Suppression of the Jesuits Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Beginning in 1759, the governments of Portugal, France, and Spain began limiting the activities of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, eventually expelling the order and seizing its property. In 1773, Pope Clement XIV, under pressure from Jesuit detractors, declared the order abolished.

Summary of Event

Ignatius of Loyola founded the Society of Jesus, or Jesuit order, of the Roman Catholic Church in the mid-sixteenth century to serve as a bulwark against the Protestant Reformation, a major force in missionary work, and an instrument of the papal will. Two centuries of success had embedded members of the order deeply into the infrastructure of the Catholic states of Europe. As preeminent educators and confessors, individual Jesuits had great influence on the royalty, bureaucrats, nobles, and wealthy burgher class of these states. Jesuits and their supporters were entrenched at the Vatican and controlled many of the mission stations in Catholic Latin America and the Caribbean. [kw]Suppression of the Jesuits (Jan. 19, 1759-Aug. 16, 1773) [kw]Jesuits, Suppression of the (Jan. 19, 1759-Aug. 16, 1773) Jesuits;suppression of Catholic Church;suppression of Jesuits Church and state;Jesuits [g]Europe;Jan. 19, 1759-Aug. 16, 1773: Suppression of the Jesuits[1580] [g]Spain;Jan. 19, 1759-Aug. 16, 1773: Suppression of the Jesuits[1580] [g]Portugal;Jan. 19, 1759-Aug. 16, 1773: Suppression of the Jesuits[1580] [g]France;Jan. 19, 1759-Aug. 16, 1773: Suppression of the Jesuits[1580] [g]Europe;Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766: Mozart Tours Europe as a Child Prodigy[1630] [g]Austria;Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766: Mozart Tours Europe as a Child Prodigy[1630] [g]Germany;Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766: Mozart Tours Europe as a Child Prodigy[1630] [g]France;Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766: Mozart Tours Europe as a Child Prodigy[1630] [g]England;Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766: Mozart Tours Europe as a Child Prodigy[1630] [g]Netherlands;Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766: Mozart Tours Europe as a Child Prodigy[1630] [g]Switzerland;Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766: Mozart Tours Europe as a Child Prodigy[1630] [c]Religion and theology;Jan. 19, 1759-Aug. 16, 1773: Suppression of the Jesuits[1580] [c]Government and politics;Jan. 19, 1759-Aug. 16, 1773: Suppression of the Jesuits[1580] Clement XIV Pombal, marquês de Louis XV Charles III (1716-1788) Ricci, Lorenzo

By the mid-eighteenth century, the Jesuit order counted 22,589 members who controlled 1,180 schools, residences, and novice houses. The order had patrons and supporters at the highest levels of society, but their high profile created critics and enemies as well, from both the clerical and secular worlds. There had developed clear pro-Jesuit and anti-Jesuit camps within the Church itself and at all of Europe’s Catholic courts. In Spain and Portugal, opposition to the order took the form of libelous pamphleteering, which claimed the Jesuits were profiteering in their commerce with Latin America and supporting indigenous rebellions in Paraguay.

The order gained a very influential enemy in the first minister of Portugal, the marquês de Pombal, who orchestrated anti-Jesuit sentiment in Portugal and at the Vatican. As a result, the Roman curia sent the Portuguese cardinal Francisco de Saldanha da Gama on a fact-finding mission. After Jesuits were implicated in the attempt on the Portuguese king’s life on September 3, 1758, (known as the Conspiracy of the Távoras) Conspiracy of the Távoras (1758) and Saldanha submitted a scathing report stressing Jesuit impiety, Portugal’s royal authorities took action. Some 180 Jesuits were arrested for lesé majesté (injury to the sovereign), and the order’s activities in the kingdom were suspended. On January 19, 1759, King Joseph I decreed the Jesuits traitors, rebels, and enemies of himself and issued orders for their immediate expulsion from all Portuguese territories. All of their property was to revert to the Crown. The effect was the exile of 1,100 men and the imprisonment of another 250. Portuguese diplomats throughout Europe defended the actions.

The French acted next. A Jesuit named Lavallette had been trafficking in imports from the Caribbean, and his shady deals had resulted in enormous debts to creditors and banks and the bankruptcies of prominent financiers. The Parlement of Paris ruled that the order itself was liable for these debts in May, 1761. Perhaps under the influence of important Jansenists and enlightened thinkers, the Parlement then took up the much deeper issue of the very legality of the order’s presence in France. The constitutions of the Society of Jesus were examined and found to be in violation of French law and custom. The Parlement found the order to be destructive, disturbing of the peace of the Church, and endangering to the faith of French subjects.

