This extended decree represents the thoughts on Jesuit community life by the delegates to the 31st General Congregation of the Society of Jesus. The decree declares that “the foundation and aim of community life in the Society of Jesus” is “a community of men who are called by Christ to live with Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to fulfill the work of Christ in themselves and among men.” A healthy and flourishing community life ensures that the “whole religious life is sound,” and the decree outlines seven conditions for such a healthy community life as well as several “concrete applications.” The decree also addresses the role of discipline in the community life, noting that discipline “is not to be sought in itself and for itself” but instead provides “a dynamic resolve” for Jesuits to accomplish God’s glory.
For more from the 31st General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.
I. Community Life
A. The Nature of Community Life in the Society of Jesus
1. The sense of community evolved gradually in the infant Society. The first members, “friends in the Lord,” after they had offered themselves and their lives to Christ the Lord and given themselves to His vicar on earth that he might send them where they could bear more fruit, decided to associate themselves into one body so that they might make stronger and more stable every day their union and association which was begun by God, “making ourselves into one body, caring for and understanding one another for the greater good of souls.” Similarly they agreed later to give their obedience to some superior “so that they might better and more carefully fulfill their first desires to do the divine will in all things,” and gain greater internal cohesion, stability, and apostolic efficacy.
2. And so community in the Society of Jesus takes its origin from the will of the Father joining us into one, and is constituted by the active, personal, united striving of all members to fulfill the divine will, with the Holy Spirit impelling and guiding us individually through responsible obedience to a life which is apostolic in many ways. It is a community of men who are called by Christ to live with Christ, to be conformed to Christ, to fulfill the work of Christ in themselves and among men. This is the foundation and aim of community life in the Society of Jesus.
3. The union of minds of the members among themselves and with their head, leading to personal holiness and at the same time to apostolic activity, flows from a love for our God and Lord, Jesus Christ, and is sustained and governed by the same love. When it is strengthened by mutual understanding, this love gives a community a way of finding God’s will for it with certainty. For this dialogue between superiors and subjects or between the members of the Society, whether it takes place man to man or as a community effort, becomes supernaturally meaningful when it is directed towards finding the divine will, cultivating fraternal love and promoting our work as apostles.
B. The Importance of Community Life for Religious Life
4. When community life flourishes, the whole religious life is sound. Obedience, for instance, is a very clear expression of our cooperation toward common ends, and it becomes more perfect to the extent that superiors and subjects are bound to one another in trust and service. Chastity is more safely preserved, “when there is a true brotherly love in community life between the members.” Poverty, finally, means that we have made ourselves poor by surrendering ourselves and our possessions to follow the Lord. Community life aids and assists us in this surrender in a great variety of ways, and in its own unique way is the support of poverty. When the religious life is thus strengthened, unity and flexibility, universality, full personal dedication, and the freedom of the Gospels, are also strengthened for the assistance of souls in every way. And this was the intention of the first companions.
In addition, community life itself is a manifold testimony for our contemporaries, especially since by it brotherly love and unity are fostered, by which all will know that we are disciples of Christ.
C. Conditions for Community Life
5. a. The principal bond of community life is love, by which our Lord and those to whom He has entrusted His mission of salvation are loved in a single act. By this love, which contains a real offering of one’s self to others, a true brotherhood in the Lord is formed, which constantly finds human expression in personal relationships and mutual regard, service, trust, counsel, edification, and encouragement of every kind.
More concretely, the following are increasingly necessary for community life in the Society of Jesus:
b. Exchange of information in the community, by which superiors and subjects are kept informed about common works and plans, and help each other with advice.
c. Frequent consultation with experts, to share their insights, and frequent consultation among the members of the community, aimed at actively engaging everyone in the process of coordinating and promoting the apostolate, and in other things which pertain to the good of the community.
d. Delegation, by which the superior willingly gives the members greater responsibility for special missions and projects, and makes use of the principle of subsidiarity. When responsibility of this kind grows, a common burden is carried by many, and the sense of community is increased.
e. Collaboration of every kind, transcending every sort of individualism, which is more necessary in contemporary circumstances than ever before for the apostolate of the Society and a more intimate way of living together.
f. A certain order of life which is determined by the conditions of life and work proper to each community. For this is a very apt means for making more efficacious both individual and community work, for making mutual interchange among members easier, and for creating those exterior and interior conditions of silence, recollection, and peace of mind, which are so useful for personal study, reflection, and especially prayer. In addition, it is a complement of charity itself and its realistic expression, as well as a sign of religious consecration and union in the service of Christ.
g. A feeling for the whole Society on the part of the members, which transcends local and personal limits, and in many ways helps community life itself, for each individual is included “as a member of one and the same body of the Society.” Therefore, the more clearly the members recognize that they are connected with the whole life and apostolate of the Society, the more community life will become psychologically and spiritually richer.
