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Claudio Acquaviva: Wikis


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Claudio Acquaviva, S.J.

Claudio Acquaviva (September 14, 1543 - January 31, 1615) was an Italian Jesuit priest elected the 5th Superior General of the Society of Jesus. Jesuit membership increased from 5,000 to 13,000 during his office.




Early life

Claudio Acquaviva was born at Atri, Abruzzo, the youngest son of nobleman Giovanni Antonio Donato d'Aragona, the Duke of Atri. After initial studies of humanities (Latin, Greek and Hebrew) and Mathematics, he studied Jurisprudence in Perugia, and then he was appointed as Papal Chamberlain by Pope Pius IV.

First contacts with Jesuits

He had heard of the Society of Jesus through his friendship with Francis Borgia and Juan de Polanco. He was particularly impressed by the works of the Early Companions during the Plague in 1566 and decided to join the Order in 1567. With the blessing of Pius V he asked the then Superior General, Francis Borgia, to be admitted to the noviceship. After completing his studies, he was very soon given positions of important responsibility, his administrative gifts marking him out for the highest posts. He soon became the Provincial superior of Naples and then of Rome; and during this office he offered to join the Jesuit mission to England that set out under Robert Parsons in the spring of 1580.

General Congregation IV

Upon the death of Everard Mercurian on August 1, 1580, the Fourth General Congregation was called for February 7, 1581. Acquaviva was elected the next Superior General, being then only thirty-seven years old, to the great surprise of Gregory XIII. However, the extraordinary sense of governance he displayed - in particular when his leadership was questioned -, the continuous apostolic vitality of the Jesuits as well as the regular increase of membership that came to the Society during his long generalate, abundantly justified the votes of the electors.

Achievements as General

In his first letter On the happy increase of the Society (July 25, 1581), he treats of the necessary qualifications for superiors, and points out that government should be directed not by the maxims of human wisdom but by those of supernatural prudence (fortiter in re, suaviter in modo!). He successfully quelled a revolt among the Spanish Jesuits, which was supported by Philip II, and he made use in this matter of Parsons. In a very rare case of the convocation of a General Congregation being imposed on a Superior General (GC V, of 1593) Aquaviva's ways or working were forcefully challenged, but his openness and genuine humility won him the Delegates' hearts and he came out of the ordeal completely vindicated. A more difficult task was the management of Sixtus V, who was hostile to the Society. By consummate tact and boldness Acquaviva succeeded in playing the king against the pope, and Sixtus against Philip. For prudential reasons, he silenced Juan de Mariana, whose doctrine on tyrannicide had produced deep indignation in France; and he also appears to have discountenanced the action of the French Jesuits in favour of the League, and was thus able to secure solid advantages when Henry IV. overcame the confederacy.

During his period as General, Jesuit Missions were set up in Paraguay, and he promoted the Jesuit Missions situated throughout Europe.

The Ratio Studiorum

To him is due the promulgation of the Ratio atque institutio studiorum (1586) summing up years of experience in the field of education and marshalling them into a 'Jesuit system of education'. But the Dominicans denounced it to the Inquisition, and it was condemned both in Spain and in Rome, on account of some opinions concerning the Thomist doctrines of the divine physical premotion in secondary causes and predestination. The incriminated chapters were withdrawn in the edition of 1591. In the fierce disputes that arose between the Jesuit theologians and the Dominicans on the subject of grace, Acquaviva managed, under Clement VIII and Paul V, to save his party from a condemnation that at one time seemed probable.

Claudio Acquaviva died at Rome in 1615, leaving the Society numbering 13,000 members in 550 houses and 15 provinces. The subsequent influence exercised by the Jesuits, in their golden age, was largely due to the far-seeing policy of Acquaviva, who is undoubtedly one of the greatest Superior Generals that have governed the Society.

Preceded by
Everard Mercurian
Superior General of the Society of Jesus
Succeeded by
Mutio Vitelleschi



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