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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Early History of Illinois

Sidney Breese

published by E. B. Myers & Company,
Chicago, 1884

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 2
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p67  Chapter I

The Jesuit Order in Illinois, 1536;a
their History and Organization

It is not, perhaps, generally known that our annals, simple as they may be, reach back nearly two centuries, and are connected in their origin with one of the mark remarkable religious orders the world ever saw, a brief notice of which seems to be necessary.

It was in the Pontificate of Paul III, about the year 1536, that it arose, when the billows of the Reformation, rolling onward to their destiny, threatened the speedy overthrow of Papal power in Europe.

It sprung from a very humble beginning — from the accident of a wound received at the siege of Pampeluna, in Spain, by a soldier, Knight Ignatius Loyola by name, giving rise in its consequences to the foundation of the order known as the "Company," or "Society of Jesus."

 p68  While the wounded soldier was confined in a cloister, he cheered his moments of affliction and pain by perusing the Lives of the Saints, and other similar books, in which its library abounded, and becoming deeply affected by the relations of their piety, their suffering, their self-punishments and their fervent zeal, he resolved, should his life be spared, to excel them all in the severity of his penance, in self-inflicted punishments by lash and cord, and in all the manifestations of ascetic zeal and devotion. He recovered, and vowing before God and the Virgin to consecrate himself to the Redeemer's service — vowing also total abstinence from vain indulgences — poverty and the severest penance man could undergo, he soon gathered around him many who, like him, gloried in suffering and longed for martyrdom.

There were then many similar associations in the world, amply sufficient, it was thought, for every exigency of the Church, and the Pope would not recognize the order. But when Loyola added to their vows the most prompt obedience to all the commands of the head of the Church, to which no others were bound, he received it into favor. Loyola became its General  p69 and Head, and dying was canonized, being designated in the calendar, as "Saint Ignatius."

It soon overshadowed all other religious orders, and its members became most useful auxiliaries to the pastoral clergy in those times of the Church's greatest need. They labored with untiring zeal and industry, in defending the Faith, then so violently assaulted by Luther and his associates, and in propagating it in the countries of the heathen.

As spiritual teachers they had no equals; for, they possessed all the learning of the age, and being in high favor with the Pope, they easily became the conscience keepers of kings and nobles. Their arrogance and presumption, therefore, became excessive, and the dark and complicated intrigues of European politics found in them able, wily, persevering actors. In every royal court they possessed some power. Schools and colleges were founded and controlled by them; schemes of future aggrandizement planned; and, although vowed to poverty, they became rich, haughty and overbearing, until at last, most of the crowned heads becoming alarmed at their power, and the magnitude of their pretensions, expelled them from their dominions, and the  p70 Pope himself, Clement XIV, finally suppressed the order.

When in the plenitude of their power no men on earth possessed higher qualifications for heathen conversion than they, for there was added to their learning, zeal, fortitude and enthusiasm, acute observation and great address, a remarkable faculty for ingratiating themselves with the simple natives of every clime and winning their confidence. They were meek and humble when necessary, and their religious fervor inspired them with a contempt of danger, and nerved them to meet and to overcome the most appalling obstacles.

Alike to them were the chilling wintry blasts, the summer's heat, the pestilence or the scalping knife, the angry billows of the ocean and the raging storm; they dreaded neither.

No sooner did the enterprising sailor return to port from a newly-discovered populous barbarian region, than some of the order were at once dispatched to it, to commence the work of Christianization. The shores of India, the lone islands of the ocean, Africa, South America, all were visited by them.

Not a zone of the earth's surface was left  p71 unexplored. If one region was more barbarous than another, if access to it was more difficult and dangerous, these but enhanced the desire to penetrate into it, there to plant the symbol of their faith, and die, if necessary, in its support. No spot, however secluded, could escape them, for with falcon glance and eagle daring, they darted their scrutiny into every nook and corner of both hemispheres, where, planting the cross and erecting rude altars for the occasion, they gathered the wondering savages around them, remained with them, and finally won them.

Thayer's Note:

a An unfortunate slip on the part of the editor. There were no Jesuits in Illinois in 1536, of course: as is made clear in the text, the date is that of the foundation of the order, in Spain.

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