The Society of Jesus as a Scientific Institution: Spiritual Exercises, Military Tradition, and the Ratio Studiorum

By Quirino M. Sugon Jr.

Author’s Note: This talk was presented last 21 January 2010, 4:30-6:00 p.m., Ching Tan Room/SOM 111.  This talk was advertised as “Jesuits and Science”, one of the series of lectures on The Jesuits in the Philippines sponsored by the Department of History of the School of Social Sciences of the Ateneo de Manila University.  What follows hereafter is not a verbatim transcription of the talk, but an essay based on my powerpoint slides and on what I remembered I said at that time.  I made some editorial adjustments because I wish the essay to be readable without pictures.  This essay was written in response to the request of Fr. Victor Badillo, S.J., the former head of the Ionosphere Division of Manila Observatory and President of the Philippine Astronomical Society.  He  now stays at the Jesuit Residence Infirmary in Ateneo de Manila University.


This talk was originally assigned to Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, S.J.  But since he is in Ateneo de Davao University and Fr. Jett Villarin, S.J. is also busy as President of Xavier University, Fr. Dan asked me to give a talk in his place.   Because Fr. Dan is my thesis mentor for nearly half of my life, there is no way that I can refuse by saying that I am not a Jesuit or I am too young  or maybe there is somebody else more dignified.   I can only say, “Yes, Father.”

The topic “Jesuits and Science” is very broad,  so allow me to focus on the Society of Jesus as a scientific institution.  An institution must have a clear vision, mission, and strategy for it to survive for four and half centuries like the Society of Jesus.  My aim in this talk is to show that the Jesuit scientific vision is rooted in the Spiritual exercises, its scientific mission in its military tradition, and its scientific strategy in its Ratio Studiorum.


The Spiritual Exercises is a summary of St. Ignatius’s notes on meditation starting from his conversion in Manressa.  The Spiritual Exercises are meant to deepen the spiritual life of Christians.  Those who are discerning to enter the  Society of Jesus are required to make the Spiritual Exercises for one whole month.  During this time, the retreatants note their thoughts, visions, and feelings.  Thus, for St. Ignatius meditation is a form of research, and to do research one needs a research notebook.

A. First Week: Counting and Classifying

The Spiritual Exercises proper begins with the Principle and Foundation:

Human beings are created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by means of doing this to save their souls.  The other things on the face of the earth are created for the human beings, to help them in the pursuit of the end for which they are created.

These two statements outline the Jesuit Vision and Mission.  The Jesuit vision is for human beings to praise, reverence, and serve their Creator.  The Jesuit Mission is to use the things of the world to help human beings achieve their God-given purpose.  And what are the things of the world?  These are atoms, molecules, soil, plants, animals, sun, stars, galaxies, universe, and all the forces that bind them together–gravity, electromagnetic, strong, and weak.  The physical world of visible and invisible are at the Jesuits’ disposal for one mission: to save souls.

After the “Principle and Foundation” is the “Particular and Daily Examen“:

The first time is in the morning, immediately on rising, when one ought to propose to guard himself with diligence against that particular sin or defect which he wants to correct and amend.

The second time is after dinner, when one is to ask of God our Lord what one wants, namely, grace to remember how many times he has fallen into that particular sin or defect, and to amend himself in the future. Then let him make the first Examen, asking account of his soul of that particular thing proposed, which he wants to correct and amend. Let him go over hour by hour, or period by period, commencing at the hour he rose, and continuing up to the hour and instant of the present examen, and let him make in the first line of the G———- as many dots as were the times he has fallen into that particular sin or defect. Then let him resolve anew to amend himself up to the second Examen which he will make.

The third time: After supper, the second Examen will be made, in the same way, hour by hour, commencing at the first Examen and continuing up to the present (second) one, and let him make in the second line of the same G———- as many dots as were the times he has fallen into that particular sin or defect.

In mathematical terms, what St. Ignatius is trying to say is that we define a function f(t) which consists of the number of times one succumbs to a particular fault at a particular time t.  The aim of the spiritual exercises is to make  f(t) a monotonic function of time and asymptotic to zero, i.e., it is continuously decreasing and approaches zero as time goes on.  This is the scientific method of correcting and amending a particular fault.

