Ignatius on the Society’s Involvement in Studies (1551)

In December 1551, Ignatius had his secretary Juan Alfonso de Polanco write to Antonio Araoz, the provincial of Spain, about the Society’s rapidly developing educational apostolate. What resulted was a concentrated epitome of the early Society’s thinking about this enterprise. Polanco swiftly covers issues of “method” (founding, administration, faculty, structure, content), and “advantages,” both for the Society and for the external students and the local civil society. It is apparent that Ignatius, even at this very early date, had a particular idea that he wanted to be replicated in new localities in light of the experience gained elsewhere. He was a great supporter and administrator of “Jesuit studies” from the Society’s earliest days. Of course he himself had made his own substantial investment in studies in Barcelona, Alcalá, Salamanca, and Paris (a period covering 1524–1534), and the Society itself was uniquely tied to the University of Paris, where all of the founders were students. Though Ignatius did not at first intend the Society to run its own schools, he soon saw the great apostolic promise of this work. He was happy to open as many colleges as feasible, showing a special enthusiasm for the Roman College. The following selection is from Jesuit Pedagogy, 1540–1616: A Reader, edited by Cristiano Casalini and Claude Pavur, S.J. To learn more about the title, please visit Jesuit Sources.

For more sources from Ignatius, please visit the Letters of Ignatius of Loyola.



The supreme grace and eternal love of Christ Our Lord be always to our constant favor and help. I have instructed Master Polanco to write to you about the pattern for founding colleges that is in place here, and about the advantages that our experience shows us to be accruing from them. I have wanted to entrust to you the task of seeing that (wherever possible) this manner of teaching is introduced in the colleges of the Society; and if we do not go beyond a humanistic program, it would not take much to establish this in a college. It would be very advantageous to have a couple of priests to hear confession and teach Christian doctrine, even if there were no preachers, and all the more so if there are some who have the talent to preach or give public exhortations. In Onate, Burgos, and Medina del Campo, it seems that it would be less trouble than in Salamanca, Alcala and Valencia, and Coimbra; but even in these universities, I would be happy if this way of proceeding could be introduced.


I leave the other matters to Master Polanco. I only entrust myself deeply to your prayers, and I ask that God our Lord give us his grace always to know his most holy will and to accomplish it completely.


Written below this text: =JHS= To my brother in our Lord, Doctor Araoz, provincial in Spain, of the Society of Jesus, in Valladolid or wherever he is.




The Peace of Christ!


Seeing that in your region as well as here in our own, God Our Lord is moving his servants to start various colleges of this Society, it has seemed to our father that it would be a good idea to give an account of the method and advantages which have been found through experience in the colleges here [in Italy], those of the colleges there being already well known; his intention is that this be carefully studied and, so far as the matter is in our power, nothing be left undone for God’s greater service and the aid of our neighbors.


The manner or method employed in founding a college is this. A city (such as Messina and Palermo in Sicily), or a ruler (such as the king of [the] Romans and the dukes of Ferrara and Florence), a private individual (such as the prior of the Trinita in Venice and Padua), or group of people (as in Naples, Bologna, and elsewhere) furnish an annual sum of money—some of them in perpetuity from the beginning, others not until they have come to know and verify the advantages of this work. A suitable building is procured and two or three priests of more solid learning are sent, the rest being students of our own who, in addition to advancing their own education, can aid that of others and, through their good example, personal contact, and learning, also assist them in virtue and spiritual progress.


The procedure in such places is this. At the beginning, three or four teachers in humane letters are appointed. One starts off with the elements of grammar, accommodating himself to beginners; another is assigned to those on an intermediate level; another for those advanced in grammar; and another for the more advanced humanities students in Latin, Greek, and—where there is a readiness for it—Hebrew. When the school has been announced, all who so desire are admitted free and without receipt of any money or gratuity—that is, all who know how to read and write and are beginning Latin grammar. However, if they are young boys they must have the approval of their parents or guardians and they must observe certain conditions, as follows:


They must be under obedience to their teachers regarding which subjects they study and for how long.


They must go to confession at least once a month.


Every Sunday they must attend the class on Christian doctrine given in the college, as well as the sermon when there is one in the church.


They must observe decorum in their speech and in all other matters, and be orderly. Where they are not or fail to behave as they ought, in the case of young boys for whom words do not suffice, there should be a hired extern corrector to punish them and keep them in awe; none of our own men is to lay a hand on anyone.


