Decree 12: “Poverty,” General Congregation 32 (1975)

The Jesuits’ superior general, acting in accordance to the wishes of the 31st General Congregation, provided new statutes on poverty for experimental use in 1967. When the 32nd General Congregation convened nearly a decade later, its delegates revisited the topic and its spiritual as well as juridical elements. Their decree, appearing below, notes the need for reform towards a “more authentic poverty.” It does regret the term “poverty” in the context of mass starvation, as “poverty means very different things to different people.” Therefore, “at the very least,” the decree believes “religious poverty should try hard to limit rather than to expand consumption.” It suggests that the “standard of living of our houses should not be higher than that of a family of slender means whose providers must work hard for its support.” The decree offers several norms and expresses how “a poverty profoundly renewed” would appear: “simple in community expression and joyous in the following of Christ; happy to share with each other and with all; apostolic in its active indifference and readiness for any service; inspiring our selection of ministries and turning us to those most in need; spiritually effective, proclaiming Jesus Christ in our way of life and in all we do.”

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




For a More Authentic Poverty

1.     In recent times and especially since the Second Vatican Council, the Church, her families of religious, indeed the whole Christian world have been striving for a deeper understanding and new experiential knowledge of evangelical poverty. This Congregation, like its predecessor, has tried earnestly to enter into this movement and to discern its implications for our Society.

2.     Voluntary poverty in imitation of Christ is a sharing in that mystery revealed in the self-emptying of the very Son of God in the Incarnation. The Jesuit vocation to poverty draws its inspiration from the experience of St. Ignatius and the Spiritual Exercises and is specified by the Formula of the Institute and by the Constitutions. It is the charism of the Society to serve Christ poor and humble. The principle and foundation of our poverty, therefore, is found in a love of the Word made Flesh and crucified.


A. Signs of the Times

3.     Reflection on the Gospel in the light of the signs of our times has illumined new aspects of this religious poverty. Contemporary man has become very aware of massive, dehumanizing poverty, not only material but spiritual as well. Everywhere there are to be found men of good will working for a social order of greater justice and the abolition of oppressive structures. At the same time, the appetite for enjoyment and consumption of material goods spreads everywhere and verges on a practical atheism. The rich, individuals and nations, are thereby hardened in their readiness to oppress others, and all, rich and poor, are duped into placing man’s whole happiness in such consumption. Still, there are those who react against this materialism and seek a new liberty and another happiness in a simpler way of life and in the pursuit of higher values. On all sides there is felt a desire to discover new communities which favor a more intimate interpersonal communication, communities of true sharing and communion, concerned for the integral human development of their members. Our lives, our communities, our very poverty can and should have a meaning and a message for such a world.

4.     These common experiences of contemporary man are signs of the times which prompt us to seek a deeper insight into the mystery of Christ. Religious poverty still calls to the following of Christ poor, but also to a following of Christ at work in Nazareth, identifying with the needy in his public life, the Christ of heartfelt compassion, responding to their needs, eager to serve them. For centuries, the perfection of religious poverty was found in mendicancy. He was counted poor who lived on alms, placing all his hopes in the providence of God operative through benefactors. With growing clarity the Church invites religious to submit to the common law of labor. “Earning your own living and that of your brothers or sisters, helping the poor by your work—these are duties incumbent upon you.” Indeed the Church encourages religious “to join the poor in their situation and to share their bitter cares.” Response to such invitations is presented as an expression of vowed poverty suited to our times. Calling all the faithful more urgently than ever to spend themselves in the promotion of social justice, the Church shows that she places high hopes in the efforts of those who have consecrated themselves and all they have to Christ by the vow of poverty. Something of an evolution seems to have taken place: today the primary import of religious poverty is found not only in an ascetic-moral perfection through the imitation of Christ poor, but also, and more in the apostolic value of imitating Christ, forgetful of self in his generous and ready service of all the abandoned.

