During the first two centuries of its existence (1540–1740), the Society of Jesus built a formidable reputation as a missionary, educational, and ideological force of worldwide significance. In each of these roles a special understanding of the process of recollection and of the tools that aid in recollection was cultivated, both of which were generally referred to by the Latin term memoria. This essay will explore some of the ways that memoria in both these senses influenced the institutional culture and individual experiences of Jesuits during a period that may be denominated “baroque”1, and how each of these aspects of memoria contributed to the Jesuit understanding of the history of the Society and of history more generally.

Memoria can be identified with three aspects of Jesuit activity: Eloquentia, missio, and veneratio. Each of these reinforced the sense of institutional history of the Society of Jesus, as well as the history of the Ecclesia triumphans which the Society strove to serve. Cypriano de Soáres, S.J. (1524–1593) argued that memoria was an integral part of eloquentia: Non enim solum rerum, sed etiam verborum ordinem præstat, & propemodum infinita complectitur2. Memoria therefore could manipulate and direct the sequence in which themes, identified by their noun signifiers, were accessed by the speaker and then introduced in a rhetorical performance. To bring this tool into play, the speaker needed to master the works of the Roman rhetoritician par excellence, Cicero3. This access was achieved through classroom recitation, and in some instances, through performance by the classroom instructor. Jesuit presses also produced editions of the Roman’s works to be used in classrooms4. Cicero was a model to be imitated through careful recall of his techniques, and also a figure associated with literate culture whose name might be referenced by students at Jesuit academies seeking through public performance to confirm their membership in that culture. Significantly, his status as a Pagan author did not limit Cicero’s appeal to Jesuit missionaries and pedagogues – indeed the access Cicero provided to a classical past was greatly valued5.

Another pillar of the Jesuit curriculum was Aristotle, whose theories of memory, as understood by St. Thomas Aquinas, were analysed by the huma-nist Gregory of Valencia (c. 1550–1603): “…illa potentia, quae in parte sententiva dicitur memoria, eo quòd eius formale & adæquatum objectum est res præterita, vt præterito tempore sensu aliquot percepta fuit”6. The linking of sensory experience and memoria was by no means a Jesuit invention, but the Society’s celebration of “God in all things” invited this special attention to the sensory world, and delivered the process of memoria from become a me-rely internal exercise. Memoria and missio could be intimately connected in Jesuit experience. Writing about the Jesuit experience in New France in the seventeenth century, Gilles Thérien observes “…the rhetoric that the Jesuits brought back into favor, for themselves and also for others, was a rhetoric transformed by the daily exercise of their mission, a rhetoric that offered a trustworthy and homogenous memory that would inspire all those confronted with New France”7. This rhetoric used words and patterns of words to summon up recollections of actions (as opposed merely to events experienced) which themselves referenced earlier actions undertaken both by other Jesuits and by older roles models.

Thus the link between two elements of classical rhetoric, actio and memoria, is enhanced by the peculiar purposes and patterns of mission, where classroom tools such as books, might be in short supply. Among these purposes and patterns is the vector of mission which consciously leads in many instances towards martyrdom8. At the twilight of the Jesuit baroque, Giulio Cesare Cordara (1704–1785), the last great historian of the pre-Sup-pression Society9, could still describe the martyrs of the early seventeenth century in terms that stressed memoria in terms of a mental capacity10.

The pedagogical aspect of mission presented the hierarchically arranged program of the Ratio Studiorum systematically to the youngest objects of the mission11, some of whom themselves eventually became Jesuits who would later perpetuate the process. At the same time the object of mission activity also possessed a memoria (in both the sense of a mental landscape and physical objects that aided in the organization of recollections) derived from his or her own culture and with which the missionary had to engage even as he sought to modify or overturn the theological positions embedded in it12. The Society’s translation projects, often connected with mission activities, grappled with the boundaries of concepts and words which were to be translated into the Latin term memoria. Ignazio Lomellini (c. 1560–1645), who completed a Latin translation of the Qur’ān in 1622, for example, translated wal-dhik'ri (at sura 3:58) as “et memoria”13. Although the trilateral root ذ ك ر has a basic meaning of memory, وَالذِّكْرِ refers not to a human faculty but to devotional acts that promote remembrance, something Lomellini as a baroque Jesuit would have understood very well.

