November 22, 2023

Paul F. Grendler — “A Historian's Journey to Jesuit Education"


"The Jesuits and Italian Universities, 1548-1773" By Paul F. Grendler, The Catholic University of America Press, 2017.

Description of the book (Amazon):

The Society of Jesus arrived in Italy in 1540 brimming with enthusiasm to found new universities. These would be better than Italian universities, which the Jesuits believed were full of professors teaching philosophical atheism to debauched students. The Jesuits also wanted to become professors in existing Italian universities. They would teach Christian philosophy, true theology, sound logic, eloquent humanities, and practical mathematics. They would exert a positive moral influence on students.

The Jesuits were rejected. Italy already had fourteen universities famous for their research and teaching. They were ruled by princes and cities who refused to share their universities with a religious order led by Spaniards. Between 1548 and 1773 the Jesuits made sixteen attempts, from Turin in the north to Messina in Sicily, to found new universities or to become professors in existing universities. They had some successes, as they helped found four new universities and became professors of mathematics in three more universities. But they suffered nine total failures. The battles between universities, civil governments, and the Jesuits were memorable. Lay professors accused the Jesuits of teaching philosophy badly. The Jesuits charged that Italian professors delivered few lectures and skipped most of Aristotle. Behind the denunciations were profound differences about what universities should be.

Italian universities were dominated by law and the Jesuits emphasized the humanities and theology. Nevertheless, the Society of Jesus had an impact. They added cases of conscience to the training of clergymen. They made four years of study the norm for a degree in theology. They offered a student-centered alternative to Italian universities that focused on research and ignored student misbehavior.

Paul Grendler tells a new story based on years of research in a dozen archives. Anyone interested in the volatile mix of universities, religion, and politics will find this book fascinating and instructive, as will anyone who contemplates what it means to be a Catholic university.

Short biography of the author (University of Wisconsin-Madison):

Paul F. Grendler was born on May 24, 1936, in Armstrong, Iowa, population 700. He graduated from the public high school in Greene, Iowa, a metropolis of 1,300, in 1953. He studied at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and Oberlin College. He received a bachelor of arts degree with a major in history from Oberlin College in 1959. Grendler enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 1959 to study with George L. Mosse, and was in residence from 1959 to 1962. He obtained his M. A. in sixteenth-century French history in 1962. In the summer of 1960 he hitchhiked around Europe and decided to study Italian history. Grendler spent the academic year 1962-1963 researching his dissertation in Italy, thanks to a Fulbright fellowship. He was a lecturer of history at the University of Pittsburgh in 1963-1964, and received his Ph. D. in July 1964, under the direction of Mosse. In the fall of 1964 he began to teach at the University of Toronto, where he taught Italian Renaissance and modern European history until 1998 when he became professor emeritus. He directed six dissertations and his former students teach in Canada, the United States, and Italy. They honored him with a Festschrift in 2008.

Grendler is the author of twelve books and 145 articles and editor of four works. The Roman Inquisition and the Venetian Press, 1540-1605 (1977) received the Marraro Prize of the American Catholic Historical Association and was translated into Italian. Schooling in Renaissance Italy (1989) received the Marraro Prize of the American Historical Association and was also translated into Italian. The Universities of the Italian Renaissance (2002) won the Marraro Prize of the American Historical Association. The European Renaissance in American Life (2006) is a light-hearted survey of the role of the Renaissance in popular culture. The University of Mantua, the Gonzaga, and the Jesuits 1584-1630 (2009) describes how the duke of Mantua and the Jesuits created a civic-Jesuit university. The Jesuits and Italian Universities 1548-1773 (2017) received the 2018 Marraro Prize of the American Catholic Historical Association. In 2019 Grendler published Jesuit Schools and Universities in Europe 1548-1773, a short survey of Jesuit education throughout Europe. Humanism, Universities, and Jesuit Education in Late Renaissance Italy (2022) consists of twenty articles published between 2006 and 2019 and one new article.

Paul F. Grendler was editor-in-chief of The Encyclopedia of the Renaissance (6 volumes, 1999), which won the Dartmouth Medal of the American Library Association as the best reference work of the year, plus the Roland H. Bainton Prize. Grendler was also editor-in-chief of Renaissance: An Encyclopedia for Students (4 volumes, 2004) intended for grades 9 and 10. Grendler has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, Villa I Tatti (The Harvard University Center for Italian Renaissance Studies in Florence), the Woodrow Wilson International Center, The Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada, and other organizations.

Grendler has been president of the Renaissance Society of America, which awarded him its Paul Oskar Kristeller Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017, the Society for Italian Historical Studies, which awarded him its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, and the American Catholic Historical Association. He was elected to the American Philosophical Society in 2002. In 2014 he received the Premio Internazionale Galileo Galilei, awarded annually to a non-Italian who has made a major contribution to scholarship about Italy in her or his career. In 2018 he was awarded the George H. Ganss, S.J., Award for his contributions to the field of Jesuit Studies.

Video Title: Paul F. Grendler — “A Historian's Journey to Jesuit Education." Source: Institute for Advanced Jesuit Studies. Date Published: September 16, 2022. Description:

On October 2, 2018, Paul F. Grendler, delivered the fourth annual Feore Family Lecture on Jesuit Studies entitled “A Historian's Journey to Jesuit Education." Grendler was presented the George E. Ganss, S.J., Award in Jesuit Studies in recognition of his significant scholarly contributions to the field.

Skip to the 7:40 mark.