The Monita Secreta (also known as: Secret Instructions of the Jesuits, or the Secret Instructions of the Society of Jesus) was a feigned code of instructions alleged to be addressed by Claudio Acquaviva, the fifth general of the Society of Jesus, to its various superiors, and laying down methods to be adopted for the increase of its power and influence. The document is considered fake by the Jesuits themselves, as well as many of their supporters and opponents.
According to the Monita, every means is to be employed of acquiring wealth for the order, by enticing promising young men to enter it and endow it with their estates; rich widows are to be cajoled and dissuaded from remarriage; every means is to be used for the advancement of Jesuits to bishoprics or other ecclesiastical dignities and to discredit the members of other orders, while the world is to be persuaded that the Society is animated by the purest and least interested motives: the reputation of those who quit it is to be assailed and maligned in every way.
They are considered to be the work of one Jerome Zahorowski, a Pole, who, having been a member of the Society, had been expelled for disciplinary matters in 1613. They were first published in Krakow in 1615, purporting to be a translation from the Spanish, and were printed in the same city in 1614. Various stories were told, however, as to the mode in which these secret instructions were originally discovered; the credit being most commonly assigned to Duke Christian of Brunswick who, having been born in 1599, was a boy when they first saw the light. The place where they were found was variously set down as Paderborn, Prague, Liège, Antwerp, Glatz, and on board a captured East Indiaman.
Attempts were likewise made at various times, as late even as 1783, to excite interest in the work as the result of a new discovery; there was also an undated edition, in the early nineteenth century, which professes to issue from the Propaganda Press, and to be authenticated by the testimonies of various Jesuit authorities. However, they are attributed to a general, “Felix Aconiti”, who is completely unknown in the Annals of the Society of Jesus. The censor who purportedly approves the publication bears the name “Pasquinelli”, while the titles which, it is alleged, should ensure the esteem of men in general for the Society, include all the crimes and abominations of every kind—immoralities, conspiracies, murders, and regicides—which the Jesuits’ bitterest enemies have attributed to it.
Debate about Authenticity
Amongst those who have argued that the Monita are a hoax are Bishop Lipski of Cracow (1616), Father Bernard Duhr in his Jesuiten Fablen, Fra Paolo Sarpi, the historian of the Council of Trent and Antoine Arnauld and the “Nouvelles Ecclesiastiques”; plus anti-Jesuits such as the Jansenists Henri de Saint-Ignace and Blaise Pascal, von Lang, Johann Joseph Ignaz von Döllinger, Friedrich (the author of Janus), Huber, and Reusch, as well as the Protestant historian Johann Karl Ludwig Gieseler. In the British House of Commons, during the debates on Catholic Emancipation, the fraudulent character of the Monita was acknowledged by more than one speaker, while the authorities of the British Museum and likewise the French bibliographer M. Barbier, agree in describing the work as “apocryphal”.
Anglican Bishop of London Henry Compton was strongly opposed to Roman Catholicism, and in 1669 published an English translation of The Secret Instructions.
A defense was offered by Richard Frederick Littledale, opponent to Roman Catholicism, in his article “Jesuits”, in the Encyclopædia Britannica of 1881. He claimed that the work is “both caricature and libel”, but pleaded nevertheless that it was substantially true, since its author, “a shrewd and keen observer”, having noticed how Jesuits actually worked, deduced from his observations the rules by which they were guided.
As against this case, John Gerard, writing in the Catholic Encyclopedia denies the authorship arguing that the official rules and constitutions of the Jesuits contradict these supposed instructions, for they expressly prohibit the acceptance of ecclesiastical dignities by its subjects, unless compelled by papal authority, and from the days of the founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, the Society has impeded such promotion. Gerard also argues that in many cases, genuine private instructions from the Jesuit general to subordinate superiors have fallen into hostile hands, which in many cases are found to give instructions directly contrary to those in the Monita.
James Bernauer draws comparisons between the Monita Secreta to the later no less libelous, discredited anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion.