Jesuits

Jesuits

In Brief

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.

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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 help me!"

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."

JH 2015
Oil portrait of Loyola by Peter Paul Rubens showing him writing under the motto AMDG (Ad maioram Dei gloriam, "To the greater glory of God"), the initials that begin Stephen's school themes in A Portrait. Source: cardinalsblog.adw.org.
Statue of Loyola in the reception area of Clongowes Wood College today, photographed in 2013 by Leftofcentresayshi. Source: Wikimedia Commons.