D. More Concrete Applications
6. a. In relation to the whole Society: The sense of belonging and responsibility of each individual toward the whole Society, which was mentioned in No. 5 g, is manifested in a knowledge of our history, our saints, our works, and our men, especially of those who are facing difficulties for the sake of Christ; in maintaining Ignatian mobility and flexibility with a view to helping any region of the Society whatsoever; in the practice of a generous hospitality towards all Jesuits.
b. In relation to neighboring houses and provinces: There should be more association between the fathers and brothers of different houses and provinces, so that they can help each other by this association and by the way their experiences complement one another. They should meet more frequently to discuss the apostolate, the religious life, the teaching of the Council, and new questions of theology, in order to improve their knowledge and enable them to act in basic unity. And one house should share with another material goods “so that those which have more may help those which are in need.”
7. In the houses of those who have final vows,
a. Since common prayer, especially the celebration of Mass and devotion to the Eucharist, is very helpful for tightening the bonds of community, all should faithfully fulfill the prescriptions of No. 15 of the Decree on Prayer.
b. Our community life should at the same time be improved by our common apostolic work. So we must promote the closest possible cooperation among Jesuits, both by having all or very many in a community devoted to the same work and by making use of small groups, to whom the superior can grant the powers he judges to be helpful for meeting the needs of the apostolate (see No. 5, d). Cooperation in work begins and is sustained by previous exchange of information on the community level, by encouraging one another’s efforts, and by various forms of consultation (see No. 5, b-c) beyond those prescribed in our law.
c. Priests, brothers, and scholastics should all associate with one another easily, in sincerity, evangelical simplicity, and courtesy, as is appropriate for a real family gathered together in the name of the Lord. As far as apostolic work or other occupations for the greater glory of God permit it, all of us, “esteeming the others in their hearts as better than themselves,” should be ready to help out in the common household chores.
d. The standard of living with regard to food, clothing, and furniture should be common to all so that, poor in fact and in spirit, differences may be avoided as far as possible. This does not prevent each one from having what is necessary for his work with the permission of the superior. But while he applies himself intensely to his own work, let each one also recognize his responsibility for the spiritual help and material sustenance of other members of the community.
e. Customs which are more suitable for monastic life shall not be introduced into our community life, nor those which are proper to seculars; much less, those which manifest a worldly spirit.
Let our relationship with all other men be such as can rightly be expected from a man consecrated to God and seeking the good of souls above all things; and it should include a proper regard for genuine fellowship with all other Jesuits.
Our houses should be open in genuine hospitality even to persons not members of the Society, especially to religious and to those who work with us.
f. Keeping in mind apostolic poverty and our witness to those among whom we must live, our houses should be made suitable for apostolic work, study, prayer, relaxation of mind and a friendly spirit, so that Jesuits will feel at home in their own house.
It can be a great help to the simplicity and intimacy of community life as well as to poverty if the house or place where we live and the house or place where we work or even where we study can be conveniently separated.
g. After consultation a simple daily order should be established which will suit our apostolic activities and the common good of the members, and which can be adjusted by the superior for good reason.
h. Those norms of community life which are to be observed uniformly in the houses of any region should be proposed at a meeting of the provincials, and after the approval of Father General are to be maintained with equal vigor by all the provincials.
8. In the houses of formation,
a. Our younger members, both scholastics and brothers, are to be prepared for that community life which has been proposed in the preceding numbers as proper to those living in the apostolate. But the pedagogical nature of the years of formation, the nature of the studies or activities in these houses, and the number of members, make some suitable adaptations of community life necessary.
b. In houses of formation there should be more room for common participation in some forms of prayer, especially for active and varied participation in a community celebration of the Eucharist, and for some short common prayer every day, to symbolize and deepen the religious bond which unites us in our Lord and by our Lord with the Society, the Church, and the world.
c. Each one’s sense of community, as a necessary prerequisite for the apostolic life of the Society, should be seriously tested and formed during these years. Candidates and those in the course of training should be examined with special attention to their ability to get along with people; it is to be considered as one of the signs of vocation to the Society.
d. The scholastics and brothers should in suitable ways be initiated into their community of work, whether it be in studies or other duties or in the apostolate, maintaining a suitable balance with individual work in depth, especially in studies, a balance which modern conditions seem to make rather difficult to preserve.
