Decree 18: “Poverty,” General Congregation 31 (1966)

The 29th and 30th General Congregations established commissions to study the topic of poverty within the Society of Jesus. The delegates at the 31st congregation, in the following document , provide extended thoughts on the purpose of poverty, especially by issuing directive norms in order to “bring about this renewal in our way of poverty.” The delegates also expand the sources of income articulated in the Constitutions to include “gain from or remuneration for work done according to the Institute” as “a legitimate source of material goods which are necessary for the life and apostolate of Jesuits.” This expansion required the approval of the Holy See, which was granted by the Cardinal Secretary of State.

For more from the 31st General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.


I. Introduction

1.     The 31st General Congregation, having carefully considered the need of adaptation and renewal of the Institute in regard to poverty, has decreed by its own authority that it be undertaken according to the norms defined below.


II. Directive Norms on Evangelical and Religious Poverty in the Society of Jesus

2.     Since the Church of the Second Vatican Council, in its desire to be “the Church of all, but in a special way the Church of the poor,” calls on all the faithful to give an authentic testimony of poverty, and since the world, infected with atheism and closed to the heavenly goods of the kingdom of God, desperately needs this sign, the Society of Jesus, avowing at the same time poverty and the apostolate, in the Church, will try to give this witness of poverty in a more perfect way.

The Society of Jesus is also impelled to this by the innate force of its vocation. For it is a community of disciples of the poor Christ, which has taken up an “apostolic life” to lead men to the kingdom of the Father by the path of poverty of spirit.

To bring about this renewal of our way of poverty, the following declarations are made.

3.     The spirit of poverty has an essential value in our evangelical and religious life. For it is the spirit of Christ, who “though He was rich, became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of His poverty.” Imbued with this spirit, the companions of Jesus in a true consecration “more closely follow and more clearly show the Savior’s self-emptying by embracing poverty with the free choice of God’s sons.” At the same time, they manifest the wealth of the kingdom of God, in that they give up earthly goods and practice charity for the needy, knowing that “our Lord Jesus Christ will provide the necessities of life and dress for his servants who are seeking solely the kingdom of God.”

4.     Our poverty in the Society is apostolic: our Lord has sent us “to preach in poverty.” Therefore our poverty is measured by our apostolic end, so that our entire apostolate is informed with the spirit of poverty.

5.     In order that this poverty may flourish the more, the Society seeks its adaptation and renewal both by a return to the true doctrine of the Gospel and the original inspiration of the Society and by the adaptation of our law to the changed conditions of the times, in such a way that, insofar as it may be necessary, the letter of the norms may be changed, but not the spirit, which must continue undiminished.

6.     This adaptation and renewal must affect the forms of our poverty as well as the juridical norms, so that these forms may truly suit the mentality, life, and apostolate of our times and give a visible witness to the Gospel. Therefore our contemporary poverty must be especially characterized by these qualities: sincerity, by which our lives are really poor; devotion to work, by which we resemble workers in the world; and charity, by which we freely devote ourselves and all we have for the service of the neighbor.

7.     Our profession of poverty should be sincere, so that the manner of our life corresponds to this profession. St. Ignatius wanted us to take the criterion for the poverty of our life both from our apostolic end and from the principles of the Gospel, for we are apostles of the Gospel. But since we are apostles of this age, we must pay special attention to the social circumstances of time and place.

If, following in the footsteps of our predecessors, we would wish to give—or repeat—more concisely defined norms, assuming discernment in their application, we should have to say that the character of our poverty in regard to our way of life must be adapted to people of modest means so that our food, clothing, dwelling, and travels are such as are suited to the poor. Where we must make use of larger buildings, travel, or instruments for our work, these should really be, and as far as possible clearly appear to be, necessary instruments intended solely for our apostolate which we use in adherence to our poverty.

The Society really intends to answer the demands of this real, not pretended, poverty.

8.     The witness of our poverty today most aptly shines forth in our practice and spirit of work undertaken for the kingdom of God and not for temporal gain. This poverty should be filled with activity, by which we resemble men who must earn their daily bread; it should be equitable and just, ordered in the first place to giving each one his due; finally, it should be generous, so that by our labor we may help our poorer houses, our works, and the poor.

9.     Our poverty, then, should become a sign of our charity in that by our lack we enrich others. Nothing should be our own so that all things may be common in Christ. Communities themselves, renouncing their own advantage, should be united to each other by the bond of solidarity. Finally, the parts of the Society should freely become poorer so that they may serve the whole body of the Society. And the bond of charity should not be restricted only to Jesuits, for all men are related to the Mystical Body of Christ. Charity should always crown the obligations of justice by which we are bound in a special way to those who are poorer and to the common good.

10.     All should remember, however, that no community form of poverty nor any outward profession of it will be genuinely Christian unless it is inspired by a highly personal sentiment of the heart, that is, by a spiritual poverty, drawn from a close and constant union with the incarnate Word of God. Therefore, there is a broad field of personal responsibility in which each can more perfectly live his calling to poverty and, within the limits of the common good, express it with discerning love by living more frugally, under the guidance of superiors.

11.     The Society, facing a world in which a large part of mankind lies wounded and despoiled, moved by the love of the Good Samaritan, and conscious of its universal vocation, should subject its apostolate to examination, to see how it may more fully turn itself to those who are abandoned, “to evangelize the poor, to heal the crushed in heart.”


III. Directive Norms Concerning Common Life in the Society of Jesus

12.     The General Congregation, in its concern about the obligation of religious life and the evangelical witness given by that life in all our apostolic activity, has set itself to define what “common life” means as applied to the Society’s poverty so that our communities and individual members may be more accurately guided in really practicing in an always more perfect way personal poverty and communal or collective poverty.

