Decree 16: “Chastity in the Society of Jesus,” General Congregation 31 (1966)

For the Jesuit delegates at the 31st General Congregation, consecrated chastity was a “gift” from God, “a sign of charity and likewise a stimulus to it.” Those delegates, nevertheless, also issued the following decree to acknowledge how contemporary attitudes and contexts have caused “new problems” on the topic. The decree urges the new superior general to appoint “experts a study on the apt assimilation of advances in the fields of theology, psychology, and pedagogy, and on their application to the direction of Jesuits, so that they may ever more surely persevere in perfect chastity.” The decree concludes with a reminder that “charity, moreover, purifies our hearts of all feeling of envy, hostility, or bitterness,” disposing Jesuits “to bear each other’s burdens and to treat one another with reverence that we may feel a generous love for one and all in the community and at the same time conduct with all a profitable and fruitful dialogue.”

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The mental attitude of men today and the new ways in which our ministry must be fitted into their lives give rise to new problems which touch upon our consecration to God through the vow of chastity. But since these problems are not yet mature enough for a fully balanced and wise solution, the 31st General Congregation recommends to Father General that, as soon as he deems it opportune, he entrust to experts a study on the apt assimilation of advances in the fields of theology, psychology, and pedagogy, and on their application to the direction of Jesuits, so that they may ever more surely persevere in perfect chastity.

Moreover, the Congregation, after attentive study of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, and mindful of its own decrees on the spiritual life and the formation of Jesuits, proposes and enacts the following declarations and norms.

1.     God, pouring forth his charity in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, confers upon some in the Church the gift of consecrated chastity, a sign of charity and likewise a stimulus to it, whereby they may more easily devote themselves with an undivided heart to Him alone and to the service of His kingdom. Therefore, chastity “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven,” to which by both His example and His calling Christ invites us, and which we as religious profess, following the lead of so many saints, should, as the Church repeatedly urges and as our founder expressly declares, be “perfectly observed” by us.

2.     Our contemporaries, to whom we are sent and with whom we deal in fraternal fashion, are freshly pondering the meaning and value of human love and of the entire sexual life. To them we wish to offer the sincere, simple, and prudent testimony of our consecrated chastity.

3.     For the vow of chastity, inspired by charity, in a new and wonderful way consecrates us to God, and engages us in a new and eminently human state of life, which renders the heart singularly free and inflames it with charity towards God and all men. The life of chastity consecrated to God is, moreover, a living sign of that future world in which the children of the resurrection “will neither marry nor take wives,” and likewise a most suitable means “for religious to spend themselves readily in God’s service and in works of the apostolate.”

4.     Accordingly, in our Society, not only poverty and obedience, but chastity also is essentially apostolic. It is not at all to be understood as directed exclusively to our personal sanctification. For, according to the whole intent of our Institute, we embrace chastity as a special source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world. Through it, full dominion of our energies, both bodily and spiritual, is retained for a prompter love and a more total apostolic availability towards all men. Moreover, the profession of chastity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is of itself a true preaching of the Gospel, for it reveals to all men how the kingdom of God prevails over every other earthly consideration, and it shows wonderfully at work in the Church the surpassing greatness of the force of Christ the King and the boundless power of the Holy Spirit.

5.     On the other hand, chastity vowed to God through celibacy implies and requires of us a sacrifice by which we knowingly and willingly forego entrance into that family relationship wherein husband and wife, parents and children, can in many ways, even psychologically, attain mutual fulfillment. Hence, our consecration to Christ involves a certain affective renunciation and a solitude of heart which form part of the cross offered to us by Jesus as we follow His footsteps, and which closely associate us with His paschal mystery and render us sharers of the spiritual fertility which flows from it. The vow of chastity, then, on the indispensable condition that it be accepted with a humble, joyous, and firm spirit as a gift from God, and be offered as a sacrifice to God, not only does not diminish our personality nor hamper human contacts and dialogue, but rather expands affectively, unites men fraternally, and brings them to a fuller charity.

