by Peter McDonough ‧ RELEASE DATE: Dec. 2, 1991
Intriguing study by McDonough (Political Science/Arizona State) of the growth and collapse of the most powerful branch of the most powerful order of modern Catholicism. The Society of Jesus occupies a special place in the history of post-Reformation Christianity. Founded in the 16th century by Ignatius of Loyola, it rapidly became the most powerful agent of proselytism the Church had ever known. Jesuit missionaries penetrated every corner of the globe and for many years effectively ruled large portions of South America--while their schools gained such a high reputation that the Society soon had a near-monopoly on educating the upper classes of Catholic Europe. The particular strength of the order was its ability to adapt the rigid forms of Counter-Reformation Catholicism to changing circumstances and audiences. In the US, as McDonough observes, this strength eventually became the order's undoing. The pluralistic cast of American society made the sharp credal distinctions by which the Jesuits measured the world seem meaningless (or, at best, esoteric), and forced American Catholics into a siege mentality wherein traditional faith was preserved at the cost of a self-imposed segregation from the main currents of American intellectual and social life. This alienation was especially enervating for the Jesuits, who always and everywhere had made a point of immersing themselves in local customs and attitudes. McDonough shows the great lengths to which American Jesuits went in attempting to cultivate Catholicism in a largely unfriendly environment, and their relief in finding (through the liberalizing pronouncements of Vatican II) the possibility of a compromise. He implies, though, that this compromise was a Pyrrhic victory, since the burden of adaptation and fidelity that the Society had shouldered for so long had, in fact, become their raison d'etre, without which they were to drift into confusion and aimlessness. A very timely report: McDonough's examination of the Jesuits serves nicely as microcosm of the American Catholic experience as a whole.
Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1991
Page Count: 600
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1991
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