“Practical Aspects of Decree 4,” Pedro Arrupe (1976)

The 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus ended on March 7, 1975, having met for 96 days and approved 16 decrees. Arguably the most important of these decrees was Decree 4: “Our Mission Today,” one of four decrees focused on the “Society’s Response to the Challenges of Our Age.” The Jesuits’ Superior General, Pedro Arrupe, delivered versions of the following remarks in Rome and throughout Africa a year following the congregation, in the spring of 1976. Arrupe uses these remarks to outline expound on the decree’s last section—the practical dispositions of the measure.

For more sources from Arrupe, please visit The Arrupe Collection.



I. Introduction

1. Overall Purpose and Mission of the Society

I would like to speak to you today about the last section of Decree 4 of the recent 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus. As you know, Decree 4 was on “Our Mission Today,” and the last section of it dealt with “Practical Dispositions.” These practical dispositions are applications that follow from the general decisions and guidelines developed throughout the Decree.


When the Congregation states, in this Decree, that “the mission of the Society of Jesus today is the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement,” it is not in the slightest way restricting the purpose of the Society. That Society was founded, as you know, principally “to serve the divine Majesty and His holy Church, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth” and “to devote itself totally to defense and spread of the holy Catholic faith.” Those words are taken from the Formula of the Institute, approved by Pope Julius III. The Society’s purpose thus remains the same as ever: the expression that the 32nd General Congregation used is simply a reformulation to meet the needs of the present-day world, which is characterized by so many and such flagrant injustices.


And so, in discussing this Decree 4, we are simply showing how the Society is fulfilling its overall purpose, how it is living up to its mission. The principles, attitudes and methods that the Decree proposes thus acquire a universal value much more far-reaching than the Decree itself, since everything is included in, and exemplified by, the way the Society carries out its purpose.


2. The Originality of Saint Ignatius

The originality of St. Ignatius is to be found, not so much in the reasons that he “put down in writing, so as to be able to reflect on them,” as in “other illuminations” that he received from the Holy Trinity; with “feelings of intense emotion.” Clearly, his originality will keep the same creativity and apostolic vigor down through history, and the Society of today wants to continue to be—and should continue to be—what St; Ignatius made it. But there are certain moments in history when an inner force appears, stirring that originality to new external manifestations, and its dynamism acts with greater exuberance and creativity. Today is such a moment. In the aggiornamento that Vatican II called for, the Holy Spirit speaks more clearly to the Church, and hence to the Society too, inviting us to a “thoroughgoing reassessment of our traditional apostolic methods, attitudes and institutions, so as to adapt them to the changed conditions of our day.”


Our effort, then, after the Congregation even more than during it, has to be to discern how we can provide the Society’s distinctive service and carry out its mission with all its consequences. The new way of exercising this mission will require of the updated Society new or renewed attitudes, endeavors, undertakings and institutions, which in turn presuppose new men, similarly renewed for today’s generation. All these elements—“the Society of Jesus, its mission, its apostolate, its way of life”—are closely interrelated and cannot be considered or achieved separately. We cannot, therefore, discuss how the Decree would have us carry out our apostolate, prescinding from our Order’s special charism, or from the Jesuit of today and his life style.


In the constant advance of the pilgrim Church, which, vivified by the Holy Spirit and under his impulse, comes ever closer to Christ, amid persecutions from the world and consolations from God, the 32nd General Congregation is merely one episode in the life of this universal Church moving towards its eschatological perfection. The Congregation too, as part of humanity and of the people of God, has felt itself inspired, guided and strengthened by that Spirit “who writes and impresses on hearts the law of charity and love” and keeps pressing towards “what is most conducive.”


3. A Return to the Sources

At this moment of history, the challenge the world offers has brought the Society to a limit-situation, forcing it to go back to the original sources of Ignatian spirituality, to find there more effective means, to be able to face today’s problems vigorously, not only in order to survive, but to come out of them purified and rejuvenated, and thus to be more apt for giving the Church the service it desires. The return to Loyola, Manresa, Paris, La Storta and Rome was a spontaneous movement in the Society of Jesus, and especially in the fathers of the General Congregation. We were, and we are, conscious that any renewal must always be inspired by those fundamental graces that St. Ignatius received for himself and the whole Society, by those mystical intuitions that began with the spiritual infancy of Ignatius—God treated him as an infant then, he tells us in his Autobiography—to his full spiritual maturity, when he composed the Constitutions.


The method that the Congregation suggests for our practical application of what Decree 4 recommends is very simple, yet it is based on a deep theology and a logic and practical sense that give us the greatest guarantees.


4. The Method is the Message

It has been said in another context that “the medium is the message.” Here we may say that “the method is the message” because it includes such a wealth of elements that, though perhaps not altogether new, are understood and applied in so profound a way that their meaning and implications and correlations do give them a great novelty. It is a method that uses new concepts, and when applied, sheds a new light on those concepts on which it is based. This method was not excogitated in an abstract or a priori way, but results from a number of enriching ideas and concepts of better studied, better tested situations. Thus it arose almost spontaneously, not so much as a logical deduction, but rather as the fruit of many vital elements and their mutual correlations, e.g., the concepts of mission, of community, of interpersonal relations, of service, of authority, of poverty, etc. It would be very easy to describe superficially the manner of applying this Decree, but that way we would not reach the real profundity of its method, nor would we catch the meaning and concrete manner of its application. It would be totally ineffective to proceed that way.


Our deeper knowledge of certain concepts and circumstances enables us to work out a method very suited to the situations of this new world of ours and riches in the Ignatian sense. Thus, the application of this method, plus the experience, the intuitions and the difficulties that contact with reality adds to it, enriches the concepts and gives them a greater realism.