At the same time attention must be paid to education for dialogue among themselves and with superiors, for cooperation and obedience, in line with the suggestions made in other decrees of this Congregation, all of which tend to form men who are capable of making the best possible choices, with the help of supernatural illumination and sufficient advice from others.
e. A communal life, which according to No. 7 b-d, is based on the evangelical spirit of service, work, and authentic poverty, is to be made more perfect by a gradual participation of the young men in offices and consultations. This will help to develop their responsibility and a realistic sense of their vocation, while it shows “who they really are.”
f. The order of the day, mentioned in No. 5 f and No. 7 g, is to be faithfully observed particularly in houses of training, in order that due regard may be had for these values: the interior spiritual life which is to be fostered even by external helps; charity, or responsibility for those conditions of silence, recollection, etc., which aid the work, quiet, and prayer of others; the efficacy of personal and community work as well as our living together; the intrinsic and formative value of a well-considered rule, and the formative value of fidelity in carrying out those things God entrusts to us by obedience.
g. In due proportion and under direction, we should foster relationships between the younger members of different nations, either for the sake of higher studies or to learn modern languages, or for apostolic experiments. This will greatly increase understanding and unity in the Society in the future.
II. Religious Discipline
9. The life of the Society, its activity, and more concretely community life in it, is a cooperation of all members flowing from love. But according to the mind of our founder and the desires of the Church, it ought to be defined and ordered by rules. Rules are a safeguard for charity and a sign of the union of members, and they also constitute a real help for human weakness, a stimulus to individual responsibility; and a means of coordinating activities for the common good.
10. These rules pertain to the whole vital spiritual range of religious obedience, and their application to individuals is subject to the living rule of the direction of a superior. Therefore what this General Congregation has said about obedience, especially in No. 8 of the Decree on the Life of Obedience in the Society, should be recalled again here, since religious discipline in the Society of Jesus ought to be marked with the characteristics of Ignatian obedience. According to the will of the Church and the Vicar of Christ, again manifested to us, rules were written and are to be written to make clear the will of God “in order to make better progress in the way of divine service upon which we have entered.” They show us a way of loving which is concrete, constant, and personal, and they give us an externally uniform way of serving others. For the rule prepares us for a closer union with Christ and the Church. It leads us to Christ like a guardian, and therefore it ought to be accepted with that filial love with which it was given and which leads to the liberty of sons.
11. Understanding the observance of rules in this way, as a movement from love to love, we must say that it is a means of sanctification for everyone, a sanctification indeed ordered toward more fruitful apostolic action.
In addition, it is a way to human perfection, for this kind of observance of rule is neither an empty formalism nor a so-called self-alienation. In fact, since it sometimes requires a renunciation and denial of real values, by which denial we are associated with Christ, it leads to solid personal maturity.
12. Therefore religious discipline in the Society supposes and produces superiors and subjects who are obedient men, mature in a Christian way.
For it is the task of superiors to seek diligently the will of God even with the help of advice from others about the most suitable means, and to decide what is to be done, and then to express their decisions clearly. It is also their duty to foster the observance of rules and to adapt them to individuals as circumstances require. The most efficacious means of obtaining this is that they stand before their subjects as living examples who will continually draw the rest to fidelity and generosity in the service of the Lord.
But their greatest duty is to lead their subjects, especially the younger ones, to an ever increasing formation in responsibility and freedom, so that they observe rules not in the spirit of fear but from an intimate personal conviction rooted in faith and charity.
Subjects, for their part, should foster a love for the rules by constant reading and meditation on the Constitutions, from which they can draw the genuine spirit which should pervade our way of life. In fact, from a familiarity with the text of our founder we can gather what importance many of the rules have for the perfection of our own vocation and for the apostolic mission of the Society, so that with hearts full of love we may set ourselves to observe them.
13. Discipline, however, is not to be sought in itself and for itself. Its purpose is “to enable us to accomplish God’s will in all things more honestly and with greater praise and merit.” A dynamic resolve to accomplish this when faced with the variety of constantly new challenges which face the Church should make all, superiors and subjects alike, attentive to the signs of the times. They must read these signs with God’s help and be ready to propose in due time suitable revisions of the rules, which will remove things which are obsolete and out of place, strengthen what is still vital, and open up paths which are perhaps new and more likely to lead us to our goal.
Rules, however, remain in force until they arc revoked or changed by competent authority.
III. Revision of the Rules
14. A revision of the rules is entrusted to Father General for completion as soon as possible, according to the principles of the Church, so that some common norms may be established for the whole Society. These will of necessity be few in number, rather general, brief, as far as possible expressed in a positive way and organically ordered, and solidly based in theology, so as to signify and bring about the union of the members. It should be left to the provincials to determine with the approbation of Father General more particular norms for individual provinces.
15. The rules of the Summary and the Common Rules are to be within the competence of the General. Therefore, in the Collection of Decrees, decree 3, §2, 3°, the words “Summary of the Constitutions” and “Common Rules” are now deleted.
16. The General is commissioned to issue Ordinations dealing with the matters presently contained in the Collection of Decrees, decrees 48; 52, §2; 61; 65–72. The power is also given to him to suspend, from the day on which he promulgates each Ordination of this sort, the related decrees, until the next congregation, with the consent of the General Assistants.
Original Source (English translation):
Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st–35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, General Congregation 31, Decree 19, “Community Life and Religious Discipline,” pg. 129–137 [312–357].