Idea of a Jesuit University

Peter B. Ely, S.J.

Gonzaga University

August 1980

The Memory of Justice

One of the great advantages of the academic world is summers. They give an opportunity for new experiences, travel, research, new perspectives, different working experiences, and hopefully, some relaxation.

One such experience for me was the Lilly Endowment Workshop on the Liberal Arts in Colorado Springs. During the workshop a series of films was shown. One of them was a documentary on the Nuremberg Trials and their aftermath. For some reason, the title of this documentary caught my imagination; the film is called “The Memory of Justice.” I kept returning to this title and the idea that it embodies and I decided to use it as the title of this address.

There are two notions here, “memory” and “justice.” In human beings memory is, of course, the principle of a sense of identity. If I had no memory, I would have no sense of self. When people lose their memories they become confused about who they are, about their friends, their relatives, their lives.

Human institutions too have memories preserved in a variety of ways. Some of Gonzaga's memories are preserved in the pictures in the first and second floor halls. They are preserved much better, of course, in the head of Fr. Art Dussault, who has been around for about fifty years. They are preserved in the heads and hearts of thousands of former and current students, professors, friends, parents, trustees. The memories are preserved in our University Catalogues with their succession of curricula and course offerings. The living memory of an institution still active and animating its present activities and future hopes we call its spirit.

When Marcel Opuls uses the word “memory” he is thinking of something more transcendent, more timeless than anything I have yet referred to. He uses “memory” the way Plato uses it in the Meno. For Plato memory is the recollection of something we have beheld before our entrance into this world. The “memory of justice” for Plato is the dim recollection of perfect virtue, order, harmony which we have seen in a previous life. It is by virtue of this flickering memory that we are able to discern and recognize, if not to define, justice in this world.

There is a counterpart in the Christian tradition to Plato's notion of the memory of justice; it is the notion of original justice, original innocence, the time before the fall, an innocence that has been not only forgotten but, in a sense, lost.

For Plato the primordial memory of justice, virtue, beauty is awakened through education. The teacher does not give knowledge but, like a midwife, leads ideas out from the womb of forgetfulness and ignorance where they have been germinating. If forgetfulness is the true name of our present ignorance, then recollection or remembrance is the true name of knowledge. And if ignorance and forgetfulness are a kind of slavery—and for Plato they were—then remembrance and knowledge are a kind of liberation.

In Christianity the collective slavery of the human race is not just ignorance and a profound forgetfulness of being; it is a loss of innocence as well. The Christian tradition sees us as being accomplices in our own slavery through the exercise of free will. And so in Christianity liberation is not just knowing and remembering; it is remembering and acting. The memory of justice by itself is not salvific. Justice must be restored. For Christians that restoration is accomplished through the entrance into the human race of the just One who justifies us and enables us to act justly and thus participate in the restoration of original justice.

This, then, is the memory of justice. It is an idea that lies at the heart of the two sources of our culture—culture, which is itself the memory of civilization—the civilizations of Greece and Rome and the Judeo-Christian tradition. In this address I wish to suggest that just as the memory of justice lies at the heart of our Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian heritages it also lies at the heart of a humanistic, Catholic, and Jesuit education.

This means that education is not just a matter of aesthetics, refinement of the sensibilities, even knowledge for its own sake, it is a matter of transformation and liberation. And liberation is not just for the individual but for society. This is Platonic as well as Christian. Plato's slave, once liberated from the cave, goes back to liberate the others who are still caught in the chains of ignorance.

The Idea of a Jesuit University

In the light of this theme of the memory of justice I want to spend a few minutes considering the Idea of a Jesuit University. The phrase is, of course, reminiscent of Newman's “Idea of a University.” The connection and implied comparison are important. But a caution is in order. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits and of the Jesuit school system, never set out to define a university in the way that Newman did. It is difficult to find in Ignatius' writings or in the writings of his followers that led to and culminated in the famous “Ratio Studiorum,” or “Plan of Studies” of 1599, a precise definition of the essence of a university.

Newman's approach was philosophical. He wanted to express as clearly as he could what he understood as the essence of a university quite apart from the intention anyone, the Catholic Church for instance, might have in founding a university. Newman begins with the definition of a university, namely, that it is a place for teaching universal knowledge, and moves to a consideration of its remote purpose. As a matter of fact Newman's conception of the Church's purpose in founding universities is not far from Ignatius': “. . . when the Church founds a university,” he says, “she is not cherishing talent, genius, or knowledge for their own sake, but for the sake of her children, with a view to their spiritual welfare and their religious influence and usefulness, with the object of training them to fulfill their respective posts better, and of making them more intelligent, capable, active members of society.”

