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Saint Joseph Pignatelli - Jesuit Saint

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

I would like to speak to you in the present conference on the saint that I suppose many of you have never heard of, but after St. Ignatius, is the most important Jesuit in our history. His name is St. Joseph Pignatelli. The reason he's so important is because he is the link between the two Societies of Jesus, as you know, there is the old society and the new society with forty years of nonexistence in between. It might be well to give a little background to what happened before and after so as to put St. Joseph Pignatelli into context. The Jesuits were officially, officially founded in 1540. The first vows were in 1534, but the constitutions were not formally approved until 1540. By the time Ignatius died we had 1000 members, which is pretty good. As we know the Jesuits were founded to meet the crisis of the Protestant reformation. The loss of six whole nations to Catholic unity with millions separated from Rome, precipitated a crisis from which the Church has not yet and may never recover. So the need was a big one and the success was phenomenal. The two fold apostolic aim of the Jesuits was to strengthen and restore the Catholic faith and to preach the Gospel to the pagan non-Christian world. They did both with remarkable success. We are still, with all the troubles we've got, we are still the largest missionary order in the Church. However, such success was bound to create opposition. Failing as we had, mistakes were made, but at heart it was success which aroused the envy of all kinds of people in high places, in the state and in the Church. By now, we've all heard many times about the Jansens and Jansenism. Well, what is not so well known is that Jansenius, the founder of Jansenism was a bishop, who in his younger days had applied for the order. He was turned down and he swore he would spend the rest of his life putting the Jesuits out of existence. And he succeeded. Jansenius, bishop of Epra, wrote the book that soon after was published after his death, galvanized on the one hand, all those in the Catholic Church who were sympathetic with Protestantism. Jansenius was a Calvinist, through and through, but he died as we say, in good order; he was buried in consecrated ground as a Catholic so he did that, but he also set the stage for the opposition to the Jesuits.

The order was finally suppressed, put out of existence by Pope Clement XIV in 1773. In many ways the world in Europe and the world in the two Americas was in the state of revolution; our own independent, as we call it, and Canada never taught about American independence, never – I taught there for six years. They always talk about the American revolt. At any rate, about the same time Pope Clement XIV who suppressed the order died within a year. He was pressured because those in the Church, bishops especially, who detested the very name of Jesuit, put the pressure on the Philipinses and rulers, France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and threatened to apostatize and go over to the Protestants unless the Pope suppressed the Jesuits. There would have been, historians tell us, no French revolution except for the Jesuits suppressed just before, because we especially opposed the intellectuals of Europe and without the French revolution there would have been no Karl Marx; there would be no communism in the world today. At any rate the Church's enemy knew whom they had to put out of existence if they wanted to succeed. So much for a back-ground of what transpired before and now back to St. Joseph Pignatelli.

