“Ecclesial Service,” Pedro Arrupe (1978)

The Ignatian Center for Spirituality in Rome closed a five-week conference on Ignatian Spirituality on February 18, 1978, with Pedro Arrupe delivering the following remarks. The Superior General of the Society of Jesus based his remarks on a phrase from the Jesuits’ Formula, approved by Pope Julius III in 1550.  For Arrupe, the phrase “To serve the Lord alone and the Church, His Bride, under the Roman Pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth” both expresses “the finality—the ‘why’—of the Society” as well as the subjective “ideal that ought to fill the heart of each son of the Society.” For the Society of Jesus, this phrase has serves as offered “in summary form an excellent way” of putting into the practice the urgings of the Second Vatican Council that religious orders adapt and renew their founding charisms to contemporary circumstances.

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



Soli Domino, ac Ecclesiae Ipsius Sponsae

Sub Romano Pontifice, Christi in Terris

Vicario, Servire


For this concluding conference of your Ignatian course I have chosen the following phrase from the Formula of the Institute approved by Julius III in 1550: “To serve the Lord alone and the Church, His Bride, under the Roman Pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth.”


These are inspired words, in which St. Ignatius and his companions enshrined in literary form the final result of a long investigation of their apostolic identity, and which, becoming converted into the charism of the Society, will be, over the course of centuries, the program of life and action for all those who are enrolled in it. These words, in fact, on the one hand express objectively the finality—the “why”—of the Society, but on the other hand, state subjectively what is the ideal that ought to fill the heart of each son of the Society.


It is a phrase, then, that admits of—that “demands!”—a profound analysis, from which will spring forth a greater understanding of the charism of the Society and a clarification of the ideological bases that should support every type of work that is apostolically sound.


I shall dwell, in turn, on each of these three concepts:

—divine service (‘to serve the Lord alone”)

—service to the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth

—service to the Church, the Bride of Christ.



I. Divine Service: “To Serve the Lord Alone”


The Mystique of Service

Service is the key idea of the charism of Ignatius. It is an idea whose moving power achieved in the life and spirituality of Ignatius—even in his mystical phase—a total realization: unconditioned and limitless service, service that is large-hearted and humble. It could be said that even the Trinitarian “lights,” which enriched his mystical life, rather than leading to a passive and contemplative quieting, spurred him to a greater service of this God he contemplated with such great love and reverence.


With the inevitability with which an idea that has taken strong hold of one manifests itself in deeds and communicates itself to those close to one, Ignatius passed on to his first companions this mystique of service. Nadal will say: “The Society walks along the path of the Spirit. It struggles for God under the standard of the Cross. It serves the Lord alone and the Church His Bride under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth.”


The embodiment of this service in concrete form is the object of an interesting evolution that covers the entire period of the life of Ignatius from his conversion up to the point when his charism stands fully defined in the founding moments of the Society and expressed in the Formula of the Institute, especially in that of 1550, approved by Julius III. The whole history of the Society, which is the unfolding of the Ignatian intuition in the course of the centuries, finds no better one-word synthesis than that of “service.”


One authoritative scholar, Father de Guibert, defines the spirituality of the Society in function of service: “service out of love, apostolic service for the greater glory of God in generous conformity to the will of God, in the renunciation of self-love and of every personal interest, in the following of Christ, the head so passionately loved.”


Evolution of the idea of service, from Loyola to Rome The idea of divine service—of the greater service of God—shines throughout the life of the “pilgrim” Ignatius as a guiding star that leads him through unknown pathways towards the realization of the singular mission for which God had chosen him.


Ignatius, at the outset of his conversion, understood the divine service as in his time one conceived of a “knight,” who served his king or lord, or as he had understood when he himself was serving the Duke of Najera, or even as he had imagined serving the lady of his dreams: “with feats of arms that he would have accomplished in her service.” All his thinking was of doing penance and “great external works” as he had read in the Flos Sanctorum that the saints had done. Thus his first resolution was to go barefooted to Jerusalem, “with such disciplines and fastings as a generous soul, fired by God, would desire to do.” Clad in a penitential sackcloth, at Montserrat, before the Virgin’s altar, he stood vigil with his new arms of a Knight of God.


