Jesuit goals weren’t purely spiritual
Were Jesuit missionaries religious or political? The answer is both, said Samuel Gregg at Catholic World Report, in a review of Bronwen
McShea’s Apostles of Empire: The Jesuits and New France. McShea shows how “aggressive leadership from Jesuits in France and North America combined with carefully constructed relationships with France’s political and economic elites resulted in substantial success, both in terms of conversions to Catholicism and advancing France’s strategic interests.” Their main goal was conversion. But they also wanted to introduce “courtly French aesthetics and ideas of civilité to North Americans”.
It simply isn’t true, Gregg wrote, that “Jesuits were exclusively focused upon saving souls” and resisting colonialism. That story has been advanced by films such as Black Robe. But by the 18th century, Jesuits were filling administrative roles, “shaping colonial diplomacy, gathering intelligence, supplying weapons, organising Indian forces to wage war against France’s enemies, and trying to cultivate Indian leaders” who would be loyal to French interests. In that task, they worked closely with the French laity, whom they urged to invest in economic projects.
The missionaries, as McShea writes, believed “in France’s special calling to expand the Church into America, but also its capacity, as a mature European power that could outdo ancient Rome’s glories, to incorporate diverse populations and expressions of Christianity into a transatlantic community that was still eminently French and Catholic”.
Religious fear and St John Henry Newman
St John Henry Newman believed that his “entire work can be understood as rebuttal of liberal or rational Christianity”, wrote Cyril O’Regan at Church Life Journal. And never more so than in his writing on fear. For Newman, moderns had lost the ability “to think of God as terrible and ourselves as insignificant specks”. The infinity of God, Newman wrote in one sermon, “ought to lead all persons who profess religion to profess also religious fear”.
As an Anglican and later as a Catholic, Newman believed that the experience of fear is clearly found in the Gospels. And his idea of the “development of doctrine” meant that this experience lived on “in the minds of communities and individuals”.
Two questions that led to a conversion
“If you would’ve told me in April that I would be converting to Catholicism in October,” wrote Katy Bagley at The Tiny Disciples, “I would have laughed in your face.”
But this summer, Bagley became preoccupied with two concerns: “That I wanted to honour God in the highest fashion (by getting as close to the truth as possible), and that I wanted to be the best Christian I can be.”
Bagley had always had an interest in Catholicism – going to museums, she would be “crying in the section full of old religious art” – but these two questions drew her to the faith. “I believe the Church is true. I believe that in her sacraments she will make me the best Christian I can be. And that is what is most important to me.”
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