Follow TV Tropes


Evil Jesuit

Go To

Si cum Iesuitis itis, non cum Iesu itis.Translation
—A saying almost as old as the order itself

A character type generally found in works set or written in the The Cavalier Years, although some are later examples, this is what you get when you cross the Church Militant with Wicked Cultured. In Real Life, the Society of Jesus, also known by their shorthand name "Jesuits", are a Christian (specifically, Roman Catholic) religious order known for their military character (reinforced by the fact that their founder, Spanish nobleman Ignatius of Loyola, was a knight who took the habit after having a spiritual awakening while recovering from wounds received in battle during the Italian Wars, in order to provide the Church an active arm in world affairs), their commitment to broaden Renaissance education, and their missionary endeavors. Among their religious opponents, chiefly the early Protestants, they accrued a reputation for finding clever arguments to excuse any kind of behavior. Common plots have such characters throw off their habit to assume the appearances of laity, sometimes becoming military leaders or advisers.

The historical basis for the Society's negative archetype comes largely from their work during the Counter-Reformation. For many centuries, the Roman Catholic Church relied extensively on secular authorities (especially the Holy Roman Emperor and, later, the King of France) to combat heresy by providing a civil basis for investigating unorthodox beliefs and/or practices and, if need be, administering appropriate civil action against the offending party. However, during the height of the Protestant Reformation, various governments in northwestern Europe declared themselves independent of the Church's spiritual authority as a precedent for their secular sovereignty, adopting one form of Protestantism or another as the de facto, if not de jure, state religion.note  As a result, the Church was often without (legal) recourse to counter what they saw as the epidemic heresy of Protestantism in these regions, where Catholic and Protestant populations were often engaged in sectarian violence.

In light of these facts, as well as reforms created by the Council of Trent, which stressed using education as the most effective means of combating Protestantism, the Jesuits were often called upon to travel to states in which local Protestant rulers were repressing Roman Catholic populations, or at least disrupting ecclesiastical hierarchy, and engage in what essentially amounted to clandestine missionary work: supporting (often secret) worship, teaching doctrine, and ingratiating themselves with local ministers in order to encourage them to convert, or at least be lenient towards Catholics. Predictably, Protestant governments used their efforts as the occasion to propagandize against the Roman Catholic Church, promoting a view of it as foreign and reactionary, and Jesuits in particular as sinister subversive infiltrators spreading throughout Christendom, intent upon undermining or overthrowing legitimate local powers and destroying true (that is, Protestant) Christianity in favor of the reinstatement of the Papal Anti-Christ.

This trope doesn't just appear in Protestant works, though. The Jesuits also got a bad reputation in Catholic countries too, and were outright expelled from the Portuguese and Spanish Empires during the reigns of Joseph I and Charles III, albeit for different reasons. In the 17th century, the Jesuits—who swear an oath of loyalty and obedience to the Pope in addition to the standard religious vows—became identified with ultramontanism, a doctrine that asserted the absolute supremacy of the Pope in all matters. Although this is largely standard Catholic doctrine today, there were many movements in Catholicism that opposed that kind of supremacy. Perhaps more significantly, ultramontanism challenged many Catholic rulers' rights to meddle in Church affairs, particularly the then-standard practice of letting Catholic monarchs choose the Church hierarchy with only a nominal papal veto. The Jesuits also gained a reputation for being power-seeking and economically successful, angering both temporal rulers and the higher-ups of the Church in Rome. The fancy logic and scholarship the Jesuits cultivated to beat Protestants in arguments could also be used to challenge Church orthodoxy—and it often was (and still is).

The Jesuit activities in missionary work, which led to the not entirely incorrect accusation of running their own private empire, also triggered some good old-fashioned colonialism. While the Jesuit missions were far from perfect and rather paternalistic, they treated the Native Americans as basically people and fought against their enslavement, which came to cause turmoil whenever either law or custom disagreed. This eventually caused a true military conflict, the Guaraní War, where native militias trained and chieftained by Spanish Jesuits revolted openly in order to stop large tracts of land of the Spanish Empire to be handed to its Portuguese counterpart, as while native slavery was illegal in Spain, it was legal and very profitable in Portugal (with natives happily partaking on it), which would allow slavehunters to prey on the inhabitants of the lands unopposed. Although the rebellion was crushed, the event essentially confirmed all the fears in Europe about the Company of Jesus being a dangerous intra-state able to challenge sovereign powers, factoring heavily in their suppression and making them distinctly unpopular even in Catholic countries until they end of 19th century.

