The Jesuit educational enterprise was international. The Jesuits established residential colleges (372 of them between 1548 and 1615) in almost every major provincial town. Their job was to train laymen of the elites and would-be clerics in Counter-Reformation piety and morals. They stressed the acquisition of Latin as an instrument of the universalizing mission of the Roman church -- in missionary work, in dogmatic and moral theology, and for the advancement of science. To this end, the Jesuits practiced what we today would call total-immersion language study. They forbade the use of vernaculars in class. They prescribed extensive oral drilling, poetic and oratorical competitions, making and reading emblems, and theater productions. They incorporated many achievements of humanist literary scholarship, offering Cicero as the best model for prose style, and Ovid, Horace and Virgil for poetry. Few of the Jesuits' methods were new, but they were highly successful in creating communities of young men from throughout Christendom, all sharing an easy command of spoken Latin and the religious vocabulary of a newly renewed Roman faith. (8)

The first Jesuit college opened at Messina in Sicily in 1548. The curriculum was based on that of the early sixteenth-century humanist colleges of the University of Paris. This highly regulated Paris plan (modus Parisiensis) was conceived in direct opposition to the mishmash of existing curricula in Italy (what the Jesuits called a modus Italicus). It envisioned a sharp distinction between younger and older students. The younger pupils were to demonstrate complete mastery of classical Latin grammar, Latin composition, and rhetorical principles before they were permitted to go on to higher studies. Thereafter, students left classical studies behind and concentrated on philosophy, theology, modern languages, and other subjects appropriate to the needs of the Counter-Reformation church. For the Jesuits, then, Latin was a powerful instrument, but not the real point of education. This was not at all the traditional Italian humanist education, which had typically emphasized moral and practical instruction in which Latin language and literature were both the means and the end. As Codina Mir has noted, the Jesuits had to confront these traditional, classicizing expectations of Italian parents in every city where they established a new college. (9)

The Jesuits were uniquely placed to create the teaching instrument humanist grammarians had been demanding for a century and more, that is, a fully systematic grammar entirely based on good classical models of usage. With an ever growing network of residential colleges, they created a demand for well-made textbooks. Even a single teacher's adoption of a given textbook had been able to ensure its local market success in the first age of printing. A prestigious, well-promoted teacher might also influence regional and national markets, as in the cases of Aldo Manuzio, Josse Bade, and Jan de Spauter. The Jesuits created a market on an international scale.


It is a measure of educational conservatism as a universal impulse that even the Jesuits were slow to take advantage of their market-making powers, chiefly because they could not agree among themselves on the best textbooks. There were regional and national favorites, largely based on the expectations of the urban elites that dominated local markets. The earliest Jesuit-authored grammar was that of Annibal Codret, S.J. (1525-1599), composed in the late fifteen forties but only sporadically available and used mostly in the South of Italy and in France. It would later become popular in New France. (10) When in 1556 a verse grammar appeared, authored by André Des Fruex, S.J. (d. 1556) at the request of St. Ignatius himself, its publishers clearly expected that the whole order would come to adopt it. But they were deluded. It had only one Italian edition. (11) A more concerted effort to influence the teaching of the order was mounted by the Jesuit Collegio Romano in the fifteen sixties. They sponsored an introductory grammar by their own prefect, Diego de Ledesma, S.J. (1519-1575) which appeared simultaneously in Venice and Naples in 1569. Ledesma's supplementary Syntaxis plenior was issued by the same Venice and Naples printers that same year and at Turin the next. Ledesmo's textbooks, however, were never reprinted because they were quickly superseded by another official grammar, that of Manuel Alvares (1526-1583).(12)


