200 years ago today the Society of Jesus was universally restored. What actually happened today?
Pius VII who had been a prisoner of Napolean had returned to Rome at the end of May. His main task was the religious reconstruction of Europe which was in turmoil and chaos at the fall of the Napoleonic Empire. Many requests and demands had come to him from civil and ecclesiastical leaders for Jesuits, who had been partially restored. The original intention was to universally restore the society on July 31st - the feast of St Ignatius, their founder. However difficulties in the composition of the bull delayed that. The Cardinals consulted were debating about such delicate matters as apportioning the blame for the suppression, how some civil governments would receive the universal restoration of the Jesuits, wether the Societies Institute should be altered and the general tone of the document. It was down to the energy of Cardinal Bartolomeo Pacca that the Bull, Sollicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum, was ready for the Octave of Ignatius' feast - August 7th, 1814.
So today, at the altar of St Ignatius at the Gesu, Pius VII offered the Sacrifice of the Mass. Then in the Chapel of Nobles - and in the presence of a large crowd, overflowing from the small chapel Monsignor Cristaldi read aloud the Bull alongside Pius. The crowd included cardinals, royalty and about one hundred and fifty Jesuits, survivors from the Suppressed Society. Reading it aloud Pius abrogated Clement XIV's bull supressing the Society and commended the Jesuits to " the nobility of princes and temporal lords, and also our venerable brother archbishops and bishops, and others in any seat of honour, this oft mentioned Society of Jesus, and each of its members, and we plead with them and exhort them not only to accept them, not allowing them to be disturbed by anyone, but to receive them kindly and, as is becoming, with charity".
In the bull Pius VII - a Benedictine - stated that this was something that he had earnestly desired since the beginning of his pontificate. After the reading out of the bull, Pius gave the Bull one by one, in a powerfully poignant moment, the aged men who had experienced the pain of exile and suppression, knelt before the Pope. To each the smiling Pius exchanged a few words. Then he returned to the Quirinale amidst cheering crowds. A great irony was the presence in Rome of the two monarchs of Spain, King Charles IV and Queen Maria Luisa who had been expelled by the revolution in their own country. Spain having so efficiently and ruthlessly exiled the Jesuits. They did not attend the ceremony however they visited the Gesu several days later to pay their respects - many Spanish Jesuit gathered to greet them - and the son of the Spanish King who had exiled them, wept.