Ignatius' approach, on the other hand, was practical and end-oriented. He began with what Newman would call the “remote end” of the university, the praise, reverence, and service of God and the salvation of souls, and then determined that the founding of colleges and universities both for Jesuit and non-Jesuit students was an appropriate means of achieving that end. Ignatius and his followers took the University of Paris as a model, adapted the model to the end in view, and then developed a detailed set of prescriptions concerning administration, curriculum, method and discipline.

In spite of the difference in their starting points Newman and Loyola would both agree that a university has its own character and essence which must be preserved if the university is to attain its ultimate or remote end.

The “Genius” of Jesuit Education

I would like to turn now to the character of the Jesuit university as it developed under Ignatius and his followers. I want to see if I can capture what might be called the “genius” of the Jesuit education which became so famous from the 16th to the 18th centuries. Is the genius of that system still alive in Jesuit education today? What is the peculiar task of Jesuit education in the last decades of the 20th century? To discover the “genius” of Jesuit higher education, the “Idea of a Jesuit University,” if you will, we need to look at two documents, the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, written by Ignatius himself between 1547 and 1551, and the Ratio Studiorum or Plan of Studies, the definitive version of which was published in 1599.

It is not only the documents which are important, but also the process that led to their formulation. The process began when Ignatius of Loyola, returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, decided to begin the study of Latin grammar. After two years of grammar study Ignatius went to the University of Alcala, from there to Salamanca, and finally to the University of Paris. At Alcala and Salamanca things did not go well. Ignatius looked a little bit like a 16th century hippie, got overly extended in extracurricular activities, directing the spiritual exercises and explaining Christian doctrine, and ran into trouble with the authorities—the Spanish Inquisition. Finally at the University of Paris he began again in 1527, at the age of 35, this time in earnest. The following statement is from Ignatius' Autobiography: “Having done his studies in haste and confusion, he found that he was poorly grounded in them. So he began studying with small boys, passing through the order and method of Paris.”

This “order and method of Paris” became the foundation of the Jesuit system of education. Ignatius was convinced that education had to be methodical, orderly, and progressive. Ignatius spent seven years at the University of Paris. In 1540 he founded the Jesuits; in 1543 Francis Xavier wrote back from India a vivid account of the experience of Jesuits teaching humanities and Christian doctrine to Indian and Portugese youth. In 1546 Jesuits accepted non-Jesuit students into the College of Gandia which had been founded for Jesuits in studies. In 1548 the first Jesuit college founded expressly for the teaching of non-Jesuit students was begun, at the invitation of the townspeople, in Messina, Sicily.

Between 1547 and 1551 Ignatius wrote the Constitutions, the Fourth Part of which is Ignatius' formulation of the Society's educational ideal. Between this formulation by the founder of the Jesuit education system and the definitive Ratio Studiorum of 1599 lay almost 50 years of practical experience, adaptations, formulations by individuals and committees, reviews, critiques, and reformulations. By the time of Ignatius' death in 1556 members of the Society of Jesus were running 33 colleges and universities; another six had been approved by Ignatius. When the Ratio Studiorum was approved in 1599 there were 245 Jesuit schools, and by 1773, the year of the Society's suppression, there were 669 schools and 176 seminaries.

There were almost 70 years between the time when Ignatius, at age 35, sat down with school boys to learn Latin grammar and the publication in 1599 of the Ratio Studiorum. And although there has never been a reformulation of the Jesuit idea of higher education equal in authority to the Ratio, the process of development, adaptation, and formulation continues right up to now. When the process stops, then the idea will be dead.

Characteristics of Jesuit Education

But what are the dominant characteristics of this Jesuit system of education?

First there was from the beginning and still is a great clarity about the ultimate end or purpose of education in the Society of Jesus. In the Preamble to the Fourth Part of the Constitutions Ignatius states that purpose and its relation to education:

The objective which the Society of Jesus directly seeks is to aid its own members and their fellow men to attain the ultimate end for which they were created. To accomplish this, besides the example of one's life, learning and a method of expounding it are necessary. Therefore in the case of those (who have been admitted for probation), after the proper foundation of self-sacrifice has been laid, and after the required growth in virtues, they must be trained in letters and in the manner of employing them, as a help to know and serve better God, our Creator and Lord.

The first rule of Provincials in the Ratio Studiorum of 1599 is equally explicit:

Since one of the Society's principal services is to communicate to others all the branches of learning consistent with its Institute in such a way as to bring them to a knowledge and love of our Creator and Redeemer, the Provincial must consider it his special duty to take care that the manifold labor of our educational work richly produces the fruit which the grace of our vocation demands.

