Whether you’re a Catholic or not, you’ve probably heard of the Society of Jesus, more popularly known as the Jesuits. So who are they and what do they do? Let me answer all the frequently asked questions about Jesuits in this article.
Jesuits are a religious Catholic order of priests and brothers. It was founded in 1540 and is considered one of the most influential orders of men in the Roman Catholic Church. Also called the Society of Jesus, the group has an immense impact on culture, society, and religion all across the globe.
That said, Jesuits are Catholics. They are known for their role and contributions to education, charity, theology, and missionary work. They also publish notable intellectual journals and run prestigious schools and universities worldwide. But still, many are not familiar with who they are. So to help with that, here’s everything you need to know about Jesuits.
What is a Jesuit?
The Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits, is an apostolic religious community of men, many of whom are pastors, chaplains, and teachers. There are also lawyers, doctors, astronomers, and many others. According to Jesuits Global, there are over 14,439 members across the world as of January 2022. This makes it the largest all-male religious order in the Catholic Church, working to spread the faith throughout the world.
Founded in 1540 by Ignatius Loyola, a soldier-turned-mystic, the Jesuits are known for their missionary works and role in theology and publishing. They are also noted for their dedication to human rights and social justice. But one of their major focus is on education, running almost 200 Jesuit universities and colleges and hundreds of high schools and other educational projects worldwide.
Now, to get a better idea of what Jesuits are and what they believe in, here’s a quick overview of their vows and mission.
Four Vows of the Society of Jesus
Jesuits make three vows as a member of a religious order. These are the vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity. The vow of poverty means that they’ll never have their own house or car. Their vow of obedience means that they surrender their choice of making decisions regarding their personal and professional lives. Lastly, their vow of chastity means that they’ll never have their own family.
What makes Jesuits different from other religious orders is that they take an additional vow of obedience with regard to the worldwide mission of the Church. Meaning, that they commit to be always available to whatever and wherever the church and the Pope need them the most. This is why you’ll often find them in remote places across the globe or where certain fields of study are emerging. This shows the society’s dedication not only to the Church but also to the common good of everyone, regardless of faith and culture.
Aside from their four vows, the Jesuits also follow one thing: “to find God in all things”. This is why they reach out to diverse places and broad studies because they know that’s where God is. This is also why they work as doctors, lawyers, writers and journalists, psychologists, counselors, researchers, scientists, theologians, and philosophers. They do every kind of work, seeking God and dedicating themselves fully to achieving His greater glory.
Do Jesuits Obey the Pope?
Now, one of the most frequently asked questions about Jesuits is whether or not they obey the pope. Well, you see, a lot of the Catholic monarchs were jealous of the influence and independence of Jesuits in the past. So in 1773, the society was disbanded by Pope Clement XIV.
The order was only restored in 1814 by Pope Pius VII. From then on, the Jesuits have been famous for their relationship to Rome. Aside from it being their headquarters, it was also where the first Jesuits headed, seeking direct order from the Pope when they found out that Jerusalem wasn’t going to work out for them.
That said, obeying the papacy is part of the Jesuits’ fourth unique vow. This means that they have committed themselves to accept any mission the Pope requires from them. So if the Pope deems it necessary for priests to reconvert people who are lost to the Protestant Reformation, then you can count on Jesuits to do the job. If the Pope thinks that Catholicism needs to be brought to far-flung areas, they’ll also be on it.
Is Jesuit a Type of Catholicism?
Some people confuse Jesuits as being a type of Catholicism. However, this isn’t the case. For one, there are no “types” of Catholicism as there is only one true Church. Thus, only one type of Catholicism. This is the central belief of the Catholic Church, which you’ll find in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#866):
“The Church is one: she acknowledges one Lord, confesses one faith, is born of one Baptism, forms only one Body, is given life by the one Spirit, for the sake of one hope, at whose fulfillment all divisions will be overcome.”
However, the Church recognizes that while all Catholics may have the same faith, their ways of expressing liturgies can be different. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#1201) explains this, saying: “The mystery of Christ is so unfathomably rich that it cannot be exhausted by its expression in any single liturgical tradition.” This resulted in diverse liturgical traditions, known now as “Rites”.
Currently, there are 24 rites in the Catholic Church, all of which are in communion with one another and with the Pope. From these, there is only one church in the west, which is the Roman or Latin rite, more commonly called the Roman Catholic Church. It is also the largest. The other 23 are often referred to as the Eastern churches.
So going back to the question, Jesuits or the Society of Jesus is not the Roman Catholic Church or one of the Eastern Catholic Churches. It is simply one of the thousands of religious orders within the Roman Catholic Church.