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Ratio Studiorum

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The term "Ratio Studiorum" is commonly used to designate the educational system of the Jesuits; it is an abbreviation of the official title, "Ratio atque Institutio Studiorum Societatis Jesu", i.e. "Method and System of the Studies of the Society of Jesus". The Constitutions of the Society from the beginning enumerated among the primary objects of the Society: teaching catechism to children and the ignorant, instructing youth in schools and colleges, and lecturing on philosophy and theology in the universities. Education occupied so prominent a place that the Society could rightly be styled a teaching order. Even during the lifetime of the founder, St. Ignatius, colleges were opened in various countries, at Messina, Palermo, Naples, Gandia, Salamanca, Alcalà, Valladolid, Lisbon, Billom, and Vienna; many more were added soon after his death, foremost among them being Ingolstadt, Cologne, Munich, Prague, Innsbruck, Douai, Bruges, Antwerp, Liège, and others. In the fourth part of the Constitutions general directions had been laid down concerning studies, but there was as yet no defininte, detailed, and universal system of education, the plans of study drawn up by Fathers Nadal, Ledesma, and others being only private works. With the increase of the number of colleges the want of a uniform system was felt more and more. During the generalate of Claudius Acquaviva (1581-1614), the educational methods of the Society were finally formulated. In 1584 six experienced schoolmen, selected from different nationalities and provinces, were called to Rome, where for a year they studied pedagogical works, examined regulations of colleges and universities, and weighed the observations and suggestions made by prominent Jesuit educators. The report drawn up by this committee was sent to the various provinces in 1586 to be examined by at least five experienced men in every province. The remarks, censures, and suggestions of these men were utilized in the drawing up of a second plan, which, after careful revision, was printed in 1591 as the "Ratio atque Institutio Studiorum". Reports on the practical working of this plan were again sent to Rome, and in 1599 the final plan appeared, the "Ratio atque Institutio Studiorum Societatis Jesu", usually quoted as "Ratio Studiorum". Every possible effort had been made to produce a practical system of education; theory and practice alike had been consulted, suggestions solicited from every part of the Catholic world, and all advisable modifications adopted. The Ratio Studiorum must be looked upon as the work not of individuals, but of the whole Society.

At the present time the question of origin is a favourite topic of historical investigation. It has been asserted that the Ratio was modelled chiefly on the theories of the Spanish Humanist, Luis Vives (see VIVES, JUAN LUIS), or on the plan of the famous Strasburg "reformer" and educationist, John Sturm. No such dependence has been proved, and we can unhesitatingly point to other sources. The method of teaching the higher branches (theology, philosophy, and the sciences) was an adaptation of the system prevailing in the great Catholic universities, especially in Paris, where St. Ignatius and his first companions had studied. The literary course is modelled after the traditions of the humanistic schools of the Renaissance period; it is probable that the flourishing schools of the Netherlands (Louvain, Liège, and others) furnished the models for various features of the Ratio. Certain features common to the Ratio and the plan of Sturm are accounted for naturally by the fact that the Strasburg educationist had studied at Liège, Louvain, and Paris, and thus drew on the same source from which the framers of the Ratio had derived inspirations. Several Jesuits prominent in the drawing up of the Ratio were natives of the Netherlands, or had studied in the most celebrated schools of that country. But, as is evident from the description of the origin of the Ratio, its authors were not mere imitators; the most important source from which they drew was the collective experience of Jesuit teachers in various colleges and countries. The document of 1599 remained the authoritative plan of studies in the schools of the order until the suppression of the latter in 1773. However, both the Constitutions and the Ratio explicitly declared that, according to the special needs and circumstances of different countries and times, changes could be introduced by superiors. As a consequence, there was and is a great variety in many particular points found in different countries and periods. After the restoration of the Society in 1814, it was felt that the changed conditions of intellectual life necessitated changes in the Ratio and, in 1832, the Revised Ratio was published; nothing was changed in the essentials or the fundamental principles, but innovations were made in regard to branches of study. In the colleges Latin and Greek remained the principal subjects, but more time and care were to be devoted to the study of the mother-tongue and its literature of history, geography, mathematics, and the natural sciences. In more recent times still greater emphasis has been laid on non-Classical branches. Thus the Twenty-third General Congregation (legislative assembly of the Society) specially recommended the study of natural sciences. Non-Classical schools were pronounced proper to the Society as well as Classical institutions. In regard to methods, the present general declared in 1910 that, "as the early Jesuits did not invent new methods of teaching but adopted the best methods of their age, so will the Jesuits now use the best methods of our own time". This voices the practice of Jesuit colleges, where physics, chemistry, biology, physiology, astronomy, geology, and other branches are taught according to the established principles of modern science. From this it is clear that it is not the intention of the Society to make the Ratio Studiorum stationary and binding in every detail; on the contrary, it is intended that the educational system of the order shall adapt itself to the exigencies of the times.