There are two goals here, one clearly subordinate to the other. The first, subordinate goal, is “to communicate to others all the branches of learning consistent with its institute . . .”, the second or ultimate goal is indicated immediately: “in such a way as to bring them to a knowledge and love of our Creator and Redeemer. . . .”

How is it that learning could bring one to a knowledge and love of God? Ignatius' doctrine of finding God in all things is the key. In the final exercise of his famous Spiritual Exercises Ignatius sets out his vision of God.present and at work in all things, “giving their very existence to the primal forces and the basic components and structures of the material universe; giving vegetative life to the organic world; sense life to the animal world; and to man giving, besides, rational cognition and rational appetite.” (Translated by Lewis Delmage, S.J.). Since God is in all things giving them their existence and character, the study and understanding of them in the light of faith can lead to a knowledge and love of God.

The goal has not fundamentally changed. The fourth decree of the 32nd General Congregation in 1975 entitled “Our Mission Today”—it is really a Mission Statement for all the works of the Society of Jesus including education—states essentially the same goal, but with a significant new emphasis: “The mission of the Society of Jesus today is the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement. For reconciliation with God demands the reconciliation of people with one another.” The phrase “the service of faith” means essentially the same thing as “in such a way as to bring them to a knowledge and love of our Creator and Redeemer.” The language is different; the idea is the same. But what is new is the explicit reference to justice, the reconciliation of people with one another as an implication of the knowledge and love of our Creator and Redeemer. The implications of this new emphasis for all the apostolic works of the Society of Jesus, including education, are profound. I will return to this point.

The second characteristic of Jesuit education, I believe, is the integration of the intellectual, moral and spiritual aspects of education, solid learning and virtue, as they are frequently referred to in the Jesuit documents. Over and over again one finds phrases such as the close harmonious union of instruction and character formation . . .”, “. . . advancement in learning and in the knowledge and love of God”, the “necessity for teachers to train their pupils in Christian virtue no less than in learning”, “the harmonious union of learning and virtue.” In addition to the very explicit rules for teaching and study there were rules about receiving the sacraments, attending Mass, and listening to instructions on Christian doctrine.

A third characteristic of Jesuit education has been that it aims at formation rather than information. The aim is to develop certain skills. In the early years it was especially linguistic, literary, rhetorical, philosophical and theological skills, but as time went on scientific skills as well. The important point is that it was not vast stores of information about a wide variety of topics, but the development of habits of thinking, literary appreciation, and expression that were promoted.

A fourth characteristic, connected with the third, was method and order, the order which Ignatius first found at Paris. The method and order were both rigorous and flexible. Students were taken where they were, grounded in fundamentals, and advanced in an orderly progression from one level to the next. When students had mastered one level they were moved up to the next.

A fifth characteristic is that students have been required to be active in the process of their education. The Jesuit tradition of education has never depended primarily on the lecture method understood as passive reception by students of notes prepared and delivered by teachers. The famous method of prelection, so characteristic of the Society, did involve a kind of lecture by the teacher, but students were required immediately after the teacher's presentation to repeat key elements. They often wrote imitations of speeches they were studying. They engaged in exercises in composition, in disputations, in contests, in giving speeches, and acting in plays. There was also a highly competitive side to this student activity. Prizes were given for best performance, best composition, and so forth. Mutual emulation was considered a great help to learning.

The sixth characteristic of Jesuit schools has been their emphasis on the humanities and rhetoric, the arts, including mathematics, philosophy, and of course, theology. Ignatius and the Jesuits who developed the Ratio Studiorum shared the Renaissance conviction about the value of the Greek and Roman classics as instruments of humanization and models of eloquentia perfecta, the ability to write and speak clearly and persuasively. As time went on and culture changed the curriculum of Jesuit schools changed with it to include the new sciences which were coming into prominence.

The seventh characteristic of Jesuit education has been an emphasis on eloquence, the ability to present one's thought and feelings clearly and persuasively. Partly this characteristic reflects the Renaissance culture in which the Jesuit school system was founded. It also reflects, more profoundly, the mandate contained in the Gospel to preach the good news.

These, then, have been the characteristics of Jesuit education: (1) a clearly stated ultimate aim which is thoroughly religious, thoroughly Christian; (2) the integration of learning and virtue; (3) emphasis on formation rather than information; (4) an emphasis on order and method; (5) active participation by students; (6) a curriculum that embraced the humanities, science, philosophy, and theology; and (7) an emphasis on eloquence.

Jesuit Education Today

Where are we in Jesuit higher education today? What have we kept of the Ratio Studiorum and what have we thrown out? What should be kept and what thrown out?

