Quadricentennial Address, Pius XII (1941)

Pope Pius XII delivered the following remarks at an event to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Society of Jesus. The ceremony took place in Rome in the Hall of Benediction on April 27, 1941, the day Greece surrendered to the Nazis. Pius spoke following remarks by Wlodimir (Włodzimierz) Ledóchowski, the superior general. The pontiff summarized the Society’s “duty and the cherished task” for four centuries as, “to think, to feel, to labor with the Church and the Vicar of Christ” and believed that “nothing could ever shake its allegiance, not even,” alluding to the papal suppression, “when under the pressure of the unjust and envious secular forces of the times, in a sea of dark forebodings, a Father’s sovereign hand sacrificed it for the tranquility of the bark of Peter.” Still, Pius praised the fact that “the history of your life and labors during four centuries speaks eloquently with the persuasive language of facts and with the wonderful successes that have crowned your thoroughly Catholic ministry and suffering.”



We have listened with joy to the sentiments of filial devotion that have come from the lips of the venerable, and to Us most dear, General of the Society of Jesus, its worthy Superior now for so many years, as he presents to Us, in this solemn Centennial Celebration, the Fathers and Brothers residing in Rome and its environs, together with various groups enrolled in the principal works directed and promoted by the Society. To these sentiments, expressed in the name of the entire Society, Our response can only be one of joy, as we behold assembled and represented here about Us the entire Society of Jesus, near and far, that Society of Jesus which was approved and established here in Rome by Our Immortal Predecessor, Paul III. Rome was its cradle; in Rome it grew strong and from Rome it spread out into the whole world; in Rome it was restored and took on again such vigorous life that it rivaled the glowing pages of its early history by its outstanding practice of complete devotion and obedience to the Roman Pontiff. In this same spirit you have wished that We, too, should share in the happy festival which commemorates the completion of four centuries since the foundation of your Society, and We truly rejoice with you, because We know full well that to be and to live continually and completely at the service of the Vicar of Christ has ever been and is today the single wish of the Society of Jesus.

Was not this the purpose of its Founder, Saint Ignatius, when he presented and offered and bound by solemn vow to the Supreme Pontiff that small yet chosen group of his first companions, making them dauntless champions of obedience to Peter and intrepid heralds of the Gospel in every clime? It was for this very purpose that they were welcomed by Our Predecessors, who watched over and protected the infancy of the Society, so much so that Marcellus II could say to its first General: “You enlist recruits and train warriors; We shall use them.” To think, to feel, to labor with the Church and the Vicar of Christ—that has been the duty and the cherished task to which the Society of Jesus, for four centuries, from the time of Ignatius, has dedicated itself and from which it has never swerved. Nothing could ever shake its allegiance, not even when under the pressure of the unjust and envious secular forces of the times, in a sea of dark forebodings, a Father’s sovereign hand sacrificed it for the tranquility of the bark of Peter. It was true unto death in those days, and when it again came into being, it continued true to its high purpose. Itself unchanged, it was conscious of the changed conditions of the times, and took on fresh vigor of life, combining the youth and maturity of its past in order to attain a future not less rich in merits and sacrifices in its unwavering devotion to the Apostolic See.

We do not propose to weave a garland of praises for you, nor to take as Our theme that ardent spirit which raises up so many religious families and crowds the Church’s army with so many heroes. The history of your life and labors during four centuries speaks eloquently with the persuasive language of facts and with the wonderful successes that have crowned your thoroughly Catholic ministry and suffering. And what is the soul of that history but the spirit of the wounded Captain of Pamplona, the spirit which on his bed of convalescence changed the knight of worldly ambition into the courageous soldier of Christ and His greater glory? And this spirit which he transfused into the hearts of his first companions, was it not the hidden force which energized their labors with spiritual power and effected such wonderful results? Some would attribute this success to the circumstances of the times. It is certainly true that external events contributed to form and bring to light a Benedict, a Bernard, a Dominic, a Francis, as also an Ignatius of Loyola. But their spirit and the driving force of their zeal were not the result of circumstances, but were born in the depth of their own hearts and minds by the light and the power of the Spirit of God. Their zeal struck hardest where difficulties were thickest; their spirit made them dauntless in the face of the chaotic conditions of their times, and spurred them on alike to rear on the solid foundation of the three religious vows the fortress of their works and holy enterprises for the good of the Church and of souls. From this solid rock came forth their strength. In the same manner two streams of energy issued forth from the young Society of Jesus which We are pleased on this occasion to mention in a special way, since even in Our day. Beloved Sons, they are of decisive importance in your apostolate.

