Cardinal of State to Father General Pedro Arrupe on General Congregation 32 (1975)

The Cardinal of State, replying to Pedro Arrupe, provided the responses of Pope Paul VI to the decrees of the 32nd General Congregation. After “carefully” examining the decrees, the pontiff found some “somewhat confusing and could, because of the way they are expressed, give grounds for misinterpretation.” Therefore, Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot provides Arrupe with Paul VI’s “Particular Observations about Certain Decrees” as an appendix to his letter.

For more from the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.



The Secretary of State

N. 281428

Vatican City, May 2, 1975


Very Reverend Father,


In fulfillment of my office, I submitted to the Holy Father for his consideration the decrees of the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus which the Congregation presented to him in accord with the desire he expressed to you in a letter dated the 15th of last February.

The Holy Father carefully examined these texts which represent the culmination of the work of the General Congregation, whose progress he followed with keen, loving, and personal concern. He has commissioned me to return these decrees to you, together with the following observations.

From an examination of the decrees, it appears that well-known circumstances prevented the General Congregation from achieving all that His Holiness had expected from this important event, and for which, at different times and in various ways, he gave some paternal suggestions, especially in his allocution of the 3rd of December, 1974, when he indicated his hopes for the Congregation. In any case, he has directed that the decrees be returned to you so that they can be put into effect according to the needs of the Society, with the hope that your worthy Jesuit brothers may draw strength from these decrees as they continue their progress in genuine fidelity to the charism of St. Ignatius and the Formula of the Institute.

However, while some statements in the decrees merit total acceptance, others are somewhat confusing and could, because of the way they are expressed, give grounds for misinterpretation. Therefore, the Holy Father desires that some particular recommendations pertaining to certain decrees be sent to you and to your companions. You will find them appended to this letter, and I would ask that you regard them in that spirit of obedience which has always characterized the Society.

Finally, with reference to the decree, “On Poverty,” which you presented to him in your filial letter of the 14th of last March, His Holiness could not help but notice how thoroughly you undertook the complicated task of adapting the Society’s legislation in this area to contemporary needs in accord with the norms I conveyed in my letter of February 26, 1973. Because of the sensitive nature of this subject, however, and because of the character of the innovations introduced, it would be well if this decree were implemented “experimentally,” in such a way that the next general congregation can reexamine the whole question in depth against the background of experience gained in the years ahead. As to the faculty for dispensing from the vow of poverty which you requested in your letter, I am to inform you that the Vicar of Christ grants you this in the individual cases where, with the deliberative vote of your council, it seems necessary questions may arise about the interpretation of the decrees as a whole. In this event, the Holy Father sincerely desires that reference always be made to the norms and directives contained either in his address to you on the 3rd of December or in other documents of the Holy See pertaining to the Congregation.

The Holy Father hopes that these remarks will be taken as the context within which the decrees of the 32nd General Congregation are accurately understood and correctly implemented. For this reason, it seems most appropriate that this letter and the added reflections be published along with the decrees and thus be available to those responsible for reading and applying these decrees.

The Holy Father follows the work of the Society with special and fervent prayer to the Lord that it always remain true—as he said in his final talk of March 7th last—to itself and to its mission in the bosom of the Church. It is also his prayer that the Society continue to perform those ministries of apostolic service and evangelical witness, in the name of Jesus, which are expected of it today.

These desires the Holy Father confirms with his special blessing.



Devotedly yours,

J. Cardinal Villot




Particular Observations about Certain Decrees

The decree Our Mission Today:

Diakonia Fidei and the Promotion of Justice,

and the declaration Jesuits Today


The promotion of justice is unquestionably connected with evangelization, but as the Holy Father said in his closing remarks to the last Synod of Bishops in October of 1974—“Human development and social progress in the temporal order should not be extolled in such exaggerated terms as to obscure the essential significance which the Church attributes to evangelization and the proclamation of the full Gospel.”

This applies to the Society of Jesus in a special way, founded as it was for a particularly spiritual and supernatural end. Every other undertaking should be subordinated to this end and carried out in a way appropriate for an Institute which is religious, not secular, and priestly. Moreover, we must not forget that the priest should inspire lay Catholics, since in the promotion of justice theirs is the more demanding role. The tasks proper to each should not be confused.

It is also helpful to recall that work for the promotion of justice should be undertaken in accord with directives drawn up by the local hierarchy and in consideration of the conditions peculiar to each region.



The decree On Fidelity to the Magisterium and the Roman Pontiff


It is most opportune that the General Congregation has confirmed the traditional fidelity of the Society to the magisterium and the Holy Father. However, the expression, “Freedom should be intelligently encouraged” should not be allowed to provide grounds for disregarding the rules for “Thinking with the Church,” which are proper to the Society.



The decree Concerning the Formation of Jesuits


There is laudable insistence upon solid philosophical and theological education. However, in keeping with the Conciliar Decree Optatam Totius, those engaged in philosophical instruction should bear in mind that organized body of solid doctrine gathered—as a patrimony—by the Church.

Moreover, in theological studies, after a careful investigation of the sources, “by way of making the mysteries of salvation known as thoroughly as they can be, students should learn to penetrate them more deeply with the help of speculative reason exercised under the tutelage of St. Thomas, and they should learn, too, how these mysteries are interconnected.”



The decree On Poverty


Superiors should take very seriously their responsibility to see that the distinction between the apostolic institute and the religious community is properly observed so that ways of acting which are contrary to the genuine Ignatian poverty may be avoided. Furthermore, the performance of ministries which, by tradition, are undertaken gratuitously should not be lightly abandoned.



The decree Concerning the Province Congregation


The extension of active and passive voice to nonformed members significantly expands the process of election to a provincial congregation. However, since the decree itself stipulates that the norms therein contained should be reviewed by the next general congregation, timely and serious study should be given to this whole question, so that it can be resolved in a way which is both more equitable and more in keeping with the spirit of the Society.



May 2, 1975



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, “Letter of the Cardinal of State to Father General,” pg. 396–399.

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