He goes down, then, to Manresa, and begins to put into practice his resolutions. But it is there that God awaits him to give the right direction to the route of his life. Here happens a first radical change. Illuminated by an unusual light, Ignatius learns that there is another manner, more perfect and more intimate, of serving God: to go throughout the world, as the apostles of Christ and under the banner of Christ, a banner of poverty and humility, to spread His sacred teaching to every status and class of persons. He understands that “to distinguish himself” in every service of this Eternal King and Universal Lord means to follow Him, as the apostles followed Him, and to share the life that He himself led for the salvation of souls, by making himself poor with Christ poor, humiliated with Christ burdened with opprobrium, and considered as a fool for the love of Christ, who was Himself first regarded as such. He realizes that this is the livery of the servants of Christ. Therefore he asks insistently of the most holy Virgin, and of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself and of God the Father for the grace to be received under the banner of the “most high and true Captain.”


Thereafter, Jerusalem will attract his thoughts and desires. He will be confirmed in his plan of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. But this will not be a temporary pilgrimage of penance and devotion alone. He decides to stay forever in the land of the Lord and to preach there to the “infidels” the Christian faith and doctrine in the same “villages and towns” in which Christ had preached and suffered; “thus,” explains Polanco, “he hoped to better satisfy the thirst he had for the salvation of souls and the desire to suffer for Christ.” Hence his dismay when the ecclesiastical authority, in which he believed he heard the voice of God, told him that he could not remain in Palestine. “What must be done?” he asked himself; perhaps the Lord does not accept him in His service, does not receive him under His banner?


With a wise imprudence he follows step by step the immediate guidance of the Holy Spirit, which is going to lead him gently where he knows not. He goes on thus discovering, day after day, new features in the picture of God’s call. He recognizes that apostolic service calls for learning and study. He sees that to evangelize and to sow the divine word, in its full realizations, he must attend to the sanctification of a Christian, and thus to the administration of the sacraments, and that this supposes holy orders and the priesthood.


Nevertheless he does not abandon the idea of Jerusalem. Together with his companions, whom he had recruited for the apostolic service of Christ, he makes a vow to “go to Jerusalem and to spend their lives for the welfare of souls.” The so-called “papal clause” of the Montmartre vow—or rather the promise that was attached to “present themselves to the Vicar of Christ, so that he might make use of them where he should judge was demanded by the greater glory of God and the good of souls”—was, then, only a device, an expedient, for the hypothetical case in which over the space of a year the journey to the Holy Land should not be possible, or that once they should have arrived there, they could not remain.


The hypothetical case became a reality. Neither in 1537 nor in 1538 did any ship set sail from Venice for the East. We can imagine the clouds that had begun to gather over the spirit of Ignatius, as gradually, one after another, the various possibilities grew fewer of achieving what he had thought was the divine call: the apostolic service of Christ in the land of Christ.


Meanwhile, he comes to Rome with Blessed Peter Favre and with Father Laynez. He does not come there of his own initiative. He comes there because he is called, as Favre explicitly testifies. The mysterious prayer that Ignatius repeats during the journey, asking of the most holy Virgin that “she will to place him with her Son,” permits us perhaps to discern the anxiety in his heart. Once more he finds himself at sea before the hidden ways of Providence. Perhaps the summons that he had heard at Manresa was not authentic? He has recourse to the most holy Virgin. Just as then, at Manresa, he had asked her for the grace to be received under the banner of Christ, so now he petitions with insistence to be “put” with Christ, to be admitted to His service.


His prayer is heard, but in a way different from what he had imagined. Once again, a divine intervention alters the course of his life. God the Father “puts him with His Son;” “I will that You take him as your servant,” and the Son, who appears to him with the cross on His shoulder, receives him into His service: “I will that you serve Us.” And it is here that the unforeseen shift of perspective happens: this service of Christ must be realized not at Jerusalem, but at Rome. God the Father impresses on his soul these words: “I will show favor to you at Rome.” Ignatius does not know at the outset how to interpret them. In his conception of service of Christ, that is to share in His life of sacrifice, he thinks of the sufferings that ought to be embraced. “I do not know,” he tells his companions, “what will be done to us; perhaps we will be crucified at Rome.” But when, a year later, in fulfillment of the “papal clause” of the Montmartre vow, he and his companions present themselves to the Supreme Pontiff, and Paul III reserves to himself the right to send them personally where he shall judge it to be for the greater glory of God, Ignatius understands the shining grandeur of the service of Christ to which the Lord has called the infant Society. Christ had given His apostles the mandate to preach the Gospel. The same Christ, visible in His Vicar—as Ignatius loves to call the Pope—the sweet-Christ-an-earth of St. Catherine of Siena, is the one who will now command these new servants of His to sow the seed “in the field of the Lord” and to proclaim the divine Word. The “papal clause,” that was only a last resort at Montmartre, now comes to occupy the central stage. This explains how, scarcely had the decision been taken to found the Society as a religious order, the first resolution that they make is to renew or confirm or define that which they had at that time promised, extending it also to future companions, by means of a new vow of obedience to the Pope, with which all offer themselves to go to whatever place or region, among the believers or unbelievers. Thus they welcome generously and solemnly the new element added by God, thanks to the providential intervention of Paul III, to their vocation or charism of service.



