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The Rise of the Jesuits in Germany

By Leopold von Ranke (1795–1886)

From the ‘History of the Popes of Rome’: Translation of Sarah Austin

AT the diet of Augsburg, in the year 1550, Ferdinand I. was accompanied by his confessor, Bishop Urban of Laibach. Urban was one of the few prelates whose opinions had remained unshaken. At home he often ascended the pulpit to exhort the people, in their own provincial dialect, to be constant to the faith of their fathers; he preached to them of the one fold under the one Shepherd. At this time the Jesuit Le Jay was also at Augsburg, and excited great attention by his conversions. Bishop Urban made his acquaintance, and from him first heard of the colleges which the Jesuits had founded in several universities. In order to rescue Catholic theology from the neglect into which it had fallen in Germany, he advised his master to establish a similar college at Vienna. Ferdinand eagerly embraced the project; and in the letter he addressed on the subject to Ignatius Loyola, he expressed his conviction that the only means of propping the declining cause of Catholicism in Germany was to give the rising generation learned and pious Catholic teachers. The arrangements were quickly made. In the year 1551 thirteen Jesuits, among whom was Le Jay himself, arrived at Vienna, where Ferdinand instantly granted them a dwelling, chapel, and pension; and shortly after incorporated them with the university, and assigned them the superintendence of it.

They soon after rose into consideration at Cologne, where they had already dwelt for two years, but had been so far from making any progress that they had even been forced to live separate; nor was it till the year 1556 that the endowed school, established under a Protestant regent, gave them the means of acquiring a more secure footing. For as there was a party in the city which was most deeply interested in keeping the university Catholic, the partisans of the Jesuits at length prevailed on the citizens to confide the direction of the establishment to that order. Their great advocates were—the prior of the Carthusians; the provincial of the Carmelites; and above all, Dr. Johann Gropper, who occasionally gave a feast to which he invited the most influential burghers, in order that after the good old German fashion, he might further the interests he had most at heart, over a glass of wine. Fortunately for the Jesuits, one of their order was a native of Cologne,—Johann Rhetius, a man of patrician family,—to whom the endowed school could be more particularly intrusted. This could not however be done without very considerable restrictions: the Jesuits were expressly forbidden to introduce into the school those monastic rules of life which were in force in their colleges.

At the same period they also gained a firm footing in Ingolstadt. Their former attempts had been frustrated chiefly by the resistance of the younger members of the university, who would not suffer any privileged school to interfere with the private instruction they gave. In the year 1556, however,—after the duke, as we have already related, had been obliged to make important concessions in favor of the Protestants,—the duke’s counselors, who were zealous Catholics, deemed it a matter of urgent necessity to have recourse to some vigorous measures for the support of the ancient faith. The principal movers were the chancellor, Wiguleus Hund,—a man who displayed as much zeal in the support of the Church as in the study of her ancient history and constitution,—and the duke’s private secretary, Heinrich Schwigger. By their instrumentality the Jesuits were recalled, and eighteen of them entered Ingolstadt on the day of St. Wilibald, the 7th of July, 1556. They chose that day because St. Wilibald was said to have been the first bishop of the diocese. They still had to encounter great difficulties in the town and in the university; but they gradually overcame all opposition by the assistance of the same patronage to which they owed their establishment.

From these three metropolitan settlements the Jesuits now spread in all directions.

From Vienna they immediately extended over the whole of the Austrian dominions. In 1556, Ferdinand I. removed some of them to Prague, and founded a school there, intended principally for the young nobility. To this he sent his own pages, and the order found support and encouragement from the Catholic portion of the Bohemian nobility, especially from the families of Rosenberg and Lobkowitz. One of the most considerable men in Hungary at that time was Nicolaus Olahus, Archbishop of Gran,—of Wallachian extraction, as his name denotes. His father Stoia, in a fit of terror for the murder of a woiwode of his family, had consecrated him to the Church, and the success of his destination was complete. Under the last native kings he filled the important office of private secretary, and he had subsequently risen still higher in the service of the Austrian party. At the time of the general decline of Catholicism in Hungary, he perceived that the only hope of support for it was from the common people, who were not entirely alienated. But here also Catholic teachers were wanting; in order to form them, he founded a college of Jesuits at Tyrnau in 1561, and gave them a pension out of his own income, to which the Emperor Ferdinand added the grant of an abbey. An assembly of the clergy of the diocese had just been convoked when the Jesuits arrived. Their first labors were devoted to an attempt to reclaim the Hungarian priests and clergymen from the heterodox opinions to which they leaned. They were immediately after summoned to Moravia also. William Prussinowski, bishop of Olmütz, who had become acquainted with the order when he was studying in Italy, invited them to his diocese: Hurtado Perez, a Spaniard, was the first rector in Olmütz. Shortly after we find them likewise established at Brünn.

