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Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Moon and the Sun and the Jesuits

My latest book from the library is by Vonda McIntyre - The Moon and the Sun - which won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1997. Ursula K. Le Guin said of it .... The finest alternate history ever, lighthearted and wise — a gorgeous visit to the court of the Sun King, a marvelous fireworks illumination of human history, human nature, and the nature of the people who live in the sea — a luminous, radiant novel.

Here's the short review at Amazon ...

In this rich and engrossing tale, Vonda N. McIntyre proves once again that her plotting and mastery of language are among the best in the business. The Moon and the Sun, which won the 1997 Nebula Award for best novel of the year, is the story of Marie-Josèphe, a young lady in the court of Louis XIV. When her brother Yves returns from a naturalist voyage with two sea monsters (one live, one dead), Marie-Josèphe is caught up in a battle of wills involving the fate of the living creature. The king intends to test whether the sea monster holds the secrets of immortality, but Marie-Josèphe knows the creature to be an intelligent, lonely being who yearns only to be set free. In a monumental test of the limits of patience and love, Marie-Josèphe defies the will of the king, her brother, and the pope in defense of what she knows is right, at any cost. McIntyre's atmospheric prose envelops the reader in a fully realized world--sights, smells, and sounds are described in great detail. The author completely represents the Sun King's court at Versailles--her research for the book must have been quite extensive. The blend of history, science, and fantasy makes for a book you will want to gulp down.

I'm just at the beginning of the book so far, but it's pretty good. I find this time of history in France interesting after reading The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask and one of the more interesting things about the novel was the mention of the Jesuits - the main character and her Jesuit brother have come to Paris from the island of Martinique, in the Caribbean.

In real life, just a little later than when the novel's story takes place, the Jesuits of a mission plantation based in Martinique were sued in a Paris court, leading to the suppression of the Society of Jesus in France. A ship carrying cargo from the Jesuit plantation was sunk by the British and the plantation went bankrupt, unable to pay its creditors. The creditors took the Society to court in Paris and won, but the Jesuits appealed the verdict, and that's when everything went terribly south ......

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Suppression of the Society of Jesus - Wikipedia

[...] The Fathers, on the advice of their lawyers, appealed to the Parlement of Paris. This turned out to be an imprudent step. For not only did the Parlement support the lower court, May 8, 1761, but having once gotten the case into its hands, the Jesuits' enemies in that assembly determined to strike a blow at the Order.

Enemies of every sort combined. The Jansenists were numerous among the enemies of the orthodox party. The Sorbonne joined the Gallicans, the Philosophes, and the Encyclopédistes. Louis XV was weak; his wife and children were in favor of the Jesuits; his able first minister, the Duc de Choiseul, played into the hands of the Parlement, and the royal mistress, Madame de Pompadour, to whom the Jesuits had refused absolution, for she was living in sin with the King of France, was a determined opponent. The determination of the Parlement of Paris in time bore down all opposition.

The attack on the Jesuits was opened by the Jansenist sympathizer, the Abbé Chauvelin, April 17, 1762, who denounced the Constitution of the Jesuits, which was publicly examined and exposed in a hostile press. The Parlement issued its Extraits des assertions assembled from passages from Jesuit theologians and canonists, in which they were alleged to teach every sort of immorality and error. On August 6, 1762, the final arrêt was issued condemning the Society to extinction, but the king's intervention brought eight months' delay and meantime a compromise was suggested by the Court. If the French Jesuits would separate from the order, under a French vicar, with French customs, as with the Gallican church, the Crown would still protect them. In spite of the dangers of refusal the Jesuits would not consent. On April 1, 1763 the colleges were closed, and by a further arrêt of March 9, 1764, the Jesuits were required to renounce their vows under pain of banishment. At the end of November 1764, the king signed an edict dissolving the Society throughout his dominions, for they were still protected by some provincial parlements, as in Franche-Comté, Alsace, and Artois. But in the draft of the edict, he canceled numerous clauses that implied that the Society was guilty, and writing to Choiseul, he concluded "If I adopt the advice of others for the peace of my realm, you must make the changes I propose, or I will do nothing. I say no more, lest I should say too much."

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I was interested to read in John O'Malley's book, The First Jesuits, that even in the time of Ignatius, the Jesuits were not really welcomed in France. Here's a little of what he writes ......

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Besides local skirmishes with other Catholics over issues like frequent Communion or the opening and closing of schools, the Jesuits were involved in conflicts of wider import. Few were more shocking to the members of the Society or deemed by them potentially more dangerous than the active opposition they encountered in Paris in 1554 ..... Ignatius had sent a colony of young Jesuits to study at the University of Paris in the spring of 1540 ..... For the first decade of their presence in the capital, the Jesuits suffered a number of vicissitudes in that disturbed political and religious atmosphere but were able to pursue their studies and carry on a modest ministry .....

To take possession of real property ... the Jesuits needed official admission as a body into the kingdom, the droit de naturalisation. It was over this issue that the storm broke against them ..... When Bishop du Bellay took a public stand against the Society, the Parlement and the Faculty followed suit. On 1 December 1554, the theologians published their condemnations, which to a large extent repeated the objections raised by du Bellay -- the name of the Society was arrogant; the Jesuits interpreted the three vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience in an inadmissible way; they had cast off all the usages of religious life; their privileges infringed on the pastoral rights of bishops, pastors of parishes, universities and other religious orders; and similar objections. The document concluded: "This Society appears to be a danger to the Faith, a disturber of the peace of the church, destructive of monastic life, and destined to cause havoc rather than edification." .....

In a letter from Rome about a month later, in late January 1555, Ignatius reduced the arguments against the Society to two -- its name and the number of its privileges from the Holy See. But political, professional, and religious rivalries had won the condemnation its support and brought into the open many Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and others who upon its promulgation cried that Jesuits should be beaten out of France with sticks and clubs. Placards against them appeared on churches, and other buildings all over Paris, and Jesuits were denounced from the pulpit ...

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Yikes!

If you're interested, you can read an excerpt from The Moon and the Sun at Vonda McIntyre's site here.


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