Incidentally in the Church liturgy, there are very few, there are some, but not many Josephs who were saints canonized except, of course, Our Lady's spouse. The Church is always careful in Latin, you can see the difference; in English it seems not to be different, but, the name of the spouse of Our Lady, Joseph, is never declined, it is always Usaf. All others, inclusive, including Joseph Pignatelli, are defined as Josephus, and the genitive, Josephie, David Josepho and so on – a little detailed, but important. In any case, Joseph Pignatelli was born in Spain in Saragosa in 1737. He died in Rome and the date of his death is easy to remember, he died in Rome on November 11, 1811. That's a lot of elevens. The month, November, the date 11th, and the year 1811. He entered the Jesuits at Taragona at the age of 16, he was ordained and immediately after ordination went back to his native town of Saragosa to engage in the priestly ministry, but by that time the revolution was already arriving and doing its damage. Very soon after Joseph Pignatelli's ordination, the Jesuits were driven out of France and Portugal and then began the odyssey of the Jesuits in one country after another, being driven into exile. Finally, under Charles III, the Society of Jesus was driven also out of Spain, date 1767. In other words that would make Pignatelli just 30 years old. It is pathetically cute, so to speak to recall, that the emperor, Charles III who drove the Jesuits out of Spain said, when questioned why, he said 'for reasons hidden in his royal bosom', don't know one will ever read what was inside the royal bosom; the simple fact was that Jesuits were driven out of Spain. Because Joseph and his brother Nicholas were of the nobility, when the other Jesuits were being driven out of the country, the two brothers, both priests, were offered asylum and were allowed, they were told, to remain in the country provided they would give up their membership in the Society of Jesus. They declined, left the country with the rest of their Jesuit brothers. The group from Spain with Joseph among them, fled from Argon to Corsica, the Island of Corsica. Not too many years later, what famous person would be a prisoner of Corsica – Napoleon. Then when Corsica fell to the French, the Jesuits were driven out of Corsica and they fled this time to Ferrara in Italy. The then reigning Pontiff, Clement XIII, defended the Jesuits against their enemies but his successor caved in, so then Clement XIV yielded to the pressure originating from within the Church, but mainly from the civil rulers who threatened to secede from Rome unless the Pope put the Jesuits out of existence. He did. The Papal brief, which put the Society of Jesus out of existence, listed the charges of the enemy that the Pope who knew they were unfounded, did not say he agreed and he said he is doing this for peace in the Church. Well, the concession did not bring peace. It opened the flood-gate of opposition. When the Society was suppressed we call ourselves always the Society, we just assumed everybody knows who that Society is – when Joseph Pignatelli was at Ferrara with the Jesuits who had fled from Spain a representative of the bishop read the brief of suppression and then after having read the brief very formally, asked the men whether they accepted the Pope's decision. And the report is they cried out aloud, 'yes, willingly' and with that they went out of existence. How many Jesuits were put out of existence, 23,000. I could give you a semester course on the history of those 40 years from 1773 to 1814 when a successor of Clement XIV, as we say – restored, the Society of Jesus. So we have two birthdays on which we are required, as Jesuits, to offer a Mass of thanksgiving. One Mass we've been saying for 400 years from 1540. The second Mass we've been offering since 1814, almost 170 years, thanking God for having been put into existence and for having been put back into existence. I should add, we don't have Mass to commemorate the day of our suppression. The suffering was indescribable. Many places, for example, in Italy, the priests were forbidden by the bishops, to exercise their priestly ministry. We don't know the exact number but about 2,000 died in prison. Many others, in traveling from one port to another having been suppressed by the Pope they became the legitimate target of every enemy of the Church. Another several thousand died of sickness and disease on board ship or in brought to ports in some hollow where they eked their last days. All the mission work of almost 300 years, 250 years, was wiped out.

All our colleges were closed; tens of thousands of students without teachers. Pius XI, when he canonized St. Joseph Pignatelli, made this observation, 'it is a sad page of history, that is, the suppression, as everyone agrees.' It is sad to read even after so many years (he was speaking of course, in the 2Oth century) what must it have been for Joseph Pignatelli and his brother then. Some of the Jesuits managed to find bishops who accepted them and they were allowed to serve as secular priests. The most famous exiled Jesuit for us Americans was John Carroll. He came to the United States and in time, became the first bishop in America in Baltimore. And with the encouragement of Pignatelli, this is John Carroll, John Carroll kept as far as possible the legal property of the Jesuits, intact, and when the order – the Jesuit order was restored by the pope – in order to protect the legal ownership of all that Jesuit property, though it broke his heart, he did not renew his vows as a Jesuit, that's John Carroll. So that's what Pignatelli did to encourage his fellow brothers, they were still brothers, but no longer fellow Jesuit brotheren. For the next 20 years, most of his time he spent physically in Bologna in Italy. He kept in contact with his former brotheren throughout the world. He gathered the books that had been a hundred and more years in accumulation because he knew that for us, without books we're like a man without air, this is our life. So he stockpiled, just, what we would now call 'warehouses of books', hoping and praying against the day when those books would one day be used again. He helped his former brother materially, through sickness, who would die of poverty and especially spiritually. It is reported in his process of beatification that someone in the city of Turin, Italy, as they were walking along the streets, pointed out to Joseph, 'you see that Church and adjoining cemetery, well, they were built with the money from confiscated Jesuit property.' And Joseph Pignatelli said, 'that Church and cemetery should be renamed 'aseldima' (spelling) remember ‘aseldima’, the field of blood for which, remember they bought a potter’s field with the thirty pieces of silver that Judas had got for betraying Christ.

