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Saving souls or saving the world: The Jesuits and politics in the 20th century

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  1. Introduction: The Church, the Jesuits and politics.
    1. Tensions with the Republic.
    2. Attempts to re-conquer the society to Christianity.
    3. Dictatorship and fascism: the authoritarian temptation.
  2. On The battlefield with their brothers 1944-1981.
    1. The Jesuits in the Resistance.
    2. French Resistance.
    3. Jesuits and communism in Europe: an ambiguous relationship.
    4. Liberation theology, social justice and poverty.
  3. Back To spiritual 1981 - Today.
    1. Back to spiritual: 1981 to today.
    2. Abandoning political engagement.
    3. Enculturation in modern times?
  4. Conclusion: What is the future for Jesuit politics?
  5. Bibliography.

On Monday 7th January 2008, the 35th ?General Congregation? of the Society of Jesus, the famous religious order founded in 1540 by Ignatius of Loyola and some followers, met to elect its 29th ?General Superior?, after the demission of P-H Kolvenbach for cause of old age. The 225 representatives of the world's Jesuits also defined and confirmed the general orientations of the Society concerning their mission in the world. The issue of this ?mission is the world?, regarding political actions, is more than complex it could seem at first for the Society. Christianity, for one thing, has always had an ambiguous relationship to the idea of political power, Jesus having said ?My kingdom is not of this world?, and the even clearer ?Give back to Cesar what belongs to Cesar, and to God what belongs to God?. The first orientation of Christianity thus is apolitical, and rather takes the shape of a retreat from the political, ?mundane? world. However, since Constantine established Christianity as his only State religion, this religion has been linked to the symbols of power in the Western World ? the most striking examples being the monarchy of divine right that was established in most European countries until the 17th century, and the establishment of the States of the Church in the Vatican.

[...] Not only saving souls, for once, but saving the Western European civilization French Resistance This implication in the Resistance is particularly strong in France, where the generation? we already spoke of shows an important mobilization against Nazism and Pétain's regime, regardless of the position of the French Catholic Church who rather strongly favoured Pétain's policies. At the initiative of Pierre Chaillet, sj, and with the support of Gaston Fessard, François Varillon and Henri de Lubac, a clandestine revue is created, Les Cahiers du Témoignage Chrétien, whose aim is to show the superiority of Christian values on Nazism and on any collaboration to Nazism. [...]


[...] This rather active participation in the Resistance opened the way to new relations between the Jesuits and the modern world: they abandon their project of converting the modern world, and decide to accompany its evolutions, especially on the issues of social justice, both in Europe and outside. A. The Jesuits in the Resistance This is why the implication of Jesuits in Resistance movements during World War 2 must be considered differently than the mere rejection of fascist and Nazi ideologies. [...]


[...] However, the directions concerning personal participation of Jesuits to trade-unions or political parties, and even concerning the political dimension given to Social Centres, are much more strict: any participation of that kind is forbidden inside the Society (even though it is possible in exceptional cases in the Canonic Law), and the priority is given to formation and advice. Why? Kolvenbach justifies this evolution (which consists in a rupture with the tradition of working priests for instance) by reminding that ?when a priest rallies a group, he excluded all the others: he is no longer at the service of all and can no longer accomplish the sacrament of reconciliation? (1991) Old and new ?spiritual? missions During the opening mass of the 35th Congregation on the 7th January 2008, Cardinal Franc Rodé, in the name of Benedict XVI, insisted on two missions the Pope assigned to the Jesuits: theology and reconcilating faith and culture. [...]

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