Jesuits (1957)

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Jesuits, members of the Society of Jesus (abbreviated "S.J.," always found after the name of a member), are a Catholic order founded by Ignatius of Loyola (1481-1556), a Spanish nobleman who during an illness experienced a conversion and founded this order in 1534. Its main purpose was to assist the papacy in the fight against all foes of Catholicism, first Lutherans, later Calvinists, and all sectarians generally called "heretics." Absolute obedience to the pope was a major point of this new order, which distinguished itself from the older monastic orders in that its members did not necessarily live in monastic houses but could be active at any place where their work was needed. In 1540 the pope confirmed this new "Society," which from then on was the very spearhead of the reform of the Roman Church and of the fight by all kinds of means to regain those areas which had been lost to Protestantism and (to a lesser degree) Anabaptism (see Counter-Reformation). By 1560-1570 Jesuit activity began to show some success, and 17th-century Europe was definitely shaped, at least in part, by the activities of the Jesuits.

The Jesuit activities were manifold: they were representatives of the new type of dedicated parish priests, the lack of which had worked in favor of Protestantism and Anabaptism; they found entrance to many princely courts in France, Spain, Austria, and later Poland (but were forbidden in England, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Russia), where they became father confessors of the rulers and their families, and thus exerted a definite political influence. The same holds true for smaller courts such as those of Catholic dignitaries (archbishops, bishops, etc.). Then we find Jesuits in the entire educational program of many states, from the elementary grades up to universities.

From the point of view of Anabaptist-Mennonite history only a few countries require attention: the Rhineland (Cologne, Jülich), the bishopric of Speyer, Bavaria (always a pillar of the Catholic faith), and above all the Hapsburg countries—Austria, Tyrol, Moravia, and from the 18th century on also Hungary. Poland, too, was an important field of Jesuit activities but here, besides Lutherans, the Socinian or Unitarian Church was their main target.

(A) The Sixteenth Century. The Jesuits had considerable success in converting Anabaptists on the Lower Rhine, especially in Cologne, from 1557 to 1566. The details are given in a book by Joseph Hansen, Rheinische Akten zur Geschichte des Jesuitenordens 1542-1582 (Bonn, 1896). They "converted" some, delivered many to the executioner, and had most of them expelled from the land (Rembert, 536-541). Ernst Müller reports (Berner Täufer, 195) that the Swiss Brethren who settled in Jülich-Berg in 1653 were driven out by the Jesuits.

As to the bishopric of Speyer we hear of the imprisonment (1568) of the Hutterite missionary Hans Arbeiter, formerly a "Swiss brother" of the Rhine area congregation. From the Hutterite Geschicht-Buch (Wolkan, 327) we know of the vain attempts of a Jesuit preacher of the cathedral church (Domprediger), Dr. Lamprecht, to convince the brother of his errors and to bring him back to the old church. The story is most dramatically told by Hans Arbeiter himself. After seven months, the brother was released. The Geschicht-Buch reports once more of such an incident in Speyer. In 1612 two brethren were caught and imprisoned in Kierweiler castle, where again Jesuits worked upon them but to no avail. After having passed through much tribulation, they were finally freed (Wolkan, 506-510).

As to Bavaria, we know very little about Jesuit activities during the 16th century, although such work might be assumed. Since 1549 Jesuits were teaching at Ingolstadt, where later a great center of Jesuit activities developed with a great university and a Jesuit press. But Anabaptism had already been weak here in the second half of the century, and died out completely around 1580-1590. We know of one Hutterite brother, Christian Gasteiger, who was imprisoned in Ingolstadt in 1586, and again worked upon by Jesuits, but his final martyrdom came not in Ingolstadt but in Munich. "The Jesuits pressed hard" to achieve his death sentence (Wolkan, 423-424). In Ingolstadt also a number of polemical books against the Anabaptists were published, such as the books by Christoph Erhard, Christoph Fischer, Caspar Franck, and Jacob Gretser, although Erhard was not a Jesuit.