5.     The Society cannot meet the demands of today’s apostolate without reform of its practice of poverty. Jesuits will be unable to hear the “cry of the poor” unless they have greater personal experience of the miseries and distress of the poor. It will be difficult for the Society everywhere to forward effectively the cause of justice and human dignity if the greater part of her ministry identifies her with the rich and powerful, or is based on the “security of possession, knowledge, and power.” Our life will be no “witness to a new and eternal life won by Christ’s redemption or to a resurrected state and the glory of the heavenly kingdom,” if individually or corporately, Jesuits are seen to be attached to earthly things, even apostolic institutions, and to be dependent on them. Our communities will have no meaning or sign value for our times, unless by their sharing of themselves and all they possess, they are clearly seen to be communities of charity and of concern for each other and all others.


B. Our Response

6.     That the Society has long been uneasy about the practice of poverty by individuals, communities, and apostolic institutes is evidenced by hundreds of postulates from all parts of the world. The Congregation, mindful of its duty, has tried to answer this call of the Society, not so much by words and exhortation as by new structures of temporal administration. The single intent is to strengthen and confirm the practice of poverty.

7.     The first aim of the reform to be outlined below is finally to “answer the demands of this real and not pretended poverty.” In a world of mass starvation, no one can lightly call himself poor. It is perhaps regrettable that we have no other word to designate this note of religious life, since poverty means very different things to different people. At the very least, religious poverty should try hard to limit rather than to expand consumption. It is not possible to love poverty or experience its mysterious consolations, without some knowledge of its actuality. The standard of living of our houses should not be higher than that of a family of slender means whose providers must work hard for its support. The concrete exigencies of such a standard are to be discerned by individuals and communities in sincere deliberation with their superiors. It should look to food and drink, lodging and clothing, but also and perhaps especially to travel, recreation, use of automobiles, and of villas, vacations, etc. Some should scrutinize their leisure, sometimes such as hardly the rich enjoy. The need for reform is so frequently evident and demanded by so many Provincial Congregations that no person or community may decline this examination.

8.     The grace of our vocation demands loyal and generous effort to live that poverty required by the Society’s spirit and law. The frequent engagement of Ours in professions and salaried offices is not without dangers, not only for the spirit of gratuity, but even for the observance of common life itself. Such work is to be chosen only as a more effective means to the communication of the faith or to spiritual advancement, without thought of remuneration or of the privileges attached to an office. Independence from the community in acquisition or expenditure, a vice with manifold disguises, cannot be tolerated. Every Jesuit must contribute to the community everything he receives by way of remuneration, stipend, alms, gift, or in any other way. He receives from the community alone everything he needs. In the same way, by cheerfully and gratefully accepting the community’s standard of living, each undertakes to support his brothers in their efforts to live and to love poverty. Those who are unwilling to observe this double law of common life, separate themselves from the fraternity of the Society in spirit if not in law.

9.     The voluntary poverty of religious is the attempt of fallen men to achieve that liberty from inordinate attachment, which is the condition of any great and ready love of God and man. In the Society this very liberty to love is in the service of the apostolate. Every Jesuit, no matter what his ministry, is called “to preach in poverty,” according to the sacra doctrina of the Two Standards, and this poverty has a spiritual power not to be measured in human terms. Apostolic efficiency and apostolic poverty are two values to be held in an on-going tension, and this is a rule for apostolic institutes as well as for individuals. The expedience of retaining rich and powerful institutions, requiring great capital outlay, is to be weighed prudently and spiritually. Since these institutions are but means, the attitude of the Society should be that of the Third Class of Men, and according to the rule of tantum-quantum, fully as ready to abandon as to retain, to the greater service of God. The faithful practice of religious poverty is apostolic, too, in its contempt of personal gain, which commends the Gospel and frees the apostle to preach it in all its integrity. It is apostolic, finally, in that communities which are really poor, by their simplicity and fraternal union, proclaim the beatitudes, “manifesting to all believers the presence of heavenly goods already possessed here below.”