The names of all these pupils are registered. Care is taken not only to provide various kinds of classes but also to have them exercise themselves in debating, writing compositions, and speaking Latin all the time, in such a way that they will make great progress in letters along with the virtues.


When there are a fair number of students already grounded in humane letters, a person is appointed to inaugurate the arts course [namely philosophy]; and when there are a number of students well grounded in arts, a lecturer is appointed to teach theology—following the method of Paris, with frequent exercises. From then on, the whole arrangement is continued. For experience has shown that it is inadvisable to begin by teaching arts or theology: lacking a foundation, the students make no progress. This plan applies where there is a readiness for more than humane letters. This does not exist everywhere; in such places it is sufficient to teach languages and humane letters.


Beyond this, the priests in the colleges will aid in hearing confessions, preaching, and all other spiritual matters; moreover, in this work the young men sometimes have grace that equals or exceeds that of the priests, God Our Lord being greatly served thereby.


So much for the method. Now I shall mention the advantages which experience has shown to accrue from this kind of college for the Society itself, for the extern students, and for the people or territory where the college is situated (although this can in part be gathered from what has already been said).


The advantages for our own men are these:

1. First of all, those who teach make progress themselves and learn a great deal by teaching others, acquiring greater confidence and mastery in their learning.


2. Our own scholastics who attend the classes will benefit from the care, continuity, and diligence which the teachers devote to their office.


3. They not only advance in learning but also acquire facility in preaching and teaching Christian doctrine, get practice in the other means they will later use for helping their neighbors, and grow in confidence through seeing the fruit which God Our Lord allows them to see.


4. Although no one may urge the students, particularly young boys, to enter the Society, nevertheless, through good example and personal contact, as well as the Latin declamations on the virtues held on Sundays, young men are spontaneously attracted, and many laborers can be won for the vineyard of Christ Our Lord. So much for the advantages to the Society itself.

The benefits for the extern students who come to take advantage of the classes are the following:


5. They are given a quite adequate grounding in letters through the great care which is taken to ensure that everyone learns by means of classes, debates, and compositions, so that they are seen to profit greatly in learning.


6. Persons who are poor and unable to pay the ordinary teachers, much less private tutors at home, here obtain gratis an education which they could hardly succeed in obtaining at great expense.


7. They profit in spiritual matters through learning Christian doctrine and hearing in the sermons and regular exhortations what they need for their eternal salvation.


8. They make progress in purity of conscience and consequently in all virtue through the monthly confessions and the care taken to see that they are decent in their speech and virtuous in their entire lives.


9. They draw much greater merit and fruit from their studies, since they make a practice of directing them all to the service of God from the time they begin studying, as they are taught to do.


For the people of the country or territory where these colleges are established, there are also the following advantages:


10. Financially, parents are relieved of the expense by having teachers to instruct their children in letters and virtue.


11. Aside from the schooling, they also have in the colleges persons who can preach sermons to the people and to those in monasteries and who can assist them through administration of the sacraments to quite good effect, as has been seen.


12. The people themselves and the members of their households are drawn to spiritual concerns by the example of their children, and are attracted to going more often to confession and living Christian lives.


13. The people of the country have in our men people to inspire and aid them in undertaking charitable works such as hospitals, houses for reformed women, and the like, for which charity also impels our men to have a concern.


14. From among those who are at present only students, various persons will in time emerge—some for preaching and the care of souls, others for the government of the land and the administration of justice, and others for other responsibilities. In short, since young people turn into adults, their good formation in life and learning will benefit many others, with the fruit expanding more widely every day.


I could elaborate further, but this will suffice to explain our thinking here about colleges of this kind.


May Christ, our eternal salvation, guide us all for his better service. Amen.



Original Source (English translation):

Jesuit Pedagogy, 1540–1616: A Reader, edited by Cristiano Casalini and Claude Pavur, S.J. (Boston: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2016), “The Society’s Involvement in Studies (1551),” 55–59.


Original Source (Spanish):

Cartas de san Ignacio de Loyola, fundador de la Compañía de Jesús (Madrid: Aguado, 1875), 2:386–387; and Monumenta Ignatiana ex autographis vel ex antiquioribus exemplis collecta, Series prima, Sancti Ignatii de Loyola, Societatis Jesu fundatoris, epistolae et instructiones, Tomus quartus [MHSI 29; Epistolae Ignatianae 4] (Matriti: 1906), letter 2226, pg. 5–9.

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