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July 1997

Rom in Bayern: The Jesuits in Bavaria and the struggle for faith

Roman Catholicism in Bavaria

The Jesuits are called the "soldiers of Christ" and the "shock troops of the Catholic Church" for their committed work as innovative educators and liberal thinkers. Their reputation stems from their zealous efforts during the Catholic Counter-Reformation in the 16th century, although St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) founded the order with very different goals in mind. The exhibition Rom in Bayern, showing at the Bayerisches National Museum until July 20, uses richly colored Renaissance paintings, historical records and religious artifacts — such as hair shirts and the simple, black frock and cap worn by St. Ignatius himself — to trace the 16th-century history of the Societas Jesu from its founding to its work in the Counter-Reformation in Germany. Pope Pius III established the Jesuit order by papal decree on September 27, 1540, as a missionary order. But soon thereafter, the Jesuits began to establish schools and colleges for the education of priests and lay persons. Their system of education was based on the Spiritual Exercises, a month-long cycle of reflection developed by St. Ignatius that remains the basis of the order. In 1517, the Augustinian monk Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses to the door of Wittenberg's cathedral as a protest against vice and corruption in the Catholic Church. Luther's theology snowballed into the Protestant Reformation, which fractured Christianity in Germany and northern Europe. Throughout the 16th century, the Counter-Reformation was the Catholic Church's fight against the spread of Protestantism, and by mid-century the Jesuits took on a new role as defenders of the faith. Bavaria's staunchly Catholic rulers, the Wittelsbacher, played a vital role in strengthening the church in southern Germany, and their support is one of the main reasons that present-day Bavaria remains Catholic. Duke Wilhelm IV was the first to bring the Jesuits to Germany when, in 1550, he sent to Rome for the order's priests to teach at the University of Ingolstadt. Duke Albrecht V later opened a Jesuit college in Munich (now used to house government offices) and in 1580 Duke Wilhelm V began building the adjacent St. Michael's Church (on Neuhauserstraße in the pedestrian zone), which was modeled on the order's mother church in Rome. The exhibition includes architectural drawings and founding charters that chronicle the church's construction and adornment, as well as the establishment of Jesuit seminaries throughout Bavaria. The Counter-Reformation relied heavily on art to spread the main tenets of the church. Paintings of Jesus Christ's passion and crucifixion portrayed the ideal of religious devotion for all Catholics; and works such as the 1593 painting The Assumption (left) by Peter Candid depicted the gulf between heaven and earth that true faith transcends. The Catholic Church is an institution that has adapted to change and challenge throughout its history, and Rom in Bayern addresses the struggle for faith that continues in the church today. The exhibition also commemorates the 400th anniversary of St. Michael's and the life of St. Peter Canisius (1521-97), the German Jesuit saint and scholar known as the Second Apostle of Germany for his staunch opposition to Protestantism. In an age when secularization is the norm and religious vocation is on the decline, the church struggles to keep its message current and relevant to the lives of the faithful. Ultimately, it comes down to educators and clergy such as the Jesuits and individual members of the church to personalize the Catholic message and make the church as vibrant and relevant today as it was in the 16th century.

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