With Eyes and Ears Open: The Role of Visitors in the Society of Jesus (Leiden: Brill, 2019), edited by Thomas M. McCoog, S.J.

In: Journal of Jesuit Studies
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  • 1 Michigan State University

Jesuit Studies: Modernity through the Prism of Jesuit History 21. Pp. x + 315, 18 illustrations/maps. Hb, $179.00.

Ignatius of Loyola’s conception of Jesuit administration contains a paradox, one only solved by the advent of air travel: How could an order with a centralized form of governance be managed when its provinces spanned the globe? In the founder’s last decade, the Society of Jesus expanded tenfold, and in the successive decades it continued to grow numerically and geographically. Unlike the monastic orders or the mendicants, the Jesuits did not govern their affairs at the local level in chapters; their chain of command went from college rectors to provincial officers to the superior general in Rome, filtered through executive secretaries called assistants. The increasing scale of the Society therefore created nearly insurmountable administrative challenges, because Rome was both literally and figuratively distant. An innovation—in an age that strongly resisted such measures—was therefore necessary if the Society was to defeat the centrifugal forces that its expansion had created. The solution was found, in good early modern fashion, by repurposing an office from medieval ecclesiastical administration, the visitor. Such individuals were delegated to embody the superior general in specific Jesuit provinces, representing Rome’s authority on inspection tours of limited duration.

With Eyes and Ears Open is a new collection of essays that examines how the Society of Jesus made use of the position of visitor over the centuries since the order’s inception. The contributions treat the institution of visitor itself, as well as the work of different visitors until the generalate of Pedro Arrupe in the 1960s and 70s, when ease of travel made it possible for superiors general to conduct inspections themselves. What emerges from these studies is the eminently political role of visitors during centuries of the Old Society, and their role as financial and administrative experts since the restoration. These characterizations are perhaps determined by the available sources, or by the interests of the contributors to the volume, but they make sense in light of the problems that spurred visitations.

In addition to the introductory essay by the volume’s editor, Thomas McCoog, S.J., the overview of the institutional history of the office by Robert Danieluk, S.J. is particularly illuminating. Case studies of Peru, France, Ireland, the English houses in Belgium, and Moravia in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries examine particular crises that were mediated by visitors who at times acted on their own initiative rather than the orders of superiors general—a fact which reveals the perils of this form of delegation. The essay by Francisco Malta Romeiras on the visit to Portugal at the time of Pombal by Francisco Saldanha da Gama—not a Jesuit, but rather a papal emissary with a visitor’s powers—illuminates how the position was appropriated to accelerate the political and ecclesiastical process that led to the suppression of the Society. The visitations examined in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to Maryland, the Zambezi missions, Lower Germany, Australia, and Great Britain further demonstrate the tensions between the local forces that shaped individual provinces and the broader vision of Roman superiors or the impressions of temporary inspectors. In sum, this volume greatly expands the field’s knowledge of the role and history of Jesuit visitors, and will hopefully spur further analyses of these important historical figures.


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