Beginning and Principal Foundation of the Society

Rightly, then, Blessed Peter Favre has seen in this papal intervention a “most evident vocation and basis as it were of the whole Society.” And St. Ignatius himself declares in a manner still more explicit that the vow and promise to God of obedience to the Vicar of Christ, is our beginning and principal foundation.


Historically, this vow was the “beginning” of the Society because it provided the occasion for its foundation as a religious order. The decision of Paul III to give personal assignments to the companions posed a risk to the union that had heretofore existed among them. They deliberate, then, and reach a decision to strengthen this union more than ever, “turning themselves into a body,” that in the last analysis would become a religious body, with its own superior, to whom obedience would be pledged.


The vow of obedience to the Pope is, moreover, our “principal foundation.” This is in the first place because, as we have seen, it constitutes the raison d’etre of the Society as a religious order. Secondly, because it makes concrete and specific the service of Christ that is proper to the Society, the “being put with Christ,” so much desired by St. Ignatius and so insistently petitioned by him.


Likewise it is “the principal foundation” because it confers its special form on the structure of the Society. Let me cite only a few examples.

(a) Universality, mobility and availability, primary characteristics of our Institute, are nothing more than necessary consequences of special obedience to the Pope “with respect to missions.” From the start of their vocation—an ancient Ignatian document affirmed—the members of the Society “have felt this spirit and grace of God,” and with the pontifical approval they have put it into practice: “to work intensively ‘in the field of the Lord’ for the salvation of souls through preaching, sacred lectures, spiritual exercises and other works of charity, ‘ever with sandals on and ready to set out to prepare the way for the gospel of peace,’ to fulfill the order and command of the Supreme Pontiff, in whatever part of the world he prescribes.” And with universality, mobility and availability, goes the exclusion of all that means being tied to a fixed place, such as choir, the office of parish priest, the care of religious communities, chaplaincies, etc.

(b) Obedience is the virtue that St. Ignatius loved most. We know that. But also obedience to a superior within the Society is in close relationship with special obedience to the Pope. This constitutes at one and the same time a bond of union and cohesion in so far as it neutralizes the disunifying forces that are latent in the pontifical missions, and a link, through the person of the Superior General, of the body of the Society with the Roman Pontiff; a link that facilitates these same missions, as Pope Gregory XIV expressly declared.

(c) Hence, too, the necessity of the manifestation of conscience. Because “in conformity with our profession and manner of proceeding, we should always be ready to travel about in various regions of the world, on all occasions when the Supreme Pontiff or our immediate superior orders us. To proceed without error in such missions, or in sending some persons and not others, or some for one task and others for different ones, it is not only highly but even supremely important for the superior to have complete knowledge of the inclinations and motions of those who are in his charge, and to what defects or sins they have been or are moved and inclined.

(d) The poverty proper to the Society ought to be “evangelical” poverty, “missionary” poverty, that poverty that our common Lord Jesus takes for Himself and teaches to the Apostles, when he sends them out to preach, as we read in Chapter 10 of St. Matthew.

(e) Total availability in the hands of the Roman Pontiff supposes a long period of probation and solid formation. Only “men who are prudent in Christ and distinguished for their integrity of life and intellectual formation” can be safely proposed to the Pope, so that he may make use of them in any kind of “mission,” in any part of the world, in .every circumstance. This is the aim of the experiments that belong to the novitiate of the Society: that the novices may be prepared to “eat poorly and to sleep poorly” and to beg for alms “when it shall be expedient or necessary for them as they travel through various regions of the world, according to what the supreme vicar of Christ our Lord may order or assign to them, or, in his place, the one who will find himself superior of the Society. For our profession requires that we be prepared and very much ready for whatever is enjoined upon us in our Lord and at whatsoever time, without asking for or expecting any reward in this present and transitory life, but hoping always for that life which in its entirety is eternal, through God’s supreme mercy.”

(f) In order not to dwell longer on this point, I will add only one other characteristic of the Institute of the Society: the style of common life with regard to externals. The theme that we find advanced in the first Formula of the Institute (the “Five Chapters”) is the harshness of life on “mission;” if an austere rule were added to this harshness, human nature would falter, and anyone could be excused, if he invoked the austerity of the rule, from not being so diligent in missionary work.

