Ulysses contains many references to the "jesuits,"
a large order of Catholic priests and brothers known formally
as "the Society of Jesus," or "S.J."
The order was founded in the 16th century by Iñigo López de
Oñaz y Loyola (1491-1566), a Spanish knight from a noble
Basque family widely known by the Latin name Ignatius
Loyola. Stephen Dedalus, like Joyce,
has received a good Jesuit education during most of his years
from age 6 onward, and an official in two of the schools he
attended, "John Conmee S.J.,"
appears under his own name in Wandering Rocks. In the
opening sentences of Telemachus Buck Mulligan calls
Stephen too a jesuit, and this characterization proves
accurate despite Stephen's apostasy.
The S.J. enjoys a reputation of being the most intellectually rigorous of the Catholic holy orders, a reputation based on its members’ work in education and intellectual research. The Jesuits operate seminaries, universities, secondary schools, and elementary schools in many countries around the world, including Ireland. They taught James Joyce at Clongowes Wood College in County Kildare from 1888 to 1891 (ages 6-9), at Belvedere College in Dublin from 1893 to 1898 (ages 11-16), and at University College in Dublin from 1898 to 1902 (ages 16-20). Joyce attended Belvedere on scholarship; the family fortunes had declined and this preparatory school, like many Jesuit institutions, underwrites the education of students who cannot afford to pay.
A Portrait of the Artist represents Joyce’s
experiences at both schools, including his stellar academic
success at Belvedere where he won many honors and prizes. When
the Jesuits invite Stephen Dedalus to consider that he may
have a calling to become one of them, he declines, and walks
away not only from the priesthood but also from the Catholic
Church. But his religious training and habits of thought
remain prominent in Ulysses. In Scylla and
Charybdis, as he tries to set the scene in
Shakespeare's London, Stephen thinks of the founder's
influential instructions for religious meditation, which begin
with a vividly sensory "composition
of place" and then analyze the images for significance:
"Composition of place. Ignatius Loyola, make haste to
Later in the same chapter, Stephen thinks of the role that another Jesuit played in the Gunpowder Plot to blow up the English Parliament and King in 1606: "Warwickshire jesuits are tried and we have a porter's theory of equivocation." Gifford observes of "the Warwickshire Jesuit Henry Garnet, provincial of the then-underground order in England," that he "distinguished himself at trial by defending the 'doctrine of equivocation,' that is, maintaining that his attempt to practice deliberate deception on his accusers (i.e., to lie under oath) was perfectly ethical if done 'for the greater Glory of God' (Jesuit motto)." Shakespeare responded to this ingenious Jesuit reasoning by having the Porter in Macbeth joke about an "equivocator" trying unsuccessfully to reason his way into heaven.
In Telemachus, Mulligan calls Stephen "you
fearful jesuit," suggesting that he has
internalized the rigorous intellectual severity of the order,
and also perhaps that in his sternly meditative way he is
afraid of life. Later in the chapter, fending off Stephen's
anger at his having made light of his mother's death, Mulligan
explains Stephen's refusal to pray at his mother's bedside by
saying, "you have the cursed jesuit strain in you,
only it's injected the wrong way." Even in his
rejection of Christianity, Mulligan seems to be saying,
Stephen acts with an uncompromising and unworldly insistence
on intellectual consistency that he learned from the Jesuits.
"Look at the sea. What does it care about offences? Chuck
Loyola, Kinch, and come on down." In Oxen of
the Sun, Mulligan is still lambasting Stephen as a "Jesified,
orchidised, polycimical jesuit!" His attacks imply
that Stephen has much further to go in ridding his mind of his
religious instruction, and that he must do so if he wants to
succeed as an artist.
Joyce did not see it that way, however. Much later in life,
he remarked to his friend Frank Budgen in Zurich, "You allude
to me as a Catholic. For the sake of precision and to get the
correct contour on me, you ought to allude to me as a Jesuit."