The mission of Matteo Ricci (1552–1610) to the Imperial Court of China combined aspects of other Jesuit mission projects with advanced academic activities similar to those undertaken in European universities where missio was a less obvious priority. Ricci presented his hosts with a “palace” that was constructed through ars memoria. Jonathan Spence describes this structure thus: “In 1596 Matteo Ricci taught the Chinese how to build a memory palace… to provide storage spaces for the myriad concepts that make up the sum of our human knowledge”14. Ars memoriæ had its roots in the Ciceronian tradition15, but Ricci shrewdly recognized its value to candidates in the Confucian examination system, and thus combined educational and missionary threads with the promotion of a process central the Society’s own identity. Both the performance value of ars memoriæ and its practical value to an important segment of the Chinese population reflected the Society’s institutional culture, in which public performances were included in annual reports of the Society’s accomplishments16 and career-oriented skills were offered as a desirable outcome of Jesuit schooling to prospective students17. Jesuits recognized the vulnerability of this human memoria and the need to cultivate and repair it. Jeremias Drexler (1581–1638), a best selling author of devotional literature and professor of rhetoric, wrote: “Memoria vas multorum capax, sed rimarum plenum, hàc atque illàc perfluit. Meminisse siquidem est, rem memoriæ custodire…”18.

The “cracks” in this vessel of memoria might be repaired through repetition or interaction with others striving to master the same material. In this way æmulatio, whereby younger students observed and imitated the performances of older ones, became interwoven with strategies of recollection. Other Jesuits placed more emphasis on the relationship between memoria and intellectus, both of which might be deployed to construct historical narratives. Athanasius Kircher (1602–1680) grouped memoria with intellectus and voluntas as the three species of human faculties which could be used to investigate “prima & universalia attributa cuiusque rei per ominia causarum genera.”19 Determining causes and identifying univesalia attributa were tasks that Jesuit historians often set for themselves, as Ricci himself demonstrated in his account of the Chinese mission20. In a more prosaic yet still important way, memoria also could denote the record keeping procedures of an eighteenth-century Jesuit mission21. Supplies moving from Mexico City to missions far to the north were documented in a memoria that could run to many pages and which situate these communities within the material culture of the day. Again the tie between that which is grasped through sensory means and the more internally maintained aspects of memoria remained strong, as did the practical uses of memoria.

When we consider these examples, which share much more than an identically spelled word, alongside of the Jesuit deployment of memoria as a tool for gaining acceptance at the Imperial Chinese court, we can identify common elements that contribute to our understanding of how memoria shaped the Society’s culture. First, memoria tied together the material world and the internal mental landscape, leading to a sense of “ownership” of both22. In addition, the history of the Society could be linked to the experiences of individual Jesuits as well as to other episodes in the history of the Church. Secondly, the trigger bringing the idea or fact to the memoria might be located external to the one seeking to remember it: Jesuit emblematics utilized a combination of representational and symbolic art along with Latin tags to deliver a moral message which might be retained in the memoria. These emblems never explicitly referenced events in the Society’s history, but presented moral truths that were reflected in Jesuit self-presentation and thus were part of a historical narrative23. And when Jesuits created new emblems or appropriated existing ones when making new collections, memoria played a key role in this process as well24.

The relationship between the more bizarre and unusual elements of both Jesuit emblematics and of written Jesuit institutional history and the promotion of memoria, a phenomenon that can be linked with the so-called Von Restorff effect25, deserves further investigation.

Because the Society did not prescribe a distinctive habit for its members (who might need to travel incognito through hostile environments), and because Jesuits were typically not tied to an identity connected with a particular tract of land, memoria, held collectively and individually, became a key means of defining the Jesuit experience. Landmarks in this recalled experience were exempla of virtue demonstrated by earlier Jesuits. An exemplum undertaken by a living person must also be seen to be honoring earlier exempla, for as the playwright and moralist Nicolò Avancini (1612–1686) wrote: “Nullus Ordo Divorum est, cui non suos honores venerationemque tribuit”26.

The memoria that recalled the Society’s suos (i.e., Jesuits who had gone before) was not only a spiritual glue which held the order together, it was a means by which scholastics (Jesuits in training) learned how to become Jesuits and older members of the Society might recall how they had become Jesuits. Acts of veneratio brought individual Jesuits back to milestones in the history of Society both for edification, and to revisit the historical narrative of the history of their order27. In this history the presence of the sacred reinforced the sense of the Society as an “impermeable, even autonomous body”28. Veneratio of the saints of the early Church likewise fostered a sense of connection between the Jesuits and their predecessors as part of a historical whole29.