Concerning the character and contents of the Ratio a brief description must suffice. The final Ratio did not contain any theoretical discussion or exposition of principles. Such discussions had preceded and were contained in the trial Ratio of 1585. The document of 1599 was rather a code of laws a collection of regulations for the officials and teachers. These regulations are divided as follows: I. Rules for the provincial superior; for the rector, in whose hands is the government of the whole college; for the prefect of studies, who is the chief assistant of the rector and has direct supervision of the classes and everything connected with instruction, while another assistant of the rector, the prefect of discipline, is responsible for all that concerns order and discipline; II. Rules for the professors of theology: Scripture, Hebrew, dogmatic theology, ecclesiastical history, canon law, and moral theology; III. Rules for the professors of philosophy, physics, and mathematics; IV. Rules for the teachers of the studia inferiora (the lower department), comprising the literary branches. In this department there were originally five classes (schools), later frequently six: the three (or four) Grammar classes, corresponding largely with a Classical high school; then the class of Humanities and the class of Rhetoric (freshman and sophomore). Besides Latin and Greek, other branches were taught from the beginning under the name of "accessories"—especially history, geography, and antiquities. As was said above, gradually more attention was paid to the study of the mother-tongue and its literature. Mathematics and natural sciences were originally taught in the higher course (the department of Arts), together with philosophy; in more recent times they are taught also in the lower department. In philosophy Aristotle was prescribed as the standard author in the old Ratio, but he is not mentioned in the revised Ratio; St. Thomas Aquinas was to be the chief guide in theology. The Ratio Studiorum does not contain any provisions for elementary education. The cause of this omission is not, as some have thought, contempt for this branch of educational activity, much less opposition to popular instruction, but the impossibility of entering that vast field to any great extent. The Constitutions declared elementary education to be "a laudable work of charity, which the Society might undertake, if it had a sufficient number of men". In missionary countries, however, Jesuits have frequently devoted themselves to elementary education.

If it be asked what is most characteristic of the Ratio Studiorum, the following features may be mentioned: It was, first of all, a system well thought out and well worked out, and formulated at a time when in most educational establishments there was little system. The practical rules and careful supervision insured efficiency even in the case of teachers of moderate talent, while to the many teachers of more than ordinary ability sufficient scope was left for the display of their special aptitudes. The arrangement of subjects secured a combination of literary, philosophical, and scientific training. The Ratio insisted not on a variety of branches taught simultaneously (the bane of many modern systems), but on a few well-related subjects, and these were to be taught thoroughly. To secure thoroughness, frequent repetitions (daily, weekly, and monthly) were carried on in all grades. What the teacher presented in his prœlectio (i.e. explanation of grammar or authors in the lower grades, or lecture in the higher faculties) was to be assimilated by the student through a varied system of exercises: compositions, discussions, disputations, and contests. Attention was paid to the physical welfare of the students, school hours and work being so arranged as to leave sufficient time for healthful play and exercise. Compared with the severity of many earlier schools, the discipline was mild, the barbarous punishments not unfrequently inflicted by educators of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries being strictly forbidden. For the moral training of the pupils much was expected from the personal contact with the teacher, who was supposed to take an interest in every individual pupil. Religious training was the foremost object, and religious influence and inspiration were to pervade all teaching.

