Cover Letter to the Revised Ratio studiorum, Jan Roothaan (1832)

The 20th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, held in 1820, the first following the Jesuits’ restoration, offered an opportunity for the religious order to respond to the system of state-sponsored, or at least state-sanctioned, schools that had emerged since its suppression in 1773. The restored Jesuits faced the challenge of adjusting to the educational developments, many of which proved to be quite successful, without abandoning their educational heritage. Therefore, the congregation’s delegates empowered the superior general to begin a process to adjust the Ratio studiorum and to test those revisions. The process culminated in 1832 with the issuance of a revised Ratio. Jan Roothaan, superior general since 1829, affixed to the Ratio sent to Jesuits around the world the following cover letter. The Ratio received, Roothaan explains, was not a new document but the old plan’s “mere” adaptation to “present-day circumstances.” In the larger context, Roothaan seeks to assuage any concerns within the Catholic Church that the Jesuits were abandoning their tradition, so soon after their restoration. The version below is the first English translation of the full cover letter.



To Provincial Superiors, Rectors of Colleges, Prefects of Studies, and Teachers

Jan Roothaan, General Superior of the Society of Jesus



In the first general Congregation after the restoration of the Society, the provinces petitioned for, and subsequent experience has all the more demonstrated the great necessity of updating the plan for our studies. This task has been attended to on the authority of the last Congregation and it has finally found its way to completion.  I set the results before you, Reverend Fathers, to be realized in such way that if anything detrimental is discovered in its employment, it can be remedied; and if any likely improvement might be made, it can be added in its own good time.

I called to Rome, as you know, several Fathers chosen from different provinces. They had brought along with them points noted and commented upon in the Ratio Studiorum. After devoting long effort and careful attention to the comparison of these items with one another, they finally proposed what the Fathers Assistant and I have examined and carefully analyzed.  At last I offer this to you to be tested by experience and practice, so that then, corrected anew where there is need, or expanded, they might obtain the universal force and sanction of law. Whatever else it was, it was certainly a weighty undertaking, one in which nothing could have been done nonchalantly or precipitately. But neither was it a matter of having to fashion a new order of studies (as I pointed out in the letter to the provinces that called for fathers to be deputed to draw up what was necessary for this work). Rather, it was a matter of adjusting the very same venerable text to our times, so that people might realize with what great reverence this undertaking had to be handled, and how nothing was to be changed offhandedly or rashly in that work that had been composed by the very best men after a long process of gathering a great body of advice, well tested by the successful experience of almost two centuries, and often recommended by the praise even of the very enemies of the Society.

What, then? Of all the many innovations introduced into the education of young people over the last fifty years and more, could they all possibly be approved and adopted in our schools? New methods, new forms devised day after day, new arrangements of content and sequences in treating the disciplines, often in fact even conflicting and contradicting one another — how could these be able to become a norm for our studies? Rather what right-thinking person would not deplore so many innovations that have born such bitter fruits for Church and Society?

That in the more advanced classes or in the treatment of the more serious studies there is nothing really solid though there is much with a superficial appeal; that there is a disordered abundance of exuberant erudition and too little precise reasoning; that the disciplines, if you except physics and mathematics, have not made genuine progress but hover in almost utter confusion so that often you can hardly tell where the truth stands — all well-meaning people everywhere groan over these realities. From the abandonment and disregard of the study of rigorous logic and dialectic, errors worked their way even into the minds of quite educated people, and (by some unfathomable fate or fortune) the following propositions are celebrated as certain truths and praised to the skies: that nothing can be precisely and accurately said, and that no account should be taken of definition or distinction.  And so, after the philosophical disciplines have been lightly sampled, young people go forth furnished with no weapons against the sophistries of the innovators, which they do not even know how to distinguish from solid arguments.  Hence their minds are ensnared and captivated by all manner of errors (even ones so completely absurd that, if it did not involve the most important issues, they would deserve laughter than refutation) — but they have no way to unmask and demonstrate their falsity.

About secondary schooling what should I say? Every effort has been made that the boys learn as much as possible, but that they learn it in as short a time as possible and with the least possible effort. All well and good!  But if the boys barely taste so many different disciplines without truly digesting them, that variety may indeed lead them to think they that know a great deal and someday to swell the mob of the half-educated that undermines the learned disciplines just as much as society, if anything else — and yet they know nothing truly and solidly. A bit of everything; nothing fully. So, covering the humanities in a short time at a very impressionable age, even with their talent still undeveloped, they proceed to the most serious study of philosophy and the higher disciplines, from which they take almost no real profit, and by their enjoyment of greater freedom, they are swept headlong along on the wrong way as captives, soon to be teachers, to be sure, but (to put it quite mildly) not fully mature.

The devising of ever easier methods, if it has any advantage, certainly has the disadvantage (not at all a small one) that what first is attained without effort also is only most tenuously rooted in the mind, and what is quickly acquired is quickly forgotten. Then, there is a far more serious loss in the education of children, although perhaps many people do not pay it much attention: the important capacity gained by becoming accustomed at a very young age to serious intellectual endeavor and to enduring the work as they experience some pressure on themselves. All wise persons throughout history have realized how valuable this habit is, from youth on into every period of life, in mastering wicked emotional impulses and exercising self-control. The Holy Spirit teaches the same lesson where he says: “It is good for a person to bear the yoke from the time of his own youth” [Lamentations 3:27].