II. Process of Awareness, Discernment and Evaluation

A. Selection of Ministries and Preparation of the Instrument

But that is not all: our new understanding of the ideas and their practical apostolic applications call for new, renewed men who, incarnating this mentality, will react in a fresh way, or at least will be able to adapt their service to the new needs of a Church and a mankind we see rapidly becoming the great, universal human family.


1. Reflection and Revision

The final section of this Decree, subtitled “Practical Dispositions,” opens with a clearly Ignatian principle: “Considering the variety of situations in which Jesuits work, the General Congregation cannot provide a single, universally applicable program for producing this awareness and reducing it to practice according to the decisions and guidelines given. Each Province or group of Provinces must undertake a program of reflection and a review of our apostolate to discover what action is appropriate in each particular context.”


It is the same principle that Pope Paul stated for the whole Church in his Octogesima adveniens: “Faced with such varying situations, it is hard for us to formulate a single statement and propose a solution with universal validity…. It is for the Christian communities to analyze objectively their country’s situation, to clarify it in the light of the unchanging words of the gospel.”


To find the appropriate mode of action, the Congregation gives us two basic principles that are implicitly contained in the Constitutions, the norms for the selection of ministries and in those for the preparation of the instrument. We express these principles today by the terms “discernment” and “permanent formation.” They are like two roads leading us to a personal knowledge, a conviction, and a more perfect performance of what God wants of us at each moment.


2. Discernment

Discernment is, in all its profundity, the best way (I would say, considering it in all its breadth, the only way) to be able to plan and choose among our concrete options, the proper apostolic strategy, in other words, to discover God’s will for us here and now.


The Congregation recommends precisely this to us when it says that we need, “not so much a research program, as a process of reflection and evaluation, based on the Ignatian tradition of spiritual discernment.” Psychological or purely technical procedures are not sufficient: we need a determination to really “find God,” using all the means, objective and subjective, individual and collective, social, political, etc., through which He manifests His will to us. A process of this sort requires a special divine assistance and a constant effort on our part to rid ourselves of every inordinate affection. For that reason, the Decree very properly underlines the word “indifference,” when it tells us: “The primary stress is on prayer and the effort to attain ‘indifference,’ that is, an. apostolic readiness for anything.”


The seriousness of this discernment calls for those perfect dispositions that St. Ignatius demands in the election, that culminating point in his Exercises. This is a divine-human, personal, ecclesial act, inserted into the one plan of salvation that leads to the building up of the Kingdom of Christ in time, and comes, even now, under the eschatological judgement. St. Paul defines it: “Think before you do anything: hold on to what is good and avoid every form of evil.” This Pauline discernment, this dokimazein, is not only a key to the New Testament; it is also a key for apostolic planning in the exercise of our “mission,” reminding us of the interplay of divine grace and human freedom in Christian life. Thus the apostle feels integrated into salvation history, associated with the central kairos of the Incarnation and resurrection, and the final eschatological kairos. Understood in this way, discernment explains and renews the meaning of Ignatian solid prudence, “discreet charity.” And thus the “mission” received under obedience can be applied concretely to the different and changeable situations of the problematic of today’s world. At the same time; discernment is the great force that enables us to grow spiritually in a rapid but solid way, since it obliges us to have our soul always in a disposition of total detachment from created things. As a consequence of this active-passive “indifference,” discernment disposes the soul for the inspirations of the Spirit, no matter how they come or where they come from. In particular, it disposes the soul for that basic inspiration of faith, hope and “discreet charity” that awakens it to desire the magis, i.e., to choose always what is better, what is “God’s will here and now.” An active indifference, always seeking the magis, is, indeed, the Ignatian equivalent of “finding God in all things,” or as Nadal put it in a dense and profound phrase, the “contemplativus in actione.”


In addition to this inner disposition of spirit, so necessary for a real discernment, we also need as complete and deep a knowledge as possible of the reality that is the object of our discernment, so that we can discover in that reality the expression of God’s will for the world. To discover that, we need, first of all, a real “conscientization,” or critical contact with reality; and after that, an “insertion,” an “evaluation,” and finally an “inculturation.”


The basic elements of this process of discernment and conscientization, of insertion and inculturation, are described briefly in Octogesima adveniens, which the 32nd General Congregation quoted. They are: experience, reflection, choices, action a constant reciprocal relationship. These are steps that lead, by their own inner force, to a “change in our thought patterns and a conversion of souls and hearts so that we can make apostolic decisions.”


3. Conscientization

To know thoroughly the reality that we meet or in which we live, we need more than a superficial glance at it in a random or purely formal contact, or a one-time experience of that reality. Knowing thoroughly means going beyond a mere spontaneous grasp, to a critical understanding. Real conscientization is a critical insertion into historical reality. That obliges man to accept the role of a subject who makes the world—or better, remakes it. It forces man to create his existence out of the material that life offers him. This is based, naturally, on the human capacity to work consciously on reality: hence conscientization necessarily includes the combination of our reflection on the world and our action on it.


It also follows from this that real conscientization has to be a process constantly in act, so that the new reality that is evolving can in turn be grasped in a new conscientization which again will produce a still newer reality. It is an ongoing process; conscientization is always creative. “Thinking of the new reality as something untouchable is simplistic and reactionary, just as much as saying that the old reality was untouchable if men, as working beings, continue to accept a ‘made’ world: they will very soon be plunged into a new darkness.”


And so, as conscientization increases, the manifestation of reality also increases, and the penetration of its phenomenological sense. If we merely contemplate the reality, we are no more than false intellectualists. Without the binomial action-reflection, there can be no conscientization; in other words, there can be no conscientization apart from practical action. The dialectical unity “action-reflection” will always be man’s most distinctive mode of being, his only effective way of changing the world.


There has to be, therefore, an insertion into reality and a reflection on reality. This double function enables us to know and act on reality, which in turn then acts on us. In other words, the external reality that we change then changes us in our very depths, and that very change makes us become “agents for change.” This interaction is a manifestation and an effect of the intimate action of the Holy Spirit, who integrates, simultaneously and harmonically, the progress of a pilgrim mankind towards its true fatherland and my growth in divine life that the Spirit communicates to me.


4. Insertion

To know reality, to change our attitudes and achieve a true discernment, we must first be inserted into reality in an effective way. When I speak of insertion, I am referring to a real, critical insertion among the men of today, in order to create and shape society in an evangelical way.


(a) Genuinely apostolic

A genuine insertion thus requires a change of personal attitude, the giving up, under many aspects, of our manner of being, thinking and acting, so we can understand and come closer to the new realities that we want to evangelize. It is a real problem of life and experience, which gives us a special profound and realistic knowledge, which makes us solidary with men, particularly with the poor and the weak.


Scripture itself and the entire theology of evangelization invites us to this insertion: “To become all things to all men,” to make other people’s problems ours, “to make ourselves servants of others,” to be “segregatus in evangelium,” and to become the “salt of the earth.”


For that reason, the 31st Congregation recommended that our residences be built and set up among workers and the most downtrodden classes, so that Ours, spending their lives with the poor Christ, may practice their various apostolates. This insertion or “incarnation” means solidarity with those who suffer, even to being identified with their lives. Here we find the most profound meaning of the poverty of the poor Christ, whom we want to imitate and follow. That phrase of the Exercises that describes our contemplation—“as if I were actually present”—takes on a vivid meaning that reflects the gospel words: “What you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me.” If we juxtapose


St. Ignatius’s two key lines from the Exercises: “What shall I do for Christ?” and “being poor with the poor Christ,” with those words of Christ: “What you did to the least of my brothers, you did to me,” everything takes on a new light, whose brilliance shakes our conscience. It is the apparition of Christ among the poor, his real presence among them.


This reality of Christ in the world of today plays a decisive role in our choice of ministries and in our lives. “Have we realized that conversion to Christ implies a conversion to our neighbor particularly our most abandoned neighbor? This requires a change of mentality that is not at all easy, a change of attitude and of life on the personal, collective and apostolic level. In a word, it transports us to the heart of the painful tension of the election.”


(b) Characteristic features

Not every insertion has the value and meaning of a truly apostolic insertion. To see if our insertion is apostolic, we will have to look for some of its characteristic features.


First of all, it should be evangelical, i.e., inspired and guided by the gospel, by the spirit of the gospel, which we find in the Beatitudes, in the cross and the resurrection of Christ. On the contrary, an insertion inspired by radicalism or a revolutionary spirit, one seeking class struggle or vindication, one that exalts itself, regarding itself as a model far better than any other, is not the insertion a religious should seek. In practice, we often lose sight of our evangelical spirit, even though we protest that our aim is to evangelize.


Second, this insertion should be apostolic, i.e., inspired by an apostolic motivation and idealism, not by merely sociological or humanitarian considerations, which are a completely different thing. It has to be rooted in faith, built on prayer, purified of all selfishness and quest for one’s own gain. Such an attitude cannot be had with natural forces alone, but comes only from the force of the Spirit.


Third, the insertion of the religious has to be the expression of a mission, that is, something more than the fruit of one’s own ideas or some project of one’s own. It has to be the object of a mission that follows, under obedience, God’s will, rather than the whims of a self-appointed group that makes independent decisions, ignoring or opposing those of their superiors. It must be the result of a precise mission conferred or approved by obedience.


(c) Personal and community requirements

A true insertion requires a series of qualities in the individual or the community: —first of all, it calls for humility and conversion, i.e., the desire of leading a more evangelical life and the recognition of one’s own limitations, without considering oneself superior to anyone—and especially without judging anyone, even if exteriorly he may seem to be leading a less evangelical life;


—next such an insertion calls for a clear sense of one’s identity, inasmuch as the harsh experiences that can come to, those who live such an insertion, and the observance of others’ sufferings and injustices can strike us in so forceful and passion-rousing a way as to take away our religious and evangelical sense and lead us to adopt positions and attitudes foreign to the Institute we belong to;


—third, to be truly and solidly inserted, we need a well-integrated personality capable of resisting the “shock” caused by the effort of adapting to a very different set of surroundings. Not a few religious men and women, full of generosity but without a solidly integrated personality, have lost their vocations because of this “shock,” and have then succumbed to irreparable crises;


—fourth we need a solid formation. Some have to learn to acquire this insertion in surroundings and situations that are difficult indeed for those who are not sufficiently formed for that level of hardship. A full insertion into new surroundings calls for a very solid and balanced formation, which usually takes a long time and experience. Only a serious preparation can give sufficient maturity and ability to integrate all the elements of the apostolic process: experience-reflection-choice-action. With it, the insertion can be kept within proper limits and will allow for the maximum productivity;


—fifth, it requires a serious reflection. Experience alone is not enough; it has to be tested by reflection, without which we can never have optimum results and avoid the mistakes due to either excess or deficiency. Reflection on the concrete experience will expand our understanding of the situation, and will suggest the proper options and the changes that must be made for a more effective apostolate. That is, it will make our action not only tend in the right direction, but have some likelihood of continuing and succeeding, too;


—sixth, we need close collaboration with others. A genuine insertion invites and produces such collaboration. It is a stimulus and an apt means for fitting into, joining into the overall pastoral plan and activities of other groups and sectors;


—seventh, we need pluralism. Insertion needs and brings on a broad pluralism, in the sense that modes of service have to be different under differing circumstances. Insertion is not limited to a particular social stratum, e.g., the poor, but takes in all worlds: intellectual, university, professional, cultural, intracultural, etc.


