The modern debate is fuelled by perceptions of human rights and the need to intervene to protect them. In the 17th and 18th Century it was fuelled by explicit religious concerns. The Catholic World was still traumatised by the English King Henry VIII whose split from Rome was not fuelled by a popular uprising like Luther’s Reformation. Henry had gone from being a favoured Son of the Pope to a dangerous enemy of Catholicism. The Pope had awarded him the title of ‘Defender of The Faith’ because of his defence of the Seven Sacraments against Lutheranism. However his decision to declare himself head of the Church in England and his persecution of Catholics and execution of men such as Thomas More had dramatically changed the religious landscape in Europe.
There was much planning and plotting to overthrow Henry and replace him with the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. This ‘regime change’ was to be facilitated by a Spanish Invasion (the Armada), English and Spanish Jesuits were Involved in its preparation. It was because of this that Jesuits in England were seen as particulary dangerous and subversive, they were the ‘Al Qaeda of the 17th and 18th Centuries’ as seen through English Royalist eyes. The ideological underpinning of such a drastic but ultimately unsuccessful action was among other things the writing of a book by Spanish Jesuit – Juan Mariana who published a ‘On the King and the education of a King’. Published 50 years after the death of Henry VIII, and mainly dealing with the duties and virtues of a wise king, Mariana also declared that in an extreme case of tyranny, his subjects may be entitled to overthrow a King and perhaps even execute him. Although this was clearly condemned by Fr General Aquaviva, it was incendiary and regicide was often closely associated to the Society of Jesus by their enemies.
For more information about the political thought of Juan de Mariana - click here to read a biography written by an Austrian Institute of social and political theory, or click here to read a book review of a recently published UK book about Juan de Mariana