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The Jesuits and the Monarchy: Catholic Reform and Political Authority in France (1590-1615).

The Jesuits and the Monarchy: Catholic Reform and Political Authority in France (1590-1615). By Eric Nelson. (Aldershot and Rome: Ashgate and Institutum Historicum Societatis Jesu, 2005. Pp. xiv, 275. $94.95.)

On 29 December 1594, two days after the attempt of the former Jesuit student, Jean Chastel, on the life of Henry IV, the Jesuits were expelled from most of France. Nine years later, by the Edict of Rouen of 1 September 1603, they were readmitted, and by the assassination of Henry in 1610 they counted thirty-six colleges in France and a membership of 1,379. A firm bond had been formed between the new Bourbon dynasty and the Society of Jesus that was to endure well into the eighteenth century. How does one account for this turnabout? Eric Nelson attributes it, convincingly, to two principal factors: Henry's perception that the Jesuits could serve as a bulwark of the authority that he aimed to establish in France and Jesuit flexibility as they accommodated to the political and ecclesiastical situation of the kingdom.

Since their first admission into France in 1562, the Jesuits had faced opposition because of their international character and allegiance to the papacy. By 1589 they operated thirteen colleges, mostly in the south of France, and enjoyed no royal patronage. Renewed opposition confronted them in 1589-1590 on the part of a group Nelson calls the "erudite Gallicans" represented especially in the parlement of Paris (5). They clashed with Henry on the methods to be employed toward the establishment of order in the kingdom as the religious wars came to an end. They argued for a "strict definition and enforcement of French law," meaning the punishment of former supporters of the Catholic League, among whom they counted the Jesuits (5). For Henry the way to peace and order lay in clemency toward his former enemies with a view to reconciling them with the new dynasty. After the assassination attempt by Chastel, Henry was forced to yield to the demand for expulsion, but by 1599 he was negotiating for the return of the Jesuits. But the Edict of Rouen did not exonerate the Jesuits of the charges arising from the Chastel assassination attempt--it was an act of clemency--and it imposed severe restrictions on their activity, so that the Jesuit superior general in Rome, Claudio Acquaviva, was at first reluctant to accept it. But Henry let him know that he would interpret the edict generously; Acquaviva then fell into line, and the result was generous royal patronage for the Jesuits' schools and mission.

After the assassination of Henry in 1610 an outcry ensued against the Jesuits because of a limited approval of tyrannicide by some of their prominent theologians. In this situation leading French Jesuits took an oath recognizing the jurisdiction of parliament in this and other matters. Both Acquaviva and the papal nuncio opposed the oath, but it stood nevertheless. Nelson sees in this compromise with the Gallicans another example of Jesuit accommodation and a major step in the integration of the Jesuits into the French Church.

Nelson writes clearly and exploits the archival sources in Paris and Rome skillfully. His mastery of the pamphlet literature especially impresses. The book represents a significant contribution to our understanding of the reign of Henry IV and of the policy of the Jesuits.

This volume augurs well for the future cooperation of its copublishers, Ashgate and the Jesuit Historical Institute in Rome.

Robert Bireley, SJ

Loyola University Chicago
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Author:Bireley, Robert
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2007
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