As a result of the ruling, French authorities burned the theological and philosophical works of twenty-three Jesuits. French bishops found themselves divided over the order, and King Louis XV, though personally supportive, felt great pressure to act against it. In November, 1764, he demanded that the constitutions be brought into line with French law and that the order in France become independent of the Jesuit general in Rome. Jesuit schools were closed, and all Jesuit priests were placed under the jurisdiction of French bishops pending papal cooperation. The attitude of Pope Clement XIII to these events was defiant: Let the Jesuits be as they are, he decreed, or let them not be at all. His bull Apostolicum Apostolicum (Clement XIII) of January 7, 1765, placed the order in France directly under his protection.

Like Louis XV, Spain’s King Charles III felt similar pressure from anti-Jesuit bureaucrats, nobles, and intellectuals. He heard claims that Jesuits were researching his paternity; the count of Aranda blamed the order for instigating a riot in Madrid in March, 1766. The Extraordinary Council of Castile investigated the claims and found the Jesuits guilty in a secret statement of January 29, 1767. The king finally signed an order of expulsion on February 27. On the night of March 21, soldiers attacked the Jesuit houses in Madrid simultaneously, and troops carried out similar attacks throughout Spain on April 12. Some 2,267 Jesuits underwent exile from Spain’s colonies. Spanish Naples purged their thirty-one houses on the night of November 3, 1767; Parma, Sicily, and Malta followed soon after.

Pope Clement XIII had resisted the Spanish expulsion order, but he died in 1769. His successor, the more pliable Clement XIV, feared the threats of the Bourbon and Braganza monarchs to nationalize the Catholic Church within their realms. France seized the papal territory of Avignon, and Naples seized that of Benevento as pressure mounted. Clerical anti-Jesuit sentiment at the Vatican, especially from Dominicans, Dominicans also played its part in Clement’s final decision. He tried to appease the monarchs by reducing Jesuit activities and prerogatives in Rome and abroad, and he took away from them control of the Irish and Roman Colleges in Rome. He sought aid from Archduchess Maria Theresa, a longtime supporter of the order, but even she advised in favor of papal suppression of the order, influenced by her own desire to make Bourbon marriage deals.

Finally, Clement prepared the necessary documents: The order of suppression that eliminated the Society of Jesus and the papal brief (letter) Dominus ac Redemptor, Dominus ac Redemptor (Clement XIV) which introduced it, were dated July 21, 1773. The pope read these documents to the Jesuit general, Lorenzo Ricci, on August 16. The brief claimed Jesuit disobedience, arrogance, and unwillingness to reform without citing specifics. More damning, it stated that the order had become a source of dissension in the Church, threatening the Church’s peace. Unordained Jesuits were freed from their vows, and Jesuit property would be sold to provide pensions. Priests could join other orders or continue under local bishops as diocesan priests, or they could be released from their vows after one year. Jesuit churches, schools, and other real property went to other orders. The Jesuit leadership was essentially imprisoned, and the Society of Jesus ceased to exist.


The suppression of the Jesuits must be viewed within the context of the programmatic secularization Secularism;and French government[French government] of key national institutions—including court life, colonial exploitation, and education—by enlightened monarchs and ministers that occurred in the later eighteenth century. The Jesuits had insinuated themselves deeply into the fabric of ruling-class life, and their eradication opened the door to new and even revolutionary influences among the seats of power. Their suppression was also a very clear sign of the irrelevance of the Papacy in international affairs: Clement XIV’s decision to cave in to external pressures was merely one more concession to the threat of nationalization of Catholic churches all over Europe.

In the immediate aftermath of the suppression, most Jesuits found homes as diocesan priests or within other regular orders; fifty-five became bishops. Jesuit life was maintained in western Russia by two hundred priests. It continued in Prussia until 1786, and Jesuits also found refuge within enclaves in mostly Protestant England and the Netherlands. When the Society of Jesus was reinstated in 1814, it was reintroduced to a far more conservative Europe, in which international Catholicism was both chastened and neutered but at the same time more welcome as a force for social order. As a narrow triumph of state over Church, the effect was short-lived, but never again would a single arm of Roman Catholicism hold such sway over Europe’s elite.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Aveling, J. C. H. The Jesuits. Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.: Stein and Day, 1982. Presents a critical but fair description of the Jesuits, their enemies, and the major steps in the suppression.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Barthel, Manfred. The Jesuits: History and Legend of the Society of Jesus. Translated by Mark Howson. New York: Morrow, 1984. Narrative history of the order; see the chapter entitled “The Holy Father Disowns His Children.”
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cordara, Giulio Cesare. On the Supression of the Society of Jesus: A Contemporary Account. Translated by John P. Murphy. Chicago: Loyola Press, 1999. First-hand account, written in 1779 by a Jesuit in Rome, which is apologetic for both the order and the pope’s actions.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morner, M., ed. The Expulsion of the Jesuits from Latin America. New York: Knopf, 1965. Detailed treatment of the process and results of the suppression in South and Central America.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wright, Jonathan. God’s Soldiers: Adventure, Politics, Intrigue, and Power—A History of the Jesuits. New York: Doubleday, 2004. Popular treatment of Jesuit history with a balanced discussion of the suppression within the context of Enlightenment secularization.

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Categories: History