The period from 1550 to 1575, then, was one of intense experimentation with textbooks by the Jesuits. New rhetoric texts were authored and discarded with almost as much frequency as grammars, but the question of an elementary grammar was the most intensely debated one. Outside Italy and in some of the Jesuit colleges in the peninsula, the colleges tended to use the grammar of De Spauter or the Despauterian grammar of Pellisson which had been approved by St. Ignatius. It was briefly adopted even at the Collegio Romano in the early fifteen seventies "until we shall have another composed by one of us." (13) In Spain, a grammar by Antonio de Nebrija (1444-1522) remained the local favorite. In Sardinia in this period, and perhaps also elsewhere, the Jesuits experimented with a grammar by the Spanish humanist Andrés Sempere (1510-1572). The catalogues of the Brera college in Milan and a miscellany from the Jesuit College at Loreto suggest that the teachers in these North Italian schools made use of many different grammar books. At various times at Loreto, for example, they apparently taught Jean Pellisson's Rudimenta in a Lyon edition of 1554, the 1556 Roman edition of André de Freux, a 1570 Venice edition of Guarino Veronese, and the 1572 De Spauter of the Collegio Romano. The Jesuits at Genoa owned copies of locally printed versions of De Spauter's Contextus and Pellisson's Rudimenta. (14)

Open Bibliography (330 KB pdf)
(8)  The fundamental sources are to be found in MPSI; see also Anselmi, 17-22; Brizzi 1976, 211-214; Brizzi 1984, 156-157; Ballerini 1985, 226-236; Bauer 1986, 140-150; Carlsmith 2002, 218-223; Quondam 2004, 454-465. On the Jesuit realization of humanist philology, Bianchi 1995, 804.
(9)  Codina Mir 1968, 300-305; MPSI 1:93-106; see also Brizzi 1984, 155-170; O'Malley 1993, 216-232.
(10) BCJ 2:1261-1264; Farrell 1938, 444-45; Zwartjes 2002.
(11) Rome: Blado, 1556; it was, however, later published at Cologne, Vienna, Antwerp, and Douai; BCJ 3:1046; see also MPSI 1:529; Farrell 1938, 444; Tacchi-Venturi 1961, 350; Brizzi 1976, 211.
(12)  BCJ 4:1648-49; Tacchi-Venturi 1961, 351; Tinto 1966, 81-82; on Ledesma, MPSI 2:519-627; Farrell 1936, 445-446, 450; and Anselmi 1981, 22; on the 1570 Torino ed., Rurale 1998, 161.
(13)  MPSI 1:529, 4:242-244: donec aliam a nostris compositam habeamus; Springhetti 1961, 285. See also Tacchi-Venturi 1961, 349-352; Codina Mir 1968, 301-305; Battistini 1981, 82-89. On rhetoric texts, Bauer 1986, 142-147.
(14)  The evidence for these usages are respectively: MGSI 4:524; Rurale 1998, 161-166; BAV Loreto V.138; the copies of De Spauter 1563 and Pellisson 1566 presently at the University of Genova. Further on Sempere, Gómez i Font 1997, esp. lxviii-lxxii.

Posted by admin on September 19, 2008
Tags: Chapter Five

Total comments on this page: 3

How to read/write comments

Comments on specific paragraphs:

Click the icon to the right of a paragraph

  • If there are no prior comments there, a comment entry form will appear automatically
  • If there are already comments, you will see them and the form will be at the bottom of the thread

Comments on the page as a whole:

Click the icon to the right of the page title (works the same as paragraphs)


No comments yet.

Peter K on paragraph 4:

It surprises me that the grammar books prior to Alvares were not more successful (Codret, des Fruex, de Ledesma) or long-lived. Regardless its flaws, I would think almost any book with the full weight of the Jesuit order behind it could have had at least modest international success. I hate most Microsoft products, but I still buy and use them.

June 19, 2013 9:28 pm
Paul Gehl :

Right, Peter. We have this rather exaggerated opinion of the power and conformity of the Jesuit order that derives in part from the realities of Jesuit life codified in the seventeenth century and in part from a long Anglo-American political and historiographical tradition of distrust for the order. In the 1550s, however, the order was still new; it was composed of many dedicated and often brilliant men who knew St. Ignatius personally, and who were quickly scattered to many parts of Europe. The later centralization was not yet in place. What fascinates me most about the Alvares grammar is that it was one of the first products in publishing history to gain anything like the popularity and widespread influence that even a routine Microsoft release gets today.

June 20, 2013 7:20 am
Paul Gehl on paragraph 5:

On the grammar of Nebrija, see R. Ponce de Leon Romeo 2004 (art. cit. above at section 5.00), 269-270.

November 11, 2014 10:37 am

You must be login to comment.
Create an account or login