In 1534, the Spanish knight Inácio de Loyola created the Society of Jesus . Religious order whose main objective was to combat Protestantism through directed religious teaching; the growing influence of the Reformation was increasingly of concern to the Catholic Church and the European aristocracy.
In the beginning, the Jesuits were itinerant preachers; then, they decided to settle and act in the same place for longer periods.
They engaged in the Portuguese colonization process in America, Asia and Africa. Education was one of the main means of preaching by the Company , which founded several schools in Europe and America.
The company’s motto – Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (For the Greatest Glory of God) – shows the intensity of its apostolate. In addition to teaching in colleges (the autonomous secondary course was created by the Jesuits) and universities, the religious devoted themselves to preaching, conducting spiritual retreats, exegetical and theological research (study and interpretation of sacred books), missions, etc.
The Society of Jesus was not a religious order like the others. Their combative members had an almost military organization: they considered themselves soldiers of the Church and felt that they should infiltrate all social and cultural activities, in order to eliminate those who jeopardized the principles of Catholicism.
On September 27, 1540, the Society of Jesus received the official approval of Pope Paul III, in the bull Regimini Militantis ecclesiae . Its members were to exercise a special vow of obedience to the high pontiff and depended directly on it.
The Company was divided into provinces which, grouped according to geographic and linguistic criteria, formed assistance . The superiors of each province governed all the houses ; these had their own superior, who in schools was called rector . The supreme power of the company belonged to the Superior General elected by the General Congregation, formed by the delegates from the different provinces.
The formation of Jesuits includes studies of religion, languages, humanities, laws and medicine. In addition to his intense activity in the Inquisition and in the fight against Protestantism – especially in Italy and Spain -, the main task of the religious was to evangelize the indigenous people of the newly discovered regions.
Despite being founded by a Spaniard, the Companhia de Jesus played an important role in Portugal and, consequently, in the Portuguese colonies, mainly in Brazil. Both in the Portuguese metropolis and in its American colony, the Companhia de Jesus was responsible for the educational system.
In Spanish America , the performance of the Jesuits was also remarkable, especially in the missions ( reducciones ) they founded in the regions of present-day Paraguay and the current Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul (Seven Peoples of the Missions).
The most famous Spanish clerics in the defense of natives within Spanish America were the Dominican friars Bartolomé de Las Casas and Antonio de Montesinos, known for their clashes with the Spanish Crown in defense of non-enslavement and the preservation of Amerindian life.