Memoria might also be accessed through other media, including the auditory means. And while liturgical music was an important example of this category, chamber opera was likewise an effective way of cultivating memoria. Patientis Christi Memoria, or “Memory of the Suffering of Christ”, by Johann Bernhard Staudt (1654–1712) is one such example of this approach. Staudt, the chorus director of the Jesuit Royal College in Vienna, presented this work on Holy Saturday in 1685 in keeping with the tradition of keeping watch at "sepulchers" of Christ in churches on Good Friday30. The act of keeping the vigil involved both a physical alertness and a capacity to recall the incidents of Christ’s passion as presented each year to Eastertide. Both the words and the music of the opera were cues for memoria, which in this instance could include the recollections of laypersons. And because these rituals were repeated annually, anticipation could precede the encounter with memoria.

Memoria, with its ability to trigger emotions and its close ties to sensory experience, was ideally suited to baroque culture, Catholic and Protestant alike31. But while it was by no means useless in a late eighteenth-century world where taxonomies and encyclopedic organization of information continually gained importance, the capacity of memoria to hold communities together and preserving collectively held values was severely tested in the decades before the suppression of the Society.

Was the demonstration of access to memoria in a public performance no more than a “trick” that could no longer compete with mathematical skill and new ways of arranging data? And was it so tied up with the baroque aesthetic of performance that when the former declined in popularity that memoria ceased to impress and motivate?32

Other factors influenced the decline of the culture of memoria in the Society of Jesus. Although the baroque Society was a highly and even self-consciously literate organization, its activities constantly took it to preliterate communities whose experience of the divine was based less on a grammatically rationalized text and more on encounters with the sensory. By the second half of the eighteenth century the beleaguered Jesuits were investing more of their resources in trying to stave off expulsion and suppression, while far less effort was being devoted to exploring new missionary fields, to refining their time-tested ars memoriæ techniques or even to developing new models to connect sensory experience and recollection. Nor was a Society facing an existential threat producing its finest written institutional histories.

Finally, the evolution and expansion of curriculum had decreased the influence of Aristotle, while the philosophes (many of whom had been educated in Jesuit schools) showed little enthusiasm for the passions and practices associated with baroque veneratio. Roman republican virtue as embodied by Cicero and Livy was now recruited for revolutionary purposes33, not to endorse the elites who were a key element of the Jesuit educational program. Memoria would become visible again in the restored nineteenth-century Society, but without the prestige as a skill of value in the greater world that it had former enjoyed, and without the melding of Christian and Pagan language and symbolism. Only in the late twentieth century would memoria be revisited, now as a means of understanding the culture and identity of the pre-Suppression Society of Jesus.


Athanasii Kircheri e Soc. Jesu... Ars magna sciendi, in XII libros digesta… (Amstelodami: Apud Joannem Jansonium à Waesberge, Anno MDCLXIX).

Europea historia Societatis Jesu: 1. Pars prima. Anglia. Ex edito Romae Italico R. P. Danielis Bartoli… (Lvgdvni: Sumptibus Adami Demen, M.DC.LXXI).

D. Francisci Toleti Societatis Iesu, Commentaria, una cum quaestionibus in tres libros Aristotelis de Anima… (Lvgdvni: Apud Ioan. Veyrat, & Tho. Soubron, M. DCII).

Gregorii de Valentia Metimnensis, e Societate Iesu… commentariorum… Tomus Primus (Lvgdvni: Sumptibus Horatij Cardon, M.DCIII.

R.P. Hieremiae Drexelii, e Societate Iesu, Operum tomus primus… (Lvgdvni: Sumptibus Ioannis Antonii Hvgetan & Marci Antonii Ravavd, M.DC. LVIII).

Historia Societatis Iesu: pars sexta… tomus secundus ab anno Christi MDCXXV ad annum MCDCXXXIII auctore Julio Caesare Cordara… (Romae: Typis Civilitatis Catholicae, MDCCCLIX).

Imago Primi Saeculi (Antverpiae: Plantin, 1640.

Jacobi Bidermani e Societate Jesu Ubaldinus Sive De Vita & Indole Antonii Mariæ Ubaldini Urbinatis, Monteæ Comitis Breviarium (Ratisbonæ, 1696).

The Journals of Mateo Ricci, cit. in Mingjun Lu, The Chinese Impact upon English Renaissance Literature: A Globalization and Liberal Cosmopolitan Approach to Donne and Milton.


Leopoldi Gvilielmi, archidvcis Avstriæ, principis pace et bello inclyti, virtvtes (Antverpiæ: Ex officina plantiniana Balthasaris Moreti, 1665).

Matthias Tanner, Societas Jesu Apostolorum Imitatrix… (Pragæ: Typis Universitatis, Carolo-Ferdinanadeæ in Collegii Soc. JESU, ad S. Clementum, per Adalbertum Georgium Konias Factorem. Anno M.DC.XCIV).

