Jesuits in Law. Witchcraft, Sanctity, and Rites (1500s-1700s)

When and Where

Friday, March 17, 2023 10:00 am to 12:00 pm


Michela Catto
Franco Motta
Eleonora Rai


The pairing of Jesuits with the law or judicial practices represents a constant in the history of the Society of Jesus. This joint presentation aims to shed light on both the Jesuit contribution to di-verse fields of Early Modern law and the Church’s legal investigations into Jesuit practices and moralities, referring to three case studies. First, Franco Motta will uncover the Jesuit contribution to witchcraft persecution in the 1500s–1600s, stressing a change in attitude connected with the emergence of moral theology as a discipline in itself as well as the attempt to assert confession as having a monopoly on judgment at the expense of judicial practice. Second, Michela Catto will explore how the Jesuits were put under judicial investigation during the controversy of the Chinese Rites, and specifically haunted by the question of what they taught to Chinese converts who went on practicing their traditional rites. Finally, Eleonora Rai will deal with the little-known yet key role Jesuits played in shaping Early Modern canonization law, paying particular attention to Virgilio Cepari’s Directorium canonizationis (1605). 

Michela Catto teaches Early Modern History at the University of Turin. Her interests lie in reli-gious-cultural history and Jesuit studies in the Early Modern era. She is the author of La Compagnia divisa. Il dissenso nell’ordine gesuitico tra ’500 e ’600 (Brescia, 2009, 2022; Ciudad de México, 2016). Her numerous articles and essays include: Chinese Atheism in the Mémoires de Trévoux: a cultural project against the existence of a perfect atheism, «Journal of Jesuit Stud-ies», 6 (2019) and Stars, dragons and luminous crosses in the Chinese sky. The Jesuit mission’s connected perspective on the supernatural in China (17th century), in Giuseppe Capriotti, Pierre-Antoine Fabre and Sabina Pavone (eds.), and Eloquent Images: Evangelisation, Conversion and Propaganda in the Global World of the Early Modern Period, Leuven, Leuven University Press, 2022.

Franco Motta is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Turin. His research mainly revolves around the areas of political theology, sanctity, and Early Modern science in its relations with Christianity. His publications include: Bellarmino: Una teologia politica della Controriforma (Brescia: Morcelliana, 2005). Recently, Motta has also edited a special issue of the Journal of Jesuit Studies on Jesuit sanctity, and a special issue of the Journal of Early Modern Christianity on the 1622 canonizations (with E. Rai).

Eleonora Rai is currently a research associate at KU Leuven (Belgium) but will take up a posi-tion as a researcher at the University of Turin in January 2023 with her project “Jesuitization”, aiming at studying the Jesuit contribution to Early Modern canonization law and the develop-ment of aristocratic, gendered hagiographical models in Early Modern Italy. She is also interest-ed in the link between sanctity and theology, the simulation of sanctity, and abuse in the confes-sional. Among her publications, see the book La Santa Parola (2013). Her next book, Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door. The power of free will and the price of sanctity: Leonard Lessius (1500s–1900s), is forthcoming (Brepols 2023).

The Jesuit History Research Group is a JHI Working Group.

Registration required. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting online.



Jackman Humanities Institute