St. Ignatius Loyola, from the Ratio Studiorum (1606)

SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS
Books Illustrating the First Two Centuries
of Contemplation and Action of the Society of Jesus

 
Thumbnail image from the Imago primi saeculi

Book 5

Imago primi saeculi Societatis Iesu a Prouincia Flandro-Belgica euisdem Societatis repreasentata.
(Antwerp: Ex officina Plantiniana Balthasaris Moreti, 1640)

In 1640 the Society of Jesus was a century old. To commemorate this milestone and to call attention to the progress and successes of the Society, the Jesuit press in Antwerp, perhaps the best known and most influential of all the Society’s presses, produced a lavish (and some, including Pope Urban VIII, said vainglorious) volume combining history, poetry, and emblematics that set forth the Society’s accomplishments, goals, and ideals. The Imago, a book intended for the edification of both Jesuits and laypersons, combines sophisticated Latin and Greek poetry and prose with engravings intended to instruct and inspire. The work is organized around several “postures” of the evolving Society: being born (nascens)—with a horoscope cast on its birthday, growing (crescens), laboring (agens), suffering (patiens), and ultimately honored (honorata), thus casting the Society in the role of a living person, one that emulates in its actions and goals the divine Person of the Savior.

The illustrations, in some cases masterworks of the engraver’s art, combine realism, appreciation of contemporary technology, classical allusion, and sometimes arcane symbolism to convey the accomplishments and objectives of the ever-active Society.

Thumbnail image from the Imago primi saeculi

Page 321 shows a muscular putto (perhaps suggesting the robust youths who attended Jesuit schools) poised on a cloud, manipulating screws and gears to elevate the earth, which hangs like a watch or pendant from a cable. The caption, an echo of the famous remark of Archimedes, “Give me a place to stand on and I can move the earth” (Δος μοι που οτω και κινω την γην[10]), declares, “Give him a place to fix his foot, and he shall move the earth” (Fac pedem figat, & terram movebit). The rising globe, drawn by constantly turning machinery, reinforces the pun on the word conversio, which can mean both “a complete turn” (of the pulleys and gears) and “conversion.” In one vision, mechanics, baroque ornamentation, apostolic zeal, and the world scope of the Society combine to create an arresting image of purposeful change.

Thumbnail image from the Imago primi saeculi

Archimedes returns on page 718 in the apocryphal story of the scientist defeating an enemy fleet attacking the Sicilian city of Siracusa by directing the rays of the sun onto the ships, which then burst into flames. The illustration shows Archimedes at the city’s harbor performing this wonder, but the interpretation here leads us to the Founder of the Society: Ignatius è cathedra divini amoris igne concionem inflammat—Caelestibus armis eminus expugnat (Ignatius from the throne of divine love sets aflame his hearers with fire—From a distance by means of heavenly arms he wins the victory).

Thumbnail image from the Imago primi saeculi

In the Imago the Society not only turns loyally like a sunflower toward the sun of papal authority, but is also on occasion portrayed as the sun itself. In the engraving on page 565, a quartet of archers in fools’ costumes vainly attempt to attack the sun, but their arrows only turn back to fall against them. The superscription proclaims, “In vain do those jealous of the Society attack it” (Societas frustrà oppugnatur ab invidis), and below we read, “No arrow reaches the sun” (Solem nulla sagitta ferit). In this instance the message conveyed elsewhere in the Imago of how the Society is made stronger by blows is turned in a new direction: instead, it is the attackers of the Society—the word invidis suggests these are not pagans or heretics but Catholic rivals (perhaps the Franciscans or Dominicans?)—who are made to feel the force of their own blows. And in the exact center of this emblem a foolish archer is already cringing as an arrow descends directly onto his head.

Thumbnail image from the Imago primi saeculi

Animals abound in the Imago. An ancient myth held that the she-bear after delivering her young licked her shapeless cubs into the form of small quadrupeds that then could grow to ursine adulthood. Playing on the double meaning of lingua (tongue), the artist of this emblem on page 465 depicts a robust mother bear shaping her still podlike offspring with her tongue, an act that the superscription identifies as “the work of ordered clergy” (concionatorum munus). This message is reinforced by the command below the illustration: “Shape ye minds with your tongue” (Vos mentes fingite lingua).

Jesuit teachers of rhetoric were therefore not merely teaching a practical skill when they instructed youths in the art of speaking, but were also promoting morals. The verse accompanying this picture explains:

Cernis? En cultu rediere mores:
Efferos turbae posuere ritus:
Pulchra virtutis facies renidet
Vindice linguâ

(Do you see? Morals have been restored through cultivation: ceremony holds the savage elements of the crowd in check: the fair visage of virtue shines forth with language as its champion.)