If all these conditions are verified, the insertion will be much more effective, organic and differentiated. We will avoid duplications—and omissions—of projects and methods for which others are better qualified; each one will produce to the maximum, having found his place in the overall pastoral plan of the local and universal Church.


This insertion can also resolve the tension between those who learn and those who teach, because, as experience shows, particularly in times of rapid change, life and human contact, even with the less cultured and humbler, are a marvelous school, in which we learn from others that very lofty science, the “science of man,” which we can never acquire without that contact with reality and every-day life. The insertion will make us feel the need to be always in the posture of a disciple, which is indispensable for the apostle working for contemporary man in the world of today.


5. Evaluation

To be able to make an objective and effective discernment, so we can give to our labors, our projects and institutions a new orientation, we need not only conscientization and insertion, but an evaluation of our activities too.


(a) Importance given by GC 32 and Pope

Decree 4 suggests this to us very clearly: “Where do we live? Where do we work? How? With whom? What, in the final analysis, really is our involvement with, dependence on, or commitment to ideologies, or to those who wield power? Is it only to the converted that we know how to preach Jesus Christ? These are some of the questions we should ask about ourselves individually, as well as about our communities and institutions.”


It is very important to evaluate our activities and our works. We are urged to make such an evaluation by Decrees 4, 6 and 15: “Our Mission Today” —“The Formation of Jesuits” —and—“Central Government.” Our evaluation would consist in analyzing the quantity and quality of the results we are obtaining, in relation to our objectives, in order to have some idea of their effectiveness.


The evaluation presupposes that we have logically well-defined goals, sufficiently recognized as such.


Unfortunately, the Society has not always stopped to evaluate its work, or at least it has not always done so with precision and scientifically. Usually, it has gone about this effort in an improvised and haphazard fashion, making obvious, superficial judgments that do not enable us to reach valid conclusions. What is more, we seem to be afraid of such evaluations at least subconsciously, considering them a threat. When they are asked to rate their efforts, some feel threatened and called into question, as if such a request implied a negative judgment or a challenge to the project they are engaged in.


But an evaluation is the indispensable means for being able to upgrade our projects. If in certain cases it should turn out that a certain project ought to be revised or disappear completely because it no longer accomplishes its purpose, or because it blocks projects of greater importance, that is the moment for Ignatian indifference. Indeed, why should we keep a work going that once upon a time was constructive, but now has become an obstacle? The sufferings we naturally feel when told to give up some work are not against indifference; they are an understandable human reaction, a normal manifestation of the love we feel for a project on which we have spent ourselves, perhaps for many years.


But such an evaluation has to be made. The argument from authority comes into play here, since not only GC32, but the Holy Father too wants such evaluations. Moreover experience and the intrinsic value of making periodic evaluations also urge us to make them; if we want to be consistent with the Ignatian magis, which bids us to always offer the greatest possible service of God.


(b) Mechanism needed

The 32nd General Congregation recommends, therefore, that “there should be a definite mechanism for the review of our ministries.” This mechanism is the indispensable condition for having an evaluation, and hence a rational “choice of ministries and setting of priorities and programs.” The Congregation therefore added:


Now is a good time to examine critically how these arrangements are working and, if need be, to replace them by others that are more effective and allow for a wider participation in the process of communal discernment.


The data provided by an evaluation of this sort will be most helpful and even essential for knowing thoroughly the works to be examined by an apostolic discernment, and they will enable us to apply in a truly Ignatian manner the criteria for our choice of ministries. They are data through which the Spirit speaks to us, too.


In the present state of some of our works, a real evaluation is impossible, because we have not clearly spelled out their objectives, scope and methods. The first good to come, then, from an evaluation of them is that it obliges us to decide what their purpose and method really are. The Congregation is asking us to take at least that step.


It is not enough to say that we aren’t yet ready to rate our work. We must prepare ourselves as fast as possible to make such an evaluation, not only of the work itself, but of the apostolic repercussions that may follow for it or for other works.


All our works can be improved; and acknowledging this is the first certain gain from any evaluation. At the same time, no work has a title to survive if it merely impedes the development of other works that might better absorb the resources devoted to it.


6. Permanent Formation

(a) It is a permanent disposition

An ongoing formation, understood in all its profundity, is an important element in our life as Jesuits. I do not mean a mere refresher course in which we try with intensive means to catch up with intellectual advances in theology, sociology, etc. A continuing formation is a much more serious thing: it is the disposition of soul by which we seek to remain instruments as apt as possible for carrying on our apostolate effectively. This is expressed in our constant care and effort to stay informed about the situation, the needs and the mentality of the world we want to bring our apostolic assistance to; and in our reflection on all that information, so we can act with the best possible means.


Continuing formation is the concrete way of getting ready to carry out what discernment shows us to be God’s will. From this reflection and preparation, which are part of our permanent formation, comes an inner change in the apostle, a new attitude and new tools for his work, a new creativity in tune with the changing circumstances, and new possibilities for “helping souls.”


Yet another aspect of this permanent formation is that it force us to look at human problems in the concrete—and to find equally concrete solutions for them. This involves us in a work of interdisciplinary synthesis, since human problems have to have equally human solutions, and these can come only from an interdisciplinary synthesis. Thus a life experience brings a unity to all our disparate knowledge. This continuing formation has to begin right from the start for our scholastics and young priests, both in the content of their studies and the way they approach it. Education has to be regarded as a continuous whole, right to the end of our lives. It is in the first phase of formation that a person is readied and shaped for remaining in a state of permanent formation all through his life.


