Ignatius on Theological Studies (1551)

King Ferdinand I requested that the Jesuits come to Vienna in 1551. The success of the Jesuits in teaching there led to a discussion of the ways to restore the decayed faculty of theology at the University of Vienna, so as to provide Germany with educated Catholic priests. In this letter, sent by commission to Claude Jay, Ignatius suggests a refinement of Ferdinand’s initial plan for this restoration. It includes ideally the study of languages (Latin and, if possible, Greek and Hebrew) and then of philosophy, both as preparation for theology. He bases his plan upon the “modus Parisiensis,” which the first members of the Society had experienced at the University of Paris.

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





May the grace and peace of Christ our Lord be always present and grow in our souls.

From Your Reverence’s letter of July 21, our father Master Ignatius has been informed of His Majesty the King’s very holy intention to reform theological studies at the university of Vienna—or rather to restore them, since, as we understand, they have been practically abandoned for lack of students in that faculty. And certainly, given the present times and conditions in Germany, this measure seems highly appropriate and necessary. Our Father and all of us would be delighted if the Society could serve His Majesty in this. However, I will tell you freely what our thinking is here (and you should represent to His Majesty whatever part of it you think proper) about the means for achieving this goal of the restoration of theological studies in Vienna.

Three approaches might present themselves to someone reflecting upon this problem. The first is the one which you write that His Majesty wishes to employ. This is to have each province send a number of theology students, including some men of our own, and to have frequent lectures and exercises, etc. This would be an excellent procedure provided there could be found in Vienna, or sent there from the provinces, a good number of students ready to take up theology and study it with success; the plan apparently presupposes this as an indispensable condition. But there is reason to fear that such readiness is lacking, on two counts. The first is that, as we have learned, there is at present among the Germans little inclination of will and little devotion for the study of theology, particularly Scholastic theology. Without such inclination and devotion, any exercises will be coldly done and result in little progress. The other reason is that, even if well-disposed, the students will be insufficiently provided with the indispensable foundation in logic and philosophy, perhaps even in languages. Even if some are found, they will be very few, and theological exercises require a goodly number of suitable and well-grounded students; otherwise, as experience in other universities shows, the whole thing quickly grows cold, the best program being useless if there are no students to follow it; and thus the goal aimed at would fail to be attained.

If it is claimed that our own scholastics could form a student body, there would still not be enough of them. Moreover, others might get the idea that theology should be left to religious, and this would thwart the purpose of furnishing educated pastors for the churches or parishes, since our own men are unable to accept such curacies. The first plan, then, seems to suffer under these disadvantages.

The second plan would be, with a view to restoring the study of theology, to begin with a more long-range preparation and motivation of the students. Thus, the provinces would send young men destined for the study of theology who would first receive a grounding in Latin and, where there is aptitude or talent for it, Greek and Hebrew. Once a substantial number—say a hundred or so—were solidly grounded in the humanities, they could begin the arts [philosophy] course and be carefully trained in it. In the following years good numbers of others with a solid grounding in humanities would also enter succeeding courses, theology always being kept in view as the goal, for which the teachers of the humanities and arts should steadily inculcate in their students an enthusiasm and love. Thus, upon completion of the arts course, out of the hundred who started at least fifty, and perhaps more, will be suitable for the theology course. With a sufficient number of students who are really eager to study theology and solidly grounded in the lower disciplines, they will make real progress in theology.

Excellent as this plan appears, certain problems with it may be pointed out. The first is having to wait so long to see the results of all this effort—although a delay of five or six years should not be a major consideration when the result will go on indefinitely. The second difficulty is that there are many students in the university already advanced in the languages, and some even in philosophy, who would be disinclined to take the lower subjects. The third is the embarrassment of having a university like that of Vienna go without the higher disciplines being taught during the period while students are being grounded in the lower ones.

To avoid these difficulties a third plan might be employed. It is the following. While allowing the lectures in philosophy and theology to continue as they have in the past, stress should be placed, as indicated above on the second plan, on efforts to lay a solid foundation for the future study of theology. This would be done by preparing and training the students in the lower disciplines of languages in such a way that those who will be sent from the provinces for theological studies and all others studying languages at the university devote themselves to getting a good foundation in the humane letters, under teachers who will take care to enkindle in them a longing for sacred doctrine and instill in them a love for it. Once a sufficient number are far enough along in languages, an arts [philosophy] course should be started with solid and regular exercises according to the method of Paris. This would be continued in succeeding years, until, with the completion of the arts or philosophy course, there are a good number of well-trained students eager for theology. Then it will be possible to inaugurate a theology course given according to the method of Paris and continued in subsequent years. Thus the public lectures would have a larger attendance and an audience capable of profiting by them. For this third plan, the college being founded by His Majesty the King for our Society could be of considerable help. In the first place, the college will appoint instructors in humanities and languages who, over and above their lectures, will devote special attention to ensuring that the students do exercises, make progress in scholarship and good morals, and have a love for the study of theology. Once there are enough well-prepared students, the college can also furnish lecturers in philosophy who will proceed as we have indicated, preparing their students for theology. Once these are ready, the college will likewise be able to supply masters in theology itself, who will give the courses according to the method of Paris, where the Society first did its studies and with whose procedures it is familiar.

This plan seems to be free from objections. The first disadvantage mentioned above, the delay, can be more easily tolerated (especially being unavoidable), there being no interruption of the university’s usual lectures. The second difficulty—the presence of students who are already advanced—disappears for the same reason: if they are unwilling to lay a better foundation, they can go on as they are doing. The third—embarrassment to the university—is no longer a problem because things will continue there just as before. Moreover, if university lecturers leave and cannot be replaced, a class in Sacred Scripture and another in cases of conscience or the like could be provided from the college until there are students prepared (as outlined above) to start Scholastic theology with a solid grounding. While it might seem an excessive commitment for the Society to provide teachers first in humanities and later also in philosophy and theology, so great is our debt to His Majesty the King, and so great the public good likely to result, that we may in no way fail to do this.

Hence, Your Reverence should discuss all this with the bishop of Laibach and, if he approves, with His Majesty the King. At least by explaining his thought and offering to do what he can, Our Father is partially paying his general debt of charity and the special debt of service he owes to His Majesty the King for the glory of God our Lord.

May he in his supreme and infinite wisdom guide and govern us all as is best for the salvation of souls and for his praise and honor. Amen.






Original Source (English Translation):

Ignatius of Loyola: Letters and Instructions, ed. John W. Padberg, et al. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996, “To Claude Jay, by commission, Rome, August 8, 1551,” pg. 352–355.