Many years ago, The Knife lived in Paris for a short time, attached to one of the hospitals there. It was Eastertime, and I went to confession at the Cathedral of Notre Dame. My French was so-so, and I joined the small queue for confession, available in an amazing 9 languages, from one priest. The lady two in front of me was in for 30 minutes. That is a long time, believe me.
I had to assume that despite appearances, she must have done something complex or terribly bad. Out of the ordinary, sinwise. The next two however were the same, half an hour each. I feared the worst. My own sins were fairly ordinary, I suppose. The priest, speaking in fluent English, went to town, so to speak. Non-catholics have a tendency to think of confession as a therapeutic chat, not unlike a brief and benign episode of psychoanalysis. In fact, in my experience, that rarely happens. It’s a sacrament, it’s unique. On this occasion though I was thoroughly and expertly filleted, as well as gaining absolution (eventually), for what was fairly dull set of sins. It was actually pretty good, beyond the supernatural aspect
That was my first encounter with a Jesuit. I was impressed.
Last week I was in Prague, and went round the Clementinum. This is a complex of academic and church buildings in the heart of Old Prague, which the Jesuits developed from 1556, until they were thrown out – this often happened – in 1773. By this time it had become a famous university, contained a still extraordinary baroque library, and had the quite magnificent Astronomical Tower, which became a real hotbed of astronomical observation and research.
That’s the thing about the Jesuits, they’re not just religious, they’re scientists, soldiers, poets, artists, diplomats, mathematicians, philosophers, historians, linguists, explorers, social activists, astronomers, missionaries, educators, the lot. And they traditionally arouse hostility from all sorts of quarters. When you see the kind of man their founder was, Ignatius Loyola, and his way of thinking, you can begin to understand why. Some of the most vicious critics are the baffled malcontents who give traditionalist catholicism a bad name.
His impact is really quite extraordinary. Within 6 months, this man of whom few people had heard has inspired an absolute torrent of articles, comments, blogs etc, some from the most unlikely sources. Here, for example, is a very brief random selection: 1,2,3,4,5.
When you have a movement this successful, whose identity is nevertheless associated with a pejorative term, and now has a pope who is not in any way afraid to hold back, then as the Chinese might have it, we live in interesting times.