Philosophy Theology

The Importance of Metaphysics

The program of the Jesuit philosophy course was structured in several stages and firmly anchored in Aristotelian thought. In the early levels, the students earned a solid initial training in Natural Philosophy and Logic.

On the tile panel, the figure of Mercury, with his talar wings and caduceus, represents the wisdom of Metaphysics (Genius Metaphisicus). The idea was probably inspired by the figure of Andrea Alciato’s eighth emblem with a statue of the god who indicates the correct way for travelers. The Latin verses also speak of doubts and crossroads, and, on the panel, two horsemen ask a beggar on crutches for directions.

In a comment on the emblem, the Spanish scholar Diego López explains that the Roman deity symbolized the true interpreters of the divine words, such as the bishops, doctors, and confessors, who teach us the right path towards the health and eternal life.

Qua Dii vocant eundum. Emblemi di Andrea Alciato, 1626
Qua Dii vocant eundum. Emblemi di Andrea Alciato, 1626. © Getty Research Institute.

Another version of this emblem, with the same deity pointing out to the road of salvation, was printed in the work Imago Primi Saeculi Societatis Iesu, which proudly praises the importance of Ignatius of Loyola’s Exercitia Spiritualia as a useful guide for the choice of a religious vocation.

The idea also receives a second level of meaning with the addition of a verse from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Inter utrumque volat [Flies between them]. With these words, Icarus’ father advises him to take the middle path. In his journey, Icarus should avoid the waves of the sea, and should also avoid the proximity of the heat of the sun that could melt his wings and precipitate his fall.

Libellus exercitiorum dux certissimus ad eligendum vitae statum. Imago Primi Saeculi Societatis Iesu, 1640. © Getty Research Institute
Libellus exercitiorum dux certissimus ad eligendum vitae statum. Imago Primi Saeculi Societatis Iesu, 1640. © Getty Research Institute.

More precisely related to the subject of philosophy, the middle path of Icarus should refer to the middle term that relates two premises in a syllogism, the cornerstone of Aristotelian logic, and the best way to establish the truth or falsehood of an argument.

To resolve doubts and establish the truth, in questions related to universal and immutable principles, it was considered the main task of the philosophers, closer to the divine knowledge.


BOLLAND, Johannes; TOLLENAERE, Jean de; HOSSCHE, Sidronius de; WALLE, Jacques van de & FRUYTIERS, Philip. Imago Primi Saeculi Societatis Iesu: a prouincia Flandro-Belgica eiusdem Societatis repraesentata. Antuérpia: Balthasaris Moreti, 1640.

MENDEIROS, José Filipe. Os azulejos da Universidade de Évora. Tiles of the University of Evora. Évora: Universidade de Évora, 2002.

Évora, Colégio do Espírito Santo

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