6.     However, that a man may dare to enter upon this vocation of love in the Church, he will necessarily require:

a. lively faith, for only with the help of faith can the meaning and worth of that higher love be understood which, through consecration, takes up the affections of the personality of a man or woman and transcends its natural expression;

b. a sound balance in affective life, constantly becoming more perfect, whereby the conscious and subconscious impulses and motivations of the entire personality are integrated to pave the way for a fully human commitment;

c. and finally, in our days particularly, an informed choice, freely, explicitly, and magnanimously made, of the properly understood excellence and worth of chastity consecrated to Christ. For through chastity a man, by the oblation of his whole body and soul, devotes himself to the Lord, and by a genuine act of assent takes up the gift of a vocation to establish a relationship of the love of friendship and charity which goes beyond the fullness of Christian marriage.

7.     Besides, in order that perseverance in one’s vocation throughout life may be obtained, and that the love once consecrated may grow unceasingly, it is necessary:

a. continually to nourish that original lively faith through familiar converse with God, though contemplation of Christ’s mysteries, and through vital assimilation to Him in the sacraments, both of penance, whereby we are made progressively more pure and at peace, and of the Eucharist, whereby we come to form one heart and one spirit with the people of God;

b. to sustain the initial resolve of persevering and growing in love, by fostering charity and the ready union of souls which flourish “when in common life true fraternal love thrives among its members”;

c. to strengthen the pristine desires of serving God in this vocation through truly responsible apostolic labor, which in the course of years should be adapted constantly, as far as possible, to the progressive development of one’s personality;

d. to protect constancy of will, both by a vigorous prudence, which leads individuals and communities “not to presume on their own resources, but to practice mortification and custody of the senses,” and by mutual confidence between subjects and superiors, which contributes wonderfully to renewal of the account of conscience, so much recommended;

e. to renew incessantly the strong desire of persevering, through humble and simple devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who by her chaste assent obtained divine fecundity and became the mother of beautiful love.


8.     Therefore, the 31st General Congregation proposes and commends the following.

a. All should cultivate close friendship with Christ and familiarity with God, for in this world, no one lives without love. But when our contemporaries question or fail to understand what our love is, we should offer them a fitting reply through the witness of a life of consecrated chastity, and at the same time with humble and persevering prayer we should beg for ourselves and our confreres the grace of personal love for Christ.

For our Father Ignatius experienced this grace, so permeating his entire personality that he bound his brethren to himself as friends and by his personal affability led countless men and women to God.

In the Spiritual Exercises he wished to urge the imploring of this grace, so that throughout the meditations and contemplations on the mysteries of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the application of the senses to them he would have us beg to know interiorly the Lord “who for me was made man, so that I may love Him the more, and follow Him more closely.”

b. Still, all should keep in mind that love consecrated by chastity should constantly grow and approach the mature measure of the fullness of Christ. It is, consequently, not a gift bestowed once and for all, mature and complete, at the beginning of one’s spiritual life, but such as by repeated decisions, perhaps serious ones, should steadily increase and become more perfect. Thus the heart is more and more cleansed of affections not yet sufficiently understood, until the man adheres totally to Christ through love.

Such love of Jesus our Lord impels a person likewise to genuine human love for men and to true friendship. For chastity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is safeguarded by fraternal friendship and in turn flowers forth in it. Hence also, we should regard as the precious apostolic fruit of ever more perfect love of friendship that mature, simple, anxiety-free dealing with the men and women with whom and for whom we exercise our ministry for the building up of the body of Christ.

c. But to attain the perfect liberty of chaste love, besides the familiarity with God mentioned above, all the supernatural and natural helps available should be used. Among these, however, those contribute more to the faithful fulfillment of one’s oblation of chastity which are positive, such as probity of life, generous dedication to one’s assigned task, great desire for the glory of God, zeal for solid virtues and spiritual concerns, openness and simplicity in activity and in consulting with superiors, rich cultural attainments, spiritual joy, and above all true charity. For all these things will of their nature more easily bring a man to the really full and pure love for God and men which we earnestly desire.

