Jesuit theater

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Jesuit theater (also called Jesuit drama ) is the Catholic, Latin-language Baroque drama of the Jesuits , which was cultivated especially in Jesuit schools in the 16th and 17th centuries. The performances broke with the traditions of Christian preaching and made use of secular entertainment concepts.


The Jesuit theater emerged as a response to the Reformation and was part of the counter-Reformation undertakings of the Jesuit order. The Reformation teachings began to take hold and the Catholic Church faced severe criticism. The Jesuit theater pursued the intention to win back the doubters and portray the Catholic Church as a triumphant winner. The audience should be addressed mainly on an emotional level.

In the first hundred years since 1550, the actual heyday, the Latin-language drama initially leaned heavily on the so-called humanist drama, only to soon become a splendidly decorated piece of conversion . Georg Agricola , Nicolaus von Avancini and Jakob Bidermann were among the most important authors in Germany . All performances were in Latin. So-called "Periochen" (programs) in German made it easier to understand.

The dramas were not only shown in the 750 Jesuit colleges ( there were even three stages in the Paris College of Louis le Grand ). There were performances in every major Catholic city and at the royal courts. One of the largest contemporary theater rooms in Germany was the Jesuit St. Michaelskirche in Munich.

The fathers produced mass plays - Jean-Marie Valentin counted 7,650 titles - which were created within 220 years. The topics revolved around church history , Christian martyrs, saints legends , missions in the Far East and similar religious and ecclesiastical topics. Classicist fabrics have also appeared in the last few decades. The audience was made familiar with the Jesuit worldview.

Following the example of the Jesuit theater, the school theater was also part of the regular school program at grammar schools of other orders, such as the Franciscans .

After 1773 , the actual tradition of the Jesuit theater ended with the repeal of the order by Pope Clement XIV. Even after the order was re-established in 1814 , there were attempts to revive this institution.

Theater practice

The colorful performances featured music, ballet, and dozens of actors and extras populating the stage. The audience was held in suspense by baroque pomp and a fireworks display of show effects. Magnificent stage sets and props impressed the audience as well as all the effects of the stage technology of the time: explosions, lightning and thunder, fire-breathing dragons, angels flying down on lines and ghosts swallowed by the earth with infernal noise. In some cases, the audience was encouraged to play along and in this way participated emotionally in the joys and sorrows of the stage heroes.

Some of the performances were of such impressive vehemence that spontaneous conversions are reported. The princes who were present are said to have pleaded for a return to the Catholic faith on the spot. The infernal torments depicted with drastic stage effects have evidently achieved greater persuasiveness in their imagery than argumentative words.


  • Klaus Beckmann : Joseph Meck (1690–1758), life and work of the Eichstätter Hofkapellmeister . Phil. Diss., Bochum 1975.
  • Thomas Erlach: Entertainment and instruction in the Jesuit theater around 1700. Studies on music, text and context of selected pieces . The Blue Owl, Essen 2006, ISBN 3-89924-154-1 .
  • Willi Flemming: History of the Jesuit theater in the lands of the German tongue . Writings of the Society for Theater History 32, Berlin 1923.
  • Rüdiger Funiok / Harald Schöndorf (ed.): Ignatius von Loyola and the pedagogy of the Jesuits. A model for school and personal development. (= History and reflection series). Auer, Donauwörth 2000, ISBN 3-403-03225-6 .
  • Heinz Kindermann : European theater history. Volume 3. The theater of the baroque era . Otto Müller, Salzburg 1959.
  • William H. McCabe / Louis J. Oldani. An introduction to the Jesuit theater : a posthumous work Series III - Original studies, composed in English; no. 6. St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1983.
  • Johannes Müller: The Jesuit drama in the countries of the German tongue from the beginning (1555) to the high baroque (1665) (= writings on German literature. Ed. By Günther Müller. Vol. 7–8). 2 volumes. B. Filser, Augsburg 1930.
  • Christoph Nebgen: Religious Theater (Jesuit Theater) , in: European History Online , ed. from the Institute for European History (Mainz) , 2011, accessed on: November 11, 2011.
  • Frank Pohle: Faith and eloquence. Catholic school theater in Jülich-Berg, Ravenstein and Aachen (1601-1817) . Rhema-Verlag, Münster 2010, ISBN 978-3-930454-94-5 .
  • Ingrid Seidenfaden: The Jesuit Theater in Constance. Basics and development. A contribution to the history of Jesuit theater in Germany . (= Publications of the Commission for Historical Regional Studies in Baden-Württemberg, Series B, Research; Vol. 26). Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1963.
  • Elida Maria Szarota: The Jesuit drama in the German-speaking area: a period edition : texts and comments. Munich: Fink, Vol. 1, 1979; Vol. 2, 1980; Vol. 3, 1983; Vol. 4, 1987.
  • Jean-Marie Valentin: Le théâtre des jésuites dans les pays de langue allemande. Repertoire chronologique des pièces représentées et des documents conservés. (1555-1773) . 2 volumes. Hiersemann, Stuttgart 1983–1984, ISBN 3-7772-8309-6 .
  • Jean-Marie Valentin: Les jésuites et le théâtre. 1554-1680. Contribution to l'histoire culturelle du monde catholique dans le Saint-Empire romain germanique . 2., verb. Output. Edition Desjonquères, Paris 2001, ISBN 2-84321-031-3 .
  • Ruprecht Wimmer : Jesuit theater: Didactics and festivities: the copy of the Egyptian Joseph on the German stages of the Society of Jesus. The Occident; nF, 13. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann , 1982, ISBN 3-465-01519-3 .
  • Ders .: Recent research on Jesuit theater in the German-speaking area. A report (1945–1982). In: Daphnis 12, no. 4 (1983): 585-692.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Christian Plath: Between Counter Reformation and Baroque piety: The Franciscan Province of Thuringia from the re-establishment in 1633 to secularization. Mainz 2010, ISBN 978-3-929135-64-0 , pp. 250-260.