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Clement XIII - Trouble With The Jesuits

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Born at Venice, 7 March, 1693; died at Rome, 2 February, 1769. He was educated by the Jesuits at Bologna, took his degrees in law at Padua, and in 1716 was appointed at Rome referendary of the two departments known as the "Signatura Justitiæ" and the "Signatura Gratiæ". He was made governor of Rieti in 1716, of Fano in 1721, and Auditor of the Rota for Venice in 1725. In 1737 he was made cardinal-deacon, and in 1743 Bishop of Padua, where he distinguished himself by his zeal for the formation and sanctification of his clergy, to promote which he held a synod in 1746, and published a very remarkable pastoral on the priestly state. His personal life was in keeping with his teaching, and the Jansenist Abbé Clément, a grudging witness, tells us that "he was called the saint (by his people), and was an exemplary man who, notwithstanding the immense revenues of his diocese and his private estate, was always without money owing to the lavishness of his alms-deeds, and would give away even his linen". In 1747 he became cardinal-priest, and on 6 July, 1758, he was elected pope to succeed Benedict XIV. It was with tears that he submitted to the will of the electors, for he gauged well the force and direction of the storm which was gathering on the political horizon.

Regalism and Jansenism were the traditional enemies of the Holy See in its government of the Church, but a still more formidable foe was rising into power and using the other two as its instruments. This was the party of Voltaire and the Encyclopedists, the "Philosophers" as they liked to call themselves. They were men of talent and highly educated, and by means of these gifts had drawn over to themselves many admirers and adherents from among the ruling classes, with the result that by the time of Clement XIII, they had their representatives in power in the Portuguese and in all the five Bourbon Courts. Their enmity was radically against the Christian religion itself, as putting a restraint on their license of thought and action. In their private correspondence they called it the Infâme (the infamous one), and looked forward to its speedy extinction through the success of their policy; but they felt that in their relations with the public, and especially with the sovereigns, it was necessary to feign some kind of Catholic belief. In planning this war against the Church, they were agreed that the first step must be the destruction of the Jesuits. "When we have destroyed the Jesuits", wrote Voltaire to Helvétius in 1761, "we shall have easy work with the Infâme." And their method was to persuade the sovereigns that the Jesuits were the chief obstacle to their Regalist pretensions, and thereby a danger to the peace of their realms; and to support this view by the diffusion of defamatory literature, likewise by inviting the co-operation of those who, whilst blind to the character of their ulterior ends, stood with them for doctrinal or other reasons in their antipathy to the Society of Jesus. Such was the political situation with which Clement XIII saw himself confronted when he began his pontificate.


His attention was called in the first instance to Portugal, where the attack on the Society had already commenced. Joseph I, a weak and voluptuous prince, was a mere puppet in the hands of his minister, Sebastião Carvalho, afterwards Marquis de Pombal, a secret adherent of the Voltairian opinions, and bent on the destruction of the Society. A rebellion of the Indians in the Uruguay Reductions gave him his first opportunity. The cause of the rebellion was obvious, for the natives had been ordered to abandon forthwith their cultivated lands and migrate into the virgin forest. But, as they were under the care of the Jesuit missionaries, Carvalho declared that those must have instigated the natives. Moreover, on 3 September, 1758, Joseph I was shot at, apparently by the injured husband of a lady he had seduced. Pombal held a secret trial in which he pronounced the whole Tavora family guilty, and with them three Jesuit Fathers, against whom the sole evidence was that they had been friends of the Tavoras. Then, on the pretext that all Jesuits thought alike, he imprisoned their superiors, some hundred in number, in his subterranean dungeons, and wrote in the king's name to Rome for permission from the Holy See to punish the guilty clerics. Clement did not see his way to refuse a request backed by the king's assurances that he had good grounds for his charges, but he begged that the accused might have a careful trial, and that the innocent might not be included in a punishment they had not deserved. The pope's letter was written with exquisite courtesy and consideration, but Pombal pronounced it insulting to his master and returned it to the sender. Then he shipped off all the Jesuits from Portugal and its colonies, save the superiors who were still detained in their prisons, and sent them to Civitavecchia, "as a present to the pope", without a penny from their confiscated funds left to them for their maintenance. Clement, however, received them kindly, and provided for their needs. It was to be expected that diplomatic relations would not long continue after these events; they were severed in 1760 by Pombal, who sent back the nuncio, Acciajuoli, and recalled his own ambassador; nor were these relations restored till the next pontificate. Pombal had seen the necessity of supporting his administrative measures by an endeavour to destroy the good name of his victims with the public. For this purpose he caused various defamatory publications to be written, chief among which was the "Brief Relation", in which the American Jesuits were represented as having set up an independent kingdom in South America under their own sovereignty, and of tyrannizing over the Indians, all in the interest of an insatiable ambition and avarice. These libels were spread broadcast, especially through Portugal and Spain, and many bishops from Spain and elsewhere wrote to the pope protesting against charges so improbable in themselves, and so incompatible with their experience of the order in their own jurisdictions. The text of many of their letters and of Clement XIII's approving replies may be seen in the "Appendices" to Père de Ravignan's "Clément XIII et Clément XIV".


