As the essays in this volume attest, John O’Malley, S.J., has been an intellectual force in the proud tradition of the erudite, generative, multi-lingual polymaths of the early Society. Reading the recent memoir on his rich scholarly life over several decades, The Education of a Historian (2021)i, viewing the wonderful Georgetown Interview (2021), and having had the chance to interview him in Baltimore on May 26, 2022,ii we are struck by his relentless curiosities across multiple fields of historical inquiry and his willingness to follow his questions over decades as they take on new forms and incarnations, both alone -- and with many others. We witness his meticulous and deep commitment to understanding original sources of the Renaissance on their own terms, his work to modernize the historiography of confessional and religious history, and his capacious analytic and synthetic prowess in bringing historical moments, movements, institutions, and figures “to life” to make more present pasts, and to participate in the present itself.
In this epideictic piece (one of O’Malley’s favorite genres for analysis), we want to share some of the ways in which he backed into, participated in, and ultimately sponsored the emerging field of Jesuit rhetoric, nationally and internationally, over the last several decades, albeit somewhat unwittingly. While we appreciate O’Malley’s primary identity as a new historian of religious history, and his reluctance to call himself a rhetorician, we think it is important to acknowledge his serendipitous and fertile encounters with rhetorical studies. We briefly trace his changing relationship to rhetorical study, from his first efforts to use it as a frame for textual analysis, to seeing it as an enduring centering principle for Jesuit society and ministries writ large, and finally as a set of valuable principles that can be renewed for Jesuit education today. And we share the perspectives from a sampling of those who have been influenced by his work across these areas internationally and within an American higher education context.
O’Malley’s Serendipitous Journey into Rhetoric: Another “Strange and Wonderful Story” iii Certainly, O’Malley’s intellectual engagements with rhetoric have not gone completely unnoticed. The eminent scholar, Anthony Grafton, in his chapter on the Jesuits, “Entrepreneurs of the Soul, Impresarios of Learning,”iv which considers the global religious and educational reach of the Jesuits during the early modern worldv, comments on O’Malley’s use of rhetorical frames arguments. In his discussion of the humanist classicist schools the Jesuits became so famous for, he explains that training in the arts of speech and writing prepared students for all kinds of religious and civic life, including confessional persuasion and polemic: As O’Malley shows in some of his most interesting pages, they also seem to have felt a special affinity for the classical art of rhetoric. At the heart of classical rhetoric lay the precept that an effective speaker tailors every utterance to its immediate context, taking account of listeners’ needs and desires. The Jesuits, who expertly ‘accommodated’ their clothing, diet, and language to new circumstances took naturally to a discipline that gave them systematic training in sizing up occasions and audiences.vi Jesuit philosopher and historian of intellectual life, Stephen Schlosser, S.J., takes up O’Malley’s multiple treatments of early Jesuit rhetorical accommodation in his important essay, “Accommodation as a Rhetorical Principle: Twenty Years after John O’Malley’s The First Jesuits”. vii This remarkable work assembles many of O’Malley’s claims about the rhetorical threads woven into every aspect of Jesuit life and work and joins them to insights of Stephen Toulmin to make a case that that the early Jesuits were remarkably modern in their thinking with their intellectual breadth, flexibility, and openness. He uses what he calls the O’Malley-Toulmin Paradigm to reconceive the whole periodization of intellectual life, and the nature of modernity itself. He argues that “Both O’Malley and Toulmin employ “rhetoric” as a central organizing concept.”viii Specifically, he states: “O’Malley ... organizes his account of sixteenth-century Renaissance Jesuits around the concept of rhetoric. O’Malley argues that this rhetorical principle extended far beyond the obvious reach of methods employed in preaching, teaching, and other oratorical crafts. Rather, it functioned as a principle of accommodation and shaped almost every aspect of Jesuit thought, action, and self-identity.” ix 2
Gannett, Cinthia; Brereton, John; and Brizee, Allen
"John W. O'Malley: Scholar of Eloquence and Eloquent Scholar,"
Jesuit Higher Education: A Journal: Vol. 11:
2, Article 11.
Available at: https://epublications.regis.edu/jhe/vol11/iss2/11