The 31st General Congregation held its first session in the summer of 1965, towards the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. It held a second session a year later, after the council had formally closed, after which time it promulgated its decrees. The congregation’s first decree sought to define and, in the end, to encourage a revitalization of the Society’s mission in a “new age” in which “our Society, along with the whole Catholic Church, finds the conditions of human history profoundly changed.” The decree closes with the delegates’ statement that the congregation has “striven with all its power so to promote a renewal that those things may be removed from our body which could constrict its life and hinder it from fully attaining its end, and that in this way its internal dynamic freedom may be made strong and vigorous, and ready for every form of the service of God.”
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1. On the Life and Mission of the Society in This New Era
1. In this “new age” in which the human race now finds itself the Society of Jesus, according to the spirit of the whole Church, which is itself in process of renewal, recognizes the difficulties with regard to its goal and plan of life which are arising from the changes that have taken place in man’s way of living and thinking. At the same time it recognizes the opportunities which arise from the new developments in our world and those which flow from the renewal of the Church that has been begun by the Council. It intends, therefore, to take a very dose look at its own nature and mission in order that, faithful to its own vocation, it can renew itself and adapt its life and its activities to the exigencies of the Church and the needs of contemporary man.
2. The nature and the special grace of our vocation are to be discovered above all in the dynamic development of the Society from its earliest historical beginnings.
2. The Origin of the Society in the Experience of the Spiritual Exercises
3. For this history has its beginnings in the Spiritual Exercises which our holy Father Ignatius and his companions went through. Led by this spiritual experience, they formed an apostolic group rooted in charity, and in which, after they had taken the vows of chastity and poverty and had been raised to the priesthood, they would offer themselves as a holocaust to God for whose praise and honor they had given up all that they had.
4. They had heard the invitation of Christ the King and had followed it; for that reason they not only dedicated themselves entirely to labor, but desiring to become outstanding in every service of their king, they made offerings of greater worth and importance; so that they would be sent under the banner of Christ by Him into the entire world, spreading His teachings among all degrees and conditions of men.
3. The “Mission” under the Roman Pontiff
5. In this spirit they had offered and dedicated themselves and their lives to Christ our Lord and to His true and legitimate vicar on earth; so that he as Vicar of Christ might dispose of them and might send them where he judged that they could bear greater fruit.
6. But the first mission entrusted to them by Pope Paul III was one that was likely to scatter the group of Fathers in all directions. Therefore, alter many deliberations in which they tried to distinguish between various spiritual inspirations and weigh the reasons for each side carefully, these first Fathers decided that they should not break up “a society united in God,” but rather gradually strengthen it and stabilize it by making themselves into a unified body. Indeed they judged it more expedient to give their obedience to one of their number that they might more successfully and perfectly carry out their first desire of fulfilling the divine will in all things. Thus also the Society would be more securely preserved.
4. The “Missionary” Constitution of the Society of Jesus
7. Thus it came about that the promise made to God of obeying the Roman Pontiff with regard to all missions turned out to be “our beginning and first foundation.”
8. Such an offering expressed the consummation of that knowledge of Christ which they had acquired in the Exercises, and united and drew that first apostolic band together in one body. It was in order to fulfill this offering more completely that the Society, as a mode of life, had its beginning under the Constitutions.
9. The first steps of the Society were directed by Ignatius himself in the way of the Lord by his spiritual experience, in accordance with which he interpreted the course of events in the light of their relation to God. The result was that Ignatius founded the Society as an organization which would continually renew itself in the Church through the inner vigor of the Exercises and under the vitalizing impulse of the Spirit to fulfill those things which its vocation and its mission to promote the divine glory and the greater service of souls demanded.
5. New Developments in the History of Man
10. The history of four centuries, with its fluctuations between honor and humiliation, has cast a rather penetrating light upon the nature of the Society and its originating idea. With whatever degree of fidelity to its vocation and mission the apostolic works of the Society were begun and carried on, nonetheless on the one hand they show an internal dynamism in the attitude of universality and flexibility, while on the other hand the limitations and deficiencies of its individual members stand revealed.
11. Today, however, our Society, along with the whole Church, finds the conditions of human history profoundly changed. The members themselves share in the contemporary “social and cultural transformation” and the new ways of living which arise from socialization, urbanization, industrialization, and ever widening communication among men, and they do not fail to participate in the changed ways of thinking and feeling and weighing the values of human life. They experience also the fact that a keener sense of liberty has developed and that there is a more universal desire for the “full and free life”; they realize therefore at the same time that the conditions which affect religious life have been changed.
12. For they are conscious on the one hand of that purifying of the religious life which, according to the Second Vatican Council, flows from the “more critical faculty of judging” which has grown up in our day. They are conscious as well of the grave problems which can be found among many, even among Christians, arising from the crisis to which the Gospel itself and the Church’s doctrine have been exposed because of modem criticism and contemporary philosophy. And they cannot avoid hearing the widespread criticism that the teaching and life of the Christian estrange him from the world and its struggles, while at the same time great multitudes are still compelled to live a life unworthy of the human person and the human race itself remains without any true unity.
13. They are also acutely aware that they are surrounded by various sorts of atheistic teachings and especially by that humanism which contends that “liberty consists in this, that man is to be an end unto himself the sole artisan and creator of his own history” and that “this freedom cannot be reconciled with the affirmation of God.” Often, too, they feel in themselves also that ambivalent desire of their contemporaries to perfect themselves as men.
6. The Need for Revitalizing the Mission of the Society
14. But all the members of the Society, firmly grounded in faith, in company with all other Christians, lift their eyes to Christ, in whom they find that absolute perfection of self-giving and undivided love which alone completely reconciles man to God and to himself For unless men adhere to Christ and follow the way which He shows, they desire and seek in vain for that full realization of themselves which they long for in their undertakings.
15. From this love for Christ, the Society offers itself completely to the Church in these needs, so that the Supreme Pontiff, as the Vicar of Christ, may “send” all its members into the vineyard of the Lord.
16. Thus the Society will try to be of assistance to the Church according to the measure of the grace of its vocation, while the Church itself is helping the world so that the kingdom of God may come and the salvation of the human race may be achieved. Our Lord, with whose name our Society has been signed and under the standard of whose cross it desires to serve the kingdom of His love, is Himself the goal of human history, the point to which the desires of history and civilization converge, the center of the human race, the joy of all hearts and the fulfillment of all seeking. Enlivened and united in His Spirit, we journey toward the consummation of human history, one which fully accords with the counsel of God’s love: “To re-establish all things in Christ, both those in the heavens and those on the earth.”
7. The Need of Renewal and Adaptation in the Society
17. In order that our Society may more aptly fulfill in this new age its mission under the Roman Pontiff, the 31st General Congregation has striven with all its power so to promote a renewal that those things may be removed from our body which could constrict its life and hinder it from fully attaining its end, and that in this way its internal dynamic freedom may be made strong and vigorous, and ready for every form of the service of God.
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 1, “The Mission of the Society of Jesus Today,” pg. 47–50 [1–17].