(g) Finally, the vow of obedience to the Pope is the “principal foundation” of the Society for another reason that is more important and profound than the shaping of its structure: for the sense of direction that it confers. Prescinding from the strict obligation imposed by the vow, there is no doubt that it infuses into the entire body of the Society a spirit of special devotion and attachment to the Holy See, one that other religious institutes do not necessarily have. Greater devotion to the Apostolic See, together with a more certain direction of the Holy Spirit, is the reason for the vow that we read in the Formula of the Institute. Our Holy Father, Paul VI, while confirming the line of thought of his predecessors in the papacy, has noted as· one of the four characteristic marks of the Society the quality of being “united to the Roman Pontiff by a special bond of love and service.” The Society has indeed always lived that spirit of “love and service” to the Roman Pontiff, as history demonstrates. Friends and foes have recognized this without exception, whether in praise or in blame.




II. To Serve Christ and His Vicar


The reason why I lingered over these few details from the life of St. Ignatius and from the origins of the Society is because this historical background furnishes a more luminous picture of our vocation, as it is sketched in the first words of the Formula of the Institute.


The first paragraph of the Formula is a lengthy sentence whose first part (the protasis) presents the Society’s vocation in a few general lines, while the second (the apodosis) defines this more concretely, making more precise the ends that are peculiarly its own and the specific means for obtaining these ends.


In the earliest edition of the “Five Chapters,” the first part reads this way: “Whoever, in our Society, which we desire to be known by the name of Jesus, wishes to serve in God’s army (Deo militare), under the standard of the Cross and to serve only the Lord and His Vicar on earth” (soli Domino atque eius in terris Vicario servire).



Service to Christ alone

These phrases contain elements that are common to all religious institutes and others that are peculiar to the Society. The Pauline expression “serve in God’s army” was used frequently in the Middle Ages to designate religious life. The same is to be said of soli Domino servire, if this is understood in general terms. St. Ignatius himself defines the religious vocation as that in which an individual “has abandoned all the world, and dedicated himself completely to the greater service and glory of his Creator and Lord.” The Second Vatican Council teaches that by the vows a religious “is totally committed to the service of God, the supreme object of love” (Deo summe dilecto totaliter mancipatur).


Nevertheless, in the Society this service given exclusively to God takes on its peculiar modality. It is a “militia of God” that is especially related to the person of the Incarnate Word; it is intimately linked with the Christ who in the vision of La Storta appeared to Ignatius with the cross on His shoulders and received him into His service and under His banner, “the standard of the Cross.” Jesus Christ, therefore, “although Lord and God of all creation,” is in a special way the head of the Society, and it, consequently, wishes to be called by His own name, “as a company or squadron is accustomed to take the name of its captain.”



… and to His Vicar

Added to this is a completely new element: the reference to the Pope: “To serve the Lord alone and His vicar on earth.” This is a meaningful expression, one that combines in the same concept Christ and His Vicar. The service of Christ and the service of His Vicar are not two distinct services, but a single service. A “Vicar” is one who acts in place of another. The Pope acts “in the name” of Christ; he transmits to the Society the will of Christ. In his words—St. Ignatius wrote to the Bishop of Calahorra—“heaven resounds and in no way the earth.” Thus to serve the Lord alone and His Vicar is—as the Formula itself states later on—“to serve in God’s army under faithful obedience to the Roman Pontiff.” Father Nadal has expressed this in telling fashion: “The Society wishes to follow Christ and to be united to Him as fully as possible; and since in this life we cannot perceive Him with the senses other than in His Vicar, we submit ourselves to the latter by a special vow…. In him it is Christ who speaks to us and who assures us of His will.”


We know, nevertheless, that obedience in the Society has, so to speak, a double dimension. There is one obedience that has “missions” as its object and another that is concerned with the internal organization of the body of the Society, with its preservation and its growth. In other words, there is an obedience whose binding force derives from the fourth vow and another that obliges us in virtue of the third vow. The first is spoken of chiefly in Part VII of the Constitutions; the second is treated especially in Chapter One of Part VI. Hence the question: to which of these two obediences is reference being made in the phrase of the Formula on which we have been commenting?


