This is the cover of "The Jesuits: A History From Ignatius to the Present" by Father John W. OíMalley, SJ. The book is reviewed by David Gibson. (CNS)
"The Jesuits: A History From Ignatius to the Present" by Father John W. O'Malley, S.J. A Sheed and Ward book published by Rowman and Littlefield (Lanham, Maryland, 2014). 129 pp., $22.
With the 2013 election of history's first Jesuit pope, interest mounted exponentially in the now-worldwide Society of Jesus that St. Ignatius Loyola, with nine friends, founded in the 16th century.
What Pope Francis' election means for the Jesuits "remains to be seen," writes Jesuit Father John W. O'Malley. But he points out in "The Jesuits" that "having a Jesuit as pope" represents "an eventuality that through the centuries seemed almost unthinkable."
The reasons it virtually was unthinkable are, from one perspective, what Father O'Malley's brief, easy-to-read history of the Jesuits is about. Over the course of time, "myths and misunderstandings about the Jesuits" entered so deeply into the public mind that "they seem impossible to eradicate," he observes.
Histories of the Society of Jesus written over the centuries often reflected a certain "bifurcation." Either the "Jesuits were saints" or they "were devils," according to Father O'Malley. Only about 20 years ago, he notes, did historians begin "approaching the Jesuits in a more evenhanded way, asking the simple and neutral question, 'What were they like?'"