From Jesuit ethics to Protestant natural law

Johan Ihre and Hieremias Drexel’s moral treatise on the vices of the tongue

  • Toon Van Houdt


In 1742 and 1743 Carolus Magnus Roos (1716–1771), a student from Västergötland, defended a dissertation about condemnable verbal behaviour entitled Dissertatio moralis de vitiis linguae eorumque remediis (“Moral dissertation on the vices of the tongue and the remedies thereof”). In all likelihood, the work was at least co-authored by the famous professor Skytteanus (1707–1780) Johan Ihre, who acted as Roos’s supervisor. A thorough intertextual analysis reveals that the authors heavily drew on Orbis Phaëthon, a voluminous emblem book about the same subject-matter published in 1629 by the Bavarian Jesuit Hieremias Drexel (1581– 1638). Roos/Ihre turned his quintessentially Jesuit moral viewpoint into a solid exercise in Protestant natural law ethics by adopting a philosophical framework that had previously been developed by the German philosopher Christian Wolff (1679–1754). Interestingly enough, however, Wolff’s deductive, almost mathematical type of discourse was supplemented by Roos/Ihre with a more humanist or rhetorical mode of discourse directly borrowed from Drexel’s emblem book itself.