13.     Our community poverty includes two aspects: that “common life” which St. Ignatius derived from a centuries-old tradition and current Church law still sanctions as an essential element for all religious families; and that mode of living which, in the following of Christ as He preached with the apostles, bears the mark of the special calling that ought to characterize the Society’s efforts as it works among men for the redemption of the world. Moreover, it is of the utmost importance that an apostle, always following the poor Christ, somehow accommodate himself to the manner of life of those whom he helps, becoming all things to all men. Therefore our every use of material things should be such that by the sharing of these goods in common we not only express and strengthen the unity of heart and mind of all members of the Society, but also, by the tenor of our life, signify to the world our will, both common and personal, to give a witness of evangelical poverty, humbly and fraternally serving all, especially the poor, so that we may gain all for Christ, living as poor men and in externals in a manner common to all.


IV. The Matter of the Vow Not to Relax Poverty

14.     The General Congregation authentically declares the matter of the vow not to relax poverty to be completely defined in this statement: “To bring about an innovation in regard to poverty means to relax it by admitting any revenues or assets for the use of the community, whether with a view to the sacristy, maintenance, or any other purpose, apart from the case of the colleges and houses of probation.” Therefore, in virtue of the vow the solemnly professed are obliged only to this: not to grant a stable income to professed houses and independent residences, notwithstanding other more general expressions which are found in the same Declaration.


V. The Fruit of Labor

15.     The General Congregation declares, that in addition to the alms and income admitted by the Constitutions, gain from or remuneration for work done according to the Institute is a legitimate source of material goods which are necessary for the life and apostolate of Jesuits. But we are to select these labors according to the obligations of obedience and the nature of our ministries, avoiding every desire of monetary gain or temporal advantage.


VI. The Gratuity of Ministries

16.     The General Congregation interprets the gratuity of ministries in the Society in the following way:

a. The nature of gratuity is to be explained in the first instance from its purpose, which is both inner freedom (absence from seeking one’s own temporal advantage), outer freedom (independence from the bonds of undue obligation), and the edification of the neighbor which arises from this freedom and from the love of Christ and men.

b. This gratuity is not opposed to the acceptance of Mass stipends or alms according to the current law of the Church. But in practice account must be taken of edification and of charity to the poor both in and outside of the Society, according to norms to be established by Father General.

c. Exception being made of the special norms for parishes and for a legitimate recompense for travel and other expenses, including sustenance, Jesuits may demand no stipend for their work in spiritual ministries, especially for those mentioned in the beginning of the Formula of the Institute of Julius III; they may accept only those which are offered to them. It belongs to Father General to define the norms for this in practice.

d. The General Congregation declares that the rights of authors, emoluments, honoraria, grants, and other gifts which are considered to be the fruit of the talents and industry of Jesuits may be accepted; however, in the choice of ministries or works, let Jesuits not be influenced by the intention of making profits.

e. Tuition charges for education do not of themselves go against gratuity. Nonetheless, from the very apostolic intention of the Society in the ministry of the teaching and formation of youth and according to the mind of St. Ignatius, we are to try our best, as far as is possible according to the circumstances of time and place, to devise means by which we can return to the practice of teaching without the help of tuition.


VII. Foundations in the Law of the Society

17.     The General Congregation modifies decree 188, §1, in the Collection of Decrees thus:

“It is to be understood that those revenues which, according to the Constitutions, may be accepted by a ‘house’ if they are offered by founders ‘in such a way that their disposition is not in the hands of the Society and that the Society is incompetent to institute civil action in their regard,’ may be received—either from founders of houses or churches, or from any other benefactor—not only for the purpose of maintenance but also for other similar purposes, such as for the sacristy, for the library, or even for living expenses.”


18.     The General Congregation believes that it is expedient to request from the Holy See in favor of the Society the power by which Father General can establish, define, administrate, suppress, and assign non-collegiate foundations, notwithstanding the fact that the common law gives the right and duty to local ordinaries to establish and visit such foundations.

19.     The General Congregation gives a mandate to Father General that, when this power has been obtained, he will by an Ordination establish the norms for setting up foundations for the good of some houses or works, and for a more precise definition of the nature and purpose of some funds which are necessary for the financial life of the Society.


VIII. Procedures

20.     The General Congregation decrees that a commission shall be set up, according to the Constitutions VIII, 7, 3 [715], and the Formula of the General Congregation (Nos. 125–27), adding some prescriptions which seem appropriate, even though contrary to some of the statutes of the Formula of the General Congregation; this commission shall consist of Father General, who has the right to preside, and four definitores, on these conditions :

a. The four definitores shall be chosen by the General Congregation by a majority of secret votes, each one by a distinct vote, or, if some names shall be proposed by Father General, by a vote (or votes) containing several names; moreover, it shall be in the power of Father General, for a good reason and with the advice of the General Assistants, to accept or even to ask for the dismissal of one of the definitores and to replace him with another.

b. The definitores with Father General shall determine matters only with that power which the General Congregation gives to them.

c. Their task will be to prepare in stages a schema of adaptation and renewal, and revision of our entire law concerning poverty.

d. The schema definitively worked out by the commission of definitores shall be promulgated by Father General for use and experiment for the whole Society until the General Congregation immediately following this one.


IX. Applying to the Holy See

21.     The General Congregation decides that numbers IV, V, and VI of this decree be submitted to the Holy Father for confirmation, or at least for the purpose of informing him.



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 18, “Poverty,” pg. 123–128 [283–311].