The first formation is the moment when the maximum of content should be given, and in a systematic fashion. It is an intense moment when the cognoscitive faculties are at their keenest, gathering in the elements that will be needed later for a reflection on life. The problems that an ongoing formation and an aggiornamento must grapple with will arise, largely, from the Jesuit’s life experience and from the constant evolution of the world.


(b) Parallel to Discernment

Permanent formation, then, as a disposition and as a method, is something similar, in the apostolic order, to discernment in the spiritual order. And just as discernment demands a previous disposition of indifference open to the magis, so that we can better know and follow the will of God, so too a permanent formation calls for a determination to keep the spirit in the best dispositions for effective apostolic action.


In both cases, the common denominator is the magis; in a spiritual discernment, we seek to learn the will of God, which is the better; in permanent formation, we keep the spirit alert in order to know better the apostolic needs and opportunities—and to react better to them.


Spiritual discernment, whether personal or collective, and permanent formation are two most effective means for a constant spiritual and apostolic renewal of the Society. It is a genuine dynamic of the Spirit, who acts most effectively and in complete harmony with the Ignatian charism.


The best means for our apostolate, and the best attitude is the apostolic indifference of the Exercises, that spiritual state of highest perfection because it is both effect and expression of charity and a personal love of Christ.


If the instrument remains united with God, the principal Cause, it is most certain to produce abundant apostolic fruits. The instrument will do all it can to acquire the qualities that will make it an effective tool. Here is where continuing formation comes into play, for it prompts and molds the instrument so that it can produce supernatural results in collaboration with the principal Cause.


A permanent formation makes the apostle keep in the best spiritual fitness for carrying out his work.


Is this permanent formation something new? Yes and no.


No, because we have long been doing it; yes, because today it is more urgent and it has to be more extensive. But above all, I believe it is something quite new that we now regard a permanent formation as a means for renewing the Society. It is certainly a value discovered only recently, and one that we should use in the most effective way.


B. Some Types of Insertion

7. Priesthood and Professional Activity

This is the first type of insertion that Decree 4 mentions: “The Congregation recognizes how important it is that we should have some presence in different areas of human activity, especially in those parts of the world that are the most secularized. It also recognizes the real opportunities for apostolic work afforded, in some cases, by the practice of a profession or by doing other skilled work not directly related to the strictly presbyteral function.”


When dealing with the professional activities of priests, the 31st General Congregation recommended that “priests of the Society who practice an apostolic activity in areas of the temporal order should act zealously, in union with all other priests in a single priestly ministry for the good of men, so that the priesthood will be manifested in everything they do. And they will make that manifest principally by their prayer, the witness of their lives and the Eucharist.”


The Society’s tradition offers many examples of fathers and brothers who have practiced secular professions with great apostolic success.


The 1971 Synod of Bishops, seeking to forestall any basic error in this area, declared: “The priestly ministry should be considered not only a fully valid human activity, but even a more excellent one than all others … but taking part in human activities must not be as their main objective, nor is it enough to express the full responsibility of priests.”


In other words, the exercise of profane professions is disapproved if it implies a lack of esteem for the sacred ministry. As I said myself, speaking to the Procurators in 1970: “No one will deny that professional activities sometimes put us into close contact with certain social milieu, but those activities are and will always be a means of the apostolate, but not the only one, nor in general can it be said that they are the normal one for our Society.”


They are a way of insertion into the professional world, a manner of getting into touch with sectors that are far from the Church, and in that sense they are in harmony with the mission given to us by the Holy Father concerning atheism. A professional activity can be a very effective means for assuring the presence of the Church and the faith in those areas that have an influence on the formation of certain very pernicious theories and ideologies that we could never combat except through contacts of a professional character. This presence, both in intellectual circles and among workers and underprivileged peoples, is extremely effective. Still, the religious has to know how to blend within himself his professional and his religious life, his professional and his priestly life. If that integration on the personal level does not exist, there is a serious danger that he will be completely secularized because, on account of either the living conditions of certain milieu (scientific, artistic, etc.) or the injustices and oppression he directly experiences in certain worker and slum areas, his identification with those professional surroundings can easily relegate his religious vocation to a lesser level making humanitarian and social interests the dominant ones in his life, and bringing him ultimately to give up his religious life altogether. For that reason, only those religious should be assigned to such labors who give evidence of a very solid spiritual life and apostolic spirit.


This was why the Congregation outlined the conditions on which an involvement in such activities, by presence or collaboration, can be permitted: “The Congregation considers that such commitments can be recognized as part of the Society’s mission, provided they meet the following conditions: They must be undertaken as a mission from superiors. Their aim must be clearly apostolic. Preference should be given to work in an area that is de-Christianized or underprivileged. The activity must be in harmony with the priestly character of the Society as a whole. It must be compatible with the essential demands of religious life: an interior life of prayer, a relationship with a Jesuit superior and a Jesuit community, poverty, apostolic availability.”


8. Involvement in Social and Civic Affairs

The Decree then turns to certain occupations that are “special cases,” because though they presuppose a “genuine desire to engage in the promotion of justice” they inevitably “will mean some kind of involvement in civic activity.” In that statement, the Decree implies that certain occupations, even though political, are not essentially incompatible with the priestly and religious calling. As Max Weber has said: “We are all politicians occasionally, when we cast our vote in an election.” And doesn’t even our evangelical preaching at times inevitably have political overtones?