Thanks for coming, I am speaking on St. Joseph Pignatelli, called the second founder of the Jesuits, the one who lived to see the Jesuits suppressed in 1773 by the Pope went out of existence and almost, almost, not quite, lived to the day of the restoration. He died in 1811, three years short. So far, all the dark and depressing side of the suppression; sometimes called the forty years of captivity; sometimes called the Babylonian captivity. It is well to know that as the Jesuits, we are forbidden by rule ever to write critically or say anything publicly of the Pope who suppressed it. Some fifteen years ago a famous lives of the Popes in forty volumes, by Ludwig Von Fostor, fascinating reading, originally written in German and the translation was completed about fifteen years ago into English ... took a couple of years to translate forty volumes. The last volumes deal with the suppression of the Jesuits. I should have in my spare time – I read the forty volumes during my studies in theology, then I had still had time left over so I started over again, I got to volume 23 when I finished my studies, but our general sent an order that no Jesuit magazine in the world is allowed to review those volumes dealing with our suppression, lest any Jesuit forget himself and say something unkind about the Pope who put us out of existence. Good to hear. So far as I see the dark side, but now just a sliver of light.

By this time the Jesuits wanting to, of course, convert everybody, including the Russians, got themselves into Russia where the empress was Catherine the Great, not a Catholic, because as you know, the Russians religion-wise are Orthodox. They do not accept the authority of the Pope. So when the Pope’s order came out ordering all the bishops throughout the world to declare that the Society of Jesus is suppressed, she sent a message to Rome, 'will you please tell the Pope that I am not a subject of the Bishop of Rome. If he wants to suppress the Jesuits in Russia, let him come here in person. As far as I'm concerned they are staying in Russia.’ It took a woman's will – happened to be a schismatic. In any case the Jesuits soon heard that they were put out of existence everywhere else except in Russia – there was a handful there, though they had a scruple, after all we are not Orthodox, we are Catholic. If the Pope says we go out of existence, I guess we better go out of existence. But let's first find out. So, they got word to the Pope, 'do we have to go out of existence.' The Pope put nothing in writing, but at the success of the one who suppressed us, but verbally he said, "you may remain." That's the link between our old Society as we call ourselves, and the new. In 1792, one of the noblemen, the duke of Parma, got permission from the Pope to invite three Italian Jesuits from Russia to open a small house in his domain, of course, in Parma. The Pope said verbally, 'you may'. Joseph Pignatelli heard about this. He wondered maybe whether he couldn't get the permission, too. So the Pope, by then Pius XVI, verbally said, 'You may'. And then those who were not on Russian soil, got permission to pronounce private vows and because they needed a superior, they appointed Joseph Pignatelli, a kind of superior in 1799. At the same time the Pope gave them permission, verbally again, to open another .?. but, the Pope forbad for anyone to take public vows anywhere else except in Russia so the scholastics had to go to Russia to pronounce their vows. The hostility to the Jesuits was so virulent. In 1801 the Pope officially recognized the Jesuits as being in existence in Russia. All the while Joseph Pignatelli, and it was mainly due to his efforts, and you may be sure the pressure natural and supernatural that he had to bring to bear on the Pope to bring us back into existence. In 1804 the Pope recognized in one small piece of Italy, in the kingdom of Naples, the Jesuit order. It seemed time for Pignatelli to go to Rome and hope for the best. He became not general because that was not yet, you might say 'in the books', he became Provincial. He died, as we said in the beginning of the conference, in 1811, three years later the order was restored throughout the world. Pius XI, in canonizing him, I quote, called him, "the chief link between the Society of Jesus that had been, and the Society of Jesus that was to be. His official title given by the Pope is, Restorer of the Society of Jesus, as St. Ignatius is our founder and the Pope in the bull of canonization, described him as a model of manly and vigorous holiness. He was tough in the sense of being able with God's grace to take it. So much then for the historical context and the biography.