Subtrope of Sinister Minister.


    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Averted in The Mission: Father Gabriel is a benevolent Jesuit missionary, and the evil role goes to Captain Mendoza (pre-Heel–Face Turn).
  • The Man in the Iron Mask: King Louis XIV is nearly assassinated by a man that he immediately identifies as a Jesuit. In reality, the most evil man in the film is Louis himself. And this is Artistic License – History, the French crown had no problem with Jesuits during Louis' reign.
  • A few of the Jesuits in Black Robe, a film set in colonial New France, are pretty unscrupulous — notably, one lies to the Huron and tells them that baptism will cure their smallpox — and the film is certainly critical of the Jesuits' mission, though the film's protagonist is a genuinely good Jesuit who honestly believes he is helping people. His Algonquin guides, however, are pretty wary of him, since he wears the eponymous black robe, sleeps separately from everyone else, and refuses to have sex with the women.
  • Silence averts this stereotype, with the Jesuits being portrayed as noble missionaries who endure horrifying torture for their faith at the hands of the Japanese authorities.
  • Elizabeth: The Jesuits in the film are portrayed as brutal assassins sent to murder Elizabeth.

  • In Jeff Long's The Descent, the leader of the Hadals, and the inspiration for Satan, posed as a Jesuit, though this was later retconned, changing him to be a mere disciple of Satan (who occasionally is more evil than Satan himself), since he has real human vileness in him, while Satan is just an example of alien Blue-and-Orange Morality.
  • The Victorian historical novel Henry Esmond has Father Holt, who gets involved in the Jacobite Rebellion, and at one point is shown in Germany commanding Catholic military forces under the name "Holtz". More "evil" because he's Catholic than because of anything the character actually does, he's more like a Psycho Supporter to the hero than an actual villain.
  • Neal Stephenson's The Baroque Cycle has the definitely evil Edouard de Gex who eventually disguises himself as a Jansenist (a sect which were enemies of Jesuits) and calls himself de Ath. Subverting the trope, there is Father Gabriel Goto, a katana-wielding samurai Jesuit from Manila (long story).
  • Cunegonde's brother would count in Candide (which was a definite influence on Henry Esmond above) — while a lot of the characters change identities in the book, he becomes a Jesuit but is also at some points a military leader (not surprisingly, as he was written as a Take That against Frederick the Great).
  • Ian Pears' novel An Instance of the Fingerpost has one of the unreliable narrators slides between this and Anti-Villain.
  • The Wandering Jew has evil Jesuits trying to gain control of the wealth of the title character's last descendants. In a particularly nasty Take That!, a Thugee assassin decides that his Kali-worship is completely compatible with their brand of Catholicism.
  • In 20 Years After and The Vicomte de Bragelonne, the sequels to The Three Musketeers, Aramis becomes a Jesuit priest (and later vicar-general of the order) and turns into a Manipulative Bastard, often working against his former comrades-in-arms.
  • Stendhal's novel The Red and the Black has the main character (a Byronic Hero) joining unsympathetically-presented Jesuits in his quest for self-advancement and the novel discusses the Jesuit-Jansenist rivalry (which apparently persisted at least into the mid-1800s, when the novel was written/set). The Jesuits aren't presented as that smart though, as the author's Take That! is to present them as close-minded ultra-reactionaries. However, the main character fits the trope, as he is able to fit in just as well among a military-minded aristocratic culture (the red) as among the Jesuits (the black).
  • The Swedish-Finnish series of historical novels, The Surgeon's Stories, by Zachary Topelius, has (in the first part The King's Ring which is set during the Thirty Years' War) the character of Father Hieronymus, who is a very stereotypical instance of the trope. He carries a dagger concealed in his crucifix and tries to murder king Gustavus Adolphus, recruiting the young noblewoman Lady Regina (whom he serves as confessor for) to aid him.
