Ignatius on Apostolic Activity (1551)

The letter below serves as one of the fullest outlines of the overall apostolic activity of the Jesuits in a city. The instructions come in three parts. First, the letter stresses how each member “provides the foundation for the others.” Virtuous behavior, right order, and using conversation and studies to draw people towards perfection were all needed. Second, the letter turns to “the edification and spiritual profit of the city,” for which providing an education is the primary step. Lastly, the letter looks at the means to provide a new college with the support of “a firm basis” and more and more “temporal goods.” As the title below, the instruction was frequently used, with adaptations, for new Jesuit establishments. Jean Pelletier, to whom this letter was addressed, was the rector of the Jesuit community at Ferrara, an Italian city located northeast of Bologna.

For more sources from Ignatius, please visit the Letters of Ignatius of Loyola.







Three things should be aimed at in [ … ]. One is the preservation and increase of the members of the Society in spirit, learning, and numbers. The second is the edification and spiritual advancement of the city. The third is the consolidation and increase of the new college’s temporalities, so as to provide for the better service of the Lord in the first and second areas.


Part 1


The first part, regarding the members of the Society, provides the foundation for the others. For the better they themselves are, the more suitable will they also be for acceptance by God as instruments for the edification of externs and the permanence of the foundation.

1.     Therefore all should strive to have a right intention, seeking exclusively “not the things that are their own but the things that are Jesus Christ’s.” They should endeavor to conceive great resolves and desires to be true and faithful servants of God and to render a good account of themselves in whatever responsibilities they are given, with a genuine abnegation of their own will and judgment and a total submission of themselves to God’s government of them by means of holy obedience, whether they are employed in high or lowly tasks. They should pray as fervently as they can to obtain this grace from the Giver of every good. Moreover, the one in charge should from time to time remind them of these things.

2.     So far as possible, the order and method of the college here [in Rome] should be followed, particularly in the matter of weekly confession and Communion, the daily examination of conscience and hearing of Mass in the house, the practice of obedience, and not conversing with externs except according to the regulation of the rector, who will decide how much each man may be entrusted with for edifying others without danger to himself.

3.     Within the house they should practice preaching daily during dinner and supper, a different man on each day of the week, with no, or at most an hour’s, preparation for these sermons in the refectory. In addition, sometimes during the week they should practice preaching in the vernacular or in Latin, being assigned a topic to speak on extempore; there should be sermons in Greek also, making use of the “tones” (though this latter may be varied according to the capacity of the student).

4.     Each one should strive to advance in learning and assist the others, studying and teaching what is assigned him by the rector. Care must be taken that the lessons are accommodated to the students, and that all the students get a thorough grounding in grammar along with training in composition, with careful corrections by the masters. They should engage in disputations and conferences.

5.     They should strive by means of academic and spiritual conversations to draw others to the way of perfection. With their younger pupils, however this should be done only with the greatest tact; and not even older students may be received [into the Society] without their parents’ approval. If it is deemed proper to receive an older student into the house (when he has made this decision for himself) or to send him to Rome or some other place, this may be done. However, discretion and the anointing of the Holy Spirit will point out the best course; or for greater security in cases of doubt, they should write to the provincial or to Rome.

6.     For these purposes, it will be useful to have some of the more advanced students carefully compose Latin discourses on the Christian virtues and deliver them publicly in the presence of all every week or every other week on Sundays and feast days. They should invite young men and others, especially those who seem suitable for the religious life, to hear these talks. This will be a good way to dispose those whom the Lord may call, [preparing them] to take the path of perfection; at the least it will make a good impression and give edification, and those in the house will obtain progress in literary practice and in the virtues.


Part 2

Regarding the second aspect, that of working for the edification and spiritual profit of the city (over and above helping outsiders by means of prayer):

1.     The first means is by providing an education in Latin and Greek to all comers, according to their ability, by giving class lectures and having the students practice disputation and composition.