Difficulties arise particularly when some priest takes up politics as a profession, comes out militantly for some ideology, or joins some movement or political party. Even (not to say especially) in these cases, truly exceptional for the priest, his specifically sacerdotal task at the service of humanity must not completely disappear, but should rather become intensified. But it would be quite wrong to say that the “priest in politics” is a contradiction in terms.


It would be wrong, too, “to define the priest by a series of negatives as some kind of rare bird, a professional, un-married, and a-political. That would mean dividing him off from mankind, in an unfortunate sequence of exclusions. Because the priesthood is most definitely an authentic way of being a man; it is a service of man and of men.”


The problem of the priest in politics can be solved by taking into account his unique priestly contribution in the political area. “The priest is not a super-Christian. His priesthood is not a simplification of the essence of the Christian. He stands on another level, because he represents in the Church a special function and service.”


This is a difficult, delicate question, though, because of the variety of situations and occupations involved. But the difficulty and delicateness should not a priori condemn all activity by the priest in the political field. St. Ignatius has written: “Even the reason of our desire to protect the priest does not seem to me valid…. If all we want in our profession is to be safe, and if we have to pass up the good we can accomplish, in order to stay out of danger, it won’t be worth-while living and dealing with our neighbor. But our vocation is to deal with all men.”


This sort of involvement in social and civic affairs should be the object of a discernment, and sometimes it can be very delicate on account of the complexity of the casuistry in this field and the differences in circumstances. This is not the moment for solving as complex a question as this, especially because in this part of Decree 4 the Congregation was dealing only with the practice of such involvements in concrete.


In all these “special cases,” the norms laid down by the 1971 Synod should be followed—as well as these that I myself drew up in 1972: “It is for the Provincials to see to it that criteria, norms and directives are set” in this matter as will seem wise in individual regions. The same should be done by the regional conferences too as far as possible. In this way we can have some assurance, and individuals, who may possibly be ignorant of many circumstances and the consequences that can follow from them, will not have to decide for themselves.


It is always a delicate, even an ambiguous task to be a leaven in the mass, since this means bringing contraries together. To be a leaven, the priest has to be very close to men: a leaven removed even a millimeter from the mass doesn’t accomplish anything. “A priest ought to be firm in his vocation and show by his entire way of living that he doesn’t rely on human means, and certainly not on political influence, for being successful in his ministry or for advancing the Kingdom of God. The temptation to imagine that one goes faster by using human means is very great for him. But he will inevitably create confusion in the minds of people if he becomes a political activist, if besides his responsibility as a priest he takes on responsibilities for governing, or is even associated with such responsibilities in the political city.”


9. The International Apostolate

In the final point that it touches on—“international cooperation”—the Decree calls for an increased collaboration and union of apostolic forces throughout the whole Society. The international dimension of the broad problems of our day demands such an international availability and mobility.


On a hasty reading, this point might seem obvious. It will seem extremely opportune, though, if we think of the world’s present evolution, torn as it is in many directions by nationalistic or regionalistic tendencies, both cultural and ethnic, and yet tending all the while towards unification.


Indeed, Jesuit internationalism is merely one modern version of what has always been most distinctive and, I will say, essential in the originality of Ignatius’s program.


According to his principle “quo universalius eo divinius,” universal problems that affect the whole globe, or vast areas of it, have to be considered a top priority in the Society’s “mission.” At the same time, that “principle and foundation of the Society,” our fourth vow “circa missions,” is likewise universal, in the sense that it is made to the Holy Father as pastor of the entire Church. What else does that mean, in modern terms, but availability, mobility, and readiness for co-operation vis-a-vis modern day problems, which, thanks to rapid communications and close international relations, produce world-wide echoes and repercussions?


The scope, complexity and yet similarity of these problems, with all their cultural and technical overtones, force us to an intimate collaboration among the various zones and regions, to find universal solutions that still take into account—and allow for—national nuances and differences.


The Society must be more and more conscious of these new international fields of labor, which—because of the vast and variegated zones affected by each problematic, and the complexity of the problems that have to be analyzed from different inter-disciplinary vantage points—require a worldwide and interdisciplinary collaboration. Each day we wake up to find new and unexpected structures arising that further strengthen these geographic, scientific and cultural relationships.


For these structures, the basic organization of the Society, as St. Ignatius devised it, is ideally suited and can be used very effectively. Both its central authority “ad aedificationem” and its decentralization, which existed in Ignatius’ own day but have become even more flourishing today, make possible by their dialectic, on the one hand, the integration and mutual understanding of various regions, and on the other hand, an organization for communication with the center. It is interesting to see how St. Ignatius practiced decentralization, first as a good principle of government, and then because it was impossible to do otherwise on account of the lack of regular and rapid communications (let us think, for instance, of his relations with St. Francis Xavier, with Japan, Ethiopia, the mission in Ireland, India, the houses of Portugal, etc.). The same difficulty of regular communications, as well as the difficulty of mobility of personnel, prevented what is possible today, i.e., giving to the Provincials a broad delegated authority, in view of the extreme complexity and varying local characteristics of the situations and problems they faced. Today, too, ease of communications makes it possible to centralize, when advisable, and to achieve what then was just a dream, inasmuch as constant communication between the various parts of the body and the center (a principle written into the Constitutions) is an Ignatian means for unity. For example, the “coetus provincialium,” which gradually have become real Ignatian apostolic communities for discernment, and the most recent experiment (held last September) with the presidents of the various “coetus provincialium,”—all these are simply structures for government that, together with the functional structures (e.g., CIAS, CLACIAS, SELA, the group of European editors of magazines, the university presidents, groups of sociologists, etc.), reveal a trend towards close international collaboration. We earnestly hope that these groups will become increasingly valid instruments for unifying our efforts.