De oratore ad Q. fratrem M. Tullii Ciceronis de oratore ad Q. fratrem lib. III: in usum gymnasiorum Soc. Iesu (Dillingae: Sutor, 1631).

Tabulae Rhetoricae Cypriani Soarii, Sacerdotis e Societate Jesu… (Pragæ: Typis Universitatis, Carolo-Ferdinandeæ in Collegii Soc. JEsu, ad S. Clementum, anno 1681).

Mellor R., The Roman Historians (London: Routledge, 2001).

Shore, Paul. Jesuits and Politics of Religious Pluralism in Eighteenth-Century Transylvania: Culture, Politics and Religion (Aldershot / Roma: Ashgate: Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 2007).

Selderhuis H.J. (ed.), "Calvinus præceptor Ecclesiæ": Papers of the International Congress on Calvin Research. Princeton, August 20-24, 2002 (Genève: Libraire Droz, 2004).

Kennedy T.F., SJ, “Appendix: Jesuit Opera in Seventeenth-Century Vienna: Patientis Christi Memoria by Johann Bernhard Staudt (1654–1712),” // J.W. O’Malley, SJ, G.A. Bailey, S.J. Harris, and T.F. Kennedy, SJ (eds.), The Jesuits II: Cultures, Sciences, and the Arts, 1540-1773 (Toronto: Un-ty of Toronto Press, 2006), 787-792.

Wilding N. “Science and the Counter-Reformation,” // A. Bamji, G.H. Janssen, M. Laven (eds.), The Ashgate Research Companion to the Counter-Reformation (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016)

Restorff H. von, "Über die Wirkung von Bereichsbildungen im Spurenfeld (The effects of field formation in the trace field)". Psychological Research 18, 1 (1933): 299–342.

Crosby H., Antigua California: Mission and Colony on the Peninsular Frontier, 1697-1768 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994)

Smith, Jeffery Chipps, Sensuous Worship: Jesuits and the Art of the Early Catholic Reformation in Germany (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002)

Peters, William A.M. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: Exposition and Interpretation (Jersey City: Program to Adapt the Spiritual Exercises, 1968)

O’Malley J.J. “How Humanistic is the Jesuit Tradition? From the 1599 Ratio Studiorum to Now” // M. Tripole (ed.), Jesuit Education 21: Conference Proceedings on the Future of Jesuit Higher Education (Philadelphia: St. Joseph's University Press, 2000), 189-201.

Hufton, Dame Olwen, “Faith, hope and money: The Jesuits and the genesis of fundraising for education, 1550–1650,” Historical Research 81, 214 (2008): 585-609.

Spence J.D., The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (New York: Penguin, 1984)

Hyland, Sabine, The Jesuit and the Incas: The Extraordinary Life of Padre Blas Valera, S.J. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, c. 2003)

Fitzpatrick E.A., St. Ignatius and the Ratio Studiorum (N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 1933).

Vogel Chr., “The Suppression of the Society of Jesus, 1758–1773” European History Online. http://ieg-ego.eu/en/threads/european-media/european-media-events/christine-vogel-suppression-of-the-society-of-jesus-1758-1773#ThecontentofthetransferprocessFromhistorytoconspiracytheory

Thérien G., “Memory as the Place of Fabrication of the New World,” trans. D. O’Neill // G. Warkentin and C. Podruchny (eds.), Decentring the Renaissance: Canada and Europe in Multidisciplinary Perceptive 1500–1700 (Toronto: Un-ty of Toronto Press, 2001).

Marc André Bernier, Clorinda Donato, and Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink, “Introduction” // Bernier M.A., C. Donato, H.-J. Lüsebrink (eds.), Jesuit Accounts of the Colonial Americas: Intercultural Transfers, and Textualities (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014).

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Evonne Levy, Propaganda and the Jesuit Baroque (Berkeley: Un-ty of California Press, 2004.

  1. Levy 2004, 45. 

  2.  Tabulae Rhetoricae Cypriani Soarii…, 69. 

  3. Maryks 2008, 4. 

  4. E.g., De oratore ad Q. fratrem M. Tullii Ciceronis… 

  5.  Marc André Bernier, Clorinda Donato, and Hans-Jürgen Lüsebrink write, “fundamental to Jesuit culture, reference to Cicero thus allows for an optimistic conception of language, one where the glorified memory of the Ancients’ oratorical model defines the terms of a rhetorical humanism in which constant parallels between ancient ideal and modern experience further energize an imagination that is both comparatist and critically based.” – Bernier, Donato, Lüsebrink 2014, 3-17; at 11. 