10.     This Congregation has spoken elsewhere of the necessity of commitment to the cause of justice and to the service of the poor. The Church regards such ministry as integral to the contemporary practice of poverty. Such commitment is everywhere needed, but in many places it is a very condition of credibility for the Society and for the Church. The insertion of communities among the poor so that Jesuits may work for them and with them, or at least may acquire some experience of their condition, is a testimony of love of the poor and of poverty to which the Church encourages religious. Implementation of this proposal will have to be different in our widely differing circumstances. Unless there be evident reason to the contrary, however, provincials should encourage those communities which, in union and charity with the rest of the province, choose to practice a stricter poverty, or to live among the poor, serving them and sharing something of their experience.


C. New Structures

11.     The better to meet the new demands of our poverty, the Congregation has undertaken a reform of the structures of temporal administration. The keystone of this reform is the distinction between apostolic institutes and the communities which serve them. The former are governed by the present law of the “colleges” [technically so called in the law of the Society], and so may possess endowments and needful revenue. Communities, however, are assimilated to “professed house” [also technically so called], and may have no stable revenues from capital.

12.     With the recognition of remuneration for work as a legitimate source of support, there is less emphasis on alms as the only legitimate source of income for a community. On the other hand, there is greater stress on the apostolic use of all revenues. Communities must live a simple and frugal life within an approved budget. They may not accumulate capital but must dispose of any annual surplus, according to a provincial plan which will look to the needs of communities, of apostolates, and of the poor. As far as possible, apostolic institutes, too, are bound by this law of fraternity and solidarity towards other ministries. Neither the capital nor the revenues of our institutes may profit our communities, except for approved remuneration for services rendered. If an institute is suppressed, its assets are reserved for use in other apostolic enterprises.


D. Conclusion

13.     It is clear that admission of sin and true conversion of heart will help more toward a lived poverty than any revision of law. For that favor we must pray God earnestly as part of the grace of our vocation, to which we must remain open. While law can support spirit, no legal reform will profit anything unless all our members elect evangelical poverty with courage at the invitation of the Eternal King, Christ Our Lord. Let all superiors in meditation and prayer become deeply conscious of their responsibility to forward this renovation of poverty. Each member should recall that this reformed poverty will never be realized unless all unitedly and generously support superiors in this task.

14.     This is the desire of the Congregation, this its prayer to God for the Society, a poverty profoundly renewed,

— simple in community expression and joyous in the following of Christ;

— happy to share with each other and with all;

— apostolic in its active indifference and readiness for any service;

— inspiring our selection of ministries and turning us to those most in need;

— spiritually effective, proclaiming Jesus Christ in our way of life and in all we do.

The authenticity of our poverty after all does not consist so much in the lack of temporal goods, as in the fact that we live, and are seen to live, from God and for God, sincerely striving for the perfection of that ideal which is the goal of the spiritual journey of the Exercises: “Give me only your love and your grace, and I am rich enough, and ask for nothing more.”

15.     The following norms are the principles for the revision of the statutes on poverty. It will take time to reduce them to familiar practice. It is the internal law of charity and love which will be their best interpreter, that law which leads all of us to “love poverty as a mother, and…when occasions arise, feel some effects of it.” The Congregation earnestly commends this decree to the faithful observance of all.


E. Norms


16.     In this decree by community is understood any group of Jesuits legitimately constituted under the authority of a local superior.

17.     Apostolic institutes are those institutions or works belonging to the Society which have a certain permanent unity and organization for apostolic purposes, such as universities, colleges, retreat houses, reviews, and other such in which our members carry on their apostolic work.


All communities can have apostolic institutes

18.     All communities can have attached to them one or more apostolic institutes in which the whole community or some of its members exercise their apostolate.


