Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Today on the Almanac, we talk about all things Jesuit - including when they were accused of sinking the Titanic.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 27th of September 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

If you know a Jesuit, you can wish them and their order a happy birthday today. It was on this, the 27th of September in 1540. Let’s learn a little about this Catholic Order today and consider the time they were accused of sinking the Titanic.

The Jesuits began with St. Ignatius of Loyola. You might remember him- he was the soldier turned man-of-God after a cannonball ripped through his leg, and he suddenly had a bunch of time on his hands. His “Spiritual Exercises” became the foundation for the religious order, and his friends Francis Xavier and Peter Faber became missionaries who, along with others in the order, would attempt to spread the gospel to the far east and the newly discovered Americas.

But unfortunately, they have long been the subject of rumor and conspiracy theories. But why them? There are many other orders in the Catholic Church- Augustinian, Dominican, Carmelite, Carthusian, etc. (An Order is like a denomination, but for those who take on particular tasks and spiritual disciplines in the Catholic Church).

First, the Jesuits are the youngest of the major orders just named- so the suspicion is partly fear of the new. Secondly, they were formed in 1540. What was happening with the church in the 1500s? The Reformation! And so it has been taught time and again that they were a particular anti-Protestant order and thus suspected by kings and princes in Protestant territories. The problem is, they weren’t designed to be a “counter-Reformation” order. They were missionaries to the ends of the earth- not so much in Reformation Europe. They weren’t pro-Protestant, but they weren’t any more “anti-“ than the rest.

Being the only of these orders not to come from the Middle Ages, they provoked concern for their lack of medieval trappings. They didn’t have special fasts, liturgical hours, or even uniforms. So, according to some, they were liberal usurpers of the true “Catholic way.”

Their work in South America would also lead to suspicion- they must be hoarding gold! Their spread must be some international plan to rule the world! In the 20th century, Latin America became a center of liberation theology- a decidedly left-of-center theology. And since Jesuits had already established themselves there, they were all assumed to hold Liberation theology lock, stock, and barrel when the newest Pope became the first from South America, and a Jesuit… ooh boy.

In American history, they have been tied to the assassination of both Lincoln and Kennedy. In times of virulent anti-catholicism, they were a scapegoat- former Catholic turned protestant evangelist Charles Chiniquy claimed that Lincoln secretly wanted to get rid of Catholics in America. The Pope found out and had the Jesuits orchestrate Booth’s killing of Lincoln.

Fidel Castro had been taught in Jesuit schools as a boy- and JFK’s anti-Cuban policies were, according to the conspiracy theory, not so much against Communism but Jesuit Communism. Thus the Jesuits orchestrated Oswald’s killing of Kennedy (never mind, Kennedy was the first Catholic president).

And the granddaddy of them all. A young man named Francis Patrick Browne was a Jesuit in training who was gifted a one-way trip on the Titanic from Ireland to Southhampton. An American couple he met on board offered to pay his fare to take the ill-fated trip from Southhampton to New York. When He cabled his superior, he told him he could not and must not get on that ship. The cable was leaked, and voila, an instant classic of the genre.

Of course, this is silliness but a tribute to just how influential the group has been as a Catholic order in the last 500 years. And you needn’t agree with the Jesuits but on the anniversary of their founding on this day in 1540, let’s go easy on the conspiracy theories.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from Psalm 119:

Remember your word to your servant,
 for you have given me hope.

My comfort in my suffering is this:
 Your promise preserves my life.

The arrogant mock me unmercifully,
 but I do not turn from your law.

I remember, Lord, your ancient laws,
 and I find comfort in them.

Indignation grips me because of the wicked,
 who have forsaken your law.

Your decrees are the theme of my song
 wherever I lodge.

In the night, Lord, I remember your name,
 that I may keep your law.

This has been my practice:
 I obey your precepts.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 27th of September 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man whose heart will go on… he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who has never seen Titanic and never will. I am Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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