This interest of St. Ignatius in making precise measurements of time and faults is the foundation of Jesuit experimental science. In the 18th century, for example, Jesuits were making clocks in China:

Five European horologists were working in Beijing during the Kangxi regime.  Under the Qianlong Emperor, 11 Jesuits built clocks in the imperial workshops.  By 1800, with only a few Jesuits remaining, Chinese artisans became proficient in making clocks themselves, so the missionaries became less involved in the production. (Benjamin A. Elman, On their own terms: Science in China 1550-1900)

Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J., in his book “Light Cavalry”, also tells of the Jesuit tradition of precise time-keeping at the Manila Observatory during the American period.  Here is an excerpt:

The government supplies the Observatory with personnel, equipment, and special telegraphic facilities to answer to main questions: “What is the correct time?” and “Where is the typhoon?” The government hasn’t caught the Observatory napping yet.

The correct time is, of course, of prime importance in any part of the world. It is of special importance to the Navy, the postal service and the railroad, all of which have direct telegraphic connections with the secret and mysterious chamber where Father Welch keeps the clocks of the Philippines in tune with the eternal stars.

When Norman Reyes, the pleasant-voiced announcer of station KZRM, tells you that “the long signal will indicate exactly eight o’clock in the evening,” you can be sure that it is accurate to within three one-hundredths of a second; or at least was that accurate the signal flashed from the Observatory. You may think that is pushing accuracy a bit too far, but that is the tradition which has won the Manila Observatory the international rating of an A-1 Time Station.

Notice that St. Ignatius does not lump all faults into one.  He wants the retreatants to call each fault and sin by name and number, sot that they can be better prepared for Confession and Communion which follows next after Examen.

This Jesuit habit of classification is the foundation of Jesuit systematics applied in many diverse fields.  One example of this is Fr. Athanasius Kircher, S.J. who was dubbed by Paula Findlen as  “The last man who knows everything,” which is the title of her book on Kircher:

Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680)–German Jesuit, occultist, polymath–is one of the most curious figures in the history of knowlege.  He delved deeply into all the mysteries of his time: the heavenly bodies, sound amplification, museology, botany, Asian languages, the pyramids of Egypt–almost anything incompletely understood.  Kircher coined the term electromagnetism, printed Sanskrit for the first time in a Western book, and built a famous museum collection in Rome.  His wild, beautifully illustrated books are sometimes visionary, frequently wrong, and yet compelling documents in the history of ideas.  They are being rediscovered in our own time.

B.  Second Week to Fourth Week: Gedankenexperiment

Einstein said:  “Imagination is more powerful than knowlege.”  This is not surprising because Einstein derived all his equations by sitting only in his chair and doing his Gedankenexperiments.  For example, he deduced the constancy of the speed of light in Special Relativity by simply imagining himself trying to chase light and noting that it is impossible to see light to be at rest.  He also deduced his equivalence principle in General Relativity by imagining himself to be in a freely falling elevator and noting that he would never be able to tell whether there is gravity or simply that the elevator is going upwards.  And from this insight Einstein deduced that gravity is simply geometry–the curved geometry of space-time continuum.

St. Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises also used gedankenexperiments.  To help the retreatant imagine the Call of the Eternal King, St. Ignatius proposes to imagine first the Call of the Temporal King:

The first Prelude is a composition, seeing the place: it will be here to see with the sight of the imagination, the synagogues, villages and towns through which Christ our Lord preached….The first Point is, to put before me a human king chosen by God our Lord, whom all Christian princes and men reverence and obey. The second, to look how this king speaks to all his people… The third, to consider what the good subjects ought to answer to a King so liberal and so kind, and hence, if any one did not accept the appeal of such a king, how deserving he would be of being censured by all the world, and held for a mean-spirited knight.  The second part of this Exercise consists in applying the above parable of the temporal King to Christ our Lord, conformably to the three Points mentioned.

Notice the words “see”, “sight”, and “look”.  But St. Ignatius goes beyond this.  “Imagination” for him is not only to see, but also to hear, to touch, to smell, to taste.  You taste your salty sweat dripping.  You feel your knees ache as you kneel before a great king, loved by all,  robed like Solomon in all his splendor.  The cool breeze blew and you smell the sweet scent of the flowers of the fields.  And then you hear the king speak:

It is my Will to conquer all the land of unbelievers. Therefore, whoever would like to come with me is to be content to eat as I, and also to drink and dress, etc., as I: likewise he is to labor like me, in the day and watch in the night, etc., that so afterwards he may have part with me in the victory, as he has had it in the labors.

In the contemplation of the Incarnation, St. Ignatius proposes the following:

The first Prelude is to bring up the narrative of the thing which I have to contemplate.

Here, it is how the Three Divine Persons looked at all the plain or circuit of all the world, full of men, and how, seeing that all were going down to Hell, it is determined in Their Eternity, // that the Second Person shall become man to save the human race, they sent the Angel St. Gabriel to Our Lady (p. 133).

The aim of the imagination here is not anymore local but universal: to see the world as the Holy Trinity sees it.  The world was already known to be round during St. Ignatius’s time, so he mentioned the phrase “circuit of the world”.  The modern equivalent of phrasing this is to imagine that you are an astronaut in a  satellite orbiting the earth and you gaze at the earth:

The Earth was small, light blue, and so touchingly alone, our home that must be defended like a holy relic. The Earth was absolutely round. I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space. (Aleksei Leonov, USSR) (Solar Views)

This spiritual exercise of looking at the earth from outer space is the foundation of the Jesuit passion for cartography.  When the Servant of God Fr. Mateo Ricci, S.J. came to China in the 16th century, Fr. Ricci, S.J. made the map of the whole world centered in China, 12.5 feet long and 5.5 feet high, which was exhibited last April 2010 in the US Library of Congress:

This map is an extension of his Jesuitical project, so while paying homage to the Chinese, Ricci was also well aware that the map was partly a demonstration, an argument. It is not decorated with an ornate compass rose or mythological sea creatures, nor does it display terrifying terra incognita. It is devoutly rational, even scientific: it contains descriptions of the world’s peoples that may seem wildly fanciful, but are based on the authoritative sources of Ricci’s time.

It also incorporates an explanation of parallels and meridians, a proof that the sun is larger than the moon, a table showing the distances of planets from the earth, an explanation of the varying lengths of days and nights, and polar projections of the earth that are unusually consistent with its main map. Ricci declares that it offers testimony “to the supreme goodness, greatness and unity of Him who controls heaven and earth.”

A.  St. Ignatius’s Letter on Obedience

The purpose of these spiritual exercises is to elicit from the retreatant the proper response to the call of Christ, the King Eternal.  One possible response for those who take the month-long retreat is to join the Jesuit Order “to conquer all the lands of the unbelievers.”  Conquest is a military undertaking, and St. Ignatius was a Basque knight before a cannonball destroyed his leg during the seige of Pamplona.  So St. Ignatius envisioned the Society of Jesus to be a spiritual military order marked by clear hierarchy, with the inferior obeying the superior, not out of fear but out of love.  Indeed, of all religious orders, the Jesuits alone has the fourth vow of obedience:
“To serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth” (Apostolic Letter Exposcit Debitum, 21 July 1550) (see letter to Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach by Pope Benedict XVI on the Occasion of the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus)
In his Letter on Obedience, St. Ignatius wrote the Obedience is the distinctive mark of the Society of Jesus:
We may allow ourselves to be surpassed by other religious orders in fasts, watchings, and other austerities, which each one following its Institute holily embraces: but in the purity and perfection of obedience, joined to the true resignation of our wills and the abnegation of our judgment, I am very desirous, dear brethren, that they who serve God in this Society should be conspicuous, so that by this virtue its true sons may be recognized, men who regard not the person whom they obey, but in him Christ our Lord, for Whose sake they obey. For the Superior is to be obeyed not because he is prudent, or good, or qualified by any other gift of God, but because he holds the place and authority of God, as Eternal Truth has said: “He who hears you, hears Me; he who despises you despises Me”; (Luke 10:16) nor on the contrary, because he lacks prudence, is he to be any the less obeyed in that in which he is Superior, since he represents Him Who is infallible wisdom, and Who will supply what is wanting in His minister; nor for the lack of goodness or other desirable qualities, since Christ our Lord having especially said: “The scribes and Pharisees have sat on the chair of Moses,” adds, “all things, therefore, that they command you, observe and do. But do not act according to their works.” (Matthew 23:2)

(20) And what I have said of obedience is not only to be understood of individuals with reference to their immediate Superiors, but also of Rectors and local Superiors with reference to Provincials, and of Provincials with reference to the General, and of the General towards him whom God our Lord has given as Superior, His Vicar on earth; for in this way complete subordination will be observed, and, consequently, union and charity, without which the welfare and government of the Society or of any other congregation would be impossible. And by this means Divine Providence gently disposes all things, bringing to their appointed end the lowest by the middlemost, and the middlemost by the highest. Even in the angels there is the subordination of one hierarchy to another; and in the heavens, and all bodies that are moved, the lowest by the highest, and the highest, in their turn, unto the Supreme Mover of all. We see the same on earth in well-governed states, and in the hierarchy of the Church, the members of which render their obedience to the one universal Vicar of Christ our Lord. And the better this subordination is kept, the better the government, but when it is lacking every one can see what outstanding faults ensue. And, therefore, in this Congregation, in which our Lord has given me some charge, I desire that this virtue be as perfect as if the whole welfare of the Society depended on it.