I think that it refers to both of them together. The service of Christ, to which the Society is dedicated and with which the service of His Vicar is identified, is total and unlimited. On the other hand, the Constitutions present the Pope as the supreme active subject, as much for one obedience as for the other. As far as “missions” are concerned, it is certain that the Superior General possesses a “complete authority” with respect to them, but only in virtue of the “concession made by the Supreme Pontiff” and “in his place,” as his delegate. It is this that confers a notable meaning and dignity on whatever “mission” or assignment that the General confers, “by himself or through persons under him.” All this is clear and is easily understood. What is surprising is rather the fact that, at a time when it was not yet a common opinion that religious are bound to obey the Pope, as a supreme superior, by reason of the ordinary vow of obedience, St. Ignatius, speaking of this vow in Part VI of the Constitutions, exhorts us to apply “all our energies with very special care to the virtue of obedience shown first to the Supreme Pontiff, and then to the superiors of the Society.”


The Ignatian doctrine on obedience follows after this exhortation: it is extended “to all the things into which obedience can with charity be extended;” it is an obedience that is ready at the voice of the superior “as if it were coming from Christ our Lord;” it is a perfect obedience, of execution, of will and of judgment; “with great alacrity, spiritual joy and perseverance,” “renouncing with blind obedience any contrary opinion and judgment of our own,” an obedience of total availability in the hands of superiors as if one were a lifeless body or an old man’s staff…. Thus it is clear that in the thought of St. Ignatius this entire doctrine on obedience applies to obedience to the Pope and to that in the first place in a special and outstanding manner. Consistent with this attitude of loving obedience is the concern of Ignatius to reject everything that could seem as opposition or criticism directed to the Vicar of Christ.



III. Service of the Church


The Man of the Church

In the Ignatian churches of Rome, the “Gesù” and “Saint Ignatius,” two works of art give plastic expression, in unsurpassable fashion, to two salient features of the spirituality of our Founder. In the Gesù, the statue of the Saint above his tomb represents, according to Leturia, Ignatius the priest, from whom flows the entire dynamism of the Society in time and space. In the Church dedicated to him, Ignatius, who overlooks from the main altar the marvelous perspectives of Brother Pozzo, is Loyola the mystic of the Cardoner and of La Storta. We must keep both these aspects in mind in order to understand the “thinking with the Church” of our Founder.


St. Ignatius recognized himself as a son of the Church back at Manresa. Nevertheless, the development of his “thinking with the Church” advanced in parallel fashion—and in the process is conditioned by it—with that of his priestly formation, and shows decisive traces of his mystical experiences.


At Manresa, the mystical intrusion “from on high” of grace made Ignatius into a “new soldier of Christ and a man of the Church.” Nadal says: “At this time [of the vision of the Cardoner, during the stay at Manresa] the Lord bestowed on him great insights and very lively sentiments concerning the divine mysteries and the Church.”


Hugo Rahner confirms this: “At Manresa Iñigo the pilgrim and the penitent is gradually transformed into Ignatius the man of the Church.”


A consequence of all this is—among other things—that this converted Ignatius who placed no limits on the “more” of his penances, once he had become a “man of the Church” moderates his austerities within reasonable limits. Thus he writes to Teresa Rajadell in 1536: “Many times the Lord moves and urges our soul to a work…. But it is necessary to conform ourselves to the commandments and precepts of the Church.” The reason for this manner of proceeding is to be found in this phrase of his: “For linking Christ our Lord the Bridegroom and His Bride the Church, there is one and the same Spirit; ruling and guiding us for our souls’ good. For our Holy Mother the Church is guided and ruled by the same Spirit, the Lord who gave the Ten Commandments.”


And since in Ignatius the distance between fully matured thought and action is brief, his thinking with the Church is translated quickly into a practical and apostolic reality: the “Rules for Thinking with the Church.”


I have said that the expression “to serve the Lord alone and His Vicar on earth” does not signify two distinct services, but the single service of Christ, whose will is transmitted to us by His Vicar on earth. The expression, however, was not sufficiently clear. Polanco sees that it could be understood in the sense that the Roman Pontiff alone “is served by the Society.” This—he warned—could have left the impression of “some form of adulation.” In addition, there are indeed others, besides the Pope, who “are served by the Society,” such as the bishops. Although this comment would be based on a mistaken interpretation, because others also could have fallen into the same error, St. Ignatius agreed to a “moderation” of the expression “with some words that stated that the entire Church should be served, but as subordinated to the Supreme Pontiff.” The search, then, for a way of expressing the substance of this reply led to the addition—undoubtedly with a new intervention from Ignatius or at least his subsequent approval—of a formulation that is still more flawless: “to serve the Lord alone and the Church His Bride, under the Roman, Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth.”


