Decree 6: “The Formation of Jesuits,” General Congregation 32 (1975)

The delegates to the 32nd General Congregation approved the following decree, a lengthy statement on the process of Jesuit formation in light of the “many changes in the world at large.” The influence of those changes meant that “constant adaptation is required in order to be sure of achieving the essential purpose of our formation.” What follows are “some practical norms for the evaluation of various features of formation and their execution.” The decree also expands the concept of “formation” beyond the traditional understanding of the process of training and educating the newest members of the Society of Jesus, even reminding “older Jesuits” of their own need for “a permanent and continuing formation.”

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



Especially with Regard to the Apostolate and Studies

1.     Since the 31st General Congregation the many changes in the world at large have brought influences to bear on the training of our scholastics and brothers. Among these changes we might mention: the development of new structures, institutions, and mentalities in many nations; a deeper appreciation of the identity and autonomy of different cultures; the profound renewal of the Church in recent years; new arrangements in many provinces for the education of our men, which is often pursued in institutions not belonging to the Society or in circumstances where the academic program is distinct from religious formation; a restructuring of community life located now in urban centers; new cultural values which often have an influence on our young men; new aspirations of young Jesuits: their sensitivity to the world of today and the problems of society, their desire to be more closely associated with their peers; the difficulty—affecting most young people today—of remaining for a long time in the status of students while desirous of taking a genuine role in the active life of the Society; their regret oftentimes at what appears an isolated existence; their desire, finally, that the Society embrace an apostolic perspective more suited to the growth of their own vocations.

2.     In this context, an adequate evaluation of the present formation of Jesuits—which has not yet been done sufficiently—seems all the more necessary because, in continually changing times, constant adaptation is required in order to be sure of achieving the essential purpose of our formation. Moreover, certain defects which are apparent both in formation generally and in the organization of studies sometimes stem from a failure to fulfill the prescribed norms, as found in the following documents: Decrees 8 and 9 of the 31st General Congregation, An Instruction of Father General on the Spiritual Training of Jesuits, and the General Norms for Studies (1968).

3.     Therefore, the 32nd General Congregation proposes some practical norms for the evaluation of various features of formation and their execution. At the same time, it provides, in declarative form, some preliminary reflections which may help to give both young Jesuits and those who in various ways help to educate them, and indeed all of our men, a perspective on formation adapted to our times. Within this perspective the above-mentioned documents can be reread and explained. Little is said, however, about spiritual formation, because in this area the General Congregation confirms and stresses what has been prescribed in the eighth decree of the 31st General Congregation.

4.     The present document, then, although dealing principally with the formation of young Jesuits, looks, in a certain sense, to all our members since all are involved in formation as that task is presented here. All of us, after all, constitute an apostolic body into which the younger members are gradually integrated. Moreover, older Jesuits themselves need a permanent and continuing formation, which our formal training must have in view from the start. Our apostolic calling requires personal and ever-deepening study not only on the part of the young but on the part of all Jesuits.


A. The Integrated Character of Apostolic Formation

5.     The decision made by the 32nd General Congregation concerning the mission of the Society in today’s world calls us to give renewed emphasis to the apostolic character of our formation process. This was already clearly affirmed by the 31st General Congregation. Moreover, the total formation of Jesuits, both scholastics and brothers, must be equal to the demands of evangelization in a world deeply troubled by atheism and social injustice.

6.     It is with this world in view that our formation must prepare witnesses and ministers of the faith who, as members of the Society, are ready to be sent for the greater service of the Church into situations which are characterized by uncertainty. Their formation must make our men capable of dialogue with others, capable of confronting the cultural problems of our day. For these are the circumstances under which they must labor to promote the spiritual growth of mankind according to the tradition of the Society.

7.     To respond to this apostolic vision, the whole formation of our members must be understood and promoted as a process of integration into the apostolic body of the Society.

