First Address of Pope Paul VI to General Congregation 31 (1965)

The delegates of the 31st General Congregation gathered, in part, to select the successor to Jean-Baptiste Janssens as the 28th superior general. In these remarks before the congregation, Pope Paul VI believes that the next general would “take every care to ensure that your harmony be not disrupted by discordant voices, but rather that you deserve full credit for fidelity and devotion.” The pontiff also stresses the “fearful danger of atheism threatening human society,” stating, on behalf of the Church, its bidding to “the companions of Ignatius to muster all their courage and fight this good fight, making all the necessary plans for a well-organized and successful campaign.

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We are happy to receive you today, dear members of the Society of Jesus, and We greet you with Our warm and heartfelt good wishes.

You have gathered in Rome in accordance with the original law of your Society to form the General Congregation which will choose the successor of Father John Janssens, your Superior General, whose loss We mourn with you. The task before you is a difficult and momentous one, for on it depend the well-being and success, the vigor and progress of your religious Institute.

Weigh with sound and well-informed judgment, with the steady wisdom that comes from true prudence, every element that has a bearing on your decision, and, before all else, invoke the light and guidance of the Holy Spirit in pure and fervent prayer, that your voting may conform to the will of God: “Show us the one whom You have chosen.”

For Our part, as We greatly share your concern and unite Our prayers with yours, We earnestly wish that the one to be chosen will meet the highest expectations and fully satisfy the needs of your religious family.

Everyone knows that Ignatius, your holy father and law maker, wanted your Society to be marked by a distinctive characteristic and to achieve results by a zeal rooted in virtue. Founded as the result of his unselfish and heaven-sent inspiration, the Society of Jesus was to be, in his plan, outstanding as the solid bulwark of the Church, the pledged protector of the Apostolic See, the militia trained in the practice of virtue.

Your glorious mark of distinction, the great claim to renown, with which you are endowed, is “to fight for God under the standard of the Cross, and to serve God alone and the Church, His spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth.” If, in the fulfillment of this pledge of service, other religious have the duty of serving with loyalty, courage and distinction, you ought to possess these qualities in the highest degree.

The glorious pages of your history proclaim that the ambitions and lives of the sons have matched the ideals of their holy father, and that you have deserved the reputation and glory of being the legion ever faithful to the task of protecting the Catholic faith and the Apostolic See.

Like the heavens with their stars, your Order has gained brilliance from your holy martyrs and confessors, from the Doctors of the Church, Peter Canisius and Robert Bellarmine, and from a countless throng of devout, learned, and zealous men. By word and work, they have taught the lesson of fidelity, and have left to their successors as an imperishable example and a spur the path which they have blazed.

The tenor of your lives, as befits valiant soldiers of Christ, tireless workers beyond reproach, should be based solidly on the holiness of behavior which is characteristic of you, on an asceticism of the gospels, which is austere and noteworthy for its virility and strength. It should be permeated by an unwavering discipline which does not give way before individual inclinations, but instead is prompt and ready, reasonable and constant in all its ways and undertakings. In an army, if a line or unit does not keep to its assigned place, it is like an instrument or a voice out of tune. Your new General will take every care to ensure that your harmony be not disrupted by discordant voices, but rather that you deserve full credit for fidelity and devotion. We are happy to see that most of you partake of this fitting unanimity, and We congratulate you for it.

Therefore, all should take care in their thinking, their teaching, their writing, their way of acting, not to conform to the spirit of the world, nor to let themselves be buffeted by every wind of doctrine and not to give in to unreasonable novelties by following personal judgment beyond measure.

Instead, let each one of you consider it his chief honor to serve the Church, our Mother and Teacher; to follow not his own, but the counsel, the judgments, the projects of the hierarchy and to bring them to fruition; to be animated more by the spirit of cooperation than by that of privilege. The Church recognizes that you are most devoted sons, she especially cherishes you, honors you, and if We may use a bold expression, she reveres you. Now when more than ever, as a result of the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, the extent and the possibilities of the apostolate are seen to be so vast, the holy Church of God needs your holiness of life, your wisdom, your understanding of affairs, your dedication to labor, and she asks of you that, holding on most tenaciously to the faith of old, you bring forth from the treasure of your heart new things and old for the increase of God’s world-wide glory and for the salvation of the human race, in the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ whom God has glorified and to whom He has given a name which is above every name.

