(6 of 11)
In Paris in 1534 Ignatius and his friends made their first vows of poverty and chastity (Ignatius was ordained a priest three years later), but it was not until 1540 that Pope Paul III approved the small band as a new religious order. As part of the bargain, they placed themselves at the express call of the Pope. In Ignatius' metaphor, they were to be chivalrous soldiers of Jesus, mobile, versatile, ready to go anywhere and perform any task the Pope assigned. As a recognized order, they added to their earlier vows the traditional vow of obedience to their superiors and a fourth vow expressing their special fealty to the Pope. They gave command to a superior general elected for life. Their choice for the first general was Ignatius.
The Jesuits rode full gallop into their new assignments: convert the heathen, reconvert Protestant Europe. Francis Xavier hopscotched from India to Southeast Asia to Japan, a country that had never before heard the Christian message. More than any others, the Society of Jesus stemmed, and sometimes reversed, the tide of Protestantism in France, the Low Countries and Central Europe. When Ignatius died in 1556, his order was nearly 1,000 strong and had dispatched its apostles to four continents.
The Jesuits rose to eminence in the two centuries that followed Ignatius' death. Seeking to be the consciences of kings, they served as confessors to every French King from Henry III to Louis XV. In 16th and 17th century China, the great Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci and his successors labored for decades to impress the Emperor and the powerful mandarin scholars with their own impeccable scholarship, eventually becoming keepers of the imperial calendar. But this opportunity to win China for Christianity was lost when Rome denied the missionaries' pleas that Chinese converts be left undisturbed in their Confucian reverence for their ancestors.
Jesuit achievements were as often secular as spiritual. French Jesuit Jacques Marquette paddled down the Mississippi in the first European expedition to explore that river. Brother Jiri Kamel, a Moravian botanist at the Jesuits' College of Manila in the 17th century, gave Europe the camellia. A German mathematician and astronomer of the Society of Jesus, Christoph Klau, contributed to the Gregorian calendar and gave his Latinized name, Clavius, to a lunar crater that he discovered.
Jesuits used the arts to reach the consciences of their fashionable audiences, and in so doing, made significant contributions to opera, drama and ballet. They produced thousands of plays in the 17th century, and ballets as well, many of them to lure the balletomanes of the French aristocracy. One such ballet portrayed the triumph of free will over predestination.
But Jesuits were more than dance-masters; their martyrs died