In modern times objections have been raised against various features of the Ratio Studiorum, but most of them are either based on a misunderstanding of the Ratio, or directed against features which are entirely unessential. Thus the supervision and examination of students by other pupils, the constant colloquial use of Latin, etc. are secondary features which have been abolished in most Jesuit schools. Much has been said against the supposed disastrous influence of emulation and rivalry, encouraged by the Ratio, and the awarding of prizes and premiums. This system is not necessarily dangerous and, if properly and cautiously used, may become a wholesome stimulus. At the time when the elective system was looked upon by many as the greatest modern discovery in education, the Ratio Studiorum was severely censured for upholding the "antiquated system of prescribed courses". As the free elective system is now considered a failure by the foremost educationists, it is not necessary to refute this charge against the Ratio. Besides, there is nothing in the Jesuit system which prohibits a reasonable amount of election, and many American Jesuit colleges have introduced certain elective branches in the higher classes. In regard to the numerous controversies concerning Jesuit education, Mr. Brown, U. S. Commissioner of Education (1911), has well observed that "in most of these controversies the Jesuit side is the side of many who are not Jesuits" (Educational Review, Dec., 1904, p. 531). Even critics who judge the Ratio with excessive severity are compelled to admit that it contains "much educational vision and experience, practical skill, and a pedagogical insight which never swerves from the main purpose" (Professor Fleischmann). Most of its essential features can well be retained and will prove advantageous no matter what new branches of study or methods of teaching are introduced.

Some points deserve to be specially treated on account of the serious objections raised against the Ratio. We hear frequent, and often animated, discussions concerning the aim or scope of educational systems and of various branches of study. What was the intellectual scope of the Ratio Studiorum? It cannot be better defined than in the words of the general of the Society, Father Martin, who said in 1892: "The characteristics of the Ratio Studiorum are not to be sought in the subject matter, nor in the order and succession in which the different branches are taught, but rather in what may be called the "form", or the spirit of the system. This form, or spirit, consists chiefly in the training of the mind [efformatio ingenii], which is the object, and in the various exercises, which are the means of attaining this object." This training or formation of the mind means the gradual and harmonious development of the various powers or faculties of the soul—of memory, imagination, intellect, and will; it is what we now call a general and liberal education. The training given by the Ratio was not to be specialized or professional, but general, and was to to lay the foundation for professional studies. In this regard the Ratio stands in opposition to various modern systems which aim at the immediately useful and practical or, at best, allot a very short time to general education; it stands in sharp contrast with those systems which advocate the earliest possible beginning of specialization. Jesuit educationists think, with many others, that "the higher the level on which the professional specializing begins, the more effective it will be". Besides, there are many spheres of thought, many branches of study, especially literary and historical, which may not be required for professional work, but which are necessary for a higher, broader, and truly liberal culture. The educated man is to be not merely a wage-earner, but one who takes an intelligent interest in the great questions of the day, and who thoroughly understands the important problems of life, intellectual, social, political, literary, philosophical, and religious. To accomplish this a solid general training, preparatory to strictly professional work and reasonably prolonged, is most valuable. One of the means, in fact the most important one, for this liberal training, the Ratio finds in the study of the Classics. Much has been said and written, within the past decades, for and against the value of the Classics as a means of culture. The Ratio does not deny the educational value of other branches, as sciences, modern languages, etc., but it highly values the Classical curriculum not merely because it is the old traditional system, but because, so far, it has proved to be the best means for giving the mind the much desired liberal training and general culture. It cannot be denied that the study of Latin, in particular, is excellently fitted to train the mind in clear and logical thinking. Immanent logic has been called the characteristic of the Latin language and its grammar, and its study has been termed a course in applied logic. Some writers have asserted that the Ratio prescribed Latin because it was the language of the Church, and of political and scholarly intercourse of former centuries, and that for this reason the perfect mastery of Latin, the acquisition of a Ciceronian style, was the primary aim of Jesuit education. It is true that in former ages, when Latin was the one great international tongue of the West, the study of this language had an eminently practical purpose, and both Protestant and Catholic schools aimed at imparting a mastery of it. But this was by no means the only object even in those days. As a distinguished Frendh Jesuit educationist expressed it in 1669: "Besides literary accomplishments gained from the study of the Classical languages, there are other advantages, especially an exquisite power and facility of reasoning", that is, in modern terms, mental training. The same is evident from the fact that Greek was always taught, certainly not for the purpose of conversation and intercourse. As there are many other advantages, besides the formal training to be derived from the study of the Classics, the Ratio needs no apology for the high value it set on them.

