Research Repository

Jesuit Political Thought

Höpfl, Harro (2010) 'Jesuit Political Thought.' In: Lagerlund, Henrik, (ed.) Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy: Philosophy between 500 and 1500. Springer, pp. 588-592. ISBN 9781402097287

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The Society of Jesus has always been a highly “political” religious order. The context for its political thought was its engagement with higher-level education, its antiheretical, pastoral, and missionary activities, and its close relationships with secular rulers. Although there was no single, cohesive, or exclusively Jesuit political doctrine its members shared some premises: the (Thomist) premise that reason and revelation are complementary; that prudence is a pre-eminent virtue in all practical activity; and that the principles of good order (organization) are the same for church, polity, and any other “body” or corporation (including the Society itself). Inferences could therefore be drawn from reason to revelation and from one kind of body to another. Reason and revelation concurred that the polity requires coordination of individuals to the common good by coercive authority, and therefore hierarchy and headship, although that headship need not be monarchical. However, like most of their contemporaries, Jesuits regarded monarchy as the best form of government. Although authority as such is natural and necessary, the element of consent is the political community’s freedom to choose its own form of government. The alterability of most laws implies an “absolute” ruler. However, the authority of any ruler or regime is limited by fundamental laws, natural and divine law, and the natural and legal rights of subjects, as well as the right or threat of tyrannicide. The Society’s antiheretical activities were centered on defending the ultimate authority of the papacy over the church, especially as supreme arbiter of controversies about faith and morals. Jesuit theologians defended the papal “indirect power” to intervene in secular government where the salvation of souls was involved. This could threaten the independent authority of secular rulers. However, the Society was normally highly sympathetic to the position of secular rulers; indeed Jesuit theologians and controversialists made substantial concessions to “reason of state.” Almost from the establishment of the Society of Jesus (1540), Jesuits have been involved with things political. The Society’s founders, preeminent among them Ignatius Loyola, had not intended this. However, their placing the Society at the papacy’s disposal, the remarkable gifts and educational attainments of its members, and its adaptability meant that even in the lifetime of the founding fathers (Ignatius died in 1563, Laínez his successor as superior general in 1565, and Salmerón, the last surviving founder, in 1586), its activities came to center on secondary- and tertiary-level education and antiheretical engagements, as well as retaining the original focus on foreign and domestic missions, and spiritual guidance. For all these activities, the Society needed patrons among prelates and secular rulers to fund and protect it, and in dealing with them it acquired a vast collective political experience, as well as political enemies. Its various engagements also demanded theoretical reflection about politics.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Social Sciences > Essex Business School
Depositing User: Clare Chatfield
Date Deposited: 03 Aug 2013 09:44
Last Modified: 16 Dec 2014 11:19

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