However unified a face the Jesuits presented to the outside world, they did not always agree with each other on the details of their educational mission. The adoption of Alvares' grammar, though mandated for use in Jesuit schools from the mid-fifteen seventies, was in fact only gradual. The French Jesuits proved particularly resistant, but the earliest complaints came from Spain where the early editions were described as "too prolix" for easy use in the classroom. (31)


For the reception of Alvares' work within the order we are blessed with a remarkable source, well explicated by Emilio Springhetti in a 1961 article and now fully published in the Monumenta Paedagogica Societatis Iesu. These are the critiques of the Ratio Studiorum of 1586 submitted across thirteen years by various provincial boards of experts. (32) The promulgation of the Ratio was already underway when the professors at the Collegio Romano published their first revised edition of Alvares, and the questionnaire that went to all of the provinces with the 1586 first draft of the Ratio was a referendum of sorts on the recent pedagogical reforms of the Collegio. The circular was apparently accompanied by copies of the new Alvares for comment. (33)

Six Jesuit provinces had nothing in particular to remark on the matter of Alvares' grammar, but twelve provincial committees specifically replied to the question, "Whether Alvares should be retained." The Roman professors themselves differed on this point. Some opined that each province should be allowed to choose its own grammar textbook. Others agreed with the representatives of other Italian provinces, one German province, the Spanish, and the Portuguese, who all voted to retain Alvares as the exclusive text for the entire order. The Polish province submitted the opinions of four separate teachers, but reserved judgement until new editions should appear, since they preferred other textbooks in some ways but felt that, properly revised, Alvares' grammar could be useful. The three French provinces (Paris, Aquitaine, and Lyon), on the other hand, were adamant that De Spauter's grammar should be used instead. The "Despauterius," they insisted, was already widely used in France; it had been approved by St. Ignatius himself and praised by many humanists; it was older, shorter, and better organized than Alvares. (34)

The French Jesuit masters did their best to seem fair to Alvares but they argued strenuously for their own favorite and did not hesitate to split hairs in his favor. It was true that De Spauter was often obscure, they said, but this prompted greater classroom diligence by teachers! His terminology was more technical and less elegant than that of Alvares, by which they meant De Spauter used long-known, late-medieval terms of analysis and not the less familiar, classicizing ones of Alvares. What is more, students who had started on De Spauter would have to forget what they had learned and start over if a new text were introduced. (35) This last argument tells us that the real issue was simply conservatism. The French masters themselves had started their careers by memorizing De Spauter and they did not want to "unlearn" it. Educational conservatism sometimes consists of such inertia. Teachers and (just as often) parents want the children of today to learn the same lessons in the same ways that their elders had. Attachments to textbooks, especially books that were widely memorized, often took this form -- affection reinforced by inertia. There was also resistance to having to re-train teachers.

The revisers of the 1586 Ratio Studiorum also asked whether the present "order of Alvares should go unchanged," a reference to the revisions proposed by the Collegio Romano in their Alvares editions of the mid-fifteen eighties. As a rule, the provinces in favor of retaining Alvares preferred to stick with the familiar textbook of the fifteen seventies. The Germans, for example, protested that Manuel Alvares had already, before his death in 1583, received and accepted a variety of criticisms, taking particular account of the suggestions of his most learned colleagues. They argued that the entire order should have just one set of textbooks. Alvares' work should remain as he had left it; this was essential to its authority and was the only way to restrain a natural tendency to tinker with textbooks. (36) This remark is telling, displaying as it does an uncharacteristically self-conscious understanding that, for all their natural conservatism, teachers also had an uncontrollable urge to innovate in the classroom, or at the very least to fiddle with textbooks. The authority of a textbook consisted not only in the strong reputation of it author but also in its durability, which could be ensured only by the sanction of a body of teachers determined to resist significant changes. The Germans may well have been criticizing the Collegio Romano with these remarks, since it was the Roman Jesuits who continued to tinker with Alvares. Their constant revisions, moreover, produced a continuing need to print new textbooks and made it harder to use older ones.