It was to be expected that the Society's many enemies in France would be stimulated to follow in the footsteps of Pombal. The attack was opened by the Parlement, which was predominantly Jansenist in its composition, in the spring of 1761. Taking advantage of the financial difficulties into which the French Jesuits had been driven over the affair of Father Lavalette, they proceeded to examine the constitutions of the Society in which they professed to find grave improprieties, and to demand that, if the Jesuits were to remain in the country, these constitutions should be remodelled on the principle of reducing the power of the general and practically substituting for him a commisioner appointed by the Crown. They also drew up a famous document, named the "Extraits des assertions", made up entirely of garbled extracts from Jesuit writers, and tending to show that their method was to establish their own domination by justifying almost every form of crime and licentiousness, particularly tyrannicide. Louis XV, like Joseph I, had a will enervated by lust, but unlike him, was by no means a fool, and had besides an underlying respect for religion. Thus he sought, in the first instance, to save a body of men whom he judged to be innocent, and for that purpose he referred their constitutions to the French bishops assembled at Paris in December, 1761. Forty-five of these bishops reported in favour of the constitutions, and of the Jesuits being left as they were, twenty-seven or more, not then in Paris, sending in their adhesion; but the king was being drawn the other way by his Voltairian statesmen and Madame de Pompadour, and accordingly preferred the advice of the one bishop who sided with the Parlement, Bishop Fitz­James of Soissons. He therefore issued an edict in March, 1762, which allowed the Society to remain in the kingdom, but prescribed some essential changes in their institute with the view of satisfying the Parlement.

Clement XIII intervened in various ways in this crisis of the French Jesuits. He wrote to the king in June, 1761, and again in January, 1762, on the former occasion to implore him to stay the proceedings of his Parlement, on the latter to protest against the scheme of setting a French vicar- general, independent of the general in Rome, over the French provinces; it was likewise on this latter occasion that, whilst blaming their general for the compliance of some of his French subjects, he used the famous words "Sint ut sint aut non sint". To the French bishops who wrote to him protesting against the doings of the Parlement, he replied in words of thankfulness and approval, e.g. to the Bishop of Grenoble on 4 April, 1762, and to the Bishop of Sarlat (with special reference to the "Extraits des assertions") on 14 November. 1764; and to the bishops collectively in June, 1762, exhorting them to use all their influence with the king to induce him to resist his evil counsellors. To the arrét of 2 August, 1762, by which the Parlement suppressed the Society in France, and imposed impossible conditions on any of its members wishing to remain in the country, Clement replied by an Allocution of 3 September, in which he protested against the invasion of the Church's rights, and annulled the arréts of the Parlement against the Society. Finally, when the king, weakly yielding to the pressure of his entourage, suppressed the French provinces by his edict of November, 1764, the Holy Father felt it his duty, besought as he was by so many bishops from all parts, to publish the Bull "Apostolicum", of 9 January, 1765. Its object was to oppose to the current misrepresentations of the Society's institute, spiritual exercises, preaching missions, and theology, a solemn and formal approbation, and to declare that the Church herself was assailed in these condemnations of what she sanctioned in so many ways.


The statesmen who had the ear of Charles III were in regular correspondence with the French Encyclopedists, and had for some years previously been projecting a proscription of the Society on the same lines as in Portugal and France. But this was not known to the public, or to the Jesuits, who believed themselves to have a warm friend in their sovereign. It came then as a surprise to all when, on the night of 2-3 April, 1767, all the Jesuit houses were suddenly surrounded, the inmates arrested and transferred to vehicles ordered to take them to the coast, thence to be shipped off for some unknown destination–forbidden to take anything with them beyond the clothes which they wore. Nor was any other explanation vouchsafed to the outer world save that contained in the king's letter to Clement XIII, dated 31 March. There it was stated that the king had found it necessary to expel all his Jesuit subjects for reasons which he intended to reserve for ever in his royal breast, but that he was sending them all to Civitavecchia that they might be under the pope's care, and he would allow them a maintenance of 100 piastres (i.e. Spanish dollars) a year–a maintenance, however, which would be withdrawn for the whole body, should any one of them venture at any time to write anything in self-defence or in criticism of the motives for the expulsion. The pope wrote back on 16 April a very touching letter in which he declared that this was the cruelest blow of all to his paternal heart, beseeching the king to see that if any were accused they should not be condemned without proper trial, and assuring him that the charges current against the institute and the whole body of its members were misrepresentations due to the malice of the Church's enemies. But nothingh could be extracted from the king, and it is now known that this idea of a royal secret was merely a pretext devised in order to prevent the Holy See from having any say in the matter.

