lieve-Vrouwe-Broederschap), one of the most influential brotherhoods in Belgium during the 15th and 16th century.
And while some Jesuits were arguing the scripture with Protestants, others were engaged in missions in faraway lands. Nicolas Trigault was a Walloon Jesuit, and a missionary in China. He was also known by his latinised name Trigautius or Trigaultius, and his Chinese name Jin Nige. His job was to spread the teachings and to report the results to the Pope. However, he is now mostly remembered by his travelogues about China, and his passionate approach to the Catholic cause, which resulted in severe depression and consequent suicide after he failed to defend the use of the term Shangdi as a Chinese word for Christian God, a term prohibited in 1625 by the Jesuit Superior General Muzio Vitelleschi. More on the topic of Christianity on the far East in our articles to come!
Jesuits grew in stature and reputation. They were credited with expanding the Churches reach across the globe, as well as bringing the softer approach to Catholicism, and in 2013, Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the first Jesuit Pope, taking the name Pope Francis.
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