In the first place, Ignatius, with his soul on fire, and wishing to inflame and enkindle the whole world, hurled himself, a stranger to all fear, into every situation where there was at stake an issue of supreme moment. Such is the character of Christ’s heroes; such is the character of Ignatius, who, like Paul, wished his sons to be “men crucified to the world and to whom the world is crucified,” sanctified by the spirit and practice of poverty, by perfect obedience and complete self-denial. His character stands out in vivid contrast against cowardly retreat into the safe and secure havens of secondary and non-essential projects, the refuge of those who would shirk what is difficult, and what, by reason of its greater worth, necessarily entails greater sacrifice.

Nothing is more characteristic of Saint Ignatius, nothing more revealing of his mind and aims, than the book of his Spiritual Exercises, that manual of spiritual warfare and interior self-conquest in which a man makes a deciding choice in life or adjusts again the course of his life towards the goal of his earthly pilgrimage. At this training ground of the soul, the intellect and will, setting aside everything that is not to the purpose, struggle and exert themselves, in meditation and contemplation, to conquer nature and to yield to grace. Whoever enters this training ground and generously submits to its discipline, will come forth won over and deeply persuaded, both in theory and in practice, of the necessity of impressing on the very substance of his soul those fundamental supernatural truths which vitalize the whole man, coming in upon the mind, as they do, from such opposite realities as life and death, time and eternity, man fallen and yearning to rise again, and Christ beckoning, suffering and rising from the tomb to draw man on with Him to final triumph. In this way, Saint Ignatius himself moulded his own character, and in such a spiritual rebirth lies the highest and most precious attainment of man, as that wisest of kings once pointedly remarked, when he beheld and tasted the utter vanity of all earthly things: “Fear God and observe His commandments; for that is the whole man.” From this training school, Saint Ignatius came forth to select his companions, to found and govern, as General, his own Order, to assemble and concentrate his forces for that which counts most, for purposes and enterprises of the first order. These he marked out and entrusted to his sons as objects of their asceticism and apostolic zeal.

Imbued with this fundamental principle, the Religious of the Society of Jesus have gone forth humbly, but, with great courage and confidence in God, to employ to the full all their energies in the greatest works of the Church, for the good of society, for the conversion of infidels in the far-flung mission fields, and for the defense of the faith. And this fundamental principle has always been the source of every great, solid and lasting good which the Society has achieved.

Thus, among the many and varied works undertaken by the Society from its beginning, there is one in particular which seems to Us to reflect that all-embracing principle. We refer to the work of the education of youth: a work, which penetrates into the spirit of youth in order to mould it to manhood, at a time when under the assaults of awakening passions it has need of light and guidance along the path to virtue and to God. If it be true that a young man according to his way, even when he is old, will not depart from it, it is wrong in educating the child to divorce the training of morals from the training of letters and to cultivate the mind while neglecting the heart. Against this danger and ruin, which threaten the children of Christian families in the very flower of their youth, the genius and zeal of Ignatius, led on by his love and desire to place the training and development of youth on a sound and sacred foundation, raised a formidable bulwark.