Within 35 years following the publication of his Letter on Obedience, Fr. Julian Vincent, S.J. questioned the “blind obedience” required by St. Ignatius, precipitating a crisis crisis went up to the level of Pope Sixtus V who had the Jesuit Superior General Aquaviva cross-examined.  St. Robert Bellarmine came to the rescue and defended St. Ignatius’s thesis on “blind obedience” by showing that this is as old as Christianity and is perfectly consonant with the Catholic Faith.  St. Bellarmine quoted the great leaders of Christian monasticism, John Climacus and St. Bernard.  He also quoted St. Augustine.  In the end St. Bellarmine argued:

If the ordinary faithful must simply trust their pastors in the things which appertain to God, and render them corresponding obedience and respect, much more should religious obey and be subject to their superiors, perfectly and simply, and in that sense blindly, in whatever does not manifestly contravene the law of God. (Fr. Hardon S.J.’s Archives)

The Holy See dismissed the charges against the Society of Jesus.

B.  The Jesuit Reconquista and the Observatories

In the Fourth Day of the Second Week of Meditation, St. Ignatius proposes the meditation on the Two Standards, by imagining the camp of Satan and that of Christ.  Satan summons his followers and scatters them to all towns, cities, provinces, and countries of the world to entice them with riches, honor, and pride.  Christ, on the other hand, also does the same, but sending his followers to all the world, exhorting them to embrace spiritual poverty vs riches, contumely vs. wordly honor, and humility vs pride.  The Jesuits are sent to a mission in a scope more vast than the Spanish Reconquista or the Crusades: the Jesuits mission is to save the world from the darkness of sin and bring the light of the Gospel to all the nations.  As Christ told his apostles:

All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age. (Mt 28:18-20)

In his book, The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote:

The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one’s deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field. These are: (1) The Moral Law; (2) Heaven; (3) Earth;(4) The Commander; (5) Method and discipline. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons. Earth comprises distances, great and small;danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerely, benevolence, courage and strictness. By method and discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure. These five heads should be familiar to every general: he who knows them will be victorious; he who knows them not will fail.

The Jesuits have the Moral Law of Christ.  They have a Superior General under the Command of the Pope, the Vicar of Christ.  They have the method and the discipline instilled by the Spiritual Exercises.  And they have the numbers:

Jesuit activities and piety have always attracted followers.  There were 1000 members when Ignatius died, and 22,601 at the time of the Suppression in 1773.  On its restoration, the society has 674 members, which rose to 15,073 in the 1900, doubled to 30,579 in 1950, and reached its peak–36,038–in 1965. (Encyclopedia of Christianity, p. 23)

The numbers of Jesuits have been steadily dropping ever since.  Though they are only half their numbers now at 19,216 by 2007, they still remain as the largest religious order of priests and brothers (Wikipedia), enough to make five Roman legions with about 4000 members each.  These leaves us with Heaven and Earth in Sun Tzu’s list, and the Jesuits have not neglected these in their deliberations.

Heaven–night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.  The Earth–distances, great and small;danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.  Both of these are studied by the Jesuit Observatories.  In his book, Searching the Heavens and the Earth: This History of Jesuit Observatories, Undias wrote:

Jesuits established a large number of astronomical, geophysical and meteorological observatories during the 17th and 18th centuries and again during the 19th and 20th centuries throughout the world. The history of these observatories has never been published in a complete form. Many early European astronomical observatories were established in Jesuit colleges. During the 17th and 18th centuries Jesuits were the first western scientists to enter into contact with China and India. It was through them that western astronomy was first introduced in these countries. They made early astronomical observations in India and China and they directed for 150 years the Imperial Observatory of Beijing. In the 19th and 20th centuries a new set of observatories were established. Besides astronomy these now included meteorology and geophysics. Jesuits established some of the earliest observatories in Africa, South America and the Far East. Jesuit observatories constitute an often forgotten chapter of the history of these sciences. This volume is aimed at all scientists and students who do not want to forget the Jesuit contributions to science.

One of these observatories is the Vatican Observatory:

The Vatican Observatory is one of the oldest astronomical research institutions in the world. It has its headquarters at the papal summer in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, outside Rome. Its dependent research center, the Vatican Observatory Research Group, is hosted by Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona, Tucson, USA.

