Jesuit Order

(officially, the Society of Jesus)
   Roman Catholic religious order organized by Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556) and authorized by the bull Regimini militantis ecclesiae issued by Pope Paul III in 1540. The goal of the new order was to restore the power and unity of the Catholic church, and it became one of the primary forces opposing Protestantism in Germany and elsewhere. Its first members had strong missionary ambitions, and the society later became active in efforts to introduce Christianity into India, China, and Japan. At the Council of Trent, Jesuit theologians backed the conservatives who promoted an uncompromising reaffirmation of traditional doctrines and of practices challenged by the Protestants. The order laid particular emphasis on the authority of the pope as successor to St. Peter and guarantor of unity and orthodoxy.
   Loyola himself was not much attracted to humanism, and he was sharply critical of the most famous non-Italian humanist of the century, Erasmus. Yet the Jesuits became deeply involved in educational work, and their schools developed a strong tradition of humanistic studies. Their commitment to education began in 1548 with their first school at Messina in Sicily. Within little more than a decade, they recognized education as their principal activity. By the end of the century, they were in charge of a large number of schools and also had created at Rome a distinguished institute for study of theology, the Collegium Romanum. In several regions, particularly in Germany, they took control of colleges, or even the whole faculties of liberal arts, in established universities. But their most successful institutions were secondary schools designed to produce well-educated laymen, well-prepared candidates for the clergy, and candidates for university study who would have the best possible preparation for success in the higher faculties (law, medicine, and theology).
   In their schools, the Jesuits developed a program of studies that fulfilled most of the aspirations of earlier humanist educational reformers. While they avoided study of authors like Erasmus who had been openly critical of the church, they developed in their graduates a fluent mastery of classical Latin, introduced a reasonably thorough study of Greek, and had their students read a considerable body of ancient Latin and Greek literature. They adopted from the best contemporary French grammar schools a sequential plan of study in which each level prepared students for the next. But they followed the lead of some earlier humanist reformers in regarding the humanistic subjects, such as grammar and rhetoric, as suitable for the lower levels of study, while the curriculum of their own schools culminated in study of Aristotelian philosophy (including natural science) that traditionally had been introduced only in the universities. The plan of study and the methods followed were closely defined in regulations that culminated in the Ratio studiorum / Plan of Studies (1599). By the 17th century, Jesuit schools were widely recognized as among the best in Europe.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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