The Jesuits had been expelled from Brasil (1754), Portugal (1759), France (1764), Spain and its colonies (1767) and Parma (1768). Though he had to face strong pressure on the part of the ambassadors of the Bourbon courts Clement XIII always refused to yield to their demands to have the Society of Jesus suppressed. However the issue had reached such a crisis point that the question seems to have been the main issue determining the outcome of the conclave of 1769 that was called to elect a successor to Clement XIII. Cardinal Giovanni Ganganelli, a Franciscan (Conventual) friar was elected and took the name of Clement XIV.
For a few years Clement XIV tried to placate the enemies of the Jesuits by treating them harshly: he refused to meet the Superior General, Lorenzo Ricci, ordered them not to receive novices, etc. To no avail. The pression kept building up to the point that Catholic countries were threatening to break away from the Church. Clement XIV ultimately yielded 'in the name of peace of the Church and to avoid of secession in Europe' and suppressed the Society of Jesus by the brief Dominus ac Redemptor of the 21 July 1773.
The lengthy document is 45 paragraphs long. In the introductory paragraph Clement XIV gives the tone: Our Lord has come on earth as ‘Prince of peace’. This mission of peace, transmitted to the apostles is a duty of the successors of Saint Peter, a responsibility the pope fulfils by encouraging institutions fostering peace and removing, if need be, others that impede peace. Not just if guilty, even on the broader ground of harmony and tranquillity in the Church, it may be justified to suppress a religious order.
Follows a long section in which Clement XIV reviews the reasons which, in his judgement, are calling for the ’extinction’ of the Society of Jesus. (1) A long list of charges against the Society is enumerated (but no judgment is passed on the validity of the charges). (2) He recalls that, in its history, the Society encountered severe criticism (but he remains silent on whether the criticism is justified). (3) The distress occasioned to earlier popes by clashes among Catholics with regard to Jesuit doctrine is evoked (but the Society is not explicitly blamed for that).
In a final - more technical - section Clement XIV pronounces the actual sentence of suppression of the Society of Jesus. Some provisions are dictated for the implementation of the brief.
In effect: the brief suppresses the Society without condemning it.
Execution of the brief
A second brief Gravissimis ex causis (16 August) established a commission of 5 cardinals entrusted with the task of informing the Jesuits and handling the many practical problems caused by the suppression. Two days later, a letter of the Cardinal president of the commission ordered all bishops of the Church to proclaim, and publish the brief in every Jesuit house, residence or school, in the presence of the assembled community of Jesuits. This unusual approach created a good number of problems. Non-catholic countries such as Prussia and Russia forbade the bishops to promulgate the brief and ordered the Jesuits to carry on their academic activities just as if nothing had happened.
- The full text of the brief, in Latin and French, can be found in Bref de N.S.P. le Pape Clément XIV en date du XXI juillet 1773 portant suppression de l'Ordre régulier dit Société de Jésus, n.d.
- BANGERT, William: A History of the Society of Jesus, Saint-Louis, 1972.