Decree 21: “The Better Choice and Promotion of Ministries,” General Congregation 31 (1966)

The delegates of the 31st General Congregation assessed the apostolic works of the Society of Jesus and acknowledged that “our labors” were not yielding the desired results. The decree below credits some poor results to a failure to “renew our apostolic or missionary spirit” and a “too great scattering of our forces.” The main reason for the shortcomings, however, and the reason for the following decree was the Jesuits’ collective “failure adequately to adapt our ministries to the changed conditions of our times.” The decree is the delegates’ attempt to give reasons and parameters for such changes to Jesuit ministries. It also notes “some fields of the apostolate which today deserve special attention,” such as higher education, labor and professional groups, the education of youth, and international organizations that “aim at bringing together organically every sector of the world.” The decree closes noting the “urgency” for a “renewal and adaptation in the choice and promotion of our ministries” and calling for a commission to further study the matter (the delegates established this commission with a subsequent decree).

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



1.     While the 31st General Congregation recognized the hard work that our Society puts into its apostolic ministries, at the same time it notes that our labors have not produced all the results that we could rightly expect, if one considers the proportion between the efforts and the results achieved.

Part of the reason for this is our failure at times continually to renew our apostolic or missionary spirit and to maintain the union which the instrument should have with God, or our neglect of “moderation in labors of soul and body” or a too great scattering of our forces; but the principal reason is our failure adequately to adapt our ministries to the changed conditions of our times.

2.     Hence, not a few doubts are being raised whether some of our works have become obsolete or are in need of a profound renewal at least in regard to the way in which they are carried on. On the other hand, new fields of apostolic labor invite us, fields which seem to be of very great importance for spreading the faith and imbuing the world with the spirit of Christ and are at the same time entirely in harmony with the particular spirit of our Society. Likewise, other apostolic forces are frequently found in the Church today which in a special way cultivate this or that field of the apostolate, so that our work in almost the same field has lost its note of urgency. Finally, we need to be more available to take on those ministries which answer the urgent pastoral needs of the modern church and the special missions of the Roman Pontiff. For these missions, in keeping with our distinctive spirit, we should be particularly ready.

3.     Weighing all these points, the General Congregation judges that the Society still retains a capacity for renewal and adaptation to our time. This capacity comes from the unique flexibility given to our Institute by the Holy Spirit and from the varied and widespread experience of our men in so many fields of the apostolate. Renewal and adaptation require a continual revision of the choice and promotion of our ministries. Such a revision moreover answers the express wishes of the Fathers of Vatican II for renewal and adaptation in the religious life.

Therefore, it seems that certain more general orientations should be set down in this matter.


A. The Norms for Renewal

4.     All Jesuits, especially superiors, to whom the choice of ministries belongs “as the most important task of all,” must work very hard at bringing about this renewal of our ministries. The norms for renewal are found in the Constitutions themselves. Much light is shed on these norms by the decrees of the general congregations and the Instructions of the Fathers General. While retaining their perennial validity, these norms must always be rightly applied to historical circumstances. But it is especially from a renewed and profound study of our spiritual heritage that this renewal must be drawn. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius can pour into us the spirit of magnanimity and indifference, of firm decision and reformation, a renewal, that is to say, of our activity or of the means for reaching our goal more successfully through the light of those well-known principles: the greater service of God, the more universal good, the more pressing need, the great importance of a future good and special care of those significant ministries for which we have special talent.


B. Certain Dispositions Required for This Adaptation

5.     In order to use these norms correctly and effectively, there is especially needed that union of the instrument with God which comes from faith and charity. From this union, above all else, comes the efficacy of our apostolate; and this union cannot be supplied for by other gifts of the merely natural order.

6.     This familiarity with God, moreover, because of the union of our apostolate with the mission of the Incarnate Word, calls for not less, but closer involvement in this world. This demands certain dispositions of soul which will better serve this purpose.

a. The contemporary world, shaken by such rapid and profound changes, demands of us the capacity to recognize this process. This ability to recognize change is, as it were, the humility that befits us as creatures, a humility that makes us open and faithful to all creation so that, discovering the will of God in these processes, we may bring about a continual renewal and adaptation of our apostolate.

b. Besides, the closer social relations now being formed among men and nations, in a world that is on its way to becoming unified, demand of us the spirit of fraternal dialogue, mutual reverence and a sense of complementarity and collaboration in action.

c. livelier awareness of human progress and of temporal values, the abuse of which frequently leads to a denial of religion and of God Himself, is a consideration also of great importance in the apostolate. For in apostolic work, whose true goal is to announce to men the mystery of Christ who is at work in us and in the world, it is man in his entire life and concrete existence who must be reached.