The Vatican Observatory Research Group operates the 1.8m Alice P. Lennon Telescope with its Thomas J. Bannan Astrophysics Facility, known together as the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT). This is located at the Mount Graham International Observatory (MGIO) in southeastern Arizona.

Another is the Manila Observatory:

The Manila Observatory is a private non-stock, non-profit, scientific research institution that was established in 1865 by the Jesuit mission in the Philippines. With Federico Faura at its inception, it was engaged in the systematic observation of Philippine weather. It began serving typhoon warnings in 1879, and embarked on earthquake observations in 1880. In 1884, The Spanish government issued a royal decree formally recognizing the Manila Observatory as the official Philippine institution for weather forecasting.

The years after saw the Observatory branching off into other areas of scientific research and service. In 1885, the Observatory began its time service that greatly benefited merchant shipping. A seismology section was established in 1887, and in 1899, the Observatory ventured into astronomical studies.

Recognizing the importance of the work of the Observatory, the American colonial government established it as the Philippine Weather Bureau in 1901. For about 45 years, the Observatory remained active and famous in international expositions and scientific expeditions. The Institution continued to be well known for its accurate typhoon forecasts and scientific works in the field of meteorology, geo-magnetism and astronomy.

Many meteorological and geographical maps made by the Jesuit scientists of Manila Observatory can still be seen when one visits the Manila Observatory’s Archives.  Volumes of data are published in tabular form either in loose sheets or in bound Annual Reports –wind, temperature, clouds, earthquakes, magnetic fields, ionosphere, sunspots, and even insect pests in farms–so wide are the scope of their researches and so deep have they investigated these things that one can’t help but quote the words of Solomon:

For [God] gave me sound knowledge of existing things, that I might know the organization of the universe and the force of its elements, the beginning and the end and the midpoint of times, the changes in the sun’s course and the variations of the seasons. Cycles of years, positions of the stars, natures of animals, tempers of beasts, Powers of the winds and thoughts of men, uses of plants and virtues of roots-Such things as are hidden I learned and such as are plain;for Wisdom, the artificer of all, taught me. (Wis 7:17-22)

c.  Jesuit “Lunatics”

When Christ commanded his apostles to go out to the world and make disciples of all nations, some Jesuits went out of this world.

If one gazes at the moon at night and look at the lunar maps, we can see that 35 lunar craters are named after Jesuits, among them are Fr. Mateo Ricci, S.J. , Fr. Christopher Clavius, S.J., and Fr. Ange Secchi, S.J.  Fr. Ricci, S.J., we already knew, so we shall proceed to the other two.

The Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about Fr. Christopher Clavius, S.J.:

Christoph Clau, mathematician and astronomer, whose most important achievement related to the reform of the calendar under Gregory XIII; born at Bamberg, Bavaria, 1538; died at Rome, 12 February, 1612. The German form of his name was latinized into “Clavius”. He entered the Society of Jesus in 1555 and his especial talent for mathematical research showed itself even in his preliminary studies at Coimbra. Called to Rome by his superiors as teacher of this branch of science at the well-known Collegium Romanum, he was engaged uninterruptedly there until his death. The greatest scholars of his time, such men as Tycho Brahe,Johann Kepler, Galileo Galilei, and Giovanni Antonio Magini, esteemed him highly. He was called the “Euclid of the sixteenth century”; and even his scientific opponents, like Scaliger, said openly that they would rather be censured by a Clavius than praised by another man.

Clavius also anticipated many mathematical developments: the decimal point, the Vernier scale, the parenthesis in algebra, a symbol for an unknown quantity.  He made the mathematical symbols for square root, +,  and -.  Here are his other achievements:

He discovered and proved a theorem for a regular polygon with an odd number of sides which two centuries later enabled Carl Friedrich Gauss to construct a 17-sided polygon by ruler and compass.
In hisTriangula sphaerica (Mainz 1611) Clavius summarized all contemporary knowledge of plane and spherical trigonometry. His prostlaphaeresis , the grandparent of logarithms, relied on the sine of the sum and differences of numbers. In this way he was able to substitute addition and subtraction for multiplication, by solving the identity with which we are familiar today: 2 sin x sin y = cos(x-y)-cos(x+y). D. E. Smith gives the details of the proof and emphasizes the impact Clavius’ work had on the discovery of logarithms. Smith also underlines the modesty of Clavius in generously giving to one of his contemporaries more credit than is due for his own prostlaphaeresis . (Fairfield University)

