Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies

Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies

Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies

Traditions of Eloquence: The Jesuits and Modern Rhetorical Studies


The first book to address the long and significant history--and future--of Jesuit rhetoric as the core of a liberal arts education. This groundbreaking collection explores the important ways Jesuits have employed rhetoric, the ancient art of persuasion and the current art of communications, from the sixteenth century to the present. Much of the history of how Jesuit traditions contributed to the development of rhetorical theory and pedagogy has been lost, effaced, or dispersed. As a result, those interested in Jesuit education and higher education in the United States, as well as scholars and teachers of rhetoric, are often unaware of this living 450-year-old tradition. Written by highly regarded scholars of rhetoric, composition, education, philosophy, and history, many based at Jesuit colleges and universities, the essays in this volume explore the tradition of Jesuit rhetorical education-that is, constructing "a more usable past" and a viable future for eloquentia perfecta, the Jesuits' chief aim for the liberal arts. Intended to foster eloquence across the curriculum and into the world beyond, Jesuit rhetoric integrates intellectual rigor, broad knowledge, civic action, and spiritual discernment as the chief goals of the educational experience. Consummate scholars and rhetors, the early Jesuits employed all the intellectual and language arts as "contemplatives in action," preaching and undertaking missionary, educational, and charitable works in the world. The study, pedagogy, and practice of classical grammar and rhetoric, adapted to Christian humanism, naturally provided a central focus of this powerful educational system as part of the Jesuit commitment to the Ministries of the Word. This book traces the development of Jesuit rhetoric in Renaissance Europe, follows its expansion to the United States, and documents its reemergence on campuses and in scholarly discussions across America in the twenty-first century. Traditions of Eloquence provides a wellspring of insight into the past, present, and future of Jesuit rhetorical traditions. In a period of ongoing reformulations and applications of Jesuit educational mission and identity, this collection of compelling essays helps provide historical context, a sense of continuity in current practice, and a platform for creating future curricula and pedagogy. Moreover it is a valuable resource for anyone interested in understanding a core aspect of the Jesuit educational heritage.


John O’Malley, S.J.

When the Society of Jesus was founded in 1540, Europe was already engaged in a life-death confrontation known as the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. This confrontation dominates history textbooks dealing with the era. When the Thirty Years’ War ended in 1648, the last great religious conflict of the early modern period, not only had nations and territories become permanently identified with specific religious confessions, but they had at the same time appropriated cultural configurations distinctively Lutheran, Calvinist, Anglican, or Catholic. Europe was divided culturally as well as religiously.

That is the scenario with which we are all familiar. Into it the Jesuits fit neatly not only as the premier “agents of the Counter-Reformation” but as propagators of a Catholic culture marked by baroque painting and architecture, elaborate civic and religious festivities that might go on for days or weeks, and a rhythm of feast and fast distinctively Catholic. Their churches were filled with images of Christ and the saints, and their exploits in Japan, China, New France, and other exotic places thrilled their supporters back home. There was little or nothing like this in Protestant cultures.

The scenario is correct but woefully incomplete. Yes, certainly, on a deep level Europe was culturally divided, but on an equally deep level it was not. the latter story is rarely told, even though over thirty years ago Marc Fumaroli issued its manifesto in his classic study, L’Âge de l’éloquence. Fumaroli’s point, and the point of all those who seriously study the history of the rhetorical tradition, is that by the late sixteenth century the literate of every religious confession were products of the Renaissance revival of the studia humanitatis, in which rhetoric was the configuring discipline. They had appropriated and internalized a cultural ideal that cut across national and religious divides. the Renaissance and the humanism at its core did not die with the outbreak of the Reformation, as textbooks generally imply, but was just getting launched on a triumphant conquest of minds and hearts, which was accomplished primarily by school systems based on the humanistic program.

In the middle of the nineteenth century Ernest Renan delivered a powerful and influential address to the Académie français in which he denounced rhetoric as “the only error of the Greeks,” and he held the Jesuits principally responsible for foisting this aberration onto the public. Within a decade the French government suppressed the teaching of rhetoric in public lycées. the rhetorical tradition began to suffer similar attacks elsewhere.

Nonetheless, despite the blows now directed against it, the “age of eloquence,” though weakening in its influence, was still strong. in roughly the . . .

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