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 7

Tanner, Mathias, 1630-1692.
Societas Jesu usque ad sanguinis et vitae profusionem ...
(Prague: Typis Universitatis Carolo-Ferdinandeae per Joannem Nicolaum Hampel factorem, 1675)

Tanner, for six years the rector of the Prague University, produced in this volume the striking visual record of the deeds and experiences of the missionary Society of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This ambitious project portrays the martyrdoms of countless Jesuits at the hands of infidels and heretics, but also through its detailed illustrations by the artist Karel Škréta (1610–1675) and the engraver Melchior Küsel (1626–1683) and its texts, it reveals how seventeenth-century Jesuits saw themselves and how they wished to understand their own mission. Tanner’s work was probably intended for the edification of laypersons (it was translated into German) and also as a didactic work aimed at young men intending to become Jesuits, as well as for Jesuits themselves.

If the Imago primi saeculi captures the apogee of Jesuit didactic and literary achievement in elegant form, Tanner’s work, published only three decades later, conveys the accomplishments, both material and spiritual, of the Society in a turbulent world where rhetorical skills and emblematic refinement were complemented by physical courage, sacrifice, and religious conviction. As the title suggests, Societas Jesu usque ad sanguinis et vitae profusionem is an account of the spilling of blood and loss of life, but it is not a book describing defeat or setbacks. The deaths of Jesuits, rendered frequently in graphic terms, are triumphs for the Society and the Faith and are intended to be celebrated and emulated.

Thumbnail image from Mathias Tanner The garden pictured on page 207 is a metaphorical rendering of this position. The superscription translated reads, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians” (Sanguinis martyrorum semen Christianiorum), meaning that the sacrifices of the Jesuits portrayed here, far from denoting failure, sustain and strengthen the Faith and inspire new conversions. This spiritual “garden,” ringed by symbols of Africa, is sprouting crosses as angelic attendants water it with Jesuit blood (note the IHS monogram appearing on the blood flowing onto the soil of the garden). Crosses are blossoming on the garden’s trees and even issuing from the arbor that shelters the apotheosis of the Society, who wears a biretta and lifts aloft a book—symbol of the knowledge, media of communication, and discipline characteristic of Jesuit formation.

Thumbnail image from Mathias Tanner On page 171 another aspect of Tanner’s narrative is evident: in this series of dramas featuring the heroism of Jesuits, there are also villains. Here, in an incident that took place in 1570, heartless Calvinist mariners cast Jesuits, among them Father Ignatius Azvedius, to their deaths in the ocean near Brazil, an act of odium fidei (hatred of the Faith) that contrasts with the steadfast devotion and faithful confidence of the martyred Jesuits. The forty Jesuit martyrs bob in the Atlantic waves: one holds a rosary aloft as he sinks; another clutches a cross as he is tossed from a single-masted sailing ship. Our attention is drawn to the Jesuits’ hands, reaching upward out of the water in supplication, slightly outspread as the victims fall toward the water, or with an index finger pointing heavenward, whither the soul of each martyr will soon ascend.

While in Tanner’s world the triumph of the Faith is inevitable, the narratives of the trials of the faithful are drawn with chiaroscuro contrasts through the inclusion of the pagan “savage,” the faithless apostate or cruel heretic. These darker figures in Societas Jesu sanguinis et vitae reveal the limits of baroque Jesuit openness to other cultures. When confronted with hostility and violence, or even merely rejection of its message, the Society could react with equal hostility. Baroque Jesuits created countless books; a few of them, such as the Bohemian Antonín Koniáš (1691–1760), burned thousands.

Thumbnail image from Mathias TannerThe deaths of the Transylvanian Jesuit Stephanus Pongrácz (1583–1619) and the Polish Melchior Grodecki (1584–1619) on page 88 are among the most renowned Catholic martyrdoms ever to occur in Eastern Europe. Along with the Croatian Father Marcus Krizin (1588–1619), these two Jesuits were sent to Košice in heavily Calvinist northeastern Hungary, where they were captured, tortured, and killed. The engraving on page 88 shows a torturer at work in a dungeon wearing what is intended to be an exotic Hungarian costume, thereby casting the Calvinist opponents of the Society in a role not very different from that of the “infidel” Turk: an alien and gratuitously cruel figure contrasted with the humanity and vulnerability of the suffering Jesuit, whose unclothed and outstretched body appears almost Christlike. A curious detail is the hand of an unseen tormentor that reaches from beyond the frame of the illustration to deliver a blow to the fallen Jesuit. All three of the Jesuit martyrs of Košice were canonized in 1995.