Fr. Angelo Secchi, S.J.’s has accomplished much in Astrophysics and Meteorology. I’ll highlight two of these accomplishments because they are related to Manila Observatory. The first is astronomical spectroscopy:

He invented the heliospectrograph, star spectrograph, and telespectroscope. He showed that certain absorption lines in the spectrum of the Sun were caused by absorption in the Earth’s atmosphere.(Wikipedia)

The Manila Observatory also has a similar spectroheliograph and this is described by Fr. Richard A. Miller, S.J.:

A combination solar spectroheliograph and spectrograph, newly installed in the Philippines at 8-h East longitude is described. The rotatable vacuum spectrograph follows an Ebert design, consisting of a plane grating and two mirrors. These off-axis mirrors are figured sections of one single mirror form and function as collimating and camera mirrors. The spectrograph system matches the ƒ/24 Gregorian-type telescopic quartz mirror system of 30.5-cm clear aperture, fed by 41-cm coelostat mirrors. The grating drive is wholly within the tank. Spectroheliograph scans are with fixed slits but with a moving image and moving plate or filmholder. Slit jaws are of stainless steel and form slits 76 mm long. Dispersion is 2.75 Å/mm in the first order. An 8.3-cm × 10.8-cm plateholder receives the spectrogram or spectroheliogram image. Visual monitoring and 35-mm photographs of the solar image at the entrance slit are made through an Hα Halle monochromator. A typical spectrogram and spectroheliogram are shown. (Applied Optics, Vol. 4, Issue 9, pp. 1085-1085 (1965))

Mr. Columbo Enaje, the Laboratory Technician in the Physics Department said that he was the one who aligns the giant telescope to get photographs of the sun for Fr. Frank Heyden, S.J.  But when the Manila Observatory decided to automate the motion of the telescope, the project was not finished.  At present, the spectroheliograph is idle.  Fr. Daniel McNamara, S.J. said that the cost of refurbishing the telescope is about 10 million pesos.

Fr. Angelo Secchi, S.J. also acquired fame with his invention of a weather warning machine:

He secured, however, his greatest fame by his invention of the “Meteorograph”, a skilfully-constructed weather machine, which works day and night and records the curves of atmospheric pressure, temperature, rainfall, rainy season, . strength of wind, and relative dampness of the atmosphere. In its original form the “Meteorograph” was extremely simple, but in 1867, through the munificence of Pius IX, it received a magnificent case, and in this form claimed the admiration of everybody at the Paris Exhibition of 1867. It created a great sensation, and Secchi received as prize of honour from the hands of Napoleon III the large gold medal and the insignia of Officer of the Legion of Honour; from the Emperor of Brazil he received the Order of the Golden Rose. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

This Secchi meteorograph was the one used by Fr. Federico Faura, S.J. of Manila Observatory in making the first predictions of the Philippine typhoons.  Fr. Horocio de  la Costa, S.J. tells about how this instrument was built:

The Secchi meteorograph arrived in Manila during the first months of 1869, dismantled. Nonell and Faura dragged the packing cases into an empty room and pried them open with feverish fingers. Soon the floor was strewn with mysterious levers cogs, screws. Nonell uttered an exclamation of dismay.

“There are no directions for reassembly.”

Faura rummaged through the packing cases, the tufts of excelsior. It was true. Father Secchi had overlooked the all-important diagrams.

Nonell and Faura looked at each other in wild surmise. Finally, Faura spoke.

“Leave me alone in this room for three days,” he said quietly. “Thrust my meals through the door. Let no one speak to me. With the help of God, I’ll assemble the instrument.”

So it was done. On the morning of the fourth day, Nonell peered cautiously around the door. He shouted triumphantly. The instrument was mounted. About Faura’s thin haggard face, however, hovered a glum dissatisfaction. He had not been able to place four tiny gadgets.

A Filipino watchmaker was called in, Canon by name. This obscure genius took the four pieces, circled about the instrument once, and presto! the pieces were in their proper places.

The Manila Observatory was open for business.


A.  Ratio Studiorum

We have seen how the Jesuits’s scientific vision and mission were implicitly founded on the Spiritual Exercises and the Jesuit Military Tradition.  As the Jesuits began to see science as a missionary field, the Jesuits placed institutional processes for the promotion of science to ensure a steady supply of Jesuit scientists for the many Jesuit colleges and observatories.  These processes we shall now see when we review the Jesuit Ratio Studiorum.