A real life-and-death struggle was experienced by the Hutterian Brethren in southern Moravia under the growing influence of the Jesuits who promoted the Counter Reformation there as strongly as possible. When the Dietrichsteins bought the manorial estate of Nikolsburg in 1575, hard days for the brethren were ahead. Adam Dietrichstein for the first time installed a Jesuit, Michael Cardaneus (1541-1590) of Vienna, as parish priest in Nikolsburg 1579. He was called "the Nikolsburg apostle." It was the time of the papacy of Gregory XIII (d. 1585), who took a particular interest in the Jesuit activities in the Hapsburg lands as they put an end to the tolerant period under Maximilian II (d. 1576). Cardaneus also published a polemical booklet, Orthodoxa Solatiique plena nova . . . (now lost) against the heretics. Yet in spite of complaints (see Wolkan, Geschicht-Buch, 391-392) the pressure was still bearable and the "golden period" of the Brethren continued for another ten or fifteen years (Loserth, 186-188). Cardaneus' successor was the more aggressive Erhard, himself no Jesuit, who, however, published his books in Ingolstadt. His time in Nikolsburg was 1583-1589. By far the most dangerous of all was Christoph Andreas Fischer, S.J., parish priest at Feldsberg 1595-1607, whose venomous polemics hurt the Brethren so much that from that time on a serious decline set in. Among other sources Fischer quotes another work of Jesuit origin, the Postilla in Festis Trinitatis, by George Scherer, S.J. (written in 1586 or 89; printed at the monastery of Bruck in Moravia about 1604).

The Hutterite decline is also due to the activities of the head of the Counter Reformation in Moravia, Cardinal Franz von Dietrichstein, active from 1599 on. He was strongly supported by both pope and emperor. It is interesting to learn that his official historiographer and biographer, Georg Dingenauer, S.J., was also a Jesuit and most likely of great influence upon the course of action in Moravia. He was the Cardinal's father confessor. His report of the fight against the Hutterites and of their final expulsion in 1622 is called Memoria piarum rerum gestarum a dilatione religionis catholicae in Moravia ab anno MDCXXI (1631). It was never printed, and the manuscript finally came into the Vatican Library at Rome (Bibl. Ottobononia, No. 827). In 1628 the Cardinal had asked Dingenauer to prepare a report concerning the restoration of all of Moravia to the Roman faith, in which the expulsion of the Hutterian Brethren should become the very climax, since the Cardinal was particularly proud of this his achievement (Hruby, 103-104).

(B) The Eighteenth Century. In this century the Palatinate had as its only Catholic ruler the prince elector Karl Theodor (ruled 1742-1799), who had been educated by Jesuits and who now tried to carry out their principles. Of some renown is the case of the three children of a Mennonite widow Maurer who were taken away from their mother, baptized in a Catholic church, and kept in a Catholic orphanage. One child died there, but the others,  having been released after confirmation, soon thereafter were baptized into the Mennonite (Amish) Church by the Bishop Johann Nafziger. Thereupon the children were again put into jail; an opinion of the University of Heidelberg even advised the death penalty. After prolonged actions back and forth, they were eventually released, but the minister Nafziger was exiled forever (Mennonitischer Gemeinde-Kalender (1906): 54-78).

The effect of missionary activities of the Jesuits had wider repercussions again in Hapsburg territories, this time in Slovakia and Transylvania. Here the Hutterites had been able to survive on a rather reduced scale (community of goods had been given up in 1685 or 1695), as long as the government in Vienna had not singled them out as an obnoxious segment of the population. When Empress Maria Theresa who reigned 1740-1780, eventually consolidated her empire, she gave special orders to Jesuit missionaries to convert the Anabaptists still extant in her realm. We read in the Geschicht-Buch and in archive records published by Beck what happened. An elaborate confiscation of books took place (Beck, 563-642), which books then were transferred to Jesuit houses in Skalitz, Tyrnau (Trnovo), and Bratislava, Slovakia, whence they were taken over by Budapest (University Library), Esztergom, and Bratislava. Actually the earliest confiscation had taken place already in 1692: the codex A b 18 of the University Library of Budapest, bearing an ex libris "Coll. Soc. Jesu Posonii," i.e., Bratislava.

Much more dangerous was the enforced "conversion" to the Catholic faith. Children were taken away and put into orphanages, men were removed into Jesuit houses either to change their minds or to die there eventually. Catholic services were held on the Bruderhofs, and everyone was compelled to attend. To all this the Empress had given her consent, and Jesuits carried out the orders, using both harsh and mild methods. One advice was to put all stubborn men into the army, but that was not carried out. In Sobotište, Slovakia, the Jesuit missionary Emerich Rotari was active around 1760; in Levar (Velky Levary) the priest Heinrich (Henricius), a former Jesuit, was active around 1780 (the Society of Jesus having been suppressed in 1773). Even the general of the Society of Jesus himself expressed interest in this work and ordered the dispatch of more missionaries into this field in 1760 (Beck, 584-86, 587, 601, and passim, also Klein-Gesch.-Buch, 233-234). The final result was a complete conquest in Slovakia (see Habaner). Those few who still opposed tried emigration; only very few succeeded in it.

