In the last few decades the general outlook concerning the Society of Jesus in the early modern period has dramatically changed. The old liberal cliché, which held the Jesuits responsible for thwarting the rise of free thought and of modern scientific culture, has been replaced by a renewed attention to the Society’s complex strategy in dealing with the Enlightenment. During the 18th century two different reactions can be singled out: a conservative attitude, engaged in an intransigent defense of catholic orthodoxy against heretics and free-thinkers, and a more open-minded approach, whi- ch strove to absorb philosophical, theological and epistemological novelties into the main stream of the catholic tradition. This effort to christianize the Enlightenment, partly by sharing the century’s sociable tendencies, survived even after the suppression of the Jesuit Order by the Pope in 1773. The long interval between this event and the Society’s restoration (1793-1814) and the subsequent debate over the nature of the new Society as compared to the old, clearly reflected the political and cultural challenge posed by the French revolution and the Napoleonic régimes.
Keywords: Society of Jesus, enlightenment, cultural strategies, anti-jesuit black legend, education of the élites, the Restauration.