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Thumbnail image from Mathias TannerIllustration on page 66, depicting the hanging of Father Henricius Garnettus (Henry Garnet) (c. 1553-1606) in London on May 3, 1606.



Thumbnail image from Mathias TannerIllustration on page 117, depicting the martyrdom of Father Thomas Hollandus (Holland) (1600-1642). Hollandus was drawn and quartered in Tyburn, England, on December 12, 1642.



Thumbnail image from Mathias TannerIllustration on page 174, depicting the drowning of Father Petrus Diaz and his companions at the hands of a Protestant soldier while en route to Brazil in 1571.



Thumbnail image from Mathias TannerIllustration on page 255, which depicts two priests, Father Georgius Carvalhal (c. 1546-1592) and Josephus Furlanettus (Forlanetti) (c. 1546-1593), silently confronting one another. Amid the many scenes of overt violence, this engraving strikes a note of ominous quiet. Each holds a large chalice from which a curling serpent is emerging. Behind them the treeless landscape emphasizes the priests’ isolation. Carvalhal, a Portuguese and Furlanettus, a Venetian, died while missioning in Japan. Tanner’s narrative attributes both their deaths to poisoning.



Thumbnail image from Mathias TannerIllustration on page 288, depicting the beheading of Augustine Ota in Japan on August 10, 1622.



Thumbnail image from Mathias TannerIllustration on page 313, depicting Father Didacus Carvallius (Carvalho) being executed by submersion in a frozen lake in Japan on February 22, 1624.



Thumbnail image from Mathias TannerIllustration on page 333, depicting the martyrdom of Michael Nacascima by scalding in boiling water in Japan on December 25, 1628.



Thumbnail image from Mathias TannerIllustration on page 342, which depicts a small crowd of vicious “infidels” surrounding Father Ignatius Fialho. Missioning in the Mogul empire, the biretta-wearing priest, cross in hand, is about to be cut down with swords as he preaches to a group of turbaned Muslims. The expressions of the killers in their ferocity and bestiality call to mind the faces of Christ’s tormentors in the devotional art of this and previous centuries. 


Thumbnail image from Mathias TannerIllustration on page 351, depicting the martyrdom of a Jesuit in Japan by hanging upside down in 1633.



Thumbnail image from Mathias TannerIllustration on page 385, depicting the martyrdom of Father Antonius Sociro in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1637. He was repeatedly stabbed with lances for refusing to worship a local deity.



Thumbnail image from Mathias TannerIllustration on page 433, depicting the persecutions suffered by the Society in the Americas, one of four such illustrations, one for each continent. The apotheosis of the Society stands in a tropical setting on a large anvil holding a ring set with a dark diamond, symbolizing marriage to the Lord, and a book.  Meanwhile an unholy crowd of stout and bat-winged implike creatures wearing vaguely native American headdresses hammer on diamond pyramids that they feed to monstrous hybrids and to a recognizable alligator circling the anvil.[11a] The subscription proclaims “The Society of JESUS, in the midst of American persecutions, endures for the sake of the precious adamant [diamond] ring of GOD” (Societas IESU inter Americae persecutiones in pretiosum Adamantem annuli DEI duratur), while the verse unfurled by putti above, permanent immobiles vitae perennis gratia, is taken from the Ambrosian Rite of the mass and alludes to the steadfastness of those facing martyrdom.[11b]

One long-haired figure of indeterminate gender wearing a feather skirt rushes towards the anvil (which may also be regarded as an altar), while an evil-looking imp blows on the forge fires to raise the flames intended to melt the diamonds. Danger seems to threaten everywhere, but the figure of the Society remains calm and confident, for every trial only can end in the triumph of the Faith.

[11a] The feeding of these diamonds (which symbolize the faithful of the Church) to monsters is an allusion to Matthew 6:7: "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you." Jorge Cañizares-Esguerra kindly provided this reference and the one for footnote 15.

[11b] Ambroisani III, De Sanctis Martyribus. 19-20. 

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