  6. Gregorii de Valentia Metimnensis, e Societate Iesu…, col. 1167. 

  7.  Thérien 2001, 68-84; at 75. 

  8.  Memoria kept the narrative of martyrdom and sacrifice alive, while the display of memoria by Jesuit missionaries was itself included in the narrative. Cf. the story of Father Julius Mancinellus in: Tanner M.DC.XCIV, 504. 

  9.  The Society was suppressed in 1773 by the papal breve Dominus ac Redemptor Noster. – Vogel, “The Suppression of the Society of Jesus, 1758-1773”. 

  10.  “Non aboleri tamen ex hominum mentibus potuit fortissimorum memoria Martyrum…” – Historia Societatis Iesu…, 79. 

  11.  Here memory and gesture were linked, with words placing an important art in the process. – Fitzpatrick 1933, 210. 

  12. An example of Jesuit awareness of how memoria was accessed in non-Western settings is found both in Blas Valera’s description of Inca quipus and in the Jesuit response to the Chinese memoria which included the cult of ancestors. – Hyland 2003, 129; and Thérien 2001, 75. 

  13. Ignazio Lomellini, Animadversiones, Notae ac Disputationes in Pestilentem Alcoranum, Biblioteca Universitaria Genova Ms A-IV-4, folio 264^v^. 

  14. Spence 1984, 1. 

  15. Cicero, De Oratore

  16. E.g., Archivum Romanum Societatis Iesu, Austria 211, An. Prov. Austriae 1754, folio 76v. 

  17. O’Malley 2000; Hufton 2008. 

  18. R.P. Hieremiae Drexelii, e Societate Iesu, Operum tomus primus…, 740. 

  19. Athanasii Kircheri e Soc. Jesu... Ars magna sciendi…, 141. These three “powers of the soul” were identified by Ignatius in the first exercise of his Spiritual Exercises, which recounts the story of the rebel angels, a narrative whose contours could be applied to historical events as well. – Smith 2002, 40. Ignatius, writing the Exercises initially in Spanish, uses the phrase “traer la historia” that would later be translated into Latin as “adducere in mentem”; memory was thus equated with history in the most important of the Society’s texts. – Peters 1968, 27. 

  20. The Journals of Mateo Ricci… 

  21. Crosby 1994, 142. 

  22.  “Memoria autem retinet & conservat eas intentiones tam sensatas, quàm insensatas.” – D. Francisci Toleti Societatis Iesu, Commentaria… 453. 

  23. Imago Primi Saeculi combines a “biography” of the Society’s first century with emblems. 

  24.  An example of the combination of appropriation and creation of emblems is a work by Franciscus Partinger dated about 1710, Status Aminae Immortalis Ascetice, Historice, Polemice… Eötvös Loránd Tudományegyetem könyvtára Ms A 155. In one of the emblems in this collection, a street scene from the Transylvanian town in which Partinger was working is fused with symbols and language recalling earlier emblems. 

  25. Restorff 1933. 

  26. Leopoldi Gvilielmi, archidvcis Avstriæ, principis pace et bello… 1665, 41. 

  27.  One of the most widespread instances of such veneration was directed to the Jesuit martyrs of Japan. Jacobi Bidermani e Societate Jesu… 1696, 96ff. 

  28.  Wilding 2016, 319-335; at 321. 

  29. The monumental Acta Sanctorum undertaken by the Bollandists and published beginning in 1643 linked the events of the distant past with the liturgical year. 

  30.  Kennedy 2006. 

  31.  The Calvinist theologian and encyclopaedist Johan Heinrich Alsted (1588–1638) for example wrote, “Facit enim ad rerum intelligetiam expeditam, et plurimum confert ad ad memoriae facilitate simul ac diuturnitatem, sive impressionem, sive recordationem, sive ipsam redditionem inturere: quae tria requiruntur in bona memoria.” – Johann Heinrich Alsted, Encyclopaedia septem tomis distincta 4 vols., forward by Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann (Stuttgart-Bad Canstatt: Frommann-Holzboog, 1989), 1, cited in: Strohm 2004, 93. Memoria was a field of conflict for competing Christian denominations. A Jesuit historian could react with distaste to the substitution of saints and martyrs of the Catholic Church by Protestants with figures such as Luther and Bucer in a way that was “indignum memoria temporum.” – Europea historia Societatis Jesu: 1. Pars prima. 215. 

  32. In some regions of Eastern Europe, the close ties between local elites, who supported Jesuit schools, and dramatic productions that relied on memoria, sustained these productions almost until the suppression of 1773. But further west, Jesuit drama declined in popularity throughout the eighteenth century. – Shore, 2007, 141. 

  33. Mellor 2001, 200.