- The Jesuits and Italian Universities, 1548–1773 by Paul F. Grendler
Introduction by Kathleen M. Comerford (Georgia Southern University)
Paul Grendler's latest volume is both a broad and deep study of Jesuit higher education in the early modern Italian states. It proceeds chronologically and geographically, recounting the relationship between a given local university and the nearby Jesuit college(s).
The Jesuits created relationships with Italian universities almost immediately after they were founded: they were first employed at the University of Rome in 1537, and initially associated with the University of Padua in 1542 when they founded a college in that city while studying philosophy, logic, and theology. By the 1550s, Ignatius and his aides concluded that Italian universities were insufficient preparation for anyone wishing to become a Jesuit. Thus, the Society had to develop its own universities. Among the obstacles they faced were the entrenchment of existing universities, resistance of political and religious authorities, leadership, internal squabbles, external tensions, the purposes of an education, and the necessity of degrees.
The first Italian educational institution the Society established was in Messina (1548), on the island of Sicily. The Jesuits envisioned a collegiate university rather than one on the model of existing Italian foundations. Those institutions, answerable to civic authorities, awarded licentiates and doctoral degrees in advanced subjects, most frequently law, to a largely lay student body. Conversely, collegiate universities employed clergy teaching lower-level subjects to largely clerical student bodies. Failed negotiations with the political leadership of Messina forced the Jesuits to scale back and create only a college. This qualified failure did not result in an immediate [End Page 782] change in procedure. Jesuits continued to push for a collegiate university led by a member of the Society, a position which was formalized in the Constitutions (1558).
In the remaining decades of the sixteenth century, the Jesuits attempted to create collegiate universities in Catania, Turin, and Padua. In the early seventeenth century, they shifted away from the collegiate model in Parma (where, for the first time, they participated in a state-run university), and Mantua. Foundations in Fermo and Macerata, where Jesuits taught limited subjects and had to share the teaching of theology with mendicants, demonstrated a new, more flexible approach and willingness to play smaller roles in the universities. The failures in Palermo and Chambéry, where the Society tried to control the educational institutions at which they taught, taught them the lesson they needed to cooperate, not take over. Later seventeenth-century cases show that this approach was generally more successful. Jesuits taught peaceably at several universities they did not seek to dominate: Ferrara, Pavia, and Siena all employed Jesuit mathematicians, hired as distinguished scholars, to teach at their civic universities. In these cities, Jesuits created individual, not corporate, relationships with local universities. In all cases, support for the Society from political powers and from Rome mitigated conflicts, but no larger overtures developed.
On the other hand, problems with existing institutions had not evaporated. In Bologna, the long-established university sought to maintain a monopoly over higher learning. In the 1630s, wars led to the collapse of philosophy and theology teaching in Mantua and threatened the stability of the college in Parma; in both cases, Jesuits moved to the college in Bologna. There, the university professors considered them a threat, and restricted the subjects which they could teach, until the papacy intervened decisively in the 1670s. Nevertheless, the Jesuits remained in Bologna, and expanded through the eighteenth century. A crisis with Rome developed later. In 1696, in a departure from the Constitutions and the Ratio studiorum (but in accord with northern European Jesuits), Roman Jesuits began to teach canon law. The university reacted angrily, and won the battle: Jesuits could not have a chair in the subject. However, the Jesuit Roman colleges, which had more students than the university, continued to offer instruction in canon law...