To serve the Vicar of Christ was replaced by a phrase that is the equivalent, but more clear: to serve under the Vicar of Christ, (sub fideli obedientia Romani Pontificis). Explicit mention is made in the new formulation of the service of the Church; but it is a service to it as the Bride of Christ. We remain, thus, always within the framework of service to the Lord alone. For the loving union between Christ and His Spouse is so intimate that the patristic tradition did not hesitate to speak of a single mystical person, the “whole Christ” of St. Augustine. The groom is the head of the bride—St. Paul say—just as Christ, the head of His Bride, the Church, that lives and works in her, making visible His action through the supreme and universal ministry of His Vicar, the Pope, and the subordinate ministry of the bishops and priests.


I have described as “explicit” the mention of the service to the Church in this last editing of the text on which we are commenting, because implicitly it was already included in service to Christ and to his Vicar in the previous version. To the Vicar of Christ, in fact, has been entrusted the care of the universal Church: “feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” It is precisely for this reason that Ignatius and his companions decided to place themselves at his disposal: that is because the supreme Pontiff is “universal lord of the entire harvest of Christ,” and as such “he has greater knowledge of what is better for the whole of Christianity.” Still, the express mention of service to the Church, the Bride of Christ, makes us take into account the particular Churches, in which the universal Church inserts itself intimately by taking on various aspects and different external forms. The Society serves Christ also in the particular Churches, while remaining always at the disposal of the Universal Pastor.


Thinking with the Church: Then and Today

The vision or the concept that St. Ignatius might have had of the Church he has revealed to us in the famous rules to which we have already made reference, “For the proper sentiment that we ought to have in the militant Church,” that are added at the end of the book of the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius does not pretend to be writing here a speculative and theoretical tract on the matter. His purpose, naturally, is eminently practical and apostolic. He wishes to enlighten his exercitants in order that they may know how to guide themselves with security in the middle of the general confusion of ideas in which they can feel themselves involved. But he cannot do other than to reveal his own personal experience, that which he himself had felt and feels, under the influence of extraordinary graces, regarding the Church and the attitude of a Christian with respect to it.


For this reason such rules have a lasting value: the mystical experience of Ignatius that they reveal transcends differences of time and circumstances. Still, this is not the sole reason for their timeliness. Certainly the historical context in which St. Ignatius wrote differs greatly from ours. The errors and the currents of thought of the 16th century, which Ignatius had before his eyes, do not coincide neatly with the errors and currents of thought in this last quarter of the 20th century. Nevertheless, “in many aspects (upheavals, reflections, analyses, restructurings, driven aspirations…), that world was not vastly different from ours.” Besides, the method employed by St. Ignatius is not polemical. The rules are not proposed to disprove errors. They are directed to Catholics and they point out to them the way to think and act correctly, without allowing themselves to be carried away by the various tendencies that have given rise to such errors. Well, these tendencies, based on human nature, are the same in all ages, even if they manifest themselves in different guises.


The Ignatian vision of the Church is supernatural. In his mystical experience Ignatius reached the point of glimpsing the mystery of the Church, which became one of the principal teachings of the Second Vatican Council. He proposes the Church to us in the first place as the Bride of Christ, vivified and guided by the Spirit of Christ; and it is on this that the fundamental attitude of a Christian is based. He sees it also as a mother, a virgin mother, who “raises up to a new and immortal life children conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of God.” The expression “our Holy Mother the Church” is the one that we hear most frequently issuing from his lips. But, given his practical and apostolic purpose, the Church that he has in mind here is not that triumphant Church, the heavenly Jerusalem, but the “militant Church,” the Church on pilgrimage in this world, and this Church not only in its spiritual or charismatic aspect, but also in its visible and institutional aspect.


For this reason he does not forget to speak of it, one time or other, as the “hierarchical Church,” and the first Latin translation, made probably by St. Ignatius himself, specifies: Ecclesia hierarchica, quae Romana est, “the hierarchical Church, which is Roman.”


Finally, the Church considered here by St. Ignatius is not at all an ideal Church, nor the primitive community of Jerusalem, but the Church as it has gone on developing over the course of history, the Church of his time, that of Stations, of indulgences and of lighted candles …, and, we can add, the Church before the Council of Trent, with its abuses, its ignorant clergy, its absentee bishops, its worldly Popes and cardinals.


In this Church that is militant, hierarchical and contemporary, St. Ignatius tells us, we ought to have a “sound sentiment,” we ought to form correct and orthodox opinions. It has been rightly observed that in the language of St. Ignatius the words “sentiment” and “form an opinion” have a very rich meaning. This is not a matter of simple intellectual knowledge. It is a knowledge that is imbued with affectivity, the fruit of spiritual experience, that energizes the entire man. There is here a “sentiment” that is “fostered in the Church:” the “thinking” is of a member of the Mystical Body who lives the divine life of the Church, and thus in harmony with the thinking of the Church itself. This sensus fidei is a gift that the Holy Spirit pours into the spirit of a Christian. Thus it is not out of the ordinary to find simple, uneducated persons who possess it in a high degree.