Lastly, almost all of the respondents to the questionnaire about the Ratio Studiorum agreed that the verses used in the morphology section should be retained and that similar mnemonics would be useful for the other parts of the grammar. This recommendation seems to have been a reaction against the Roman editors' removal of the mnemonic verses in Book One in 1584 while seconding a revision that had been worked by the same Roman editors for Book Three on prosody. As a result, the original mnemonics for Book One were restored and new ones for Book Three were devised by the Portuguese Jesuit, Antonio Velês (1547-1609). (37)

The final Ratio Studiorum mandated Alvares for all (click to enlarge - 628 KB JPEG image)

The final Ratio Studiorum mandated Alvares for all (click to enlarge - 628 KB JPEG image)

The results of the international poll were incorporated into the definitive Ratio Studiorum promulgated for the entire order in 1599. The majority opinion won the day, namely that Alvares' grammar was a masterpiece, too good to discard. The new Ratio prescribed its continued use. But this victory on paper did not mean that all Jesuits immediately or even eventually adopted the Alvares grammar for everyday teaching. The teacher's edition would appear in almost every Jesuit college library, but the student versions did not necessarily end up in every student's hand. For example, Alvares' grammar was widely adopted in Portugal; but Spanish Jesuits continued to prefer a national favorite, the grammar of Nebrija. In France, the revised Roman version of Alvares was printed fifteen times in the sixteenth century, but it is unclear how widely it was used in classrooms. Many French Jesuits continued to prefer De Spauter. As late as 1664, for example, we find a detailed curriculum from the Jesuit colleges at Albi and Mauriac that prescribes De Spauter for all three levels of the grammar course. (38) In New France, both De Spauter and the earlier Jesuit grammar by Codret were in use in the seventeenth century. (39) In Belgium and Germany, there was some resistance early on. (De Spauter, after all, was a Flemming, a native son.) But most of the Jesuit colleges east of the Rhine had adopted the Alvares grammar by 1620. Its real triumph, however, came in Italy, where under the influence of the Collegio Romano it was adopted almost universally and came to be used in many non-Jesuit schools as well. (40)

Open Bibliography (330 KB pdf)
(31)  Springhetti 1961, 291; Rodrigues 1917, 204-207.
(32)  MPSI 6:319-332 and 7:375-377; see also the account of Farrell 1938, 448-451.
(33)  On the stages in the development of the Ratio, Padberg 2000, 86-93.
(34)  MPSI 3:326 and 6:330-332; Farrell 1938, 448-452; Springhetti 1961, 293-94.
(35)  MPSI 327-328; Farrell 1938, 449; Springhetti 1961, 294.
(36)  MSPI 326; Springhetti 1961, 294.
(37)  Alvares 1599; Rodrigues 1939, II.2, 55-57; Springhetti 1961, 295-287. According to Rodrigues (57n), the mnemonics of Velês were so disliked that the Portuguese province forbade their use in 1603.
(38)  Dainville 1978, 283-285.
(39)  Zwartjes 2002.
(40)  Bianchi 1995, 802-805.

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

Total comments on this page: 4

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Ken Gouwens on whole page :

Of all the chapter titles in “Humanism for Sale,” this one strikes me as the most clever.

September 26, 2009 10:12 am
Peter K on paragraph 2:

I find it surprising that Alvares’ grammar was sent out for international review and it changes my perspective on the Jesuit schools. I always knew the Jesuits were influential and international, but I had not thought much about the economic and educational enterprise behind their endeavors (social and religious enterprise for sure). When I think about sending books out for feedback, collecting and analyzing that feedback, and making decisions with that information, I see that they are more than a collection of schools, but a school system— perhaps not too unlike what we see today.

June 19, 2013 9:10 pm
Paul Gehl :

I like this idea of a ‘school system’ as an analogy for what the Jesuits were doing. They certainly set out in the Ratio Studiorum to create a system –one could correctly translate ‘ratio’ as ‘system.’ The source documents about the creation of the Ratio have all been published, and they make for fascinating reading. I think the reports of the various committees, quickly summarized in the next paragraph, evidence a process that was for the period genuinely open. Above all the teachers seemed to feel that they needed some freedom to use whatever texts they had, adapting them as necessary to the particular needs of their students locally.

June 20, 2013 7:27 am
Paul F. Gehl on paragraph 2:

The vicissitudes of the grammar of Alvarez in Spain are now recounted in important detail by Rolf Kemmler (2012, art. cit. at section 5.00), 155-174. I am grateful to Dr. Kemmler for communicating his research results to me.

October 30, 2014 11:00 am

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