The separation to be put into effect

19.     By the law of the Society, there is to be established a distinction between communities and apostolic institutes, at least with regard to the destination and usufruct of their goods and between the financial accounts of each.

20.     A distinction of moral persons, canonical or civil, is also recommended, where this can be affected without great inconvenience, preserving always the apostolic finality of the institutes and the authority of the Society to direct them to such ends.


The resources of institutes may not be diverted to the use of the communities

21.     The goods of apostolic institutes of the Society may not be diverted to the use or profit of our members, except for a suitable remuneration, to be approved by the provincial, for work in such institutes or for services rendered to the same.


Poverty of communities

22.     All communities dedicated to pastoral work or to any other apostolic functions are equated to professed houses in what pertains to poverty. However, all may be the juridical subject of all rights, including ownership, pertaining to the apostolic institutes attached to such communities.

23.     Seminaries for our members retain their own regime of poverty. Houses or infirmaries for our aged or sick are equated to the former.


Annual community budgets

24.     In each community the responsible administrators will draft each year at the appointed times and according to the norms established by the provincial, a projected budget as well as a statement of revenues and expenses. These will be communicated to the community as soon as convenient and are to be approved by the provincial.


Disposition of surplus

25.     That the life of our communities may be “removed as far as possible from all infection of avarice and as like as possible to evangelical poverty,” the surplus of each community will be distributed yearly according to the provision of nn. 27–31 except for a moderate sum to be approved by the provincial for unforeseen expenses. This sum is never to exceed the ordinary expenses of one year.

26.     The first beneficiary of such surplus in each community will be the apostolic institute or institutes attached to the same if these stand in need, unless the provincial with his consultors should decide otherwise.


Sharing resources

27.     According to the norms to be established by the provincial and approved by Father General, there is to be provision for the distribution of the communities’ surplus mentioned in n. 25, for the benefit of those communities or works of the province which are in greater need.

28.     In this sharing of resources, the needs of other provinces, of the whole Society, and of non-Jesuits will be considered.

29.     Major superiors can require that individual communities, according to their capacities, contribute a certain sum of money to the relief of the needs of other communities or apostolic institutes of the province or of other provinces, even if this should require some reduction in their standard of living, which in any case must always be frugal.

30.     Provinces are permitted to provide insurance for old age and for sickness, either through their own “Arca,” or with other provinces, or by participation in governmental or in private plans.

31.     A Charitable and Apostolic Fund of the Society is to be established for the benefit of communities and works of the Society, and, should need arise, for externs as well. It is not to be permanently invested but what it receives is to be distributed.

Father General is to determine the sources of this fund, its administration and manner of distributing benefits, with the assistance of advisers from different parts of the Society.


Poverty of apostolic institutes

32.     Apostolic institutes, churches excepted, can have revenue-bearing capital and stable revenues, adequate to their purposes, if such seem necessary to the provincial.

33.     Superiors and directors, mindful that we are sent to preach in poverty, will take great care that our apostolic institutes avoid every manner of extravagance and limit themselves strictly to the functional, attentive to the standards of similar institutes or works of their region and to the apostolic finality of our institutes. It is the responsibility of the provincial to determine what is required so that the apostolic institutes belonging to the Society manifest this character and mark of apostolic evangelical poverty.

34.     With due respect for the needs of apostolic institutes and, if this applies, for the statutes of the institute and the will of benefactors, provincials, with the approval of the General, will provide for a more equitable and apostolically effective sharing of resources among the apostolic institutes of the province, looking always to God’s greater service.

35.     Those responsible for the administration of apostolic institutes will present to the provincial at the appointed times, the annual budget of the institute, a statement of the year’s revenues and expenses, and, if required, a balance sheet.

36.     If an apostolic, institute be suppressed, the superiors, according to their respective competence, will take care that its assets be devoted to another apostolic work or placed in the fund for apostolic works of the province or of the Society, respecting always, if this applies, the statutes of the institute and the will of benefactors. Such assets may never be destined to the use or benefit of a community, of a province, or of the Society.