In Transylvania it was the ill-famed Father Delpini or Delphini, S.J., who carried out similar activities among the old Hutterites around Alvinc and the new Hutterites (from Carinthia) around Kreutz and Stein in 1760-1767. Here the story of the Klein-Geschichtsbuch is most detailed, since Johannes Waldner, the writer, remembered it from his own youth. While Delpini's work at Alvinc was somewhat successful (e.g., conversion of Marti Roth, the former Vorsteher), it was without any result at Kreutz and Stein (among the Carinthian newly converted brethren). "'Nun steht es freilich nit in der Wölfen Gnaden, dass noch Schaf leben, also stund es auch nit in ier Jesuiten Macht mit den Schäflein des Herrn nach seinem tyrannischen Herzen zu handeln" (Klein-Gesch.-Buch, 295). Delpini traveled to Vienna (taking Märtl Roth with him) to receive special permission from the Empress to use all means deemed necessary for his "conversion" work. In 1767 he established the ill-famed Catholic orphanage in Hermannstadt (today Sibiu, Romania), and prepared to send all Anabaptist children to this place. When the Brethren recognized this ultimate danger (some adults were at that time in prison, but the brotherhood would accept that as part of their fate as a suffering church), they decided to risk a nearly desperate step—the flight from Transylvania across the mountains, uncertain of their goal and future state. Thus the intended conversion never took place. In 1767 the brotherhood moved quietly away at night. Some years later those jailed in Hermannstadt were able to reach the rest of the brotherhood in Russia, having been finally released.

In the Netherlands there was little Jesuit activity against the Mennonites, and that only in literary form. Franciscus Costerus, S.J., wrote a polemic on the calling of Mennonite ministers, Toetstcen van de Versierde Apostolische Successie eens Wederdoopers Jacob Pieterssen van der Molen (Antwerp, 1603).

The transfer of membership by a number of Dutch Mennonites to the Catholic Church in the 17th century, particularly at Amsterdam, including Joost van den Vondel, was not due to secret Jesuit activity, as was assumed by some writers, e.g., H. J. Allard, in his Vondels Gedichten op de Societeit van Jezus ('s Hertogenbosch, 1868, pp. 3 ff.). Reyer Anslo, however, a nephew of the Waterlander preacher Comelis Anslo, was converted by the Jesuits.

One Jesuit priest-scholar, Dunin-Borkowsky, made early Anabaptism the object of an erudite study claiming that the greater part of the first generation Anabaptists tended toward antitrinitarianism. He has been fully refuted in that point.


Beck, Josef. Die Geschichts-Bücher der Wiedertäufer in OesterreichUngarn. Vienna, 1883; reprinted Nieuwkoop: De Graaf, 1967.

Boehmer, H. The Jesuits. Philadelphia, 1928.

Fülop-Miller, R. Power and Secret of the Jesuits. 1931.

Hege, Christian and Christian Neff. Mennonitisches Lexikon., 4 vols. Frankfurt & Weierhof: Hege; Karlsruhe; Schneider, 1913-1967, vol. II: 403-405.

Hruby, F. Die Wiedertaufer in Mähren. Leipzig, 1935.

Loserth, Johann. "Der Communismus der mährischen Wiedertäufer im 16. and 17. Jahrhundert: Beiträge zu ihrer Lehre, Geschichte and Verfassung." Archiv far österreichische Geschichte 81, 1 (1895).

Rembert, Karl. Die "Wiedertäufer" im Herzogtum Jülich. Berlin: R. Gaertners Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1899.

Wolkan, Rudolf. Geschicht-Buch der Hutterischen Brüder. Macleod, AB, and Vienna, 1923.

Zieglschmid, A. J. F. Das Klein-Geschichtsbuch der Hutterischen Brüder. Philadelphia, PA: Carl Schurz Memorial Foundation, 1947.

Author(s) Robert Friedmann
Date Published 1957

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Friedmann, Robert. "Jesuits (1957)." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1957. Web. 26 Sep 2023.

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Friedmann, Robert. (1957). Jesuits (1957). Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 26 September 2023, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, pp. 107-109. All rights reserved.

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