The Ratio atque Institutio Studiorum Societatis Iesu (“The Official Plan for Jesuit Education”) was published in 1599 during the generalate of  Fr. Claudio Aquaviva, S.J.  This document was produced by trial and error–trying out ideas and removing what does not work:

This committee [of 12 Jesuits] produced a trial document, the Ratio of 1586, which was sent to various provinces for comments from the teachers. This plan was not intended for actual use in the classrooms. Reflection on the reactions led to the issuance of another document in 1591, which was to be employed in all Jesuit schools for three years. The reflection on these experiments was then used by the committee in Rome to create the final official document of 1599. (Wikipedia)

The Jesuits have crafted a document that will set the standard for Jesuit education all over the world.

What does the Ratio Studiorum 1599 say about science? For the Teacher of Philosophy, the rules 1 and 2, for example, says:

1.  Since the humanities or natural sciences prepare the intellectual powers for theology and assist in the perfect understanding and practical application of religious truth and by virtue of their content contribute to the attainment of this goal, the teacher whose heart is set on advancing the honor and glory of God, should teach these secular subjects in a spirit which will prepare his students, and especially his Jesuit students, for the study of theology.  He should above all lead them to a knowledge of their Creator.

2.  He shall not depart from Aristotle in matters of importance, unless he finds some doctrine contrary to the common teaching of schools or, more serious still, contrary to the true faith.  If he does find some contrary doctrines in Aristotle or any other Philosopher, he shall be at pains thoroughly to refute them as the Lateran council prescribes.

9. #5 In order to give the whole second year to physical sciences, he should begin a fuller discussion of science at the end of the first year and in it he should include the major topics in the introduction to physics, such as the division of science, abstractions, theoretical and practical science, subordination, the difference in method in mathematics and physics, which is treated by Aristotle in the second book of the Physics, and finally what Aristotle says about definition in the second book On the Soul. (Fr. Allan P. Farrell, S.J. translation)

Notice that the Jesuits made the physical sciences of Aristotle part of the standard curriculum, as preparation for the theological studies of Jesuit scholastics.

When the Ratio Studiorum was revised in 1832, provisions were made for the study of the history, geography, mathematics, and natural sciences (Catholic Encyclopedia); however Aristotle was not mentioned:

“The professor of physics is to expose theories, systems, and hypotheses, so as to make it clear to what degree of certitude or probability belongs to each.  Since in this faculty new progress is made everyday, the professor must consider it part of his duty, to know the more recent discoveries, so that in his prelections he may advance with the science itself.” (Schwickerath, p. 194)

B.  Jesuit Science Internship: Scholastics in Manila Observatory

To ensure a steady supply of Jesuit scientists, the Jesuits made the Observatories as mission areas, as done in the Manila Observatory:

Scholastics founded the Manila Observatory (MO). MO was one of the institutions to which a scholastic could be missioned. Their only preparation was their formation in the early years in the Society. Scholastics came from various Provinces. Assignment to MO meant a long and difficult sea journey from the sending Province to the Philippines, and back. Some scholastics teaching at Ateneo worked part-time at MO until MO moved to Padre Faura in 1887. For some, Observatory activities was a phase in their formation process. For others, it was the initiation into a lifelong scientific apostolate. The Table below lists, in chronological order, the scholastics that could be identified.

Scholastic Start End Field Return End Death
Colina, Francisco 1865 1867 meteorology 1893
Nonell, Jaime 1865 1870 meteorology 1922
Ricart, Juan 1868 1870 astronomy 1915
Faura, Federico 1866 1871 meteorology 1878 1897 1897
Doyle, Juan 1885 1891 geomagnetism 1896 1901 1918
Cirera, Ricardo 1888 1894 geomagnetism 1932
Saderra-Maso, Miguel 1890 1896 seismology 1901 1932 1939
Tsuchihachi, Yachita 1894 1895 geomagnetism 1965
Coronas, Jose 1894 1900 meteorology 1907 1931 1938
Sola, Marcial 1897 1903 seismology 1960
Stanton, William 1901 1904 entomology 1910
Brown, Robert 1902 1906 entomology 1912 1915 1947
McGeary, James 1904 1906 astronomy 1945
Doucette, Bernard 1925 1927 meteorology 1933 1974 1974
Welch, Leo 1930 1932 astronomy 1990
Heyden, Frank 1931 1934 astronomy 1971 1991 1991
Guzman, Pablo 1942 1943 seismology

The notes below give the activities and achievements of some of the scholastics. The post-Observatory activities, mainly of those who did not return to MO, are also included. That there is no write-up of the other scholastics does not mean that their contributions were not important or significant. The work and achievements of those who returned as priests are not within the scope of this essay.

