12 May 2022, The Tablet

Soldiers of God

Soldiers of God

A statue of St Ignatius in the parish cemetery at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama
photo: alamy/cloudybright, Carmen K. Sisson


The Jesuits: A History
(Princeton University Press, 872 PP, £30)
Tablet bookshop price £27 • tel 020 7799 4064

Many years ago, as a bumptious recent graduate, I suggested to an eminent Jesuit historian that what the Society of Jesus needed was a Cambridge University Press-style history. Cambridge histories, it should perhaps be explained, consist of carefully edited – “curated”, one might say nowadays – essays written by acknowledged experts, systematically covering the chosen topic. The great man demurred. There was still too much research that needed to be done, he insisted. He was of course right. Books and articles have continued to pour from the presses. An academic research engine to which I subscribe commonly lists daily 30 or more new books or articles mentioning Jesuits. “The body of scholarship on the Society of Jesus,” Professor Friedrich remarks in his opening chapter, “is completely unmanageable.” I calculate that his bibliography runs to well over 1,500 items. And not just secondary material. Members of the society were required to report their doings to Rome at least annually, and these letters provide details not just about what they achieved but also about what they observed – the mores of the tribes encountered, for example, or the flora and the fauna that missionaries noted, often enough for the very first time by Europeans.


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