8.     This notion of integration expresses, in a synthetic way, a most important aspect of contemporary Jesuit formation which is used in this document in two different senses: as meaning both personal integration and integration into the apostolic body of the Society. These aspects should not be separated. Integration among disciplines and structures of the formation process will be treated later.


a. Personal Integration

9.     First of all, it might be good to recall some of the elements by which an apostolic personality is formed:

a. The process of apostolic formation must favor the personal assimilation of Christian experience. This demands a deep knowledge of revelation based on Sacred Scripture and on the living tradition of the Church and the ability, in the light of this knowledge, to reflect in a discerning way on the apostolate as it is concretely experienced.

b. In an apostolic formation an important place must be given to spiritual experience which is personal, vital, rooted in faith, nourished by daily prayer and the Eucharist: an experience that makes us capable of witnessing to the gift of faith before nonbelievers and of cooperating with God for the spiritual growth of those who do believe.

c. Our style of life and its attendant circumstances, both personal and communitarian, ought to favor apostolic formation. It should have the young Jesuits live in real conditions and come to know themselves, where responsibilities prevent a lapse into carelessness and individualism. This should mean that young Jesuits should not, during their time of formation, be oblivious to the actual living conditions of the people of the regions in which they live. Their style of life therefore must help them to know and understand what the people around them seek, what they suffer, what they lack.

10.     Accordingly, an experience of living with the poor for at least a certain period of time will be necessary for all, so that they may be helped to over- come the limitations of their own social background. For this reason, the conditions of such an experience must be thought out carefully, so that it will be genuine, free of illusions, and productive of an inner conversion. And it must be added that our whole personal and community life ought to be characterized by the radical standard of the Gospel, in the sense that our fidelity to the evangelical choice we have made by our vows must lead us to a critical vision of ourselves, of the world, and of society. This radical standard must be appropriate to a personal insertion into the human culture of the region where the apostolate is carried out, so that one’s own faith may be intelligible to other people and influence their life and culture.

11.     In the whole course of formation, these diverse elements, necessary for an apostolic and priestly mission in today’s world, must be harmoniously united. We should conceive and plan for the total formation of our men as a process of progressive integration of the spiritual life, of the apostolate, and of studies in such a way that the richness of the spiritual life should be the source of the apostolate, and the apostolate, in turn, the motive for study and for a more profound spiritual life.

12.     This process of integration begins in the novitiate, which may be common for both scholastics and brothers, and whose purposes are formation and probation. Right from the novitiate members of the Society are to be carefully instructed in spiritual discernment. This Ignatian discernment is an essential ingredient of our apostolic formation. Indeed, today’s conditions demand that a member of the Society during the whole course of formation should practice spiritual discernment about the concrete choices which, stage by stage, the service of Christ and the Church require of him. It is through this discernment that a sense of personal responsibility and true freedom will be achieved.


b. Integration into the Apostolic Body of the Society

13.     The whole process of formation, through its various stages from no- vitiate to tertianship, should favor this integration. It should prepare our young men to be eager to fulfill the missions and perform the ministries which the Society may wish to assign to them.

14.     To achieve this, the provincial must follow the entire course of development of each individual; he must take care that each understand the purpose of the stage of formation in which he is involved and profit from it according to the measure of grace granted to him. Moreover, through the whole course of this development, each young man should also be assisted by his local superior, the spiritual father, the director or prefect of studies, and his teachers to integrate intellectual reflection with apostolic experience—both personal and communitarian—in order to prepare his own apostolic orientation. Those who direct the young must therefore challenge them to develop a sense of personal responsibility. Ultimately, all who work in formation must try to become so filled with God’s own wisdom that they teach and form our young as much by the lively sharing of their personal knowledge of God and man as by the communication of academic learning.

15.     This integration, moreover, is to be aided by the continual experience of participating in the life of the Society as an apostolic body. On the one hand, such experience is fostered in houses of formation by a community, which the young constitute among themselves and with other Jesuits, in which there is real communication and a sharing of life, even on the spiritual level, as well as cooperation and mutual responsibility in studies and in apostolic works. If, indeed, young Jesuits live at times in apostolic communities, care must be taken that: (a) the communities are such as can willingly assume the responsibility of formation, along with those who have special charge of formation in the province; and (b) a priest, designated by the provincial, be responsible for helping them to pursue serious studies and carry on their apostolic work while still maintaining close ties with their companions.

16.     On the other hand, this experience supposes a formation that is closely bound up with the activities of the province or region; those in charge of formation therefore must be men who are capable both of assisting other Jesuits and of receiving help from others. Contact, information, and cooperation with other communities and works, especially with those in the same province, should help young Jesuits to experience the whole province, indeed the whole Society, as an apostolic body united in one spirit. To achieve this, the provincial, or someone designated by him, should see that the young are given this apostolic orientation in progressive stages and by a variety of experiences, according to the talents of each and with a view to the apostolic works of the province and the Society.

