MRI Forum 32

"Multi-ethnic culture in early Society of Jesus"

by Alexander Maryks


Summary of the Presentation

The Jesuit relationship with Jews converted to Christianity, as well as their descendants (Judeo- conversos ), was much more complex and variegated than is generally understood even by many erudite modern scholars. Recent scholarship on the history of that relationship claims that in the first three decades or so of the Order's history (1540-1572), the Jesuit leadership opened the doors wide to candidates of Jewish descent. Indeed, the founder of the Society of Jesus and its first superior general, Ignatius of Loyola (d. 1556), and his immediate two Spanish successors, Diego Laínez (1512-65), (himself from a converso family), and Francisco Borgia (1510-72), all willingly admitted converso candidates to the order.

Many of these unashamed converso Jesuits played key roles in the central administration of the Society and contributed significantly to the religious and literary culture of the period. Such important Jesuits as Cristóbal Sánchez de Madrid (1503-73), Alfonso Salmerón (1515-85), Juan Alfonso de Polanco (1517-76), Diego de Ledesma (1524-75), Pedro de Ribadeneyra (1526-1611), Manuel de Sá[a] (1530-96). Francisco de Toledo Herrera (1532-96), Antonio Possevino (1534-1611), Juan de Mariana (1536-1624), and José de Acosta (1540-1600), to list just a few, were all almost certainly conversos . It can be argued, therefore, that intellectual and religious life of the early Jesuits was dominated by men from Judeo- converso backgrounds.

Profile of the Speaker

Dr. Robert Alexander Maryks is an assistant professor of history at the City University of New York (CUNY). His book on the influence of the liberal arts on the adoption of moral probabilism, Saint Cicero and the Jesuits (Ashgate and the Jesuit Historical Institute) , is coming out in spring 2008. He published several articles on Jesuit ministry of confession and on Jesuit penitential literature. After having discovered an important manuscript on the subject, he is currently working on a new project, Biographical Dictionary of the Jesuits of Jewish ancestry.