Saint Ignatius of Loyola - John Pollen

The Work of Education

Quite out of the common as was the mass of work thrown upon the first Jesuits, when they went out to labour in different countries, the class of work, so far as we have at present seen, was what we might have expected. From the first, Ignatius and his colleagues had devoted themselves to familiar conferences on religious matters, to catechizing, to preaching and giving The Spiritual Exercises. But as soon as they had grown into a body, they at once found themselves called upon to strike out in a new direction, to devote a very large part of their time and talents to the work of education pure and simple. Teaching the elements of the Faith to children and the uneducated was one thing; giving instruction in Latin and Greek classics was another.

Ignatius, though not absolutely from the first, had quite early recognized that in his own century at least, one had to be well educated if one was to preach Christ effectively and to all the world. He had devoted himself laboriously to educating himself and he had chosen his followers from among the university class; but he had not so far looked to the carrying on of the work of higher education by his Society. There is small wonder that the Saint should have thus insisted upon a high degree of education, while he was living in a Catholic university atmosphere, where excellent recruits could be found with little difficulty. But with the very rapid increase of work, he soon saw that the need for labourers was unexpectedly great; then that it was not so essential that absolutely everyone should reach the educational level of a doctor in divinity; and thirdly, that a large portion of his recruits were too young to allow of their being quickly ordained and sent out to work.

This led to two developments. Ignatius decided to admit into the Order priests of less striking parts, who were fully capable of ordinary work in churches, in houses of the professed and in colleges. Such priests he called spiritual coadjutors or helpers, because they were to help the Professed Fathers and leave them more free for missions at the Pope's order, for preaching and the like. Secondly, for the young men's sake the Founder undertook the work of educating them, not only in matters spiritual, but also in litteris humanioribus.

The idea of education came gradually. In the first meetings of which we have record (March to June, 1539) there is no mention at all of the subject; it does not seem to have been contemplated.

In the bull which cited and sanctioned the first formula of the Institute, September 27, 1540, we read that the Society "may have a college or colleges in Universities" for the education of students. Among the students some, it seems, would be postulants, some novices, some scholastics and priests, already admitted to their first vows.

In one of the preliminary meetings, held on March 4, 1541, for the elaboration of the first formula into "constitutions," we see that the colleges so far contemplated were, as we should say, "halls of residence," with Jesuit presidents and staffs. The students, as those from other colleges of that day, would attend the university lectures. "No estudios ni lec ciones en la Compania"  are the clear words of the report.

But experience soon showed that the needs of the day called for further developments. When Brouet and Salmeron were sent to Ireland, their instructions (of 1540) ordered; them to open "grammar schools." Houses, halls or colleges of the class described above; were founded quite early at Lisbon, Padua, Coimbra, Louvain, Cologne, Alcala. But the Catholic public almost at once demanded that the Fathers should not only open schools, but also teach the students, as well as catechize the children and the illiterates, and founders of colleges insisted upon this. Teaching colleges, therefore, were developed in considerable numbers, and by the year 1550,—when the original formula  approved in 1540, was again approved with the modifications introduced by the experiences of the first decade—a considerable expansion of the early idea was sanctioned. Now collegia  were not only to be in universities, but ubicunque, "wheresoever" devout men would build and endow them. The Society, too, now inserted the word lectiones, "lectures or lessons," as among the primary duties—the very word which had been excluded in 1540.

This same year, 1550–1551, there was begun in Rome itself a considerable establishment, soon called The Roman College, which as such still exists, though of course much modified. This very successful foundation, erected and disciplined under Ignatius's own eye, became a sort of model for Jesuit colleges everywhere. Ignatius himself says as much in the seventh chapter of the fourth part of his constitutions, which treats of this subject. This chapter on "Schools" is also noteworthy, as perhaps the last added to the constitutions. It is not in the draft prepared before the congregation of 1550. It is found in the final revision issued after that congregation.

A few words must be added here on the subsequent development of the Roman College, for Ignatius's small commencements received afterwards great and numerous additions. At the present day the Italian Government, after ejecting its original owners, still preserve it as the chief school of Rome, and have turned its great library into the State Library for the Italian Kingdom. There were other great revolutions before this. Ignatius, after zealously begging for the sustenance of this infant college during its first years, at last prevailed on Francis Borgia, Duke of Gandia, himself later a Jesuit and a saint, to become its founder in the full sense. A generation later the generous Pope Gregory XIII, thinking its scale was still too narrow, very greatly increased the foundation and endowment, so that, honoris causa, he is often styled Founder. Later on Cardinal Ludovisi added a large and stately church. Other benefactors gave museums, books, and gifts of every sort. These, however, were largely dissipated during the French Revolution, but the College was restored to the Jesuits after the Napoleonic wars, and continued under their charge till 187o. Its great lecture halls were crowded with students, among whom special mention should be made here of the scholars from the English, Scottish and Irish colleges, which, after Ignatius's time, were under Jesuit management. The Roman College theological lectures are still continued at the University Gregoriana, at no great distance from the ancient college.

