postheadericon The Term “JESUIT” by Hedwig Lewis SJ

The term “Jesuit” predates the foundation of the Society of Jesus. One finds it in Life of Christ (1350) by the saintly Carthusian Ludolph of Saxony: the book Ignatius read at Loyola during his convalescence. In 1539, Ignatius and his first Companions gave their group its identity in the title “Company of Jesus”.  In 1540, the title was translated as “Society of Jesus” in the Papal Bull approving the order. The word “Jesuit” is not found in any of the founding documents. Ignatius did not use it in his writings; neither did any of the companions.

However, in 1544, barely four years after its foundation, Peter Canisius in a letter to Peter Faber notes that the members of the Society were called Jesuits in Cologne – but in a pejorative sense. Canisius believed that the custom originated in Louvain, where the name was applied in mockery. In the 17th century, in England, France and Germany, the term Jesuit was used in derision, connoting hypocrisy, intrigue and malice.

On the other hand, those who appreciated the extraordinary contributions of the Society in various fields: science, education, missions… held the “Jesuits” in high esteem.