BC Observes 400th Year of Jesuits' Ratio Studiorum

BC Observes 400th Year of Jesuits' Ratio Studiorum

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Descartes and Moliere. Saints John of the Cross and Francis de Sales. Charles Carroll and Arthur Conan Doyle. James Joyce and "Tip" O'Neill. Fidel Castro and Bill Clinton.

Thinkers and statesmen, saints and the not-so-saintly, they are among the millions who have been educated at Jesuit institutions around the world under guidelines set forth 400 years ago in the blueprint for Jesuit schooling, the Ratio Studiorum . Though some of the specifics are no longer strictly adhered to, the Ratio continues to stand at the heart of Jesuit education at Boston College and hundreds of other Jesuit colleges, universities and high schools around the globe.

Boston College is observing the 400th anniversary of the Ratio Studiorum with a major Jesuitana exhibition that opens tomorrow at the Burns Library. An original edition of the Ratio Studiorum dating to 1599 will be among the rare volumes on display.

Burns Senior Reference Librarian John Atteberry reviews a 1599 copy of Ratio Studiorum from the library's Jesuitana Collection.

The exhibition also commemorates the 400th anniversary of the publication of the official directory to the Spiritual Exercises of Jesuit founder St. Ignatius of Loyola, which provided a systematic guide to the devotional regimen that has been central to the Jesuit experience.

An accompanying catalogue, " Ratio Studiorum : Jesuit Education, 1540-1773," has been edited by Senior Reference Librarian John Atteberry, the exhibit coordinator, and Graduate Research Assistant John Russell. Contributors include Burns Librarian Robert O'Neill, Music Department Chairman Assoc. Prof. T. Frank Kennedy, SJ, and art historian and former Jesuit Institute Fellow Gauvin Bailey, among others.

The Ratio Studiorum was "the Magna Carta of Jesuit education," according to John O'Malley, SJ, a Church history professor at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology and author of the catalogue's introduction. It had a profound impact on the nature and direction of the Society of Jesus, as well as the academic culture of European civilization, he added.

Introduced by the Jesuits in 1599 as a needed curricular guide for their rapidly expanding network of schools, the Ratio laid out the organization of Jesuit institutions to the smallest detail, while establishing a uniform course of study over at least 13 years.

Fr. O'Malley notes the Ratio differed from previous study plans in significant ways. It was meant for lay students as well as Jesuits, and it incorporated the humanities - such as literature, history and drama - as well as the traditional clerical subjects of theology and philosophy, thus combining the humanistic program of the Renaissance with the scholastic program of the Middle Ages.

While its codified approach discouraged innovation, according to Fr. O'Malley, the Ratio "had impact far beyond Jesuit institutions because it was seen as a coherent and lucid statement of ideals, methods and objectives shared broadly by educators in early modern Europe."

The Jesuit commitment to education symbolized by the Ratio , Fr. O'Malley writes, fostered in the order a special relationship to culture. Jesuit schools became their cities' cultural centers, producing plays and ballets and maintaining astronomical observatories. Jesuit teachers were versed in secular learning, prepared to teach both the Latin and Greek classics of the humanistic tradition and the scientific texts of Aristotle in the scholastic tradition.

Jesuit scholars would go on to produce a remarkable outpouring of books on myriad topics. "The schools took the Jesuits into just about every conceivable aspect of human culture and made them reflect upon it and come up with something to say," writes Fr. O'Malley.

Many examples of that early Jesuit scholarship will be on display at Burns, drawn from the library's Jesuitana Collection that focuses on volumes published before the Jesuits' suppression by Pope Clement XIV in 1773. It is the largest such collection in the United States.

"We've got this tremendous collection and this is a great opportunity to showcase it," said Burns Librarian O'Neill. "It seemed only fitting to celebrate both of these special anniversaries and the recent acquisitions with this special exhibit and accompanying catalogue."

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