17.     The goal of the whole process of integration should be to assist each one, with the help of spiritual discernment, to learn not to indulge his own aspirations in an individualistic way, but to come to understand that he is a member of the body of the whole Society and shares its apostolic mission.


c. Continued Formation as the Renewal of the Whole Apostolic Body of the Society

18.     Especially in our times, when everything is subject to such rapid change and evolution, and when new questions and new knowledge, both in theology and in other branches of learning, are constantly developing, a truly contemporary apostolate demands of us a process of permanent and continuing formation. Thus formation is never ended, and our “first” formation must be seen as the beginning of this continuing process.

19.     Continuing formation is achieved especially through a constant evaluation of and reflection on one’s apostolate, in the light of faith and with the help of one’s apostolic community. It also needs the cooperation of our professors and experts, whose theory can shed light on our praxis, even while they themselves are led to more profound reflection by the apostolic experience of their fellow Jesuits. This kind of communication will also assist the integration of the young into the apostolic life of the province, and the contact between formation and the apostolate will profit the whole Society.

20.     This continuing formation demands that definite periods of time be given to formal courses or simply to private study, whether in theology or other disciplines, as required for one’s apostolate.


B. Integration of Studies into the Apostolic Life

21.     Since our mission today is the proclamation of our faith in Jesus Christ, which itself involves the promotion of justice, our studies must be directed toward this mission and derive their motivation from it. In a world where faith is fostered only with great difficulty and in which justice is so broadly violated, our wish is to help others arrive at a knowledge and love of God and a truly fraternal love of men, to help them lead lives according to the Good News of Christ and to renew the structures of human society in justice. Ministers of the Word of God can bring such help to others only if they have themselves acquired a profound vision of reality, from personal reflection on the experience of man in the world and on his transcendent finality in God. They must make their own God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ, as it is contained in Sacred Scripture and expressed in the life of the Church and in the teaching of the Magisterium. Such personal and accurate assimilation cannot be obtained without continued discipline and the labor of tireless and patient study.

22.     Thus the Society has opted anew for a profound academic formation of its future priests—theological as well as philosophical, humane, and scientific— in the persuasion that, presupposing the testimony of one’s own life, there is no more apt way to exercise our mission. Such study is itself an apostolic work which makes us present to men to the degree that we come to know all the more profoundly their possibilities, their needs, their cultural milieu. Our studies should foster and stimulate those very qualities which today are often suffocated by our contemporary style of living and thinking: a spirit of reflection and an awareness of the deeper, transcendent values. For this reason, our young men should be re- minded that their special mission and apostolate during the time of study is to study. Thus, the desire for a more active service, which the young feel so deeply, ought to be itself the animating force which penetrates all their studies.

23.     The brothers also who participate in the apostolic activity of the Society according to Decrees 7 and 8 of the 31st General Congregation, should receive appropriate theological instruction and a better formation in what concerns their work, according to the measure of the gifts they have received from God.

24.     From different parts of the Society it has been reported that our philosophical studies in recent years have, for various reasons, suffered deterioration. The General Congregation urges both superiors and professors to take the necessary means to strengthen the philosophical training of our men. Sufficient time must be given to it, and it must be done in a mature, unified, and coherent fashion, reaching a serious level of academic quality. The Society expects for its scholastics the kind of long-term philosophical training which is in touch with the radical problems of human existence and which is a mature reflection on the different intellectual traditions of mankind, in such a way that it can be integrated with subsequent or concomitant theological reflection.

25.     The numerous points of contact between philosophy and other fields of learning, contact with contemporary problems and with the present and future lives of students, ought to be pointed out. Because of today’s diversity of cultures, sciences, ideologies, and social movements, priests in the Society ought to be men who possess balance and depth in their thinking and who can communicate to others with credibility their own convictions regarding meaning and values.

26.     Theological training should be well integrated, sufficiently systematic, adapted to the exigencies of our mission, and conducted according to the norms of the Church. The whole of this training supposes above all a personal experience of the faith which must be developed and explained by a knowledge of Sacred Scripture, Christian doctrine, and moral theology. Students should be encouraged to establish a critical dialogue between theology and human culture, between faith and the real questions and problems which occupy the minds of the people among whom we exercise our apostolate. This reflection cannot be effective today except through an integration of the human sciences with philosophy and theology, both in teaching and in learning. Cooperation and communication among professors can be a great help towards this.

