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The Body in Sixteenth-Century Jesuit Culture

image of Journal of Jesuit Studies

The philosophy of education of the first Jesuits—as delineated in the Ratio studiorum (1599) and embodied in the colleges’ practices—has become one of the preferred topics among historians of sixteenth-century education and philosophy. This paper seeks to present a heretofore rather neglected aspect of Jesuit education theory: the treatment of the body in the network of colleges during the first fifty years of the Society of Jesus. Among the key features of this treatment one finds leisure and rest, which Jesuits conceived as a means of measuring and punctuating the school timetable. While most medieval colleges did not usually leave much free time to their students, the Jesuits viewed leisure and rest as crucial for fostering spiritual and intellectual activities. Leisure and rest, however, ought not be understood as a cessation of action. This paper shows that the educational practices addressed to the body in the Jesuit colleges (such as the alternation of exercise and rest, the alternation of waking and sleep, the relationship between hygiene and the care of the body, and physical education) were deeply rooted in the Ignatian culture of the Spiritual Exercises. This experience stands out as one of most ingenious attempts to transform religious mystical practices from the medieval tradition in a manner that would make them resonate with the early modern way of life.

Affiliations: 1: Università degli Studi di Parma, cristiano.casalini@unipr.it

The philosophy of education of the first Jesuits—as delineated in the Ratio studiorum (1599) and embodied in the colleges’ practices—has become one of the preferred topics among historians of sixteenth-century education and philosophy. This paper seeks to present a heretofore rather neglected aspect of Jesuit education theory: the treatment of the body in the network of colleges during the first fifty years of the Society of Jesus. Among the key features of this treatment one finds leisure and rest, which Jesuits conceived as a means of measuring and punctuating the school timetable. While most medieval colleges did not usually leave much free time to their students, the Jesuits viewed leisure and rest as crucial for fostering spiritual and intellectual activities. Leisure and rest, however, ought not be understood as a cessation of action. This paper shows that the educational practices addressed to the body in the Jesuit colleges (such as the alternation of exercise and rest, the alternation of waking and sleep, the relationship between hygiene and the care of the body, and physical education) were deeply rooted in the Ignatian culture of the Spiritual Exercises. This experience stands out as one of most ingenious attempts to transform religious mystical practices from the medieval tradition in a manner that would make them resonate with the early modern way of life.

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/content/journals/10.1163/22141332-00103003
2014-04-01
2016-12-09

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