Propaganda Against the Church: The Great Conspiracy Theory

Author: Grzegorz Kucharczyk

The 19th century was witness to the great popularity of the Jesuit plot, a true renaissance of the first great conspiracy theory. Ever since the first edition of Monita Secreta (1612) - a print written by Hieronim Zahorowski, who was expelled from the Jesuit Society - every now and then “revelations” have sprung up about the unsatisfied ambitions of power and wealth, which were ascribed to the Jesuits (and definitely to the leaders of the Jesuit Society).

One Great Jesuit Conspiracy

The anti-Jesuit movement took on the form of hysteria, and its authors treated the spiritual sons of St Ignatius Loyola as porte-parole (a symbol) of all the negative traits ascribed to Catholics by anti-Catholic propaganda: backwardness, the pursuit of power, but at the same time plotting against anti-church governments, seeking material wealth at any time and cost. The Jesuits were chosen as a specific target of attack primarily because they were perceived by the authors of that propaganda - quite rightly so - as proof of the vitality of Catholicism. So it was in the era of the Counter-Reformation (XVIXVII century), in the time of the Enlightenment (XVIII century), and in the era of the French Revolution.

Tracking the meanders of anti-Jesuit propaganda - from its beginnings to the present day – means finding the evidence of the truth of the famous thesis by G.K. Chesterton, that when people no longer believe in anything, they are able to believe in everything. For example, the English Protestants in the seventeenth century firmly believed that the Society of Jesus (an outpost of the efforts of the Church since the 80s of the sixteenth century to recover the British Isles for Catholicism) was not only responsible for spreading the “errors of popery,” but also for bringing terrible natural disasters upon Albion.

Around 1630 Jesuit missionaries working in South America, saw the Andean Indians using a cure for malaria and they brought it to Europe. This medicine was prepared with powdered bark of local trees - hence the name “Peruvian bark”. Although the drug has passed into history under the name of quinine, originally it was known as the “Jesuit powder”. In 1658, during a raging epidemic of malaria in London, the “Jesuit powder” was given to a member of the London magistrate. Despite this intervention the patient died. It was a signal to start anti-Jesuit hysteria and to accuse the Society of Jesus of wanting to poison all European Protestants.

A few years later (in 1666), when London was destroyed by a terrible fire, the authors of many anti-Jesuit publications were convincing the Protestant public opinion that the capital of England was set on fire by the “papists” (Catholics), instigated to do so by the most cruel of them - the Jesuits. Similar voices were heard the previous year, when London was touched by a plague with catastrophic results. Also in this case, those who dragged the plague into the city (quite deliberately), were the Jesuits.

Hundreds of millions of people around the world who use the Gregorian calendar today do not probably realize that they use something that initially in many parts of Europe (mainly Protestant) was seen as another example of “Jesuit machinations”. When in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII introduced a new calendar (Gregorian), abandoning the Julian calendar current till then, this change practically meant that after Thursday, October 5, 1582, immediately came Friday October 15, 1582 year. Ten days disappeared, including nonworking days. The blame for this disappearance was commonly attributed to the Jesuits, as indeed the team of scientists appointed to work on the calendar change was led by a Jesuit, Christopher Clavius. A number of houses of the Society of Jesus became targets of attacks in Catholic countries. In Protestant countries „papist calendar intrigues” were discarded in advance.

“White pope”, “black pope” - or who really rules the Church

In the nineteenth century, attacks on the Society of Jesus were an important, and sometimes the most significant element of the propaganda of “preparing the ground” for further steps of secularisation imposed from the top down. If we examine different varieties of nineteenth-century “kulturkampfs” we will always run into a Jesuit lurking around the corner, unsuccessfully trying to stop the inevitable: progress, modernity, secularity. This picture emerges from anti- Jesuit propaganda, which was very dynamic at the time.

Hundreds of books and articles in the press “revealed” before the nineteenth- century European public opinion the “true” power that was to be held in the Church by the so called black pope - that is, the current General of the Jesuits (the “white pope”, elected in conclave, was just a figurehead). Starting from 1848, the book The Jesuit Conspiracy: the secret plan of the order gained notoriety, and then it made a stunning career. According to the book, in 1825 at a secret conventicle in Italian Chieri the powers of the Society of Jesus established a plan to take over the world. This is the world of political paranoia, later copied by the authors of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, who at the beginning of the twentieth century also “exposed” a secret plan to conquer the world, only this time not by the Jesuits, but by the Jews.

You only need to banish the Jesuits - and all will be well

In a chronological sense the first stage of the nineteenth century “culture wars” (i.e. a secularization policy realized from the top down by the liberal elite) occurred in the Apennine Peninsula. Here, the kingdom of Piedmont was at the forefront, which joined the policy of political unification of Italy with internal anti-Catholic policies. In the early 1850s, and dominated by liberals, the government of Piedmont pushed through a whole series of anti-Catholic laws (including the confiscation of church property, the removal of orders and the removal of the Church from the sphere of public education). However, the inauguration of this policy – as a smokescreen it was called “the freedom of the Church in the free state” by the leader of the liberals E. Cavour Piedmontese - was the exile of the Jesuits in 1848. This in turn was preceded by a hurricane “barrage” in the form of anti-Jesuit propaganda.

