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

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

Thumbnail image from the Ratio studiorum

Book 3

Ratio atque institutio studiorum Societatis Iesu.
(Rome: Collegium Romanum, 1606)

Sometimes inaccurately described as a “curriculum” for Jesuit schools, the Ratio studiorum, as it is generally known, is both more and less than this. More, because the entire culture of Jesuit education is implicitly set forth in the instructions on how teachers should treat students, interact with superiors, and model personal morality. Less, because the Ratio, while identifying the texts to be taught, left the actual work of teaching to the Jesuit instructors—in the lower grades, these were often scholastics, or young men still completing their priestly formation.

Beneath its curricular prescriptions, the flexibility implicit in the Ratio reflects the intentional—and inevitable—autonomy that Jesuit schools and missions scattered across the world enjoyed. Although mastery of the authors listed in the Ratio was an important outcome of the course of study described, boys enrolled in schools following the Ratio also gained Latin compositional and rhetorical skills in a world where this language was still the language of law and theology and a medium of international communication.

The Ratio served as a unifying force in Jesuit culture for almost two centuries, but in the eighteenth century its lack of a developed science curriculum, changing tastes in literature, and a tendency by some Jesuits to avoid any innovation not based on its principles all undermined its popularity, although the work remained the official educational guide of the Society into the nineteenth century. The “spirit” of the Ratio, embodied in its Christian humanism and enlightened approach of teaching, continues to inform Jesuit education today.

The copy displayed here, containing the same text as the 1599 edition, is rich with the symbolism and visual detail already associated with Jesuit art by 1606. Ignatius is the focal point of the title page, holding a book. (In many other portraits of the Founder, he displays a book with the first lines of the Institutes.) Above his head is an earlier form of the monogram of the Society, with a pierced heart instead of the three nails of Christ’s passion that appear on our copy of the Exercises. Below Ignatius is the motto of the Society, Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam (To the Greater Glory of God). Columns with conspicuous marbling frame Ignatius, while some of the other details of the page recall the Renaissance aesthetic evident in the title page of Ludolf’s Vita Christi. The figure of Ignatius himself follows the iconography of the saint in the first century after his death: the steady gaze of the dome-headed Founder suggests authority and a focus on a distant goal. The real Ignatius lived long enough to see his vision of schools extended across Europe and beyond.

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