B.  Jesuit Science

The Ratio Studiorum of 1599 has defined what the ideal science teacher: the professor must provide a critique of the present theories and he must update himself in the latest advances in his field.  It is assumed, of course, that he is a Jesuit.

There are three marks of Jesuit science.  The first is the Jesuits are everywhere, in almost all branches of science:

[the Jesuits] had contributed to the development of pendulum clocks, pantographs, barometers, reflecting telescopes and microscopes, to scientific fields as various as magnetism, optics and electricity. They observed, in some cases before anyone else, the colored bands on Jupiter’s surface, the Andromeda nebula and Saturn’s rings. They theorized about the circulation of the blood (independently of Harvey), the theoretical possibility of flight, the way the moon effected the tides, and the wave-like nature of light. Star maps of the southern hemisphere, symbolic logic, flood-control measures on the Po and Adige rivers, introducing plus and minus signs into Italian mathematics — all were typical Jesuit achievements, and scientists as influential as Fermat, Huygens, Leibniz and Newton were not alone in counting Jesuits among their most prized correspondents [Jonathan Wright, The Jesuits, 2004, p. 189]. (Thomas Woods, How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization)

Second, the Jesuits are updated in the latest scientific advances through their worldwide scientific network:

One might well argue that the Society of Jesus, rather than the Academia de Cimento or the Royal Society, was the first true scientific society.  Kircher (1602-1680), the impresario in Rome, was more than a match for Mersenne and Boulliau in Paris or Henry Oldenburg in London, in his ability to collect observations and objects from a worldwide network of informants.  More important, Kircher published all these data in massive encyclopedias, which, together with similar efforst by Schott and Riccioli, were as vital as the early scientific journals in disseminating scientific information. (Lindberg)

And third, the Jesuits do science not for science’s sake but to see God in all things:

Not surprisingly, this emblematic approach to the world of spirit carried over into Jesuit investigations of nature…To Bellarmine, for example, the observation that the moon sometimes shines on the earth while keeping a dark side to heaven, became a reminder that man too will often turn his back on God.  Bellarmine was writing a devotional treatise, not a natural history, but exactly the same outlook is apparent in most of the Jesuit scientific encyclopedias.  Kircher included stories about Christomorphic stones because they are signs of God, and they are signs whether the objects really exist or not.  This of course is the crucial point.  As long as one holds the view that nature is an elaborate hieroglyph, important only as a source of mystery and wonder, then the separation of true phenomena from false becomes secondary, if not irrelevant.  Such a worldview produced enchantingly beautiful works of art and literature, but its dissolution was an essential feature in the revolution in science.  The Jesuits were never able to abandon their emblematic world. (Lindberg)


In this talk, I showed that the Jesuit vision is rooted in the Spiritual Exercises, the Jesuit mission in the Jesuit military tradition, and the Jesuit strategy in the Ratio Studiorum.  In the Spiritual Exercises, the Jesuits learned how to count their sins, use their imagination, and note down their experiences–skills which they use as scientists as they measure physical quantities, enlarge their vision of the world, and write down their observations in journals and books.  In their Military Tradition, the Jesuits learned obedience which allowed them to be sent as missionaries to all corners of the world and to all branches of knowlege; they also learned to master’s Sun Tzu’s Heaven and Earth through their laboratories and observatories, as an aid to their missionary efforts.  And in their Ratio Studiorum, the Jesuits provided a uniform pedagogy for the teaching of science by describing how the subjects are to be taught, and more importantly, what an ideal science teacher is.  Though the Jesuits have excelled in many branches of sciences, their view of science remains Jesuitical: they see God in all things.

The Jesuits may have dwindled in number and many Jesuit universities and observatories have been run by lay administrators.  And this includes the Manila Observatory.  Gone are the days when each Jesuit has his own sphere of influence–atmosphere, magnetosphere, ionosphere, heliosphere–as the list of Fr. Victor Badillo S.J. shows.

The Jesuits are gone, but the Jesuit vision and mission remains.  And the torch has been passed to the Jesuit lay partners who share the same mission and vision.  But it sad to see a once glorious order reduced to one feeble Jesuit peering through his telescope, looking at the stars, searching for the future of the Jesuits at the beginning of time, at the time when St. Ignatius founded the Jesuits.  There is hope for the Jesuits because Christ rose from the dead.  Christ could never abandon they that bears His name: the Society of Jesus.    Let us pray for more Jesuit vocations.  Let us pray for the Jesuits.


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Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

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