27.     In accord with the norm of Decree 9, n. 18, of the 31st General Congregation, those studies should be fostered that readily help our young men attain a harmonious, balanced human and religious maturity; studies leading not only to a living knowledge of man and his modern world, but also suited to expressing ourselves to the people of our times. Also, our formation must be such that the Jesuit can be one with the people to whom he is sent, capable of communicating with them. He must be able to share their convictions and values, their history, their experience and aspirations; at the same time, he must be open to the convictions and values of other peoples, traditions, and cultures. Hence training in the sciences, in languages, in literature, in the classic “liberal arts,” in modern media of communication, and in the cultural traditions of the nation, must be undertaken with much greater care.

28.     Moreover, the apostolic activities of the scholastics and brothers, accepted as a genuine mission from superiors, must be so directed and so subjected to evaluation that a real connection will be possible between apostolic activities and studies. Such activities are a part of apostolic formation for everyone, and part of the strictly priestly formation for those who are called to the ministerial priesthood: they ought to be integrated into the curriculum of studies as a basis for further reflection. For studies can be so tied in with these diff rent experiences that by the experiences, the studies themselves can be appreciated in a new light.

29.     In the whole course of formation, especially during philosophical and theological studies, a deep and authentic involvement with the local culture should be fostered, according to regional differences; yet care should also be taken to promote unity of minds and hearts in the Society. To foster this union, all the young members of the Society must cultivate Ignatian spirituality and be taught a theology which is grounded in the tradition and official teaching of the Church, though adapted to the needs of the times and of local cultures. For this purpose, meetings of those responsible for formation and professors of Ours in the various regions and in the whole Society can be very helpful. The young men themselves, by communication among the various provinces and regions, should acquire better knowledge of the unity and diversity of the Society, which will lead them to a true sense of its universality.

30.     Those who teach our men ought to manifest by their labor and living example this integration of the intellectual, spiritual, and apostolic life. To them is committed a prime role in the intellectual apostolate of the Society. They teach in the name and by the mandate of the Church. By their scholarship and with openness of mind, they seek out ways to develop a more profound understanding of the faith and to make it known to men, taking into account the questions and the needs of our times and of their own nations. They are called by the Society not only to teach their disciplines and to carry on scholarly research, but are also responsible for fostering each in his own way, the integral formation of our men— intellectual and spiritual, priestly and apostolic—in the spirit of the Society.


C. Norms

31.     The provincial is responsible for all aspects of the formation of those who belong to his province. He is responsible for both the persons and the institutions of the Society charged with formation. However, it is appropriate that there be a delegate who should have the immediate care for the various aspects of formation of each young Jesuit in the province (or in the region, where circumstances so dictate).

a. There should be regional or provincial commissions to advise superiors in the direction of formation in accord with local conditions.

b. These commissions should be made up both of those who are in charge of formation and also of some who are working in various apostolic ministries. They should evaluate the status of formation in the province or region on a regular basis.

32.     The General Congregation suggests to Father General that one of the general counsellors should have special concern for the integral formation of Jesuits throughout the Society. He ought also to help Father General in insisting on the execution of the decrees of this Congregation on formation, in adapting the General Norms for Studies and in evaluating experiments relative to formation.

33.     Those who are in charge of formation should take care that our scholastics and brothers, especially in the period immediately after the novitiate, become familiar with the sources of the spirituality of the Church and the Society and with its history and traditions and that they study them with a view toward their own progress and the progress of others.

34.     Provincials should be mindful of poverty in the matter of expenses for new arrangements of formation communities and institutions and in the pursuit of special studies.

35.     In accord with the resources and the apostolic needs of the different regions or provinces, provincials should provide for the spiritual, intellectual, and apostolic renewal of all our men. At determined times, all should be given sufficient opportunity for study and for reflection about their apostolic life. This program should be carried out with serious application according to a plan approved by the provincial.

36.     It is suggested that, more or less ten years after completing tertian- ship, Jesuits who have had experience in apostolic ministries and offices be given the opportunity for intensive spiritual renewal during two or three months.

37.     Studies in the Society are governed by the common law of the Church and by Decree 9 of the 31st General Congregation unless this present decree in a particular case provides otherwise. All the decrees of previous General Congregations which are contrary either to this decree or to Decree 9 of the 31st General Congregation or to the General Norms for Studies are definitively abrogated. These General Norms which Father General promulgated in place of the previous Ratio Studiorum are to be continually revised and adapted to new needs.