Now a few observations about his virtues. By now we've seen enough Jesuit saints, with their extraordinary loyalty to the Pope that it comes as no surprise that this man too was loyal to the Pope, oh, but what loyalty! Loyalty to the hand that stabs you. Provided you believe that hand is guided by the hand of God. And of course, it wasn't easy to even as he had that kind of loyalty, to keep others in line. Out of the 23,000 Jesuits put out of existence in 1773, thanks in large measure to the saints who's virtues we are reflecting on, there is not a single evidence of a public criticism of the Pope. How we need that kind of loyalty today! When one supposedly Catholic writer, take an Andrew Greeley in Chicago, or a Richard McBrien at Notre Dame, or a Hans Kung in Germany – almost every time they either open their mouth or put pen to paper, it is galled and bitterness in attacking the Vicar of Christ. We need this today and no doubt, I have no doubt, that one of the providential reasons for the suppression of the order with such dire consequences, was to give the world the lesson of fidelity, even under duress.

Then his boundless loyalty, not just to the Pope but to God, which we call the virtue of trust. The enemies of the Church were by and large the enemies of the Society of Jesus, because as we said, Jansenius, the founder of the Jansenists was a bishop; he took a large part of the French hierarchy with him. And what is not commonly known, when the First Vatican Council declared the Pope infallible, it always has been infallible, the council didn't make him infallible, but, when the definition was made, the strongest opposition to the declaration of papal infallibility came from France because of the seeds of opposition to the papacy, sown by that Calvinist bishop, known as Jansenius. So it looked very dark. When the opponents thought the Jesuits were not only ordinary people, but people in high places, and here we're talking about high ecclesiastics, and when the Pope puts you out of existence, you are out of existence.

Trust then patience. I never tire repeating, whenever I speak and I talk about patience, even for a minute, I tell the people in case they even have forgotten or never heard, that patience comes from patior, which is the Latin verb for 'to suffer'. So if you're going cultivate the virtue of patience, you've got to find somebody who's causing you some suffering. But, God will always provide, He always comes through, but He uses human beings and I dare say that our worst pain comes from persons. And often from those we most love. Here, loving the Church, and this Church tells you, you may no longer do the work of God for which you took solemn vow until death. Patience, indeed.

Fourth – obedience. It is so easy, relatively speaking, to practice obedience towards God as God because we realize after all God is Master of the universe; He is Master of me, what else can I do except obey. The trouble with obedience for most of us is when the one whom we are to obey is a very human, human being and we're to believe that that terribly human being has the authority from God to either order me or at least direct me, when I may know perfectly well that my way is better, one less schism is involved which it surely wasn't, though it looked pretty close. The enemies of their Church more than once, according to the suppression of the Jesuits, was a failure in papal infallibility, but it wasn't. He did it as he admitted under duress. Moreover, he did it to prevent worse evil as he believed from befalling the Church and he was not teaching the universal Church – in any case, obedience. And of course the obedience became doubly difficult, when after having been suppressed and Pignatelli had practiced obedience for years, to suddenly have that anchor from one view point that foundation from another view point taken away from you, how do you continue practicing obedience when you are used to being told to do this, not to do that and your whole life is structured, the sisters know what I'm saying. You become like a ship without a rudder or a plane of whose motors at 37,000 feet stop running, but he practiced obedience and was careful to make sure he was always doing what the Church wanted.

And finally--prudence. It is hard enough to not say the wrong thing when we're not provoked. Most of us are so prone to saying what's on our minds and what's on our minds, I trust you agree, is not always, and this is a safe statement, worth saying out loud.

It's just as well, most people most of the time don't know what we're thinking. I think we’d lose a lot of friends. But when you are provoked, it can become almost impossible to keep from saying what should not be said. Joseph's prudence in silence, prudence in saying the right thing that needed saying to the right person is one of the virtues that all his biographers point to as a model that deserves imitation as a beginning to so much more that we could say. Let's close, St. Joseph Pignatelli, pray for us. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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