And it is the glory of the Society, recognized in a special manner by our illustrious Predecessor, Gregory XIII, that one of its principal duties and activities is education in the sciences, both sacred and profane: religioni ac bonis artibus. Along these lines your Fathers have labored and here in Rome the Roman College was a striking and monumental testimony of their work. This activity grew unheralded and in silence, but far from passing over it in silence. We emphatically declare it to be the second great reason for your high merits in the eyes of Christ and His Church, the family and society. Religious and moral truth, which side by side with profane learning you instill into the hearts of youth, penetrates more deeply, because it is more vital and tends, even when the storms of passion submerge it, to keep rising up again above the waves in later years, until, in the evening of life, the figure of this world passes away. Such educational work was developed, as it is also being developed today, according to carefully tried and tested methods; and your Order has not hesitated to employ many of its greatest men in its colleges and schools, its universities of Europe, the New World and the Orient. These men are engaged in a work in which a modern and celebrated German writer, non-Catholic though he is, clearly sees: “Something that suggest the silent yet inflexible activity of the forces of nature; without fret or fury, without flurry or haste, moving on quietly step by step.” We know well that in this silent and tranquil work, if indeed tranquility can reign on the battlefield of truth, you bring with you deep faith in the good cause you are serving, boundless energy of heart and mind, so that you are reaping a rich harvest which, as in the past, so also now and in the future, is suited to signalize and make eminent, sustain and strengthen your ministry, and guarantee the worth and standing of the Society in the whole field of the Church’s apostolate.

It is an apostolate of faith and of love, an apostolate gigantic in its proportions, called for by the monstrous ruin and desolation that is still spreading over the face of the earth and over the souls of men, an apostolate which meets the great need of alleviating the bitter and agonizing sorrows that will be the sad consequences of this present strife between nations. And in this stupendous task of restoring spiritual health to the world, We welcome, with the greatest pleasure, the cooperation which your Society offers, noting again in your offer of assistance the same ardor of soul, the same fervor of love and of sacrifice which in the past made your heroic and saintly Founder, and your valiant brethren now honored on our altars, so glorious and so deserving in the eyes of the Church and society. Among these sainted brethren, St. Peter Canisius, whose feast we celebrate today and to whom Father General has already referred, stands out pre-eminently. He was a perfect disciple of Saint Ignatius, whose ideals he bent every force of his will to accomplish.

You have presented to Us, as a symbol of your own dearest aspirations and a memento of this Centenary, a reliquary containing the sacred relics of your Saints, relics once quickened by those immortal spirits who now in Heaven gaze on the face of God, and, by pleading before his throne, lend added power to the prayers and holy sacrifices which you have offered in this spiritual bouquet for Our intentions. We return paternal thanks for both these gifts, as also for your presence here today which makes your joys Our joys; and Ours, also, the trials and sorrows which in the present hour mingle with your rejoicing. The life of your Order is not unlike or different from the life of the Church.

Thus, just as your Society for the last four centuries has drawn its life from the Spirit of Christ, Who gave it His name, so also We find engrafted in the Church’s history, the history of your Order —its great Founder and its Saints and martyrs, its indefatigable apostles, its Doctors and masters, its schools and universities, its sodalities of Our Lady, its retreats and Spiritual Exercises, its Apostleship of Prayer, its Institute of Religious Culture and its Students’ Mission League. Hearing of and knowing your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for the Church of the faithful, We, too, for these and your many other works, say with Saint Paul: “that We never cease to give thanks for you, making memento of you in Our prayers, in order that the God of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give unto you, in ever fuller measure, the spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him and His greater glory.”

Wherefore, as a pledge of favors from on high. We invoke the bounty of God upon your venerated Father General and his Curia, upon all your Superiors and Provinces, your colleges and universities, all your activities and missions, upon the entire Society of Jesus laboring and suffering throughout the world. And with the fervent prayer that your Society, undismayed by difficulties and trials, which your Founder never feared but ever wished for, may, at the close of this fourth century of your life, rich in holiness, go forward with fresh vigor to new and not less fruitful undertakings in the service of Christ and His Church, We impart to all of you. Beloved Sons, here present and far away, from a Father’s heart overflowing with affection. Our Apostolic Blessing.



Address of His Holiness, Pius XII, to the Society of Jesus

Rome, Italy

April 27, 1941



Original Source (English translation):

“Address of His Holiness Pius XII, to the Society of Jesus.” Woodstock Letters 70.3 (1941): 341–348.

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