‘To go to China or Japan...Not to Stay in these Colleges.’ Jesuit Procurators of China and Petitioners for the Indies (1640s and 1690s)
The Society of Jesus was a missionary order since its foundation in 1540. Many of its members chose to join it precisely because as Jesuits, they had the opportunity to go to the farthest and most unknown countries in the world. Jesuits who wished to become missionaries wrote the so-called litterae indipetae, petitions for the Indies. Thousands of these are still preserved in the Roman Archive, unedited, providing access to the desires, dreams, and fantasies – as well as the strategies, problems, and discomforts – of young European Jesuits of the Early modern age. This article considers the different relationships some European Jesuits established with their confreres stationed in China as missionaries when they returned to Europe, through direct contact, correspondence and writings about the missions emerging from the litterae indipetae. It examines the visits of two men as case studies: the return to Europe in the 1640s of the Portuguese procurator Álvaro Semedo (1585-1658) and, by way of a comparison, the visits in Italy of the Italian procurator Filippo Grimaldi (1686-1694) half a century later. On one hand, the procurators had the chance to select people with whom they had directly talked, those who seemed best suited to the missionary life in countries they well knew. On the other, their passage could trigger among the Jesuit candidates desires and vocations to the missions. Each overseas appointment was, in fact, influenced by political factors, the candidates’ family circumstances, as well as the local superiors’ or the General’s opinions. Therefore, procurators were not always successful: because they could not bring with them all the people they wanted, or because their tours did not always obtain the same popularity among the European Jesuits.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.