2.     By taking care to teach Christian doctrine to the children every Sunday or on a weekday; and on another day having them memorize some little bit according to the program of the Roman College or however they deem best. This will be done in the house or in their own church or in any suitable nearby place that they think most appropriate. This practice could well produce more spiritual benefit than preaching.

3.     By seeing to it that the pupils form good habits through having them hear Mass daily if possible, attend the sermons given on feast days, go to confession once a month, and cease blaspheming, swearing, and using indecent language.

4.     Thought should be given to whether it would be good to have preaching on Sundays and feast days, or only have one of the men teach catechism classes in the church or in a public place while some of the men practice preaching in the monasteries.

5.     Thought should be given to the advisability of lectures on Holy Scripture or Scholastic theology for priests—for example, on the sacraments or a manual of conscience cases—if not at the beginning, at least later.

6.     They should give special attention to heresies, and be properly armed against heretics. They should know by heart the topics of controversy with them and try to engage with these so as to uncover and cure their infections; or, if this is not possible, to impugn their wrong teaching—skillfully, however, and not antagonizing these persons, but lovingly attempting to rescue them.

7.     They should strive to draw people to the sacraments of penance and Communion, and be prepared for administering these.

8.     Through spiritual conversation all of them can assist those they deal with, particularly when they find them so disposed as to give hope of good results. The exercises of the First Week could be given to large numbers, but the remaining Weeks only to those who show themselves suited for the state of perfection and are disposed to be genuinely helped by devoting themselves totally to the exercises.

9.     Where there is time, they should take care to assist prisoners, visiting the jails if possible and having one of the men preach there, urging them to go to confession and turn to God, and hearing their confessions when this is called for and can be done without detriment to tasks that are more obligatory and pleasing to God.

10.     They should also remember the hospitals—if, as I say, they occasionally have time left over—striving to console and spiritually assist the poor as far as they can. Here also occasional exhortations will be profitable unless an examination of all the circumstances indicates otherwise.

11.     In general, they should try to be aware of the pious works in the city where they reside, and do what they can to further them either by their own efforts or through others. Moreover, they should show diligence and charity in starting new works that do not exist.

12.     But while numerous means of helping the neighbor and numerous pious works are suggested, discretion will also guide them in which alternatives to embrace when they cannot undertake them all, as they keep their eyes always on the greater service of God, the common good, and the Society’s good reputation, together with the special interests of the college and the characteristic concerns of the Society.


Part 3

The third part consists in striving skillfully to put on a firm basis and increase the temporal goods of the new college. For this, over and above the sacrifices and prayers which should be offered by all in the house for this intention insofar as it is for God’s glory, the observance of the points mentioned in the first and second aspects will be more effective than any other means on our part. But in regard to a few means special to this third aspect, the following will be helpful:

1.     They should work to maintain and increase the goodwill of the cardinal and of the municipality, complying with their wishes wherever this is possible according to God, and serving them in the pious works in which they particularly wish to employ them, where this offers no prejudice to God’s greater service. They should have a care for their own good reputation and authority with these persons, and speak so as to convince them of the Society’s intention to expand its work, even though it ordinarily begins from the ground up so that it may later grow rather than diminish.

2.     They should also strive to win the goodwill of private citizens and benefactors and converse with them about spiritual matters. Special help given to such persons would be quite suitable and pleasing to God, whose affairs are at stake.

3.     Besides the benefactions that they can envisage from His Excellency and his household, they should hold in high esteem and spiritual friendship that most illustrious lord, the Duke of Monteleone, as head of this work, and the other persons who support it. Besides the fact that they will be helped, this will augur well that the service of God will always continue in the efforts of the college which they are helping.

4.     The better to preserve needed authority in spiritual things, they should try if possible to have their friends make requests and handle temporal affairs with His Excellency or with others less closely bound to them, rather than [carry on these activities] by themselves, or they should at least do this in such a way that there is no wrong appearance of greed.



Original Source (English Translation):

Ignatius of Loyola: Letters and Instructions, ed. John W. Padberg, et al. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996, “To Jean Pelletier, Rome, June 13, 1551,” pg. 346–351.