38.     Because of the importance of philosophical and theological studies in the tradition and apostolic life of the Society, provincials should see to it that in general all acquire the licentiate in either theology or philosophy and that those who manifest greater interest and talent should continue further studies in order to acquire higher degrees. What is said in Decree 9, nn. 33–40, of the 31st General Congregation concerning special studies should also be implemented.

39.     In faculties or institutions where the curriculum in philosophy and theology is flexible, the superior of the scholastics or the prefect of studies, according to the determination of the provincial, is responsible for arranging the curriculum of each scholastic according to his ability and his future apostolic work.

40.     The studies of brothers should be in accord with the needs of the province as well as their ability, interest, and future apostolic work. Their education in religious studies should be commensurate with their ability and adapted to their other studies.

41.     Scholastics are to devote at least two years to the study of philosophy. But when these studies are combined with other subjects or with the study of theology, they must be pursued in such a way that the equivalent of two years is devoted to them.

42.                                    a. The four year study of theology, prescribed by the Church for all who are preparing for the priesthood, is to be observed. But when the regular curriculum of theology is completed in three years, a fourth year is to be added which should be dedicated either to preparation for a degree in theology or, in an approved program, to the integration of theological studies into one’s formation, especially one’s pastoral formation.

b. If, however, there is an introductory course in theology, under the direction of a faculty of theology, beginning in the novitiate and continued through the period of philosophical studies, a careful evaluation should be made to determine whether the quality of this program is such that it might be equivalent to the first year of the theological curriculum.

43.     Special studies, understood according to their apostolic character, should be earnestly fostered by superiors. Those who undertake such studies, especially in secular universities, should be assisted to understand and personally to assimilate the interrelationship between these studies and their philosophy and theology. They should have special spiritual assistance and should be integrated into the life of a community of the Society.

44.     A solid education should also be fostered in literature, the arts, sciences, history, and the various aspects of the culture of the region where the apostolate will be carried on. The study of modern means of social communication should also be encouraged. An academic degree should be required as the usual means to evaluate our education in these fields in order to make our apostolic service more effective.

45.     Besides their own language, our young men should learn one or other of the more common modern languages which would facilitate communication with other cultures and with the universal Society.

46.     Although the curriculum of studies for the scholastics may be arranged in a number of ways, such unity ought to be observed in the regional programs as to make it possible for the scholastics, without extreme difficulty, to take part of their training in another province or region.

47.     Formation in apostolic activities ought to be carried on in a progressive fashion under the direction of a competent coordinator who should direct the young Jesuits in their activities, bring them to examine the activities critically, and help them to carry them out. Such activities, which are to be undertaken as a mission from superiors, should be so arranged that they lead to a deeper level of spiritual and intellectual reflection. For this purpose, it will be especially helpful, according to the mind of the Constitutions, for the scholastics to become accustomed to directing others in the Spiritual Exercises under the supervision of an experienced director. Moreover, these apostolic experiences should be an integral part of the curriculum of studies.

48.     In institutions where scholastics are taught by Jesuits, these Jesuit professors should remember that the mission which they have received from the provincial extends also to the formation of scholastics. Therefore, a team of professors should be chosen which has the aptitude for carrying on scholarly work, for teaching, and for cooperating in the integral formation of the scholastics. With regard to this point, professors should be conscious of their responsibility toward the Society.

49.                                    a. In provinces where scholastics study in faculties or institutions which do not belong to the Society, superiors should see to it that the formation proper to the Society is provided with all the necessary means, for example, by complementing the curriculum with special courses.

b. Where, however, the faculty or institution is directed by the Society but the academic direction is separate from the religious direction (of the community), superiors are responsible for promoting mutual cooperation in order to achieve the integral formation of our men.

50.     The Regional Orders of Studies are to be sufficiently revised so that they will truly correspond to the requirements of this decree. Such revisions are, in good time, to be submitted to Father General for approval.

51.     To establish the level of learning required of those who may be admitted to the profession of four vows, of all those who have not acquired a higher degree, at least a licentiate, in sacred studies an examen ad gradum is required according to the Constitutions. It must be an oral examination in philosophy and theology, before four examiners. Decree 9, n. 29, of the 31st General Congregation is abrogated. Everything else dealing with the length of the examination, its program, and the way of giving the grades for the examination is to be deter- mined in the Regional Orders of Studies approved by Father General.

52.     In each province there should be a serious consideration of how this decree is to be implemented. A report on this matter is to be sent to Father General.



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 6, “The Formation of Jesuits,” pg. 321–332 [133–186].

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