Between Popes, Inquisitors and Princes

How the first Jesuits negotiated the religious crisis in early modern Italy

When the first Jesuits arrived in Italy in 1538, nobody could have predicted that they would soon be the most important religious order in Europe. Up until then, this motley group of young men had been plagued by misfortune, suspicion and venomous accusations of heresy. Their quest to save souls had also been blighted by grave circumstances. For, as these young men travelled to Rome, the continent was facing unprecedented religious and political crisis. In the wake of Martin Luther’s condemnation of Catholicism, leaders of both church and state were struggling to prevent the destruction of beliefs that saved souls from eternal damnation. There was also political price to pay for religious revolution: as Christendom splintered regimes underpinned by religious beliefs and entwined with ecclesiastical hierarchies could crumble and fall. Delving into this period of spiritual upheaval and political turmoil, this book tells the story of how the first Jesuits used unique powers given to them by the popes to work as a potent and secretive force to stem the successes of the Protestant Reformation. It will also reveal how in doing so the Jesuits transformed themselves from a lowly band of brothers into a vital force in the fight for stability and salvation in early modern

Drawing on extensive first-hand research at the archives of the Vatican, the Roman Inquisition, numerous Italian states and the Jesuit order itself, this book provides the very first history of the unique and controversial powers that fuelled the rise of the early Jesuits. Given to the Jesuits by the popes themselves, these powers allowed the new religious order to convert and exonerate religious rebels in the absolute secrecy of sacramental confession. Many assume that the courts of the Roman Inquisition were the sole route through which Protestants could return to the Catholic fold. However, this book reveals that Jesuit confessors provided a second, secret channel back into the Catholic Church and Catholic society. This controversial yet highly effective strategy allowed heretics to avoid the
inquisitors whom they feared and the shame of an inquisitorial trial. It also allowed the Jesuits to carve out a central place in religious and political life.

Working discreetly – often under cover – the first Jesuits used their extraordinary powers to convert and exonerate heretics, helping church and state to tackle the most pressing challenges of their day. At the same, the Jesuits made themselves indispensable to potent popes, inquisitors and princes, transforming themselves from a rag tag band of wandering evangelists into the most important religious order in early modern Europe.

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