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PostSpain and the Jesuits (Ronald Hilton, USA, 06/26/98 6:41 pm)
A big question in Central America is the role of the Jesuits, but historically they have loomed much larger in their homeland, Spain. They are the most educated and enlightened of the religious orders, which may be why Spanish intellectuals hated them. Their enlightenment was displayed when I visited the shrine at Manresa in Catalonia, site of the cave where St. Ignatius allegedly wrote his Spiritual Exercises. I stayed for the religious service which was about to begin. I wanted to hear the sermon in Catalan. Most of the congregation consisted of old women, who listened in rapture as the priest described the church's prized relic: a finger of St. Ignatius, a gift from the Pope, taken from the body of St. Ignatius who is buried in Rome's Chiesa del Gesu.
After five or ten minutes of eloquence about the finger, the priest said: "And now I wish to talk about a current problem: birth control." The old women's rapture changed into bewilderment. Too much enlightenment!
I am writing a book about my experiences in Spain from 1931 to 1936, which will include a tribute to the educator Alberto Jimenez Fraud, who, when the Civil War broke out, took refuge in Oxford. He visited Florence and wrote a charming small book about its art. Curiously, it is entitled A Visit to Machiavelli, and it contains a long eulogy of that operator who counseled monarchs and princes on how to thwart their enemies. Don Alberto seemed to lament that the Spanish Republic had not been machiavellian enough to survive. But this eulogy is accompanied by a tirade against the Jesuits who burned Machiavelli in effigy and persuaded the Council of Trent to put his works on the Index.
The poor Jesuits! They get blamed for everything!