Hold fast at all times to the safe protection of this Holy Name, your name too and your special glory. Strive eagerly to make it more widely loved and honed since it is the true, never-failing source of salvation: “For there is no other under heaven given to men, whereby we must be saved.”

We gladly take this opportunity to lay serious stress, however briefly, on a matter of grave importance: We mean the fearful danger of atheism threatening human society. Needless to say it does not always show itself in the same manner but advances and spreads under many forms. Of these, the anti-God movement is clearly to be reckoned the most pernicious: not content with a thoroughgoing denial of God’s existence, this violent movement against God attacks theism, aiming at the extirpation of the sense of religion and all that is good and holy. There is also philosophical atheism that denies God’s existence or maintains that God unknowable, hedonistic atheism, atheism that rejects all religious worship or nor, reckoning it superstitious, profitless and irksome to reverence and serve the Creator of us all or to obey His law. Their adherents live without Christ, having no hope of the promise, and without God in this world. This is the atheism spreading today, openly or covertly, frequently masquerading as cultural, scientific or social progress.

It is the special characteristic of the Society of Jesus to be champion of the Church and holy religion in adversity. To it We give the charge of making a stout, united stand against atheism, under the leadership, and with the help of St. Michael, prince of the heavenly host. His very name is the thunder-peal or token of victory.

We bid the companions of Ignatius to muster all their courage and fight this good fight, making all the necessary plans for a well-organized and successful campaign. It will be their task to do research, to gather information of all kinds, to publish material, to hold discussions among themselves, to prepare specialists in the field, to pray, to be shining examples of justice and holiness, skilled and well-versed in an eloquence of word and example made bright by heavenly grace, illustrating the words of St. Paul: “My message and my preachings had none of the persuasive force of ‘wise’ argumentation, but the convincing power of the Spirit.”

You will carry it out with greater readiness and enthusiasm if you keep in mind that this work in which you are now engaged and to which you will apply yourselves in the future with renewed vigor is not something arbitrarily taken up by you, but a task solemnly entrusted to you by the Church and by the Supreme Pontiff.

Hence in the laws and regulations of your Society, ratified by Paul III and Julius III, there is the following declaration: “All who make the profession in this Society should understand at the time, and furthermore keep in mind as long as they live, that this entire Society and the individual members who make their profession in it are campaigning for God under faithful obedience to His Holiness Pope Paul III and his successors in the Roman pontificate. The Gospel does indeed teach us, and we know from the orthodox faith and firmly hold, that all of Christ’s faithful are subject to the Roman pontiff as their head and as the vicar of Jesus Christ. But we have judged nevertheless that the following procedure will be supremely profitable to each of us and to any others who will pronounce the same profession in the future, for the sake of our greater devotion in obedience to the Apostolic See, of greater abnegation of our own wills, and of surer direction from the Holy Spirit. In addition to that ordinary bond of the three vows, we are to be obliged by a special vow to carry out whatever the present and future Roman pontiffs may order which pertains to the progress of souls and the propagation of the faith; and to go without subterfuge or excuse, as far as in us lies, to whatsoever provinces they may choose to send us.”

It should be considered fully consistent with this vow and its characteristic obligation that it is not merely a matter binding in conscience, but one that must also shine forth through actions and become known to all.

St. Ignatius, your holy Founder, wanted you to be so; We too want you to be so, being sure that the trust We place in you will be entirely fulfilled. We are confident also that the fulfillment of these wishes of Ours shall yield to the Society of Jesus, in all parts of the world where it struggles, prays and labors, a plentiful harvest of renewed life and excellent merits which God will fittingly reward.

With these heartfelt greetings to you all, members of the Society of Jesus, the festive and happy group that surrounds us today, We impart our apostolic blessing on all of you, on all your undertakings, and on the great hope which sets your hearts on fire for pure and lofty aims to be achieved.



Original Source (English translation):

Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, “Address of His Holiness Pope Paul VI to the Members of the 31st General Congregation, May 7, 1965,” pg. 229–232.

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