Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Making of an Enterprise: The Society of Jesus in Portugal, Its Empire, and beyond, 1540-1750

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Making of an Enterprise: The Society of Jesus in Portugal, Its Empire, and beyond, 1540-1750

Article excerpt

The Making of an Enterprise: The Society of Jesus in Portugal, Its Empire, and Beyond, 1540-1750. By Dauril Alden. (Stanford: Stanford University Press. 1996. Pp. xxxi, 707. $75.00.)

Worldwide evangelical campaigns by religious orders were inalienable parts of that period known until recently as the "expansion of Europe." No order was as dynamic, effective, or controversial as the Society or Company of Jesus, which received papal approval in 1540. Sons of Loyola were active partners in Portuguese and Spanish initiatives in establishing a European presence in Africa, Asia, and the Americas.

For more than two decades Dauril Alden-while authoring a steady stream of meticulously researched and pioneering articles primarily on Brazil-has dedicated himself to researching the Portuguese Assistancy. This included continental Portugal and its empire and parts of India,Japan, China, and Southeast Asia. This is the first of a projected two-volume study and carries the story from 1540 to 1750. The primary focus is not on spiritual, educational, or cultural dimensions of the Assistancy, but on organization and economic and financial underpinnings which enabled the Society to fulfill its mission as specified in the Constitutions and subsequent responsibilities not initially considered. Reflecting this emphasis, the bulk of the book treats governance, recruitment, manpower, and fiscal administration (Part III, pp. 229-318) and financial resources and economic foundations of the enterprise (Part IV pp. 321-567). Parts I and II provide an excellent overview of the founding of the Society and Portuguese Assistancy, and expansion of the Jesuit enterprise into Africa, India, Asia, and Brazil. A concluding section examines lack of support beleaguering the Society at home when confronted by a hostile monarch, erosion in Southeast Asia and China, problems in India stemming from indigenous and European conquests of Portuguese holdings, successes in Brazil and even more heated controversy over allegations of excessive wealth, and the suggestion that the sons of Loyola had strayed from God and embraced Mammon. Alden is global in his approach but the focus is on Portugal, India, East Asia, and Brazil.

The author "locates" the Society with regard to medieval precedents and to contemporary orders in Europe, and readers will find comparisons to missionary activities in other European overseas empires. At all times the Jesuit enterprise is seen in the global context of military, political, and economic change. He makes the important point that Jesuit pragmatism and close relations with secular and religious leaders in Europe and overseas enabled the Society to enjoy exceptional success but exposed it to hostility. In Portugal the fate of the Society was closely linked to the fortunes of the crown and, on a more personal note, to the relationship between kings and their Jesuit advisers and confessors. The Society was vulnerable to political, military, and economic circumstances beyond its control: Anglo-Dutch and indigenous attacks by Sinhalese, Mughal, Omani, and Marathi resulting in Portuguese territorial losses denied the Jesuits their spiritual outposts and contributed to the collapse of Portugal's Eastern empire.

The Society as here presented fully merits the assessment (p. 4) that it was "the most dynamic, successful, influential, and controversial of the new Orders created during the turbulent sixteenth century." The new Society had unique features: a centralized pyramidal system of governance, a general appointed for life, absence of distinctive garb, failure to sing Mass and office in choir, refusal (with rare discretionary exceptions) to admit women, and no Third Order. Alden notes how the Society assumed responsibilities not contemplated initially: the most significant was in higher education. Others were wholly secular and inappropriate: royal assignments to mint coins, manage granaries, serve as superintendents of fortresses in northwestern India, manufacture armaments, and undertake delicate diplomatic assignments. …

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