This interprovincial co-operation, which aims at the greatest possible communication between the members and the head, makes possible a discernment to which our Father General can give the value of a real mission.


Nonetheless, we still have much to do, since this international point of view has not yet been completely accepted by all. There is no doubt, though, that given its goals and its Ignatian meaning and importance, it will gradually be fully accepted. Certainly, the needs of the contemporary world demand that we develop a vigorous international apostolate, quickly and effectively.



III. Decree 4 Seen in a Broader Perspective

In this Decree the Congregation went on to ponder the evolution of the Church and the world. It re-examined and reformulated many ecclesial, apostolic and Ignatian ideas; without changing them substantially, but bringing out more clearly certain facets of them that can, if carefully heeded and assimilated, profoundly transform our personal attitudes, our communities, and our ways of working, thus giving to the Society and to individual Jesuits a new identity, a new expression of the unchanging Ignatian charism of the earliest days.


A. Enriched Ideas: Evolution in Church and World

What are these ideas that, without being changed substantially, have been enriched, or at least have taken on fresh meaning?

  1. the idea of mission, as a basic idea that gives meaning to our lives and at the same time is the key for interpreting the word of God, the Constitutions, our community life, and the state of the world. Everything, from the tiniest details to the most daring apostolic program, is subordinated into this mission.
  2. the idea of justice, as a constitutive part of our evangelizing and a dimension that should be evident in each one of our undertakings.
  3. the idea of the Ignatian community, the “friends in the Lord,” a community of discernment, at once apostolic and “ad dispersionem.”
  4. the idea of insertion into the world, in order the better to know the situation, to work in a more enlightened, effective and practical way to solve problems of the people of that world.
  5. the idea of inculturation, to remove one of the major obstacles for our evangelizing and to understand the various cultures, so we can purify them according to the gospel and learn from them how to incarnate and express the faith intelligently in them, keeping all their authentic values.
  6. the idea of authority, understood as service, whose purpose is to discern the will of God and manifest it, as a mission, to those who come under that authority. Without abdicating the power of deciding, authority now seeks to know better the factors involved in reaching a decision through communication and dialogue with its subjects, reading the signs of the times as clues to God’s will.
  7. the idea of discernment, whose purpose is to help individuals and communities to stay faithful to the Spirit through a special spiritual preparation that is needed for making such a discernment properly.
  8. the idea of poverty, as a following of the poor Christ, who is the motive and model for evangelical poverty; and as an apostolic value of witness and solidarity with not only our fellow Jesuits, but all of humanity.
  9. the idea of pluralism, which admits diversity in many aspects of our intellectual or active apostolic lives, and in our very life styles.
  10. the idea of evaluation of our personal, as well as our community and institutional activities, so that we can judge their usefulness in our apostolate.
  11. the idea of working in apostolic groups (which means more than just working in “teams”), because the complexity and continuity of our work requires collaboration by many. In addition, even a minimum of reflection will reveal the need for an interdisciplinary collaboration too, to resolve human problems, which involve many complicated issues and therefore have to be analyzed by a number of disciplines if we are to find humanly vital solutions.
  12. the idea of integration, both among our many apostolates and within the personality of each Jesuit. Because the apostolate has a single purpose—to help man—it has a certain unity; but it has to integrate the multiple aspects of man, too. So too, the Jesuit is a single person, but he has to integrate in himself a number of values: human, religious, priestly; apostolic and ecclesial.
  13. the idea of collaboration with other institutions and groups. Partly, we are forced to this by our shortage of vocations and the number of defections; but, even more, we are convinced now that collaboration produces excellent results. Obviously, such collaboration implies an opening to the laity, whose contributions enormously expand our possibilities, even in the case of works that are not specifically of the Society.


B. Practical Transformations: Danger of Excesses and Deviations

If the procedures suggested by Decree 4 are applied, all those Ignatian ideas will be enriched and will cause a series of transformations. We will have to watch them closely, however, in order to forestall certain excesses and deviations, as well as needless fears and omissions.


Let me try to comment briefly on some of those transformations now—without caricaturing them, I hope—in order to bring out their strong and weak points. For I must admit that at this present moment of our evolution these transformations reveal certain weaknesses that have to be corrected. Please bear with me if I enumerate these transformations quickly and do not go into them very deeply. I trust I will not be judging them simplistically, nor liable to the accusation of extremism, not to hear people say: “He is one of those who find that everything is good if it is new, and bad if it is old;” or: “He is a ‘laudator temporis acti’ who considers anything wonderful if it’s old, but impossible if it’s new.”


I will list a number of transformations, then, without making a value judgment on them, for that would take us far afield. I would simply offer you food for thought, pointing out problem areas—but their hopeful aspects too.