Rules to form Attitudes

But at this point a difficulty could arise. If this “sound sentiment” is a divine gift, what need is there of rules or norms? Besides, what use can we gain from them? I will answer with the words of St. Ignatius in another context: “Although all this can be taught only by the unction of the Holy Spirit … nevertheless the way can at least be opened by some suggestions which aid and dispose one for the effect which must be produced by divine grace.” The first advice, the first rule, points out to us what should be the fundamental attitude of a Christian whether it be a matter of doctrine or of conduct: “we should put away completely our own opinion and keep our minds ready and eager to give our entire obedience to the undoubted Bride of our Lord.” St. Ignatius goes on to say, probably with Erasmus in mind, that “to arrive at complete certainty” we should believe that the object is black which seems to our eyes to be white, “if that should be what the hierarchical Church says.” And this is so not because of the force of the arguments that provide external support for the affirmations of the ecclesiastical magisterium, but because “linking Christ our Lord the Bridegroom and His Bride the Church, there is one and the same Spirit, ruling and guiding us for our souls’ good.” For it is one and the same Spirit that inspired Sacred Scripture and that now directs and governs the Church. To the Emperor of Ethiopia Ignatius wrote in this vein: “It is a singular advantage to be united to the Mystical Body of the Catholic Church that is vivified and guided by the Holy Spirit that, as the Evangelist says, ‘teaches all truth,’ and it is a great gift to be enlightened by the light of the doctrine and grounded on the firm base of the Church, of which St. Paul said to Timothy, ‘this is the house of God, the pillar and ground of truth,’ and to which Christ our Lord promises His own assistance when He says: ‘Behold I am with you all days even to the end of the world.’”


This unconditioned attachment to the Church, the Bride of Christ, and to its decisions is the “spirit” of these Ignatian rules that the 32nd General Congregation urges us to “keep undimmed.”


The same Congregation wishes us to apply these rules “with vigor to the changed conditions of our times.” It seems to me that the best way to carry out this desire of the General Congregation is to be faithful to the various directives set forth or sometimes presupposed in these rules, prescinding from the concrete circumstances in which St. Ignatius in his time saw them being revealed. I will cite only a few examples.


One tendency that has emerged constantly in the history of the Church, from the ancient gnostics down to some of the “reformers” of our day, is that of seeking the perfection of Christian life outside of or even contrary to the Church of Christ, on the margins of dogma and of ecclesial institutions. St. Ignatius puts us on guard. The internal guidance of grace cannot be at odds with what the hierarchical and institutional Church decides. Because the Spirit that is “ruling and guiding us for our souls’ good” is the same Spirit that animates and directs the Church, the Bride of Christ. More clearly, perhaps, he had put it beforehand in the rule for the election: “Anything we propose to make a decision about … should also be of positive advantage to our Holy Mother the Apostolic Church, and not be bad and contrary to her interests.” We find the same teaching in his letters. For example, he writes to Sister Teresa Rajadell on divine inspirations, and cautions her that these ought necessarily be in conformity with the commandments and the precepts of the Church and with obedience to our superiors, “because the same divine Spirit is in all.” Then, to St. Francis Borgia he gives the instruction that the gifts of divine consolation should be received “with humility and reverence for our Holy Mother the Church.”


Another tendency, or perhaps a variation of the preceding one, would opt for a Church that is purely interior, invisible, stripped of any exterior fabric and juridical structure. This would be the tendency of the humanistic rationalism of Erasmus in the 16th century. In our days it will be that of certain secularist trends that claim to abolish all that exteriorly has a sacred or religious character, sometimes not sparing the consecrated life and not even the sacred liturgy itself. St. Ignatius, on the contrary, teaches praise and esteem for those things that this tendency condemns or minimizes, not only in the institutions of the Church that are basic manifestations of the Christian life (such as the practice of the sacraments, participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, religious consecration…), but also in those external forms of popular devotion approved and blessed by the Church.


Thus, too, it is characteristic of false reformers of all times to protest publicly against the conduct of superiors, “whether temporal or spiritual,” and against their “regulations” or instructions, without sparing either the bishops or even the Supreme Pontiff. St. Ignatius recognizes that at times the personal conduct and even the “regulations” of “superiors” are not praiseworthy. But he cautions that to criticize and condemn them in dealing with “ordinary people” serves no other purpose than to provoke “complaint and scandal,” arousing hostility towards their superiors, without doing any good. The effective and legitimate way of obviating harm is to speak with the persons who are in a position to correct these failings or to correct whatever may be defective in these instructions. A model of this way of acting was St. Ignatius himself. Few have toiled with such effectiveness for Catholic reform “in head and members;” and yet one would seek in vain in his voluminous correspondence for a word of criticism of his superiors.


