The delegates at the 31st General Congregation issued the following decree to indicate changes to the Jesuits’ Collection of Decrees, done so with the desire to “provide the juridical principles for the adaptation of our body of laws.” The decree defines the “Institute of the Society” as “both our way of living and working, and the written documents in which this way is authentically and legitimately proposed.” Further, the Spiritual Exercises are recognized here as “both as a perennial source of those interior gifts upon which depends our effectiveness in reaching the goal set before us, and as the living expression of the Ignatian spirit which must temper and interpret all our laws.”
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Since “the most important work to which the General Chapters should devote their chief attention consists in carefully adapting the laws of their Institute to the changed condition of the times…but in such wise…that the specific nature and discipline of the Institute is preserved intact,” the General Congregation, heartily desiring to open up the road, and provide the juridical principles for the adaptation of our body of laws, as mentioned in the Introductory Decree, determines and decrees the following changes in the Collection of Decrees.
2. On the Institute and Its Parts
This new decree is to be inserted at the beginning of the Prooemium of the Collection of Decrees:
The term “Institute of the Society” means both our way of living and working, and the written documents in which this way is authentically and legitimately proposed. Among these documents some are laws properly so called; others set forth the legitimate traditions of the Society.
To maintain faithfully the grace of our vocation as described in the Institute, the Spiritual Exercises of our holy founder stand in first place, both as a perennial source of those interior gifts upon which depends our effectiveness in reaching the goal set before us, and as the living expression of the Ignatian spirit which must temper and interpret all our laws.
§1. The Formula of the Institute, or fundamental Rule of the Society has primacy of dignity and authority in the Institute.7 It was set down first by Paul III, then more exactly and in greater detail by Julius III, was approved in forma specifica by many of his successors, and has obtained in a special way the status of pontifical law.
§2. There are also other laws of the Institute which have obtained the status of pontifical law, but not all have been approved by the Holy See in the same way; hence they enjoy varying degrees of dignity and authority.
§3. Apostolic Letters, rescripts, and indults issued for the Society also pertain to the pontifical law specific to the Society.
3. On the Preservation and Renewal of the Institute
In the Collection of Decrees decrees 12-16 are to be changed in this way:
Decree 12—§1. The substantials, or fundamentals, of our Institute are, first, the matters contained in the Formula of Julius III. For the Formula exhibits the fundamental structure of the Society, based, with the help of grace, on Gospel principles and the experience and wisdom of our holy Father Ignatius and his companions. Accordingly, as the Formula itself recommends, all Jesuits should strive to keep before their eyes this image of their Institute, which is a way to God, as long as life lasts.
§2. Secondly, among the substantials are included also those matters without which the substantials of the Formula can be preserved with great difficulty or not at all. General congregations have the power to declare which matters are substantial, and have done so at times; moreover the General has the same power, to be exercised in matters of practice on a temporary basis.
Decree 13 is abrogated.
Decree 14—§1. The general congregation can declare the meaning of the substantials of the Formula of the Institute, but cannot change them on its own authority.
§2. Let substantials outside the Formula of the Institute continue to have the same stability they have previously enjoyed, except perhaps where the general congregation shall have determined that the connection of any one of them with the Formula has been notably weakened.
§3. In matters which are not substantial, the Constitutions can and sometimes should be changed by the general congregation, but such a change should not be decreed definitively without a previous experiment or without a very clear reason.
§4. Decrees of general congregations, as well as rules and ordinations drawn up by the generals, even if inserted in the Collection of the Institute, not only may be changed by the aforesaid authorities in accordance with the competence of each, but it is their duty to provide for the continuing adaptation of them to the needs of the times.
§5. Every adaptation of the Institute should aim at always establishing whatever seems to contribute most, all things considered, to the knowledge, love, praise, and service of God, and to the salvation of souls. For our holy Father Ignatius laid down as the foundation, or first criterion, of all our laws the greater glory of God and the help of souls.
Decree 15—§1. It is permitted to the provincial congregations to treat of the substantials of the Institute, provided there are serious reasons, and in accordance with the norms laid down in the Formula of the Provincial Congregation.
§2. In sending postulata to the general or provincial congregation, all Jesuits should bear in mind the above decrees; and let each, with due love of the patrimony of the Society and with due regard for his own responsibility, propose what he desires for the renewal and adaptation of the Institute, realizing, moreover, that the light necessary for making such postulata will be obtained not only from dialogue but most of all from prayer.
Decree 16—Customs contrary to our law are not permitted in the Society.
4. On the Censures and Precepts Pertaining to the Preservation of the Institute
The 31st General Congregation abrogates the precept of holy obedience in No. 306 of the Collection of Decrees; and commissions Father General to petition the Holy See, insofar as this is necessary, to revoke the penalties in No. 305 of the Collection of Decrees. For it is the desire of the Congregation that a love and longing for all perfection may lead all Jesuits to the genuine preservation and increase not only of the body but also of the spirit of the Society.
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 4, “The Preservation and Renewal of the Institute,” pg. 59–62 [41–60].