  1. We are moving from an isolated kind of life, where we were quite separated from the people we wanted to serve, to a life of more frequent contacts, where we act as a leaven, so to speak; this transformation is applauded by many sectors of society that appreciate having closer and more flexible contacts with us.
  2. An attitude of reserve, and even of defensive apologetics—in fields like ecumenism and atheism, for instance—has been giving way to one of friendly dialogue and personal understanding; we distinguish now more carefully between ideologies and those who hold them, and we cultivate human contacts with everyone around us in an attitude of openness and respect.
  3. We have moved from regarding the superior as someone wrapped in an aura of authority and standing on a pedestal, to a notion of authority as primarily service; a superior used to express his decisions in the first person singular, but today he is more likely to make them after a dialogue that is both personal and collective, that brings the subjects in, responsibly, on the formulation of his decisions.
  4. The former reserved life of individual Jesuits has been giving way to one of greater communication; this is evident in our interpersonal and community relationships.
  5. The old idea, often subconsciously held, that because we are religious we are very different from other people, which made us adopt certain postures of superiority, has been replaced by a realization that we are very much like other people—and that we can learn a lot from them, too.
  6. We have changed from doing our apostolic work as individuals to doing it in a group, and with a greater community sense.
  7. Our former pedagogy of teaching by transmitting “packaged” learning to our students is yielding ground to a pedagogy of dialogue, in which the student takes an active part in co-educating himself. 8. We have moved from isolated houses of formation in the countryside to houses that place our Jesuit students in contact with the realities of modern life, so as to help them to fit easily into their broader spiritual, academic and apostolic tasks.
  8. We have gone from a uniformity of thought to a pluralism that is the fruit of inculturation, of freedom of investigation, etc. and that admirably suits the scientific and pastoral positions we must hold today.
  9. A passive, submissive attitude is being replaced by a greater freedom to have—and to assert—one’s own ideas; this flows from a genuine sincerity and authenticity, and indeed at times from a true propheticism.
  10. The old fidelity to rules and orders is counterbalanced today by the encouragement of a responsible freedom that fosters personal initiative.
  11. From a formation limited to a fixed span of our early years we have gone ahead to insist on permanent formation, which keeps the apostle striving all his life long to update his spiritual and human preparedness for carrying out his apostolic work as effectively as possible.
  12. The traditional notion of poverty that emphasized especially its ascetical side has been broadened, as considerations of solidarity, not only among Jesuits, but among all religious and even among people at large modified its motivations and its practice; and as poverty came to be more appreciated for its witness value, making our work more credible and our life style better understood as a reaction to the consumer society.
  13. Our apostolic action, which in the past focused almost exclusively on individuals, now is directed also at structures, which we now see are extremely potent and determining factors in modern society.
  14. Major stress is now laid, not on being a member of one’s local community (in the past that emphasis sometimes undercut our sense of the universality of the Society), but rather on belonging to the entire Society.


C. Paradoxical Appearances: Balance of Terms in Dialectic

All these gradual shifts in emphasis could have a very harmful effect on the Society if we let only one of the two terms of the dialectic dominate.


—If being a leaven were to mean total secularization and a loss of all apostolic sense, for example;


—if authority were to degenerate, now that its traditional purpose has been reinterpreted, into a mere usefulness to the community or to its members;


—if freedom were to become a justification for refusing all norms and laws;


—if pluralism were to mean a scorn for unity even in essential matters;


—then clearly we would no longer be able to achieve the religious and apostolic objectives that those transformations were meant to facilitate.


Hence the great need for a constant re-evaluation of these processes, in order to anticipate deviations and abuses that could be very hard to correct if let go too long.


But if these processes go on under the impulse of the Spirit and in keeping with the Society’s original charism, then their effects will be most constructive; they will overcome the inevitable dialectical tensions and lead to a harmony of a higher order.


We see now that a sane pluralism will really promote greater union, since when people can hold different opinions on marginal or unimportant questions, they find it easier to agree on essentials, and feel more readily that they belong to a common apostolic family.


So too, a responsible use of freedom leads to an intimate oneness within the community, since fidelity to the Spirit will inspire us to a far more personal and radical service than any written law could; moreover, people who act freely rather than under orders, respond with an inner joy, with the freedom of those who love—and therefore want what the other wants.


The notion that authority is a function of service can lead to greater respect towards the superior (even though we might expect the exact opposite result), because the service in question is to carry out God’s will, which the superior communicates by giving a mission to the subject, after having sought it in a discernment. This is indeed a service, a mission that incorporates the subject into the apostolic life. For the superior who serves is God’s representative, and his services (his commands) are received as coming from God’s hand. That is what St. Ignatius meant when he wrote: “The superior ought to be obeyed because he holds the place of our Lord and God.”


Community life will help to develop the Jesuit’s personality, broadening and enriching his social sense through an interpersonal communication that reaches its loftiest heights in participated prayer. At those moments, the Lord communicates to us, through our brothers, the graces he first gave to them. And we, in turn, develop and enrich ourselves by giving ourselves to them. “There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.” Indeed, service and devotion to a brother is the most sublime act of charity. “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends.”


There are certainly risks here, as there are in any experiment, but they will bring us a greater security, as we seek after better means and techniques for our apostolate, replacing those that today are outdated.


The “multidisciplinarity” we are recommending can give us, once we overcome our initial confusion and hesitancy, real answers to the problems that so far are baffling us.


An authentic inculturation requires that we be open to other cultures. Indeed, one that would close in on itself and operate in an introverted fashion would be on inculturation at all: it would be an impoverishment and a loss. A true inculturation does not take away our self-identity, but assimilates everything that is positive from other cultures. This does not mean exhuming the cultures of centuries ago, but rediscovering their valid elements and combining them with the positive elements of other cultures, respecting their original idiosyncracy and always looking towards the future.


Our practice of poverty and our work for and with the poor will enable us to undertake imaginative new experiments and to work with the wealthy too, who, if our words cannot convince them, hopefully will be convinced by our example. For good example catches people’s attention, and in that sense our poverty can be a tremendous apostolic force.



Let us hope that the 32nd General Congregation is the expression of a constant Ignatian dialectical tension that will advance the “good” of the Society in its service of the Church. Let us hope too that the Society that will issue from that Congregation will be more Ignatian than ever.




Original Source:

Justice with Faith Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—II, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980, “Some Far-Reaching Vistas of Decree 4 of GC32,” pg. 141–170.

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