BMCR 2021.02.41

Joseph de Jouvancy, S.J.: The way to learn and the way to teach

, , Joseph de Jouvancy, S.J.: The way to learn and the way to teach. Boston: Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies, 2020. Pp. iv, 270. ISBN 9781947617049 $39.95.

This volume makes available for the first time an edited Latin text and an English translation of the Ratio discendi et docendi, which Joseph de Jouvancy S.J. (1643-1719) composed as a guidebook to support the Jesuit educational institutions throughout the world. At a time when zeal for the humanities curriculum was in decline among certain Jesuit schools, the Superior General tasked Father Jouvancy, “a renowned Jesuit classical ‘man of Letters’” (p.1) with articulating the ideal Jesuit approach to the Humanities. The Latin text is the 1703 edition that received the normative approbation. The book also includes an introduction which provides a useful outline of the intellectual and historical background of the work.

The translation is excellent: it is clear and faithful, managing to walk the line between stiff literal and loose readable prose. The Latin and English texts are free from typographical errors. The notes to the translation are one of the unexpected joys of the edition: the source material and references are explained in full, which opens avenues of new interest and will likely be a catalyst to future research. Jouvancy’s opinions on Classical authors (he renders his judgement about most authors of the literary canon vis-à-vis their suitability for the student and teacher) show him to be a critical reader, and his suggestions for feeding the flame of the intellectual life and for keeping students interested and engaged certainly endure.

Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, established the first Jesuit school for lay students at Messina somewhat reluctantly in 1548, but soon afterward other Jesuit schools quickly sprang up all over Europe and within the next few years more than thirty opened, including the one that would eventually evolve into the first real Jesuit university (Università Gregoriana in Rome). Within half a century Jesuit education had spread across Europe and into China and Japan, and by 1770, there were 800 Jesuit schools around the world. They constituted the largest system of education before the modern era of public schooling and the only truly international one. The Society of Jesus (the official name of the Jesuits) educated such influential figures as Descartes, Voltaire and Diderot, and they numbered the polymaths Matteo Ricci and Athanasius Kircher in their ranks. Their famous model began with the modus Parisiensis by which the founding members of the order had been trained. The Jesuit adoption of some elements of the Parisian method have resulted in their ubiquity in Western education: study-groups, the division of students into classes, students progressing from one class to a higher one. Perhaps two particularly noteworthy pillars of the Jesuit system were the mastery of the Classics and the performance of drama: students imbibed wisdom and eloquence from great drama by acting in plays and mastered the Classical languages with a tiered reading program. Thus, the Jesuit education became distinctive by combining the modus Parisiensis with the basic features of Italian humanistic training. The curriculum for the early classes rested heavily in the Classics, with the goal of becoming a Christian vir bonus dicendi peritus. In order to assist with the rapid expansion of Jesuit education, the order issued the central document around which Jesuit education developed, its famous Ratio Studiorum (1599), which provided guidance regarding the schools’ administration, curriculum, and discipline. The Ratio Studiorum was not composed as a tract of educational philosophy, but rather as a manual of the Jesuit institutional system by laying out the structure, contents, and governance within a Jesuit school. Jesuit educators would have to wait more than a hundred years for the fuller exposition of Jesuit pedagogy.

The Order asked Joseph de Jouvancy to adapt a handbook that he had published for teachers of the Humanities so that it could be adopted in Jesuit schools around the world as a careful articulation the Jesuit course of studies in the Humanities with principled attention paid to the means and manner of instruction, and encouragements for the instructors. The result was a widely popular and often reprinted booklet known variously as Magistris scholarum inferiorum Societatis Iesu de ratione discendi et docendi, ratio discendi et docendi or simply Ratio Juvenci. In it Jouvancy expanded on previous guides and expanded well beyond them, describing how Jesuit instructors should pursue their own studies even while they were engaged in teaching. It is both a guide to proper teaching and an exhortation to the teacher.

Due to the significant role of Jesuit education in European intellectual history and the perennial need for pedagogical renewal, this edition by Casalini and Pavur is a welcome addition to the historical of Jesuit education. The translation is readable enough and the material so relevant that scholars of the history of education or those interested in the history of Catholic pedagogy can now approach a text that would otherwise be inaccessible.  This is also a worthwhile contribution to recent literature in Neo-Latin studies. This volume will support research into the sources of and influences on Jesuit authors. It is probably the case that the Ratio studiorum has had a greater effect on more people than most other things written in Latin after 1500, and the Ratio discendi et docendi provides an essential key to understanding Jesuit education in the eighteenth century. Forty years ago there was little or no regular contact between Neo-Latinists and the Jesuit educational system; now, Casalini and Pavur contribute to a growing interest in and appreciation of the vast expanse of Jesuit literature.[1] One can only hope that this trend will continue.


[1] Inter alia, Haskell, Loyola’s Bees (Oxford: OUP, 2003), Maryks (ed.) Exploring Jesuit Distinctiveness (Brill, 2016), Moynes, Irish Jesuit Annual Letters (Dublin: Irish Manuscript Commision, 2019), O’Malley, The First Jesuits (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1993).