  • In Flann O'Brien's (author of The Third Policeman) later novel The Hard Life, the protagonist's guardian Mr. Collopy is friends with a Jesuit priest, Father Kurt Fahrt. When Fahrt refuses to countenance Collopy's plan to blow up Dublin City Hall (in a planning dispute over ladies' public toilets), Collopy reminds Fahrt of the Jesuits' own role in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. He also seems to think the Jesuits were responsible for the Franco-Prussian War.
  • Averted in the 1632 series. While one book had a bigoted Jesuit character, he was no more bigoted than any 17th-century person. In fact, a number of the allies of the protagonist uptimers — Americans sent back in time by Alien Space Bats (long story) — are worse. Also, the historical domain characters of Father Friedrich Spee von Langenfeld and Father-General Mutio Vitelleschi are their allies, who are described as good but flawed (as are many characters, protagonist or antagonist). After the Spanish Cardinal Borga usurps Pope Urban VIII, tries to murder him, and murders several of his allies, the Jesuits begin to suffer a schism — one remains loyal to Urban VIII and thus remain friendly to the uptimers, while the other — mostly composed of Spanish Inquisitors and witch-hunters — become outright hostile.
  • Averted in Robert Anton Wilson's Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, which feature Father Ratti, a good Jesuit whose open-mindedness contrasts the fundamentalistic Dominicans. On the other hand the books also mention, though never show (due to the author having Died During Production), Adam Weishaupt, the former Jesuit who went on to found the Bavarian Illuminati.
  • Despite portraying some of the worst excesses of the Roman Catholic Church in his novels, Jose Rizal averts this trope, since some of his more sympathetic clergymen characters are Jesuits — in Real Life, Rizal was very fond of his Jesuit mentors.
  • Mentioned in British statesman Lord Chesterfield's Letters to His Son. "I do not know a crime in the world, which is not by the casuists among the Jesuits (especially the twenty-four collected, I think, by Escobar) allowed, in some, or many cases, not to be criminal." (letter 52) Although he regarded the Jesuits as the "most able and best governed society in the world." (letter 85)
  • Shogun: Both in the novel and in the television miniseries adaptation the Jesuits are varying degrees of this as they attempt to convert 17th century Japan to Roman Catholicism. When John Blackthorne and other surviving crew members of the Erasmus arrive at Japan the Jesuits immediately see the protestant Blackthorne as a threat because the Englishman tells Lord Torunaga of world affairs from a different perspective than the Jesuits or Portuguese have been giving them. As part of this Blackthorne told Torunaga about the Treaty of Zaragoza, which divided up previously undiscovered lands between the Spanish and the Portugese with Japan in the Portugese zone. While it's not confirmed one way or the other it's implied the Jesuits tried to have Blackthorne assassinated by having an Amida Tong assassin infiltrate the castle and kill him as he slept. Later on, as Blackthorne's importance and influence grew the Jesuits begin trying to co-opt Blackthorne and even protected him from a Portuguese ship Captain determined to kill the Englishman.
    • Even members of other Catholic monastic orders don't like the Jesuits all that much, with the Franciscan Friar Domingo telling Blackthorne that the Jesuits are there to increase their power and influence instead of bringing the message of Christ to the Japanese, and have banned all other religious orders from operating in Japan. Domingo tells Blackthorne that the Jesuits had defied specific orders from The Pope regarding behavior of missionaries.
  • Fyodor Dostoevsky provides a Russian Orthodox view of this trope in The Idiot. When the endlessly kind, Christ-like Prince Myshkin discovers that a former mentor and dear friend has converted from Orthodoxy to Catholicism, and joined the Jesuit order to boot, Myshkin launches into an uncharacteristically harsh tirade, denouncing the Catholic Church as the secret enemy of Christianity and the true creator of Atheism. After establishing this baseline hatred of Catholics in general, Myshkin then insists that the Jesuits are the most extreme and worst of the lot. (This was Dostoevsky's actual opinion to boot, and reflected how he felt when one of his old friends became a Jesuit in real life.)

    Live Action TV 
  • Shogun depicts corrupt Jesuit priests scheming to colonize Japan for both Portugal and Catholic Church, and also growing rich by monopolizing trade with the remote island nation.


