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Reviewed by:
  • The Jesuits and Italian Universities 1548–1773 by Paul F. Grendler
  • Charles Julius Borges (bio)
Paul F. Grendler. The Jesuits and Italian Universities 1548–1773. Catholic University of America Press. xvi, 505. US $34.99

This is a welcome book on the important mission of education and teaching of the Society of Jesus since its inception in 1540. The immediate impression that strikes the reader is the wealth of information given about the topic under review. In fifteen chapters, we get a quick and reliable glimpse of how much was involved in the Jesuits taking up the challenging work of teaching in all fourteen major Italian universities of the day, which were civic institutions. It meant accepting the invitation to teach, falling in line with what was expected of them, facing opposition on different fronts yet remaining firm to the intents and directives of the Jesuit constitutions. In some cases, the Jesuits tried to found their own universities. The book tries to address the issues of their interactions with the Italian university government bodies.

The Jesuit teaching strategy was forged by the early members of the Society of Jesus – St. Ignatius and his companions – during their studies in Paris, which was then a leading theological centre of the day. Later, they would opt to teach scholastic theology with a preference for the line of thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Messina was the first city where the Jesuits had intended to found a university. The city Senate awarded them full authority, but this was unacceptable to many of them, which led to a final compromise where the Jesuits would teach and the Senate would provide the funds. Based on these experiences, Ignatius wrote out a plan for Jesuits and universities in the Order's constitutions.

Jesuit attempts to teach at the University of Turin met with similar opposition as at Messina since the Jesuits, as the author believes, underestimated the opposition they would face. At Padua, members of the university saw the school that the Jesuits ran in the city as a threat to their own institution and put an end to any plans to have them teach there.

A warm welcome to teach successfully and unhindered came from the university of Parma. Unlike in their earlier experiences, this institution became a civic–Jesuit institution. The Jesuits taught more than a third of all lectures. The same model was used in Mantua. In Fermo and Macerata, where city councils ruled rather than the princely families, challenges were many, but the Jesuits learned to accept smaller roles in these places.

The Society of Jesus accepted the invitation to teach at Palermo and Chambéry, but these were not successful ventures. In the latter location, the bishop of Grenoble objected to a university since he saw it as an infringement on his authority and since he also distrusted the Jesuits. The Jesuits also faced fierce opposition from professors and students in Bologna and Padua who would not have them teach philosophy and theology in these cities. At Perugia, they were not able to gain more teaching positions or a greater share in the governance of the university. [End Page 183]

The book has interesting concluding chapters on the issues of the differing philosophical and pedagogical teachings of the university professors as opposed to those of the Jesuits who developed a fresh approach to theological education. Overall, it is clear that the Society of Jesus had greater success working with princely families than with city councils as far as university teaching was concerned. If legal cases were taken to court, the popes often, yet strangely, sided with the universities against the Jesuits.

One must admire Paul Grendler for writing an interesting book on Jesuits and Italian universities prior to the suppression of the Order. The Jesuits operating in these universities and colleges for the period studied were many, and the reader might hope that more space could have been given to their individual points of view. Not all of them were in agreement with the general Jesuit plan. The Italian teaching model was followed largely unchanged in all of the universities mentioned. Could the use of some non-Italian Jesuits in the...


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pp. 183-184
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