Pope Pius XII wrote the following apostolic blessing to Jean-Baptiste Janssens, the superior general of the Society of Jesus, to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of Ignatius. The pope urges those in the Society to “carry forward with untiring earnestness, especially in the spiritual sphere, all your activities, your ministries and everything by which you may give timely answers to the changing and ever-increasing needs of our own times.” Pius hopes that “today’s sons of Ignatius” would “strive to follow in their footsteps. Under the standard of the Cross may they stand firm against all the attacks of the princes of this world of darkness.”
It was a real joy for Us to hear that the Society of Jesus, which you, beloved Son, have governed in a worthy manner for the past nine years, is about to celebrate with solemn festivities the memory of its holy founder on the fourth centenary of his death, to the end that all its members may be aroused to a more ardent love of their beloved father and lawgiver, and a more perfect observance of his institute. These centennial celebrations receive our hearty approval and we join thereto our prayers for their success, the more willingly because of the well-founded hope that rich benefits will flow from them not only to the sons of St. Ignatius but also to the souls of the faithful. For, just as by an Apostolic Letter expressing our affection on the occasion of the fourth centenary of the founding of your Society, as a gesture of comfort to ourselves as well as to you, “we reckoned up with gratitude those remarkable achievements which God in his providence had brought about in the course of the past four hundred years through the Society of old and today,” so we take pleasure in recalling the same on this occasion as a precious pledge for the future. We are also happy to exhort you once more from the heart of a father to carry forward with untiring earnestness, especially in the spiritual sphere, all your activities, your ministries and everything by which you may give timely answers to the changing and ever-increasing needs of our own times.
We have been informed that all your provinces throughout the world have with a will set themselves to celebrate this centenary year by devoting themselves with still greater zeal and fidelity to the Spiritual Exercises of their father and founder and to spreading their use more widely. In truth, St. Ignatius has left his sons no legacy more precious, more useful, more lasting than that golden book which, from the time of Paul III, sovereign pontiffs and innumerable saints in the Church have frequently praised most highly. If there is truth in that which Father La Palma wrote that the book of the Spiritual Exercises was the firstborn of St. Ignatius, the saintly author can be equally well said to have been the firstborn of those Exercises. They are what invigorated his soul with new life, guided his first steps in the way of perfection, increased his strength to enable him to choose the Divine King wearied by toil, harassed by insults, submissive to torture and death in the service of His Eternal Father, and to follow Him to the very summit of love, so that, ablaze with the fire of divine love, he ardently desired to bring not only himself, but the whole world, to the feet of Christ our Savior. Ignatius, who had tested the great force of these Exercises, on one occasion declared that in them was contained “everything that is most excellent that I can think of, feel and comprehend in this life, to enable a man to make fruitful progress in his own soul, and be of benefit and a stimulus to others.”
So no one will be surprised that your saintly Founder wished to be fully tested in these Exercises each one who desired in this Society “to fight God’s battle under the banner of the Cross, and to serve solely our Lord and his Spouse, the Church, guided by the Roman Pontiff, Vicar of Christ on earth.” He wished his sons to imbibe that spirit, which is the foundation of the Society, from the same source from which he had drunk his new life. This spirit is a marvelous and holy ardor of mind, aroused by the grace of God working in the Exercises, which would make them not only desirous, but prompt and eager, to devote themselves to God’s glory, and for the sake of the same to undertake exacting labors. Hence, forgetful of their own convenience, shunning leisure, devoted to the practice of prayer based on personal mortification, they would strive with all their might to attain the end proposed to them in the Society.
But when Ignatius, authorized by Pope Paul III, our predecessor of happy memory, later composed the Constitutions and gave them to his companions, his intention was not that rigid laws should replace the living and life-giving law of interior love. And after the Society was established, he did not lose sight of the meaning of that phrase, “to be at the special service of the Holy See” under the standard of the Cross,—that Cross to which Jesus Christ affixed the decree written against us, after He had wiped it out, so that all men might be freed from Satan’s power and march in the light of faith and warmth of charity. The command given on Mt. Olivet sounded clearly in his ear: “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” Later Augustine would write: “Spread charity through the whole world, if you want to love Christ, because Christ’s members are throughout the world.” And Ignatius himself was destined to see over a thousand of his followers serving under the standard of the Cross in the distant lands of Europe, America, India, Ethiopia. This was the beginning of that apostolate which would call his sons to the vast field of the Lord, some to the heathen missions, which the popes over the years would entrust to them to improve with unremitting labor, exact knowledge, even with their blood; others to labor close to heads of state, or among those oppressed by slavery; still others to direct schools of youth or to occupy university chairs; still others to give the Spiritual Exercises to every class of men, or to enrich and brighten the world of letters by their writings. It will be for the Constitutions to open the road by which the whole Society and all its members, though dispersed throughout the world yet united to each other and its head by the same love of the Eternal King, might in the spirit of the Ignatian institute attain that perfect manner of life which is the chief fruit of the Exercises.
Beloved son, who of the Society, in this fourth centenary year, will not listen to that word, once Paul’s, now spoken by Ignatius, “Be content, brethren, to follow my example and mark well those who live by the pattern we have given them.” Through God’s goodness, the Society never lacked saintly men, who, exactly conformed to the Exercises of Ignatius, kept that pattern unmarred, and drew energy and strength to live precisely according to the Constitutions, so as to reproduce in themselves more perfectly that pattern, and work more effectively for souls. Pius VII, of immortal memory, sought men of this stamp when he wished to equip Peter’s storm-tossed bark with strong, expert oarsmen. Holy Mother Church in these troubled times asks the Society for helpers of the same mound. May today’s sons of Ignatius, therefore, strive to follow in their footsteps. Under the standard of the Cross may they stand firm against all the attacks of the princes of this world of darkness. Loving and ready obedience must be shown to superiors, especially the Supreme Pontiff: this is their most honorable badge. To worldly desires, love of poverty must be opposed; to empty pleasure a certain austerity of life and untiring labor; to the discords and quarrels of the world, gentle and peacebringing brotherly love, love for each other and for all men; to materialism that sincere and earnest faith which always acknowledges and reverences the presence of God in the universe. If all this comes to pass, Ignatius, though dead, will live on in his sons.
As we write these lines, dear son, with all the love of a father’s heart, our thoughts turn to those fathers and brothers who have suffered or are actually suffering bitter exile and torture at the hands of their persecutors. Surely they are most worthy sons, echoing the most glorious traditions of the Society of Jesus. They are confessors of the Catholic faith, who are an honor to their brethren as well as an example. May God strengthen them; most willingly do we bless them. But it is to all the sons of Ignatius that we extend our loving greetings, begging God that under the patronage of your founder, father, and lawmaker, protected by the ever Blessed Virgin Mary, they may day by day increase in virtue, thus moulded by divine grace into a strong instrument so that all things may be guided aright by the divine hand, and happily contribute to the greater glory of God.
In testimony of Our special benevolence towards the Society of Jesus, We lovingly bestow on you, dear son, and on all those religious throughout the world entrusted to your charge, the Apostolic Blessing.
Given at Rome, at St. Peter’s on the thirty-first day of July, in the year nineteen hundred and fifty-five, the seventeenth of our Pontificate.
PIUS PP. XII
Original Source (English translation):
“Letter of His Holiness, Pope Pius XII.” Woodstock Letters 29.2 (1955): 291–294.