Pope Paul VI to Father General Pedro Arrupe, on General Congregation 32 (1975)

In a letter to Arrupe during General Congregation 32, Pope Paul VI reiterates his desire that “no change can be introduced to the fourth vow” taken by the Jesuits. He continues that the Jesuits’ superior general to encourage “yet deeper reflection on your responsibilities, and on your great potentialities as well as on the dangers which threaten the future of that farsighted and deserving ‘Society of Priests’ founded by St. Ignatius.” The congregation would continue for nearly another month after Paul VI’s letter.

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



February 15, 1975


To his beloved son, Pedro Arrupe, S.J.,

General of the Society of Jesus


We have received the letter which you sent to us and the account which we requested of the reasons which moved the General Congregation in its voting on the problem of grades and the fourth vow. We have not failed duly to consider it. As regards more recent events, we confirm what our Cardinal Secretary of State wrote to you at our request on December 3 last. Again we repeat with all regard for you and for the Fathers of the Congregation: no change can be introduced related to the fourth vow.

As the supreme guarantor of the Formula of the Institute, and as universal pastor of the Church, we cannot allow this point in any way to be infringed upon, since it constitutes one of the pivotal points of the Society of Jesus. In excluding the extension of the fourth vow what moves us is not some less important feeling or an anguish-free knowledge of the problems. Rather it is that profound respect and deep love which we have for the Society as well as the persuasion of the great good which the Society in the future is called upon to provide for the ever more difficult work of the Church, if it is kept what its founder wished it to be—obviously with opportune adaptations which do not go beyond the limits of its basic identity.

Precisely in this view of things we want to express to you a doubt which arises in us from certain orientations and dispositions which are emerging from the work of the General Congregation: Is the Church able to have faith in you here and now, the kind of faith it has always had? What will the relationship of the ecclesiastical hierarchy toward the Society be? How will the hierarchy itself in a spirit free from fear be able to trust the Society to carry on works of such moment and of such a nature? The Society now enjoys a prosperity and an almost universal extension which as it were set it apart and which are in proportion to the trust which was always placed in it. It has a spirituality and doctrine and discipline and obedience and service and an example which it is bound to maintain and to witness to. Therefore we repeat confidently the question which we asked in our address on the 3rd of December at the beginning of the Congregation “Where are you going?”

In the days which you still have left to you for your common work, we ardently exhort you, my dear son, you and your brethren, to a yet deeper reflection on your responsibilities, and on your great potentialities as well as on the dangers which threaten the future of that farsighted and deserving “Society of Priests” founded by St. Ignatius.

As we wrote to you on September 15, 1973, this is a decisive hour “for the Society of Jesus, for its future and also for all religious congregations.” Let us think of the innumerable repercussions that a line of action which—God forbid—was contrary to what we set out above could have on the Society and even on the Church. For this reason we “most insistently” ask you to consider seriously before the Lord the decisions to be made. It is the Pope who humbly but with an intense and sincere affection for you repeats with fatherly alarm and utter seriousness: Think well, my dear sons, on what you are doing.

For this reason we request that you send to us before their publication the decisions already made or soon to be made by the General Congregation. In this serious hour we pray intensely for our beloved Society of Jesus while with a full heart we impart to you and to all its members all over the world, in the name of the Lord our apostolic benediction.


From the Vatican, February 15, 1975, the twelfth year of our Pontificate.

Paul VI


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, “Autograph Letter of His Holiness Paul VI to Father General,” pg. 392–393.