A former General of the Jesuits, Fr. Luis Martin, gave an answer to these questions in an address given to Jesuit students in Holland on January 1, 1883, almost three hundred years after the definitive version of the Ratio. What he said is worth citing:

Some have thought that though formerly the Ratio Studiorum was of value, it is no longer. A statement of this sort, in my opinion, betrays a lack of understanding of the Ratio by taking account only of its curricular regulations and not of its spirit. It is true that today we are not free as regards of courses; their content is prescribed for us. But we are still free as regards the spirit and method of our teaching. And therein is the Ratio distinctive rather than in its curriculum.

In what does the distinction consist? In many individual elements, of which two only can be touched upon here: first, that activity be demanded of the students, and secondly, that insistence be placed on the genuine formation of the human faculties rather than on the amassing and learning of facts. The mere acquisition of knowledge is not enough; our special obligation is to develop the natural talents.

Though knowledge itself is a gain, nevertheless the highest achievement of education is this moulding and developing of talent. For the whole value, fruit and object of study lies in the cultivation of all the faculties, which will then be fitted for every phase of life and activity.

Fr. Martin singles out two distinctive characteristics, “that activity be demanded of the students, and secondly that insistence be placed on the genuine formation of the human faculties rather than on the amassing and learning of facts.”

Personally, I believe that all the characteristics I have singled out are part of the heritage that we should preserve. But the way of manifesting these characteristics has changed. There are some changes in our culture, in the Church's understanding of its Mission, and in the Society of Jesus' directions that effect the character of Jesuit education. I want to mention three.

I have already mentioned the new formulation of the Mission of the Society of Jesus, “the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.” The same document from which this quotation is taken, “Our Mission Today,” repeats the list of priorities for Jesuit apostolic work given earlier by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, General of the Jesuits: theological reflection, social action, education and the mass media, as means of making our preaching of the Gospel more effective. We have only begun to realize the implications of this new formulation of the Society's mission. It is not only a mission from the Society, but from the Church as well. If any of you have read the documents of the Second Vatican Council, especially “The Church in the Modern World,” or read the encyclicals of John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II, then you have heard this mission announced over and over again.

This new mission is more than a new issue to be treated. It is a challenge to our whole way of thinking, and being, and acting, and not just our way as individuals, but as a society. Having been challenged ourselves, we are asked to challenge our students. I don't think we can express the task properly without adding to the notion of formation the idea of transformation. Jesuit education aims not just at the formation of habits of thinking and articulation, but even beyond that at a transformation of the students' way of looking at reality, and consequently of their way of acting.

A second change that is influencing Jesuit education today is the development of technology. This development offers a challenge which we cannot afford to neglect. I will suggest one example, the extraordinary development of the communications media. The world of mass media in which we live and move and have our being offers a challenge both to our critical and analytical skills in order to understand what is being communicated to us, and our ingenuity and inventiveness so that we can make use of the communications possibilities that are offered to us.

A third change is one that has occurred within all Christian churches since Ignatius' time, most recently in the Catholic Church, the role of laity in the life of the Church. I sought in vain in the early documents of the Society for some reference to a collaborative relationship between Jesuits and lay people. I did not find one.

Our conception of the role of the laity in the Church is still unfolding. Maybe I should say exploding. Even the reference to the laity made by the 31st General Congregation of the Jesuits in 1966—a strong and important statement—sounds stilted and somewhat condescending 15 years later. Last summer at Gonzaga University, Fr. Pedro Arrupe, in answering a question about diminishing Jesuit manpower, insisted on the essential and intrinsic role of laypeople in the works of the Society, specifically higher education. I believe that dedicated laypeople, Catholics, Christians, humanists are necessary not just for the carrying out of the Jesuit vision, but even for bringing it to full articulation.

I began with the thesis that the memory of justice lies at the heart of our Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian civilization and that it should therefore lie at the heart of Jesuit education.

In what sense can one say, without distortion, that the “memory of justice” as I have described it is at the heart of Jesuit education? It is not, after all, a phrase one finds in Jesuit documents. I believe that the memory of justice is at the heart of Jesuit education in the same way that the kingdom of Christ is at the heart of Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises. That kingdom is, to quote the words the Church uses on the feast of Christ the King, “a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.”

We don't talk about these things all the time. Each area of exploration, the humanities, the professions, composition, mathematics, philosophy, theology, has its own end. All aspects of culture, everything that has to do with human life, everything that humanizes is a worthy subject to be explored in a Jesuit university. Newman is right, I think, that the essence of a university is the teaching of universal knowledge for its own sake.

But for both Loyola and Newman knowledge pursued for its own sake and as its own end leads ultimately, or can lend at least, to the first beginning and ultimate end of all things and to the establishment of His kingdom on earth.