In the early 1850s, dominated by liberals, the government of Piedmont pushed through a whole series of anti-Catholic laws (including the confiscation of church property, the removal of orders and the removal of the Church from the sphere of public education)

In this case, the five-volume work The Modern Jesuit (Il Gesuita moderno) by Fr. Vincenz Gioberti turned out to be key. Public denunciation by one of the Catholic clergy (Gioberti was an Oratorian and chaplain to King Charles Albert) of other priests has always given additional propaganda “firepower” against the Church (don’t we know it from somewhere?).

The main thesis of the book, which fairly quickly became a bestseller, was that Jesuits are the internal enemies of Piedmont and the whole of Italy, because - as the author diagnosed - they are the “carnal sisters of Austria” (read: Austrian spies). Modern Jesuitism, argued Fr. Gioberti, hates reason, progress and science. Instead, it turns to feelings, backwardness and immaturity (and especially to young people and women, the two groups particularly vulnerable to manipulation)

A similar pattern can also be found in Germany, in the period of the anti- Catholic Kulturkampf, realized by Bismarck, with the support of the liberal circles (in the parliament and outside it), in the early 1870s. In 1872 the introduction to this policy was the adoption by the nationwide Reichstag of the so called Jesuitengesetz - the Law of the Jesuits - which forbade members of the Society of Jesus to reside in the territory of the German Reich. The ban referred to all Jesuits, including those who were German citizens. From 1872, when a German chose the path of his priestly vocation within the Society of Jesus, he had to leave his homeland and he had no right to return to it.

Anti-Jesuit propaganda campaign reached the dimension of hysteria in Germany during the time of Bismarck. Odo Russell (an Anglican) – the British Ambassador in Berlin, wrote in his report to London that “the public opinion [in Germany] sees a Jesuit conspiracy in every death and every disaster. Some time ago, a lion died in Berlin zoo, a favorite of Berliners. The newspapers set a reward of one thousand crowns for everyone who could help unravel the mystery of the sudden death. The public opinion soon came up with the idea that the lion was poisoned by the Jesuits” …

The Law of the Jesuits, enacted in 1872, was the longest existing relic of Kulturkampf legislation. The latter was gradually dismantled by Bismarck in the late 1880s, while Jesuitengesetz survived up until 1917. It was annulled at the time when the second German Empire was on the decline. Until that time, however, its defense was the battle cry for the “anti- ultramontanist” circles active in Germany in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – this was how representatives of militant anti- Catholicism called themselves on the Rhine and the Spree.

For example, the Evangelical Press Association - the largest Protestant organization in Germany - wrote in the late nineteenth century that “our struggle is directed against the principle, against the Jesuit spirit that prevails today in the Catholic Church, and against deviations which grew out of this principle.”

The organization mentioned above built a whole social movement on the effort to maintain the anti-Jesuit law. Petitions in defense of the law which were collected in the 1890s by the Evangelical Union gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures, several times more than petitions demanding “de-Jewism” of the German clerical body, organized around the same time Characteristically, in Germany at the turn of the century anti-Jesuitism and anti-Semitism were often two sides of the same coin. Many anti- Catholic authors accused the Jesuits of the “Jewism” (Verjudung) of Christianity. A new term “Judo-Jesuitism” (Jude-Jesuitismus) settled in. Houston Stewart Chamberlain, the undisputed authority for all seekers of the Lost “Aryan civilization”, claimed that the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola were “the product of the Semitic mind.” Research on the images of the founder of the Order (St. Ignatius of Loyola) in 1913 led Georg Lomer to the conclusion that “the upper eyelid, is definitely non-German, covering nearly half of the pupil, as it is sometimes in Arabs and Jews. This indicates the admixture of Semitic blood.”

Note that the texts of Lomer and other such “aryo-sophers” and occultists were the basic reading for the young Adolf Hitler, staying in Vienna at that time. Among his favorite authors was also J. Lanz-Liebenfels (a Cistercian removed from the order for homosexuality), who in 1903 warned his readers that “the Jesuit never attacks the opponent directly. He uses his wife! German men, guard your women against them. There is no Protestant woman, even the pastor’s wife, that the Jesuits would not be able to conscript”.

In France an element of secularization campaign, launched in the second half of the 1870s by the Third Republic, was the banishment of the Jesuits in 1879. The public opinion on the Seine had also been long prepared to adopt the thesis that the banishment of the Jesuits is an indispensable condition to “push the country onto the track of progress.” One of the most prominent French historians, Jules Michelet (a lecturer colleague of Mickiewicz at Collège de France) argued about it in the first half of the century. In one of his books devoted completely to the Society of Jesus (Des Jesuites) he condemned the Jesuits’ insatiable appetite for power, which they are seeking in all possible ways - by “corrupting young minds” (read: Jesuit colleges), intrigues in government circles, and - last but not least - the manipulation behind the bars of the confessional, especially of women, who are abundantly - as stated Michelet - susceptible to “Jesuit machinations.”

In the 19th century, attacks on the Society of Jesus were an important, and sometimes the most significant element of the propaganda of “preparing the ground” for further steps of secularisation imposed from the top down.

Significant words were spoken in 1879 during a debate in the French parliament, where the Minister of Public Enlightenment, Jules Ferry, proposed to remove the Jesuits from France and explained it to the deputies: “They [the Jesuits] set the tone in education, they provide an example to others; they are successful, they are fashionable; because they serve as a model for all church institutions, and it is their books that these institutions are looking for for themselves.” This was the real background for the attacks on the Society of Jesus since the sixteenth century. Their cause was not the weakness of the order, on the contrary: it was its strength, measured by faithfulness to the gospel and to the Church.

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