The art of Jesuit-poking

Unscrupulous intrigue can sometimes lead to conspiracy theories. However, sometimes they grow imaginatively on their own. After the allegations have been often-times repeated, we begin to think that, as well as smoke, there must be fire.┬áThis is what gave the Jesuits such a bad name, for instance with Friedrich Schiller, and other Protestant writers; and even within the Catholic Church, for the last few centuries. For even inside, the Jesuits seemed “wicked,” in both the positive and negative sense. Yet most of the memorable incidents are ambiguous, or doubtful.

This reputation is a pity because the Jesuit order, in addition to little faults, has done so many noble things. These included their missions among the placid Huron Indians, and their sacrifices at the hands and tomahawks of the Iroquois — whose “Great League of Peace” once invaded the world of pre-Ontario, and bathed our current cottage district in blood.

Curiously, or perhaps there is no irony at all, the greatest achievement of the Jesuits, came when they were outwardly quite powerless. For a priest or missionary is radically powerless, I would say, while he is being burnt, flayed, or pickled. Yet oddly that is just when the most indelible mark is made — not only on himself but on his external observers, to say nothing of all-seeing God. And note that, the Jesuits did not need to intrigue to get themselves martyred, and probably did not lobby in this cause. Their most winning argument was made non-verbally, “in the flesh.” To this day, Christians need not sneak up on their assailants, or beg to be put down. It is the assailants who, normally, must do the sneaking.

Schiller is incidentally among my favourite Protestant bigots. He does not waste his time as a historian researching actual Jesuit conspiracies, which are frequently alleged. It is almost as if he doesn’t quite believe them. But in his dramatic works, he is quite free with dark Jesuitical legends. For instance, he paints their influence upon Spanish court and society in uniform tones of black.

He is the opposite of Shakespeare in his casting. Known Catholics in his plays are generally fanatics, known Protestants are morally upright; whereas in Shakespeare the Protestant exemplars go the distance to humourless priggery, and every faithful character depicted as a Catholic (starting with monks and nuns) is more or less a white-hat. We have the reverse face of Schiller’s lyrical display of smiling, tolerant, genial light and love — in which he settles scores like a Wokeman.