The Jesuit Institute – What’s in a Name?
There is plenty of information on this website about our Institute, what it does and what it stands for, but why “Jesuit” – where does this word come from?
“Jesuit” started off as a sort of nickname for The Society of Jesus, a religious order of men within the Catholic Church that started in 1540. Perhaps nicknames might be considered a forerunner of today’s brands. They were an easy way of referring to the different groups of men and women that emerged within the Church in response to new challenges and situations. Thus Benedictine monks belong to the Order of St. Benedict, and the Order of Friars Minor (literally “little brothers”) are those brown-robed men started by St. Francis of Assisi nicknamed Franciscans.
Beginning as they did during the upheavals of the Protestant Reformation, and given that some of the first Jesuits went to Germany, England and other territories in an effort to heal divisions between Christians, the name “Jesuit” began to evoke suspicion and hostility in some quarters. Their academic prowess and their willingness to creep into countries where Catholic worship had been forbidden led some Protestants to view them as a subversive threat. Later still, Catholic monarchs across southern Europe turned against the Jesuits, perceiving them as being too influential or too independent while, in fact, the Jesuits were simply a tight-knit group with a common vision of a Christ-centred world.
There are many websites that allow the fears and fables of the past to persist. Blogs blame Jesuits for all manner of ills, even taking the rap for things that happened long before they existed. We at the Jesuit Institute-South Africa occasionally meet with resistance from those who have swallowed these “cyber-legends”. Today’s Jesuits could not be more down-to-earth. They work together with men and women of all ages and nationalities, and are passionately interested to bring people together in peace and harmony. Look at some of the Society of Jesus webpages for a better picture, or take part in some of the activities of this Institute.
Finally, a word on Pope Francis, who is the first Jesuit to be elected Bishop of Rome. Though Jesuits may not seek higher office in the Church, some are chosen to be bishops, especially in mission countries. If a Jesuit is made a bishop he is released from his vows of obedience and poverty for, as the chief pastor of a diocese, he must now govern both people and property. Pope Francis is thus under no obligation to the Jesuit superior general but, as a man trained in Ignatian spirituality and lifestyle, he brings all that with him to his new office.