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The Catholic Historical Review 87.2 (2001) 321-323

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Book Review

The Jesuits:
Culture, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773

The Jesuits: Culture, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773. Edited by John W. O'Malley, S.J., Gauvin Alexander Bailey, Steven J. Harris, and T. Frank Kennedy, S.J. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1999. Pp. xx, 772. $80.00.)

In late May, 1997, Boston College sponsored an international conference entitled "The Jesuits: Culture, Learning, and the Arts, 1540-1773." These dates identify what has become known as the "Old Society," parameters marked by the official beginning of the order and its suppression. The present volume of conference proceedings published is an important addition to the historiography of the Society of Jesus and the early modern world. The text contains twenty-seven essays preceded by four essays to set the context for the study and three reflections upon the conference proceedings. In order to provide a framework for the conference, the organizers asked the participants to examine their materials in light of two questions: First, is there a "Jesuit way of proceeding," and if so, can any of the component parts of this way be identified, and second, was there such a thing as a "Jesuit corporate culture"? In short the members of the conference were asked to consider the problem posed by Parmenides in the fifth century b.c.

For the readers of this review who have been denied the benefits of a sound philosophical education, the problem of Parmenides was the philosopher's dilemma concerning the nature of being and its manifestation within individual things. The concept of being, Parmenides argued, is understandable, but how could two things be completely different yet still be understood as participating in being? Put another way, it is the problem of the one and the many. The conference co-ordinators reshaped this perennial philosophical problem and served it up as a challenge to fifty presenters to find common features among the many and various activities of the members of the Society of Jesus. Since the Jesuit areas of interest were as vast as the continents where they worked and as varied as the disciplines early modern society could offer, the conference suggested the following limits or fields for investigation: (1) the use of the arts in communicating faith and devotion; (2) the pursuit of science in relation to schools and in the missions in relation to the faith; and (3) the theory and practice of making Christianity acceptable to others.

The volume begins with four general essays. The first, by John O'Malley, examines the historiographical tradition of the Society of Jesus. It is one of the best and most concise efforts of its kind and may be complemented by his recent work Trent and All That, which considers the wider historiography of "early modern Catholicism." Gauvin Bailey's essay surveys the literature dealing [End Page 321] with the issue of "Jesuit style," particularly in the field of architecture. His work summarizes the research of others who have noted that there is no overriding Style Jésuite but there still exist some distinctive features to identify buildings as embracing a corporate vision adopted by the Society of Jesus. Marc Fumaroli's essay describes how rhetoric, with its emphasis on moving the heart toward action, can provide the best means for understanding both Ignatius himself and later Jesuit ventures. Rivka Feldhay's essay examines how Jesuit scientists had to deal with various cultural fields, political, religious, institutional.

The twenty-seven essays that follow consider to a greater or lesser degree the questions posed by conference conveners, the issue of corporate Jesuit culture and its manifestation in individual cases. Some authors follow Heraclitus, who argued that being is change and we discern being by the change it exhibits. Thus, Jesuit style, some of the contributors argue, adapts continuously and hence is known not by standard features but by its ability to conform to circumstances of time and place. Corporate Jesuit culture is grounded not in specific visual or literal manifestations, but...


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