As was said above, the various exercises (the "prelection", memory lessons, compositions, repetitions, and contests) are the means of training the mind. The typical form of Jesuit education, minutely described in the Ratio, is called prœlectio; it means "lecturing" in the higher faculties, and its equivalent (Vorlesung) is even now used in German for the lectures in the universities. In the lower grades it means "explanation", but, as it has some special features, it is best to retain the word in an English dress as "prelection". It is applied both to the interpretation of authors and to the explanation of grammar, prosody, precepts of rhetoric, poetry, and style. In regard to the authors, the text was first to be read by the teacher, distinctly, accurately, and intelligently, as the best introduction to the understanding of the text. Then follow the interpretation of the text, formerly a paraphrase of the contents in Latin, now a translation into the vernacular; linguistic explanations of particular sentences; study of poetical or rhetorical precepts contained in the passage; finally, what is called "erudition" (i.e. antiquarian and subject explanation, including historical, archæological, geographical, biographical, political, ethical, and religious details, according to the contents). From many documents it is evident that a great deal of interesting and useful information was given under this head. But what is more important, the systematic handling of the text, the completeness of the explanation from every point of view, was an excellent means of training in accuracy and thoroughness.

Still it has been maintained that this method of teaching was too "formal", too "mechanical", and that as a result "originality and independence of mind, love of truth for its own sake", were suppressed (Quick). Should this "independence of mind" be taken as unrestrained liberty of thought in religious matters, as outspoken liberty of thought in religious matters, as outspoken or disguised Rationalism which places itself above the whole deposit of Divine Revelation, it must, indeed, be admitted that the Ratio and the whole Jesuit teaching are opposed to this kind of "originality and independence of mind". This, however, is a question of philosophy and theology rather than of pedagogical methods. Still, even some Catholic writers have thought that the Jesuit system is unfavourable to the development of great individualities, at least among the members of the order. Cardinal Newman says: "What a great idea, to use Guizot's expression, is the Society of Jesus! What a creation of genius is its organization; but so well adapted is the institution to its object that for that very reason it can afford to crush individualities, however gifted" (Hist. Sketches, III, 71). Whether the great cardinal here fully endorses Guizot's sentiments or not, it is certain that he virtually refutes them in another passage, when he states that the order was not over- zealous about its theological traditions, but suffered its great theologians to controvert with one another. "In this intellectual freedom its members justly glory; inasmuch as they have set their affections not on the opinions of the Schools, but on the souls of men" (ibid., II, 369). The history of the Society is the best refutation of the charge of crushing individualities. The literary and scientific activity of the order has been admired by its bitterest enemies. It has produced not only great theologians (Suarez, Vasquez, Molina, de Lugo, and others), but men prominently mentioned among the earlier Orientalists and writers on comparative language, as Hervas, Beschi, Ricci, Prémare, Gaubil; in the field of mathematics and natural sciences high distinction has been obtained by Clavius, called "the Euclid of his age", chief agent in the reformation of the Calendar under Gregory XIII; Grimaldi, Scheiner, and Secchi are famous as astronomers; Athanasius Kircher was a polyhistor in the best sense of the term; Hardouin, though frequently hypercritical and eccentric, was a most acute critic and in many ways far in advance of his age; Petavius was the father of the historical treatment of dogma and a leader in chronology; and the Bolandists have achieved a work which is truly a monumentum œre perennius. If the number of great men be taken as a criterion of the merit of an educational system, a long roll can be exhibited of pupils who were among the most prominent men in Europe: poets like Calderon, Tasso, Corneille, Molière, Goldoni; orators like Bossuet; scholars like Galileo, Descartes, Buffon, Muratori, Montesquieu, Malesherbes; statesmen like Richelieu; church dignitaries like St. Francis de Sales and Benedict XIV, called "the most learned of the Popes". All these men were trained under the Ratio, and, though it would be puerile to claim all their greatness for the system of education, one thing is certain, namely that the Ratio did not crush the originality and individuality of these pupils, whether members of the order of outside it. Nor has the educational system of the Society been sterile in more recent times in this regard; among its pupils it numbers men who have become distinguished in every walk of life.