d. Nevertheless, mindful of the above-mentioned solitude of heart which constitutes part of the cross embraced through our vocation to follow Christ, and of our frailty which from youth to old age necessarily accompanies the development of chaste love, we cannot forget the ascetical norms which the Church and the Society in their wide experience maintain and which dangers against chastity require today no less than in the past. So we should diligently stand firm against desires which might lessen a just and wholesome dominion over our senses and affections.

e. Finally, sustained by the grace of God and mortified at all times, we should generously and strenuously devote ourselves to apostolic labor and know how to participate with moderation in the human contacts which our ministry involves, our visits and recreations, our reading and study of problems, our attendance at shows, and use of what is pleasurable, so that the testimony of our consecration to God will shine forth inviolate.

9.     As for superiors,

a. Let them know first of all that no one is to be admitted to the Society whom they consider ill-suited for consecrated chastity. Accordingly, they should study and faithfully fulfill what the Church tirelessly enjoins in this respect. Therefore, they should carefully inquire “about the free consent of the candidates, their moral fitness, physical and psychic health, and tendencies which might have been transmitted from their family.” And especially, “since the observance of total continence intimately involves the deeper inclinations of human nature, candidates should not undertake the profession of chastity nor be admitted to its profession except after a truly adequate testing period, and only if they have the needed degree of psychological and emotional maturity.” Proof of this is to be found particularly in a certain stability of spirit, in an ability to make considered decisions, and in an accurate manner of passing judgment on events and people.

b. The superiors, together with spiritual fathers thoroughly trained for their task, should see to it that Jesuits in the course of their formation be educated in the matter of sex in a suitable, positive, and prudent manner, so that they may properly know and esteem not only the meaning and superiority of virginity consecrated to Christ, but also the duties and dignity of Christian marriage. Moreover, they should be manfully armed in advance, so as to be able vigorously to surmount the various crises of maturation.

c. Likewise, superiors and spiritual fathers alike should manifest the utmost solicitude for the spiritual life of each individual, aware that they must give an account of all of them before God. Hence they should try to see fully and, as it were, to anticipate the psychological problems, the fatigue and difficulties, the wavering, weaknesses, and temptations which Jesuits, either in conversation or in any sort of contact, manifest more or less clearly. These they should perceive and evaluate accurately; what is more, they should show themselves ready to re-examine a man’s aptitude for our vocation before permitting that further steps in it be made.

d. Let superiors, exercising due firmness and putting aside a kindness which might better be called cruelty, take care that those who are unfit or doubtfully suitable be not advanced to vows or to orders. Thus, for example, someone who so lives separated from the others in the community that he raises a positive doubt about his aptitude for ready companionship with Jesuits or for apostolic contacts with his neighbors, should be directed to some other way of serving God.

And in our times, those who hold fast to a firm doubt regarding the value and worth of the vow of chastity and of celibacy are not to be judged fit for religious life and the priesthood.

e. Solicitous, attentive, and with much trust, superiors should be at the service of the recently ordained priests and brothers who are beginning to work in the vineyard of the Lord, as also of those who for a long time engage in arduous special studies, so as to make them conscious that they form a true part of their communities.

Superiors should lovingly endeavor to lead back those whom they see or sense to be drawing away from the community. And all Jesuits should be prepared to cooperate with superiors in their solicitude, discreetly but in good time making known to them the difficulties and temptations of their confreres.



10.     Finally, with superiors taking the lead, whose duty it is to be present and available, to encourage their brethren, and to offer them solicitous care, and with the cooperation of subjects, there will reign in the community through the wholehearted efforts of everyone the fraternal charity which, with participation in the same Eucharist, will make us all one united body. That charity, moreover, purifies our hearts of all feeling of envy, hostility, or bitterness. It so disposes us to bear each other’s burdens and to treat one another with reverence that we may feel a generous love for one and all in the community and at the same time conduct with all a profitable and fruitful dialogue.



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, General Congregation 31, Decree 16, “Chastity in the Society of Jesus,” pg. 108–114 [243–267].

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