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The Jesuits During the Interim (1773-1814)

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The execution of the Brief of Suppression having been largely left to local bishops, there was room for a good deal of variety in the treatment the Jesuits might receive in different places. In Austria and Germany they were generally allowed to teach (but with secular clergy as superiors); often they became men of mark as preachers, like Beauregard, Muzzarelli, and Alexander Lanfant (b. at Lyons, 6 Sept. 1726, and massacred in Paris, 3 Sept. 1793) and writers like Francios-X. de Feller, Zaccharia, Ximenes. The first to receive open official approbation of their new works were probably the English Jesuits, who in 1778 obtained a Brief approving their well-known Academy of Liège (now at Stonyhurst). But in Russia, and until 1780 in Prussia, the Empress Catherine and King Frederick II desired to maintain the Society as a teaching body. They forbade the bishops to promulgate the Brief until their placet was obtained. Bishop Massalski in White Russia, 19 September, 1773 therefore ordered the Jesuit superiors to continue to exercise jurisdiction till further notice. On 2 February, 1780, with the approbation of Bishop Siestrzencewicz's Apostolic visitor, a novitiate was opened. To obtain higher sanction for what had been done, the envoy Benislaski was sent by Catherine to Rome. But it must be remembered that the animus of the Boubon courts against the Society was still unchecked; and in some countries, as in Austria under Joseph II, the situation was worse than before. There were many in the Roman Curia who had worked their way up by their activity against the order, or held pensions created out of former Jesuit property. Pius VI declined to meet Catherine's requests. All he could do was express an indefinite assent by word of mouth, without issuing any written documents, or observing the usual formalities; and he ordered that strict secrecy should be observed about the whole mission. Benislaski received these messages on 12 March, 1783, and later gave the Russian Jesuits an attestation of them (24 July, 1785).

On the other hand, it can cause no wonder that the enemies of the Jesuits should from the first have watched the survival in White Russia with jealousy, and have brought pressure to bear on the pope to ensure their suppression. He was constrained to declare that he had not revoked the Brief of Suppression, and that he regarded as an abuse anything done against it, but that the Empress Catherine would not allow him to act freely (29 July, 1783). These utterances were not in real conflict with the answer given to Benislaski, which only amount to an assertion that the escape from the Brief by the Jesuits in Russia was not schismatical, and that the pope approved of their continuing as they were doing. Their existence was therefore legitimate, or at least not illegitimate, though positive approval in legal form did not come until Pius VII's brief "Catholicæ Fidei" (7 March, 1801). Meanwhile the same or similar causes to those which brought about the Suppression of the Society were leading to the disruption of the whole civil order. The French Revolution (1789) was overthrowing every throne that had combined against the Jesuits, and in the anguish of that trial, many were the cries for the re-establishment of the order. But amid the turmoil of the Napoleonic Wars, during the long captivity of Pius VI (1798-1800) and of Pius VII (1809-1814), such a consummation was impossible. The English Jesuits, however (whose academy at Liège, driven over to England by the French invasion of 1794,had been approved by a brief in 1796), succeeded in obtaining oral permission from Pius VII for their aggregation to the Russian Jesuits, 27 May, 1803. The commission was to be kept secret, and was not even communicated by the pope to Propaganda. Next winter, its prefect, Cardinal Borgia, wrote a hostile letter, not indeed canceling the vows take, or blaming what had been done, but forbidding the bishops "to recognize the Jesuits " or "to admit their privileges until their obtained permission from the Congregation of Propaganda.

Considering the extreme difficulties of the times, we cannot wonder at orders being given from Rome which were not always quite consistent. Broadly speaking, however, we see that the popes worked their way towards a restoration of the order by degrees. First, by approving community life, which had been specifically forbidden by the Brief of Suppression (this was done in England in 1778). Second, by permitting vows (for England in 1803). Third, by restoring the full privileges of a religious order (these were not recognized in England until 1829). The Society was extended by Brief from Russia to the Kingdom of Naples, 30 July, 1804; but on the invasion of the French in 1806, all houses were dissolved, except those in Sicily. The Superior in Italy during these changes was the Venerable Giuseppe M. Pignatelli. In their zeal for the re-establishment of the Society some of the ex-Jesuits united themselves into congregations which might, while avoiding the now-unpopular name of Jesuits, preserve some of its essential features. Thus arose the Fathers of Faith (Peres de la Foi), founded with papal sanction by Nicholas Paccanari in 1797. A somewhat similar congregation, called "The Fathers of the Sacred Heart", had been commenced in 1794 in Belgium, under Père Charles de Broglie, who was succeeded by Père Joseph Varin as superior. By the wish of Pius VI, the two congregations amalgamated, and were generally known as the Paccanarists. They soon spread to many lands; Paccanari, however, did not prove to be a good superior, and seemed to be working against a union with the Jesuits still in Russia; this caused Père Varin and others to leave him. Some of them entered the Society in Russia at once; and at the Restoration, the others joined en masse .

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