These manifold innovations and harmful procedures, therefore, especially insofar as they damage Church and society, are such that we cannot adopt them at all unless we would like to clearly deviate from the end for the sake of which the Society involves itself in the labors of education: that end is not at all limited to literary training alone but has especially as its goal the Christian education of youth. Without that, the unhappy experience of many years has proven that any abundance of scholarship and learning whatsoever brings more loss than advantage to society.

But although it is not fitting that we should permit these new methods nor right that we should do so insofar as they run counter to the Society’s Institute and aim, and although we could not even satisfy these lovers of innovations even if it were quite allowable or useful to do so, since many of them demand things as inconsistent and contradictory among themselves as with what is traditional, nevertheless, in some things that do not touch on the substance of a solid education, the necessity of the times compels us to diverge from the practice of our Fathers. In this case, serving that necessity is not only not wrong but even quite fully compatible with the manner of our Institute for the greater glory of God.

And indeed in taking up higher studies, how many points that once were not even controversial but that are now being sharply attacked in the unreasonableness of the times need to be established with secure arguments so that the very foundations of the truth are not overturned! And again, how many things that once were also elaborated at great length more to exercise ingenuity than to establish the truth should now be more profitably omitted, so that there may be time for more necessary matters, to confirm those teachings, I say, on which everything depends, and so that there might be in the light of truth an analysis and refutation of what ill-intentioned or wicked people have devised to raise doubts about even the most certain and most obvious matters!

A better age might have been allowed and those who seek no harm are allowed to indulge their talent and to dwell at length on less useful questions; but now certainly we have a greater obligation to attend to what is necessary, even all the more so because the course of studies is circumscribed almost everywhere within narrower limits. For that disadvantage we ourselves can indeed hope to provide a remedy, but we can hardly dare to expect it — and maybe not even hardly.

The same necessity now demands that more time than before be give to physics and to mathematics. The Society has never thought that these studies are foreign to our Institute, nor is it permissible for us now to neglect what has become so important in our times, and without which the Society’s educational institutions can in no way defend their own honor or answer people’s expectations.  Even if many have abused these disciplines to the detriment of most holy religion, that is no reason at all for us to abandon them; in fact, that is the very reason why it is necessary for Ours to devote themselves more zealously especially under this title [of religion] so as to be able to snatch from our enemies the weapons that they abuse to impugn the truth  and use them rightly to defend it.  For truth is everywhere self-consistent and in all the disciplines it always stands out as one and the same.  It cannot happen that what is true in physics or in mathematics ever contradicts the truth of a higher order, provided that fictions capriciously and rashly affirmed are not thrust in in place of what is true and undoubted. Exposing and shattering this very artifice of the wicked is most worthy of a Christian and religious physicist and mathematician.

Finally, in the plan for secondary schooling, we had to provide both that some time be scheduled for learning certain accessory subjects and that careful attention be given especially to the vernacular language and literature, but in such a way that the study of Greek and Latin language and literature always remains safe and secure.  These are even now, as they once were, the leading sources of solid learning and good literature and examples of most perfect beauty.  If they were better kept before our eyes and hearts, there would not appear day after day from so many clever people compositions that are quite strange and singular not less in form and style of expression than in ideas and opinions.  These are indeed popular objects of amazement and stupor; nevertheless all those who are wise and interested in true beauty painfully deplore them as glaring indications of an eloquence which has been disfigured along with our morals in these times.

All this effort to adapt the plan of studies has therefore been poured into serving the needs of our times, but in such a way that there might be as little as possible a departure from the solid and correct training of the young.

Now it remains, Reverend Fathers, that you enthusiastically and diligently put into practice what we have prepared and present to you here. It may be that some of the provisions are for now merely temporary until under the guidance of practice and experience we see what might perhaps be changed, what added, what removed. Nevertheless, if we only half-heartedly put these things into play because they are not yet thoroughly defined and established, we would never be able to render a reliable judgment about their outcome.  So I strongly recommend that superiors urge the execution of the plan. And in every college, some persons should be appointed to observe the outcome and to note any difficulty that may arise or possible improvement that may be made, and the provincials should submit to us their observations, after considering and evaluating them with their consultors.

And since the new opinions springing up day after day, especially in the philosophical disciplines, rightly ought to sharpen our vigilance, I judge that we must press for what the first Congregation of the restored Society instructed should be done, namely, that the provincials should prepare for my approval a list of opinions that it would not be useful for Ours to teach.

And so let us devote ourselves to the great service of educating the younger generation, energetically and each according to his own grade and office. For since it is one of the chief ministries of our Society, for the sake of which (among other things) Pius VII of blessed memory wanted the Society restored, and rulers and peoples especially sought the same, let us consider, I ask you, how much we should take it to heart, so that we may answer the expectation of Church and society, and commend our work to Almighty God, which is the most important thing: him I have not ceased begging for the happy outcome of this great work, offering many thousands of masses drawn from the treasury of the Society; nor, furthermore, will I cease begging, and I desire that you be fellow suppliants with me before the Lord in this same undertaking.


Rome, July 25, 1832



Original Source (English translation):

Translated by Claude Pavur, S.J., June 2, 2014, with the generous assistance of Dr. Clarence Miller and Fr. John Padberg, S.J. This text has been taken from pages 228 to 233 in G. M. Pachtler, S. J., Ratio Studiorum et Institutiones Scholasticae Societatis Jesu per Germaniam olim vigentes collectae concinnatae dilucidatae. Edited by Karl Kehrbach. Tomus 2. Ratio studiorum ann. 1586, 1599, 1832. Monumenta Germaniae paedagogica 5. Berlin: A. Hofmann & Comp., 1887.