From Cologne the society spread over the whole of the Rhenish provinces. We have already mentioned that Protestantism had found adherents, and had occasioned some fermentation in Trèves. The archbishop Johann von Stein had determined to inflict only slight punishments on the recalcitrants, and to oppose innovation by argument rather than by force. He summoned the two principals of the Jesuit college of Cologne to repair to him at Coblentz, and represented to them that he wished to have some of the members of their body with him; “in order,” as he expresses it, “to lead the flock intrusted to him in their duty, rather by means of admonition and friendly instruction, than by arms or threats.” He then addressed himself to Rome, and very soon came to an understanding with both. Six Jesuits were sent to him from Rome; the rest came from Cologne. They opened their college with great solemnity on February 3d, 1561, and undertook to preach during the approaching season of Lent.

Two privy-councilors of the elector Daniel of Mayence, Peter Echter and Simon Bagen, now thought they perceived that the introduction of the Jesuits was the only means of restoring the declining university of Mayence. In spite of the opposition of the canons and feudal lords, they founded for the order a college at Mayence and a preparatory school at Aschaffenburg.

The society continued to advance higher up the Rhine. What they more particularly desired was an establishment at Spires: partly because the body of assessors to the Kammergericht included so many remarkable men, over whom it would be of the greatest importance to obtain influence; and partly in order to place themselves in immediate and local opposition to the university of Heidelberg, which at that time enjoyed the greatest celebrity for its Protestant professors. The Jesuits gradually gained a footing at Spires.

Without further delay they also tried their fortune along the Main. Although Frankfort was wholly Protestant, they hoped to achieve something there during the fair. This was not to be done without danger, and they were forced to change their lodging every night for fear of being discovered.

At Würzburg they were far safer and more welcome. It seemed as if the exhortation which the Emperor Ferdinand addressed to the bishops at the Diet of 1559, imploring them to exert their strength at last in the support of the Catholic Church, had contributed greatly to the brilliant success of the order in the spiritual principalities. From Würzburg they spread throughout Franconia.

In the mean while the Tyrol had been opened to them from another point. At the desire of the Emperor’s daughters they settled themselves at Innsbrück, and then at Hall in that neighborhood. In Bavaria they continued to make great progress. At Munich, which they entered in 1559, they were even better satisfied than at Ingolstadt, and pronounced it to be “the Rome of Germany.” A large new colony had already arisen not far from Ingolstadt. In order to restore his university of Dillingen to its original purpose, Cardinal Truchsess resolved to dismiss all the professors who then taught there, and to commit the institution to the exclusive care of Jesuits. A formal treaty was accordingly concluded at Botzen, between German and Italian commissaries of the cardinal and of the order. In the year 1563 the Jesuits arrived in Dillingen, and took possession of the chairs of the university. They relate with great complacency how the cardinal, who, returning shortly afterwards from a journey, made a solemn entrance into Dillingen, turned with marked preference to the Jesuits, amidst all the crowd arrayed to receive him, stretched out his hand to them to kiss, greeted them as his brethren, visited their cells himself, and dined with them. He encouraged them to the utmost of his power, and soon established a mission for them in Augsburg.

This was a most extraordinary progress of the society in so short a time. As late as the year 1551 they had no firm station in Germany: in 1566 their influence extended over Bavaria and Tyrol, Franconia and Suabia, a great part of the Rhineland, and Austria; they had penetrated into Hungary, Bohemia, and Moravia. The effects of their labors were already perceptible; in the year 1561, the papal nuncio affirms that “they gain over many souls, and render great service to the Holy See.” This was the first counteracting impulse, the first anti-Protestant impression, that Germany received.

Above all, they labored at the improvement of the universities. They were ambitious of their rivaling the fame of those of the Protestants. The education of the time, being a purely learned one, rested exclusively on the study of the languages of antiquity. These the Jesuits cultivated with great ardor; and in a short time they had among them teachers who might claim to be ranked with the restorers of classical learning. They likewise addicted themselves to the strict sciences; at Cologne, Franz Koster taught astronomy in a manner equally agreeable and instructive. Theological discipline, however, of course continued the principal object. The Jesuits lectured with the greatest diligence, even during the holidays; they re-introduced the practice of disputations, without which they said all instruction was dead. These were held in public, and were dignified, decorous, rich in matter: in short, the most brilliant that had ever been witnessed. In Ingolstadt they soon persuaded themselves that they had attained to an equality with any other university in Germany, at least in the faculty of theology. Ingolstadt acquired (in the contrary spirit) an influence like that which Wittenberg and Geneva possessed.

The Jesuits devoted an equal degree of assiduity to the direction of the Latin schools. It was one of the principal maxims of Lainez, that the lower grammar-schools should be provided with good masters. He maintained that the character and conduct of man were mainly determined by the first impressions he received. With accurate discrimination, he chose men who, when they had once undertaken this subordinate branch of teaching, were willing to devote their whole lives to it; for it was only with time that so difficult a business could be learned, or the authority indispensable to a teacher be acquired. Here the Jesuits succeeded to admiration: it was found that their scholars learned more in one year than those of other masters in two; and even Protestants recalled their children from distant gymnasia and committed them to their care.

Schools for the poor, modes of instruction suited to children, and catechizing, followed. Canisius constructed his catechism, which satisfied the mental wants of the learners by its well-connected questions and concise answers.

The whole course of instruction was given entirely in that enthusiastic, devout spirit which had characterized the Jesuits from their earliest institution.