The World Scene
One Jesuit historian suggests that the decades following the coming of the Jesuits to Mexico “were the most glorious” of the Society's history. He then enlarges the scope of his judgment to encompass the leadership of the fifth and sixth generals of the order—Claudius Aquaviva (1582-1615) and Mutius Vitellechi, who ruled until 1645. This may be, he writes, the Society's “golden age.”
Tragically—or providentially, depending on one's point of view— the age began in bloodshed and ended in a multitude of baptisms. Jesuits inspired by their brothers' martyrdoms rushed to replace them in the front lines—sometimes fulfilling the 3rd-century prophecy of Tertullian that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians. And sometimes it is not.
In July 1570 a group of 70 Portuguese Jesuits sailing on several ships to the mission in Peru was attacked by French Calvinist pirates. On one galleon, all 40 Jesuits onboard, led by Ignatius Azevedo, were slashed, stabbed, and thrown into the sea.
But between 1573 and 1579 the number of Jesuits in Japan rose from eight to 29; and between 1581 and 1595 Jesuits reached out from Mexico to the Philippines, where they established a series of missions and two colleges. In 1588 they entered Paraguay and built the famous reductions, planned native agricultural communities, some with populations as large as 10,000, centered around the church, where crafts, industry, and the arts thrived—until the Jesuits were expelled in 1767.
Since the mid-20th century, Catholic theology has not assumed that the souls of the unbaptized will never see God. Even in the 1940s Catholic schoolchildren learned about “baptism of desire,” which meant that pagans of goodwill who never heard the gospels actually “desired” baptism, and thus were redeemed by their charitable lives. A few years later, on a more sophisticated level, German Jesuit