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The Society of Jesus in England, 1623-1688 : an institutional study

By Thomas M. McCoog


From the Society of Jesus' first appearance in England in 1580,\ud various political treatises, literary works, and theological discourses\ud have attributed legendary plots, exploits, and malice to its members.\ud For nearly two hundred years, the Jesuits were consistently portrayed\ud as seditious regicides who would sacrifice all to regain England for\ud Rome. Although modern scholarship has revealed the true nature of the\ud myth of the evil Jesuits, few historians have attempted to explicate\ud the reality. There have been biographies of individual sixteenth\ud century Jesuits and studies of the Society's conflicts with the English\ud secular clergy and of their pretended plots against the government but\ud there has been no investigation of the English Jesuits as members of an\ud international religious order. The Society of Jesus had a "pathway to\ud God" in its Institute (that is, its Constitutions, decrees, and rules)\ud which became more complicated throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth\ud centuries. Could it be adapted to the special conditions of England?\ud Were the practices of the Jesuits there harmonious with those prescribed\ud in the Institute? Or was England so singular that dispensations and\ud concessions left the Society there scarcely recognizable as such to\ud other Jesuits? Centring on the period from 1623 to 1688, from the\ud initial enthusiasm at the erection of the province to the debacle of\ud James II's collapse and flight, this thesis will consider the English\ud Jesuits in the context of the Society's Institute.\ud Not bound by any monastic vow of stability, the early Jesuits were\ud dispersed throughout the world. The preservation and the confirmation\ud of union among such members was a constant concern of St Ignatius\ud Loyola and the early Society. Out of this concern evolved much of the\ud Society's Institute and its ordinary manner of government, which are\ud topics of the first chapter.\ud Although the mission was opened in 1580, England did not become a\ud fully constituted province until 1623. During the intervening forty-three\ud years, the mission survived on the institutional fringe of the\ud Society. It was the Society's first independent, permanent mission and,\ud as such, was an exception to the customary style of government. Condemned\ud as a novelty, the mission withstood the threats and objections of other\ud provinces. Once erected, the English province was remarkably resilient in\ud its adjustments to the vicissitudes of the English political scene.\ud As the number of Jesuits increased, "colleges" and "residences"\ud were established in England. The precise meaning of both terms has\ud long eluded recusant historians and can only be understood fully if seen\ud in the context of the Institute. Although most Jesuits lived with\ud recusant families, there was a consistent effort to have a specific\ud Jesuit house within each college and residence.\ud Restricted by the Society's teachings on poverty and threatened by\ud the penal laws, the province had to be very careful about its financial\ud arrangements. The Society's Institute placed serious restrictions on\ud the provincial institutions. Working within those limitations, the\ud province was able to protect most of its capital and much of its real\ud estate again t theft, confiscation, and apostasy through lay trustees\ud and a complex system of interlocking trusts

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