Foreseeing the difficulty of so large an influx of expelled religious into his states, Clement felt compelled to refuse them permission to land, and after various wanderings they lhad to settle down in Corsica, where they were joined by their brethren who had been similarly sent away from Spanish America. When, a year and a half later, they were forced to move again, the pope's compassion overcame his administrative prudence, and he permitted them to take refuge in his territory. On the throne of Naples was seated a son of Charles III, and on that of Parma his nephew. Both were minors, and both had Voltairian ministers through whose instrumentality their policy was directed from Madrid. Accordingly the Jesuits in their dominions were similarly banished, and their banishment drew similar remonstrances from the pope. But in the case of Parma there was a complication, for this state having been for centuries regarded as a fief of the Holy See, the pope had felt himself bound to condemn by his Monitorium of 30 January, 1768, some laws passed by the duke to the detriment of the Church's liberties. The Bourbon Courts thereupon united in demanding the withdrawal of the Monitorium, threatening, if refused to deprive the pope by armed force of his territories of Avignon and the Vanaissin in France, and of Benevento and Montecorto in Italy. Finally, on 18, 20, 22 January, 1769, the ambassadors of France, Spain, and Naples presented to him identical notes demanding the total and entire suppression of the Society of Jesus throughout the world. It was this that killed him. He expired under the shock on the night of 2-3 February. In one sense, no doubt, his pontificate was a failure, and he has been blamed for a lack of foresight which should have made him yield to the exigencies of the times. But in a higher sense it was a splendid success. For he had the insight to see through the plausible pretences of the Church's enemies, and to discern the ultimate ends which they were pursuing. He viewed the course of events ever in the light of faith, and was ever faithful to his trust. He always took up sound positions, and knew how to defend them with language conspicuous for its truth and justice, as well as for its moderation and Christian tenderness. His pontificate, in short, afforded the spectacle of a saint clad in moral strength contending alone against the powers of the world and their physical might; and such a spectacle is an acquisition forever.

There were other aspects under which Clement XIII had to contend with the prevailing errors of Regalism and Jansenism in France, Germany, Holland, Poland, and Venice, but these by comparison were of minor moment. Among the pernicious books condemned by him were the "Histoire du peuple de Dieu" of the Jesuit Berruyer, the "Esprit" of Helvétius, the "Exposition de la doctrine chrétienne" of Mésenguy, the "Encyclopédie" of D'Alembert and Diderot, and the "De Statu Ecclesiæ" of Febronius. He greatly encouraged devotion to the Sacred Heart, and ordered the Preface of the Blessed Trinity to be recited on Sundays.

BARBERI AND SPETIA, Bullarii Romani Continuatio (Rome, 1835); CORDARA, Commentarii in DÖLLINGER, Beitrage zur politischen, kirchlichen und Kulturgeschichte (1882), III; Procés-verbaux du clergé français (1882), VIII; NOVAES, Elementi della storia de' sommi pontefici (Rome, 1822), XV; DE MONTOR, Histoire de souverains pontifes romains (Paris, 1851); VON RANKE, Die römischen Päpste, III; CRÉTINEAU-JOLY, Clément XIV et les Jésuites (Paris, 1847); IDEM, Histoire de la compagnie de Jésus (Paris, 1851), V; THEINER, Histoire du Pontificat de Clément XIV (Paris, 1852); RAVIGNAN, Clément XIII et Clément XIV (Paris, 1854); FERRER DEL RIO, Historia del Reinado de Carlos III (Madrid, 1857); DÁVILA Y COLLADO, Reinado de Carlos III in CÁNOVAS DE CASTILLO, Historia General de España (Madrid, 1893); SMITH, The Suppression of the Society of Jesus articles in the Month (1902, 1903); ROUSSEAU, Expulsion des Jésuites en Espagne in the Revue des questiones historiques (Jan., 1904).

Transcribed by W G Kofron
With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV
Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company
Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor
Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York

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