The history of the practical working of the Ratio is the history of the colleges of the Society. In 1706 the number of collegiate and university institutions was over 750; Latin America alone had 96 colleges before the suppression of the Society. Some of the Jesuit colleges had over 2000 pupils each; while it is impossible to give an absolute average, 300 seems to be the very lowest. This would give the 700 and more colleges a sum total of over 210,000 students, all trained under the same system. Even non-Catholics bestowed great praise on the educational efficiency of the Jesuit schools; it was a common complaint among Protestants that many non-Catholic parents sent their sons to Jesuit schools because they considered the training given there superior to that obtained elsewhere. The suppression of the Society in the second half of the eighteenth century meant the total loss of property, houses, libraries, and observatories. After its restoration it had to struggle into existence under altered and unfavourable conditions. During the nineteenth century the Jesuits were persecuted almost without cessation in one country or other, and driven out again and again. These persecutions seriously hampered the educational work of the Society and prevented it from obtaining the brilliant success of former days. Still, the Jesuits possess now a respectable number of colleges, which is continually increasing, particularly in English-speaking countries.


PACHTLER, Ratio Studiorum et institutiones scholasticæ Societatis Jesu, per Germaniam olim Vigentes in Monumenta Germaniæ Pædagogia, II, V, IX, XVI (Berlin, 1867-94), the standard work, containing the text of the various revisions of the Ratio Studiorum and many other valuable documents; Monumenta historica Societatis Jesu (Madrid, 1894—); HUGHES, Loyola and the Educational System of the Jesuits in Great Educators Series (New York, 1892); SCHWICKERATH, Jesuit Education, Its History and Principles, Viewed in the Light of Modern Educational Problems (St. Louis, 1903); valuable notes on this work by BROWN in Educational Review (December, 1904), 523-32; DUER, Die Studienordnung des Gesellschaft Jesu (Freiburg, 1896); Commentaries on the educational practice of the Society by the Jesuits SACCHINI, JOUVANCY, KROPF, PERPIÑA, BONIFACIUS, and POSSEVIN, translated into German and annotated by STIER, SCHWICKERATH, ZORELL, SCHEID, and FELL in Herder's Bibliothek der Katholischen Pädagogik, X, XI (Freiburg, 1898-1901; QUICK, Educational Reformers (New York, 1890); PAULSEN, Gesch. des gelehrten Unterrichts auf den deutschen Schulen (2nd ed., Leipzig, 1896); SCHMID, Gesch. der Erziehung, III-V (Stuttgart, 1884-1901); FLEISCHMANN in REIN, Encyclopädisches Handbuch der Pädagogik, s.v. Jesuiten-pädagogik.

About this page

APA citation. Schwickerath, R. (1911). Ratio Studiorum. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Schwickerath, Robert. "Ratio Studiorum." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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