  • Shakespeare appears to take a veiled shot at Jesuits in Macbeth, when after Duncan's murder there's a knock at the door answered by a porter, who plays up as though he's the keeper of the Gate to Hell "welcoming" condemned souls to hell. One of the condemned souls he mentions is an "equivocator" who committed treason and then found that he could not equivocate his way to Heaven. This is a reference to the real life Jesuit practice of "Mental Reservation", which is more commonly called equivocation, and the talk of treason is almost certainly a slam on one particular priest, Henry Garnet, who was convicted of and executed for treason around the same time Shakespeare was writing Macbeth, and had also written a pamphlet in defense of equivocation. See the note for more details. note 
    Porter: Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of hell gate, he should have old turning the key. (Knock.) Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer that hanged himself on th’ expectation of plenty. Come in time! Have napkins enough about you; here you’ll sweat for ’t. (Knock.) Knock, knock! Who’s there, in th’ other devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake yet could not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.

    Video Games 

    Real Life 
  • The "Black Pope" is a derogatory term coined in Protestant European politics during the 16th century referring to the Superior General of the Society of Jesus. Often considered irredeemably evil by those who coined the term in the first place, the "Black Popes" were only as bad as their very human failings. A number were decent people overall, and were even, for their time, pretty much liberal-leaning.
  • The Jesuits' philosophy of casuistry (case-based reasoning) came in for much criticism in its time, including by Catholics like the French philosopher Blaise Pascal (a Jansenist). In particular, they were attacked for arguing that deception (especially under oath) was not always wrong if it saved a life. This resulted from the cases of captured Jesuit missionaries who were forcibly sworn to tell the truth in court by Protestant authorities and then ordered to identify people who had harbored them-knowing that any person named would be put to death, as this was a capital crime. Thomas Sanchez, a famous Jesuit, therefore formulated the doctrine of mental reservation. In its strictest form, the person practicing this might answer "I know not" when asked a question, while internally they said "to tell you." Other philosophers did not accept that it was anything but simple lying. This doctrine was eventually condemned by the Pope after it had become scandalous, and tarred the Jesuits' reputation. Critics such as Pascal also ignored the restrictions Sanchez had placed on its use, attacking a strawman version of it. The wider form of mental reservation, equivocating between words' meanings (for instance answering "I am not a priest" while thinking about some other priest), was still viewed as orthodox afterward. A similar form was saying misleading but technically true things, Catholic saints such as Athanasius of Alexandria having used it to save their lives: Athanasius' followers, according to legend, were asked by Roman soldiers pursuing him who did not know his appearance if they had seen him and they replied "Yes, he is not very far off" when he was in their company at the time. Even now there is still debate in Catholic circles over whether this was lying, or if lies could be justified with cases like that. The stereotype of Jesuits using casuistry to be deceitful is also the origin of the word “Jesuitical”, an archaic insult meaning “sneaky and untrustworthy”.
  • Related to Rizal's novels above: the Jesuits' reputation zigzagged in the Philippines since the 19th century. The Jesuits were indeed affected by the expulsion due to their negative reputation throughout the Spanish Empire, but their return in the 19th century coincided with the emergence of nationalism, liberal values and civil rights. The products of their teaching (most notably alumni of the Ateneo de Manila) have by then emerged as intellectual and military leaders of the Philippine Revolution.
    • Barring some generational gaps, Ateneo de Manila University since the 1960s has also been seen as a springboard for liberal (sometimes even left-leaning) politics—further supported by a) the University's espousal of Catholic social teaching (if not full-on liberation theology); and b) its proximity and institutional cooperation with the secular and activist University of the Philippines-Diliman. Ateneo de Manila (and by extension, the Philippine Jesuits) therefore have the curious reputation of being seen as liberal and more progressive compared to the rest of the Philippine Catholic hierarchy (especially in comparison to the Dominican-run University of Santo Tomas, and the conservative private schools run by Opus Dei).
  • When Herbert Wehner (Social Democrat) accused Franz Josef Strauß (Christian Conservative) of being "like Goebbels" when hearing the word "communist" he added that Goebbels had at least been "jesuistically refined" about it no doubt trying to insult both at the same time, using this trope.
  • Being a patriotic Protestant 17th-century Englishman, Andrew Marvell satirised the Jesuits — so when he died suddenly, almost certainly of natural causes, contemporary gossip naturally suggested that they had got to him.