C. Our Cooperation with Others in the Apostolate

7.     In keeping with the mind of Vatican II in its theological and pastoral teaching, the provincials are invited to a close collaboration with those whom the Holy Spirit has placed to rule the church of God. Keeping ourselves available in the first place to the Holy See, let all Jesuits and especially superiors propose to themselves “to follow the plans, judgments and works of the hierarchy and to bring them to completion and be animated by the dynamic spirit of fellowship.” Therefore, let our works be harmonized with the pastoral programs of the bishops, especially by means of our collaboration as religious with the conferences of bishops. Let us be eager to render apostolic service to priests and to those aspiring to the priesthood.

8.     Collaboration with other religious is also to be commended, keeping intact, however, the character of each order. Spiritual helps which are asked for by other religious societies are to be gladly supplied. For this purpose the conferences of major superiors will be of great service.

9.     An extensive and sincere collaboration with the laity is likewise to be commended. For in the works of our Society, our own responsibility for their inspiration, orientation and direction must be shared in a certain definite way by the laity. In the expanse, moreover, of the whole Church, serious care must be fostered to help the laity to grow and become true men and Christians, fully conscious of their own responsibility toward the Church and the world. This is especially true of those lay persons (men and women) who, because of their greater importance for the universal good of the Church, deserve special spiritual attention. Finally, contacts of true friendship with the laity in secular associations and in the multiple circumstances of daily life manifest our attentive presence to the concrete existence of man, express a form of charity and constitute a real beginning of the apostolate; at the same time they will enrich us interiorly and make us more human in exercising our apostolic work.

10.     With regard to the universal Church, lastly, let the Society provide cooperation in the same spirit of service, through centers that organize apostolic action.


D. Some Fields of the Apostolate Which Today Deserve Special Attention

11.     The world of our day is marked by certain characteristics, namely, the progress of higher education, the advance of professional life, the increasing proportion of younger people, international organizations and the serious needs of some parts of the world. Hence it comes about that certain fields of modern life have acquired a special urgency, fields that must be considered among the other works laudably carried on by our Society:

a. the field, namely, of higher education, especially in the positive sciences through which scientific research and the technical arts are advanced;

b. the field of labor and professional groups, especially those in greater need;

c. the education of youth, especially that part which, it is foreseen, will have greater influence in the life of the Church and the world;

d. international organizations which aim at bringing together organically every sector of the world, an activity whose importance for the whole of mankind can scarcely be exaggerated;

e. certain geographical regions where the very great increase in population, the rapid evolution in social, economic and political life, hunger and many other miseries of every sort, as well as the bitter struggle between the Christian conception of life and opposed ideologies, demand strong apostolic efforts without delay;

f. in addition, in regions which are traditionally Christian, we must expend a great deal of effort on behalf of those who are called “neopagans,” those namely who are infected with either theoretical or practical atheism.

12.     With great eagerness, let all Jesuits undertake those apostolic works which are calculated to implement the constitutions and decrees of Vatican II, always keeping in mind the proper character of our Institute. Missions, moreover, which the Supreme Pontiff may wish to entrust to our Society at any time and in any part of the world, we are to place in the category of the highest priority. Hence, the commission to oppose atheism which Paul VI has given to us, we should accept with grateful eagerness.

13.     Let our entire Society renew its missionary spirit in keeping with the Decree on the Missionary Activity of the Church (Ad Gentes), since our Society was founded to spread the faith.

14.     In developing the apostolate of the Society in the world of today, the use and vitalization of the means of social communication should be promoted more every day. These mass media go far toward shaping the modern mind, and they lead us to a manner of expression which is adapted to the temper of present-day man.

15.     Since experience shows that we have not lacked well-ordered norms admirably composed by the Fathers General nor the sincere wish of the whole Society nor decrees calling for an adaptation, we must now use the means that will more effectively put all these forces into operation. For this purpose, besides the awareness which must of necessity be made more sensitive in the whole Society to the urgency of renewal and adaptation in the choice and promotion of our ministries, the setting up of special commissions will be of great service to the Fathers Provincial and even to Father General in the choice of ministries and in organizing our apostolate.



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 21, “The Better Choice and Promotion of Ministries,” pg. 141–145 [360–379].

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