The so-called German College is the next most important of Ignatius's educational foundations. His original idea was to establish it for all the nations affected by the Reformation, and several letters of his are extant commending it to Cardinal Pole, and offering to receive English students among the others. In effect a few did come later on; but the foundation of a separate English College, 15718, naturally put a final end to this project, which had never made much progress. The college still continues and has seen many changes of fortune, according as the Catholic or Protestant party at home has held the upper hand. The World War wrought its own havoc there. During Ignatius's time it was very poor and there was difficulty in finding support for it in distant, troubled Germany. Perhaps Ignatius had no harder work during his latter years than in organizing support first for the Roman, then for the German College.

To sum up: in adapting his Institute to teaching, Ignatius made a development of his original plans, greater than he attempted in any other direction. From the first he had thought of a religious order to imitate the life of Christ, and this object always remained without variation. But the idea of undertaking education came by degrees. It was only after a year that he recognized that he must educate himself; then came life in the universities, and gradually an appreciation of the necessity for having his companions all highly educated; they must be able to explain and illustrate scripture and revealed religion before the most critical audiences; while they must also teach catechism to the ignorant and to children.

With the admitting of young recruits, came, first the obligation of providing hostels; and thence in rapid succession was recognized the need of teaching colleges, even for the higher courses. Finally, if Ignatius would thus teach both the rudest and the most advanced it was clearly impossible for him to turn away from the prime need of the rising generation of that day; the organization of boys' schools on a large scale, which had not been needed, nor thought of, nor provided for in the Middle Ages. Of course there had been schools, and very praiseworthy institutions they were, but their homely staffs and very restricted numbers made them quite unfit to meet the cry for improved and extended schooling, which the Renaissance had evoked.

With this development of programme there had to be a simultaneous development in the Society's Institute itself, especially in the matter of poverty. Ignatius had here two New Testament principles before him. First, "Blessed are the poor"; whatever happens his company must have personal poverty. Then "Gratis you have received, gratis give." If the Company has acquired any educative power, it must give it away again gratis. For teaching, as such, there must be no recompense. This bar, however, need not be extended to remuneration for rent, or house-hire, food, books, paper and other adjuncts, which must be provided in abundance for modern education. Keeping these two principles with their corresponding limitations, in view, Ignatius decided that, while living on charity and even on alms was to be the normal state of the Jesuit, there was no reason why the students should not, as a class, be supported on charitable donations which had been funded. He himself had found by experience that this was the better course. With papal approbation, therefore, he prescribed this for his order; taking care however that, while such colleges had revenues, the professed Society should not be billeted upon them, but that their houses should continue to live upon alms as before.

With regard to what Ignatius called a "college" and we should more generally call "public school," it was usually a day-school in a town, but occasionally, a "boarding school" or as he would say, collegium et convictus. There was at first so much competition among Catholic towns and states to obtain a Jesuit college, that the Father General was generally able to name his own terms; and he normally insisted on a foundation sufficient for a full staff, as well as for all teaching purposes, so that the college should be free from any temporal care or worry. In reality, however, money matters, however well managed, are always changing; and colleges once well established might grow poor, and in fact often did so. In this case it was decided that it would not be illicit to receive pensions from the scholars, to make up for the deficiency of the foundation, so long as the teaching itself was not charged for. It was by combining fixity in principle with adaptability in detail, that Ignatius's colleges so soon reached a level which everyone in his day looked up to and admired. The scholars' exhibition days were before long elaborate literary displays, and brought the college stage to a prominence at which we should now wonder. Where philosophy or theology were taught, public disputations were held by the scholars on the theses they had studied in classes; and the echoes of these discussions often resounded afar. Moreover, the Society now became engaged in numerous pedagogic pursuits, in editing classical authors, grammars, and school books of every sort. School hygiene attracted attention; pious sodalities multiplied apace; the Jesuit College became one of the centres of life and activity, both mental and spiritual, in the township.

It is part of the praiseworthy vitality of the order which Ignatius founded, that its schools never stood still. There was always some life and change, sometimes a good deal. In the Founder's time all was still on a relatively small scale. But the principles which he laid down, were sound and well drafted, and have successfully sustained all later superstructures.