In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Jesuits

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Regional Histories
  • Reference Sources
  • Primary Sources
  • Catalogues and Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Foundation
  • Spirituality
  • Ministries
  • Political Thought
  • Philosophy
  • Theology
  • Arts
  • Literature and Theater
  • Sciences

Renaissance and Reformation Jesuits
Robert A. Maryks
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 August 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0098


The Jesuits, or the Society of Jesus, is a Roman Catholic order of men religious founded in 1540 by Ignatius of Loyola (b. c. 1491–d. 1556), a Spanish nobleman of Basque origins (see Oxford Bibliographies article on Renaissance and Reformation “Saint Ignatius of Loyola”). Although the initial purpose of the founding group of companions from the University of Paris, who offered their services to the Roman pontiff, was to engage in the traditional apostolic Ministries for the progress of souls in life and in Christian doctrine—such as preaching, lecturing, teaching catechism, and hearing confessions—the Jesuits soon became known for their work as missionaries in Asia and the Americas, educators, and agents of so-called Counter-Reformation. The order expanded rapidly, and by the time it was suppressed in 1773 by Pope Clement XIV, the Jesuits were present in almost every aspect of early modern culture, Sciences, and the Arts in all parts of the world. Their radical innovations to the traditional religious life; special vow of being ready to be sent out on missions; role as confessors and counselors to sovereigns; and support of controversial theological, missionary, and political doctrines produced both animosity and admiration not only among Protestants but also Catholics, as the following bibliography makes clear. Restored by Pope Pius VII in 1814, the Jesuits, for better or worse, continued to play a prominent role in the history of the modern world. The following division into thematic sections is somewhat artificial, for many fields of Jesuit activities overlapped: the scientific activity of the Jesuits was, for example, often connected to their missionary endeavors, while their Ministries were affected by their Spirituality. Only all titles considered in their unity give a more balanced overview of the scholarship on the pre-suppression Society of Jesus that is being here proposed. Because Oxford Bibliographies on Renaissance and Reformation already contains an article on Schooling and Literacy by Paul Grendler and another one on Mission by Luke Clossey, and these articles offer an abundant bibliography on the contributions of the Jesuits to these fields, the present overview does not include such sections.

General Overviews

Surprisingly, there is no comprehensive scholarly history of the Jesuits in any language. The best attempts to present their history in the format of handbooks of varying sizes, helpful for a novice in the field, are Bangert 1972 in English, García Villoslada 1954 in Spanish, and Pavone 2004 in Italian (both Bangert and Pavone have been translated into other languages). Pollen 1912, as outdated as it is, is still a good article to start with in order to have a general historic orientation. The most recent edition of Worcester 2008 indicates numerous new directions of scholarship on the Jesuits, which has recently flourished. Both Lacouture 1991–1992 and Wright 2004 complement any handbook with their selective narratives of the impact of the Society of Jesus on modernity in terms of their contributions to philosophy, sciences, political thought, and law, among others. Haub 2007 is a flawed attempt—yet one representative of certain scholarship—to write about an international institution based on a limited national historiography and an arbitrary choice of fields of Jesuit activities.

  • Bangert, William V. A History of the Society of Jesus. Saint Louis, MO: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1972.

    A good general introduction to the history of the order. The first seven chapters deal with the pre-suppression period. The division of the material is chronological and follows the tenures of important superior generals of the order. Succinct footnotes and bibliography.

  • García Villoslada, Ricardo. Manual de historia de la Compañía de Jesús. Madrid: Compañía Bibliográfica Española, 1954.

    Even though quite outdated, the only handbook of Jesuit history by one of the major Jesuit historians who had a deep knowledge of primary sources and of the historical context in which the Society of Jesus was born.

  • Haub, Rita. Die Geschichte der Jesuiten. Darmstadt, Germany: Wiss. Buchges, 2007.

    A perfunctory history of the Society from its foundation up to 2007. The first four chapters discuss the pre-suppression Society, concentrating on the Jesuit pedagogical and missionary enterprises, but excluding arts, architecture, or music. There are no footnotes and the bibliography is surprisingly limited to German titles.

  • Lacouture, Jean. Jésuites: Une multibiographie. 2 vols. Paris: Seuil, 1991–1992.

    Tells the story of certain individual Jesuits, mostly French, arbitrarily chosen, without addressing certain themes, people, and events central to Jesuit history. Contains a table of parallel Jesuit and world chronology. The English one-volume translation by Jeremy Leggatt (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1995) is condensed from the two-volume original work.

  • Pavone, Sabina. I gesuiti: Dalle origini alla soppressione, 1540–1773. Rome: Laterza, 2004.

    A very succinct history of the order from its origins until the suppression. This booklet highlights how the Society was in the center of the formation of modern Western scientific, philosophical, and political identity. Thus there are chapters dedicated to various controversies, from de auxiliis to the Chinese rites to Molinism and to conflicts with European state authorities.

  • Pollen, John Hungerford. “History of the Jesuits before the 1773 Suppression.” In The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. Edited by Charles Herbermann, Edward Pace, Conde B. Pallen, et al. Transcribed by Michal Donahue. New York: Robert Appleton, 1912.

    Encyclopedic account of the Jesuit history by countries: from Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, Poland, Belgium, England, Ireland, and Scotland to the missionary regions of India, Japan, China, Central and South America, Paraguay, Mexico, the United States, and the French missions. Provides a basic yet useful survey of primary and secondary sources. Available online

  • Worcester, Thomas. The Cambridge Companion to the Jesuits. Cambridge Companions to Religion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1017/CCOL9780521857314

    A collection of eighteen essays exploring the religious and cultural significance of the Society, especially before 1773. Topics include Ignatius of Loyola, European Foundations of the Jesuits, Geographic and Ethnic Frontiers, and Art and Sciences. Far from being exhaustive, it nonetheless shows the breadth of recent scholarship in Jesuit studies.

  • Wright, Jonathan. The Jesuits: Missions, Myth and Histories. London: HarperCollins, 2004.

    Well-researched, elegantly written and balanced account. Shows the centrality of the Jesuits in molding the history of Western modernity in arts and sciences told through a series of intelligently chosen key incidents and figures representing myths and counter-myths of the Society of Jesus. Six out of eight chapters deal with the pre-suppression Society.

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