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 Mathias Tanner's Imitatrix

Book 8

Tanner, Mathias, 1630-1692.
Societas Jesu apostolorum imitatrix ...
(Prague: Typis Universitatis Carolo-Ferdinandeae, 1694)

Two years after Tanner’s death another volume of his biographical writings on heroic Jesuits appeared. Ironically, the printer, Vojtech Jiří Koniáš, may have been the father of Antonín Koniáš, the book-burning Jesuit.

A number of artists prepared the engravings in this work, and while some were perhaps less technically skilled than Škréta, the artist of the illustrations in the Societas Jesu usque ad sanguinis et vitae profusionem, the Imitatrix artists frequently create powerful if naively constructed compositions.

Thumbnail image from Mathias Tanner's Imitatrix

Unlike Tanner’s earlier work, the Imitatrix includes glimpses of the less heroic, more day-to-day work of individual Jesuits. A nighttime scene on page 840 captures the spirit of this activity. While city dwellers watch from their lighted windows like playgoers gazing from their box seats, Hieronymus Lopez (c. 1589–1658) rings a bell and reads from a prayer book as a nocturnal procession advances through the streets of a Spanish city, perhaps Valencia. Two well-dressed boys bearing torches flank a man in gentleman’s attire who carries a processional cross as he turns to look at the Jesuit. The lay persons in procession, the attendant Jesuit, and the watching populace are all elements of one of the most important undertakings of the Society during this century. Public processions through urban spaces, often accompanied by acts of contrition (exercita actûs contritionis), not only called attention to the sacrament of penance, but functioned as mobile stages on which the drama of confession and repentance were enacted. These displays also highlighted the sodalities that the Society sponsored, exhibited the skills of the students the Jesuits taught (processions often included mass recitation of pious verses), and drew the wider population into the ambit of Jesuit apostolic activity. Other images of Jesuits stress the solitary, mobile, or reflective aspects of their work, but this illustration places the priest solidly in his urban mission, surrounded by laity and guiding them.

Thumbnail image from Mathias Tanner's Imitatrix

Another engraving on page 578 depicting Jesuit undertakings in a Spanish city shows a more assertive aspect of these urban Jesuit missions. Playing cards tumble into a blazing log fire as Father Rodericus Ninno de Guzman (c. 1571–1626), with the help of two gentlemen, presses forward his reforming project for the city of Toledo, whose walls define the limits of this scene. Guzman’s achievements included the closing of gambling houses, the suppression of vitia insectata (hostile vices, perhaps dueling) and the expulsion of prostitutes from the city. Like the torchlit procession, the public destruction of the physical evidences of vice, often accompanied by the public contrition of its perpetrators, was carefully noted in the reports Jesuits submitted to their superiors, and provided another dramatic stage for the playing out of the triumph of virtue over vice, and for the visible intervention of the Jesuits in the lives of the community.

Click on thumbnail for larger image.

Thumbnail image from Mathias Tanner's ImitatrixIllustration on page 168, depicting Father Petrus Mascarena (c. 1546-1597). In a darkly rendered engraving, Mascarena points heavenward in a curving gesture reminiscent of that of John the Baptist in traditional iconography. High above, an angel holds the victor’s crown of laurels, but the rest of the background is crowded with human bones, some seemingly floating in midair, others arranged in patterns of skulls and femurs suggestive of the assembling of relics in baroque settings such as St. Ursula’s Church in Cologne. Among the bones stands a skeleton holding a scythe, suggesting the inescapable nature of death and the fate that waits Mascarena and his seventeen companions. Unlike other illustrations in the Imitatrix that represent real or imagined events, this engraving presents an allegorical image of the concrete dangers that Jesuits faced.


Thumbnail image from Mathias Tanner's ImitatrixIllustration on page 315, depicting Father Gerogius Tavora (c. 1555-1599) and his Jesuit brethren gathered below a ghostly flag emblazoned with the skull and crossbones symbolizing the power of the plague—this time in Portugal— and perhaps echoing the imagery of the “Two Standards” found in the Spiritual Exercises. Elsewhere Jesuits advance towards a path strewn with bones, suggesting the hardships lying ahead for those who serve others. Tanner’s Jesuits are not only martyrs, but also victimae charitatis: those who sacrifice themselves caring for victims of disease, usually the bubonic plague.


Thumbnail image from Mathias Tanner's ImitatrixIllustration on page 362, depicting Brother Franciscus Moreno (c. 1537-1609). Moreno, despite the early prohibitions against teaching coadjutores temporales to read and write, was literate, and even taught boys.[11c] He is shown at work at a writing table with a quill pen in hand, on the end of which swings a frog. Tormented by an infestation of these creatures, Moreno was aided by an angelic visitor who drove the pests away with a scourge.

Here we also see the barefoot angel in pursuit of the amphibian invasion that calls to mind the plagues of Egypt in Genesis.

[11c] The Sixth Regulum of the Fourteenth General Congregation (1696) of the Society states, “Non sunt in Societate coadjutores temporales in litteris instituendi. Modus conficiendi Institutiones de Candidates et Promovendis ad gradum, de modo idem in Scholis Societatis Iesu." Over time, this restriction was gradually lifted, but it is less clear what the general policy of the Society on this point was in the sixteenth century.

Previous | Home | Next