The Imago, a rich expression of Jesuit baroque sensibility perhaps best compared to a work of architecture, was never equaled among the hundreds of historical or pedagogical titles produced by Jesuit presses in the next 133 years, and remains the definitive expression of the Jesuits’ own vision of their mission and the world they hoped to transform.


Click on thumbnail for larger image.

Thumbnail image from the Imago primi saeculiIllustration on page 326, depicting a globe divided into the two hemispheres and the arrow-armed child god of Love, Eros, facing us between them. The superscription points to the broadly defined “Indic” missions of the Society, some of whose names appear on the hemispheres, while below appears the legend: “One world is not enough.” The Latin poem that follows argues that Hercules and Alexander did not go as far as the Society in their travels and conquests. [10a] This motto therefore points to the ability of the Jesuits to “conquer” the world for Christ (with vows, if not always with battles, as the poem suggests), and to the capacity of the Society to conquer new worlds, should they be found. We may also see the motto as suggesting that our own, terrestrial world, is not enough, and that we should aspire rather to the heavenly one. Critics of the Society, however, saw this motto as an expression of unseemly hubris.

Thumbnail image from the Imago primi saeculiIllustration on page 717, which depicts a muscular blacksmith clad in slippers striking a hot tongue of metal above the text “Fire is not enough” (Solus non sufficit ignis—echoing the motto “unus not sufficit orbis”).[10b] Here the relationship among the Society’s “patriarch” Ignatius (represented by “fire” or ignis), his first companion, Peter Favre (1506-1546), and Francis Xavier, is expressed through the metaphor of human-directed force following upon the softening power of fire. “The craftsman did not melt the iron by fire alone/ It was not simply one effort” (Non solo ferum molliit igne faber/ Non labor unus erat). The smith (faber, a creator or shaper, also the Latin rendering of Favre, who was also known as the “Hammer of the Heretics”) represents the personality of Favre, which despite his usually sunny disposition could batter away at resistance to conversion.

Thumbnail image from the Imago primi saeculiIllustration on page 937. Baroque Jesuits were leading astronomers, and, as the Imago demonstrates, they were also deeply interested in astrology. Father Hieronymus Drexel (1581-1638), seeking to combat the "superstitious" use of horoscopes by laypersons, even composed a "Christian Zodiac." [10c] Knowledge of astrology was embedded in the classical curriculum of the Ratio and referenced in the art and book production of the seventeenth-century Society. The leonine figure on page 937 combines this interest in astrology and the Jesuit passion for cartography with an assessment of political realities, the link provided by the subscription reading, "The sun is in the Belgian Lion" (Sol in Leone Belgico). The lion, conforming to the heraldic posture of "passant," encompasses a map of the Low Countries, with west toward the top of the page. The feast day for St. Ignatius is July 31, which was also the day of his death, and therefore falls within the zodiacal sign of Leo (the Clenoneum sidus in line one of the accompanying verse). The roaring lion (in a rampant posture) is also the heraldic symbol of Brabant, which here forms the lion's haunches and was a hereditary territory of the Hapsburgs, the great champions of Catholicism, and on many occasions generous patrons and defenders of the Jesuits.

This geographical reference reflects the origins of the Imago, the Flandro-Belgic Province of the Society, and also the pivotal importance of the region to the program of the Counter-Reformation. The seven Calvinist United Provinces in the north of the region constituted one of the regions of stiffest resistance to the Society's efforts to restore Catholicism to Northwestern Europe. The southern half of the province, modern day Belgium, remained staunchly Catholic, and its Jesuit schools and houses served as launching pads for forays into the British Isles. Ignatius himself, states the verse accompanying the lion/map, turning his gaze to Belgium, found old friends and might expect the erection of new churches: Quin Pater [Ignatius]... Cum flectans oculos veteres respexit amicos Optavit novos, Belgica templa, Lares. Above the map is a section of the Zodiac, and in the constellation Leo can be seen the sun.


[10] T. L. Heath, ed., The Works of Archimedes with the Method of Archimedes (New York: Dover Publications, 1953), xix.

[10a] Alexander the Great is the original object of the verse, which reads in its entirety, Unus [Pelleao iuveni] non sufficit orbis. Legend holds that Alexander, when he reached the frontier of India (cf. “petit Indias”), wept because he had no new worlds to conquer. Plutarch Moralia, 466, 4.

[10b] The authors of the Imago made repeated use of the notion of “one is not enough,” echoing the sound and scansion of the original verse when possible. Thus the commentary on an emblem on page 199, praising the renewal of vows within the Society proclaims, "Nexus non sufficit unus” (One vow is not enough).

[10c] Zodiacvs Christianus locupletaqnus: seu Signa XII diuiniae Praedestinationis; Totidem symbolis explicata Ab Hieremia Drexelio è Societate Jesu (Munich: Formis Annae Bergiae, cum fi. Sadler, 1622).

Previous | Home | Next