Norms of transition

37.     The Statutes on Poverty, promulgated by Father General on September 15, 1967, continue in force with the same authority as at promulgation, except for those norms which are contrary to the provisions of this decree.

38.     The General Congregation charges Father General, with the help of a commission to be constituted by himself, to have the Statutes revised according to the principles, prescriptions, and recommendations of this decree and to promulgate them as soon as possible on his own authority.


Recommendations to the commission for the revision of the statutes on poverty

39.     The General Congregation recommends the following to the commission for the revision of the statutes on poverty:

a. The statutes should prescribe that in temporal administration and especially in investments of the Society, of provinces, or communities and apostolic institutes, care be had for the observance and due promotion of social justice.

b. In editing the revised statutes, the provisions which look to the personal and community practice of poverty should be so published in a compendium as to serve in the best manner possible for reflection and spiritual discernment, while those matters which have little to do with the daily practice of poverty of our members should be relegated to an appendix or to an Instruction on Temporal Administration.

c. The commission should give serious study to many well considered postulates, either of provincial congregations or of individuals, to the end that according to the diligent prudence of the commission,

— provision may be made in the Statutes for those matters which do not exceed the competence of Father General;

—those which exceed his authority may be thoroughly investigated so that clear proposals in their regard can be made to the 33rd General Congregation.


F. Capacity of the Society and of Provinces to Possess Temporal Goods

40.     The General Congregation, confirming the provisions of the statutes on poverty promulgated September 15, 1967, concerning the capacity of the Society and of provinces to possess temporal goods, decrees the following:

1. The Society, provinces, vice-provinces, and missions dependent and independent, as distinguished from communities and apostolic institutes, are capable of possessing even revenue-bearing capital and of enjoying fixed and stable revenues, within the limits here defined, provided always that such goods and revenues are not applied to the support of the professed or formed coadjutors, except as permitted below, 3a and b.

2. The Society may possess such revenue-bearing capital and fixed and stable revenues only to promote certain apostolic works of a more universal kind or to relieve the needs of missions and provinces.

The Society is owner of the Charitable and Apostolic Fund mentioned above in n. 31

3. Provinces, vice-provinces, and missions dependent and independent, can possess revenue-bearing capital and can enjoy fixed and stable revenues, only for the following purposes:

a. For the support and education of those in probation or engaged in studies (Arca Seminarii) ;

b. For the support of the aged and the sick;

c. To set up or develop houses or foundations, whether these have already been established or are yet to be established, according as necessity or opportunity may indicate (Arca Fundationum);

d. To promote certain works, such as retreat houses, especially for non-Jesuits, centers for the social apostolate or for the diffusion of Catholic teaching by means of the media of social communication, for charitable enterprises both in and outside the Society, and for other apostolates which otherwise would lack sufficient resources (Arca Operum Apostolicorum).


G. Definition of Revenues Prohibited to Communities

41.     The 32nd General Congregation authentically declares that the fixed and stable revenues prohibited to our communities are completely defined to be those revenues from property, moveable or immoveable, either belonging to the Society or so invested in foundations, which the Society can claim in law.


H. Amendment of Decree 18 of General Congregation XXXI

42.     In Decree 18, n. 16, d, of the 31st General Congregation after the words “may be accepted;” the following is to be added: “so also the remuneration attached to certain stable ministries, such as those of hospital chaplains, catechists, and the like.”


I. A Faculty of Dispensation to Be Asked of the Holy See

43.     The General Congregation charges Father General to request of the Holy See, at least as a precaution, the faculty to dispense in individual cases, both communities and churches of Jesuits from the prohibition of having stable revenues, in the case of revenues not deriving from investment with the intention of gain, and which are judged necessary or very useful.



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 32, Decree 12, “Poverty,” pg. 353–363 [257–302].

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