In order not to dwell too long on this point, I will cite only one other tendency. In confronting the paradoxes of Christianity the limited nature of the human mind leads men frequently to extol one-sidedly one of the two terms, leaving the other in the shadow or sometimes suppressing it. Some Catholics of the 16th century, infected by Lutheranism, tended to extol the importance of faith and grace to the detriment of works and human freedom, speaking of predestination in such a way that any exercise of virtue could seem useless. Modern anthropocentrism proceeds in the opposite direction: it puts the emphasis almost exclusively on freedom, effort, psychic conditionings, the rights of man, and forgets (if it does not deny) the primary role of God and our dependence on Him. The teaching of St. Ignatius on this point is twofold. First of all, he warns us not to permit ourselves to be led astray by similar one-sided expositions of Catholic teaching. We ought to present the whole truth, placing careful emphasis on the aspects that currently one would like to pass over in silence. In the second place, he recommends to us prudence in speaking publicly of such problems. There are questions about which discussion can take place among competent persons, but which, if they are proposed without discretion to “ordinary people” can be the occasion of their falling into error.





The Second Vatican Council has indicated various general principles that ought to guide religious in the path of “adaptation and renewal” (accommodata renovatio): the following of Christ, the spirit of the Founder, the life of the Church, the circumstances of the world of today, interior spiritual renewal. I think that the words of the Formula of the Institute which have been the object of our reflections offer us in summary form an excellent way of putting the conciliar norms into practice.


In those words our Founder has expressed the very inner core of his spirit “the beginning and principal foundation” of the Society. These show us what is the “special hallmark” (peculiaris indoles) of our Institute: to give apostolic service to Christ alone, in company with Him and under His banner, throughout the world, for the purpose of spreading his divine teaching. Apostolic service to Christ, that inserts us into the life of the Church, which we also serve as the Bride of Christ, His Mystical Body, His “pleroma.” And all this under faithful obedience to the Vicar of Christ, who sends us in His name where he, as Universal Pastor, knows that our ministry will be best deployed for the glory of God and the spiritual welfare of our neighbors in the circumstances of today’s world. Finally, to live sincerely and fully this “spirit” of our Founder will be the most effective means of spiritual renewal, which in turn will enliven the entire body and works of the Society.


I must not dwell on this any further. But I do not wish to close these reflections without putting to myself, and without putting to you, this question—what is the current meaning to be read, in this brief instant of eternity in which it is given to us to live, with its special circumstances, in these programmatic words that we have just been commenting on: “To serve the Lord alone and the Church, His bride, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth”?


This is without doubt the question that the 32nd General Congregation posed, and that all of us who are Jesuits, in its footsteps, have been posing to ourselves, when it undertook to translate into concrete, current terms the intuition and the charism of St. Ignatius that are crystallized in the Formula and in the Constitutions. In both one and the other of these texts, St. Ignatius, although he enumerates some concrete ministries and activities of which he had personal experience, put the emphasis on criteria and principles that ought to keep the Society engaged in the greater service of God and the help of souls. With this Ignatius assures to the Society an unfailing dynamism—the breath of the Holy Spirit that prompts to continuing inquiry—without it being tied to concrete situation or form, a dynamism that ever tests that which is being done in relation to what could or ought to be done. Nothing is further removed from the Ignatian “more” (magis)—a concept that refers primarily to service—than to resign oneself to a paralyzing immobility, or a longstanding routine and fixed uniformity, that would turn the Society into a museum piece—as beautiful as you want—or a rare item in the archives.


To maintain ourselves in this state of continuing creativity that the Ignatian intuition not only allows but indeed imposes on us, we should turn to this beginning and principal foundation, to the idea of service, with its incalculable potential, that not only determines our personal· vocation and directs our apostolate, but also gives a basic structure to the Society.


It is clear that we cannot translate the demands of this service into contemporary terms without knowing beforehand, in all their depth and breadth, the changes that have taken place above all in the last decades. The light that the Spirit has showered on the Church in Vatican II permits of a better evaluation of the scene.

—What is the meaning today of “mission” and “service” understood in relation to “the pursuits that are more proper to our vocation?”

—Which are the boundaries today of the concept of “secular employments?”

—Which occupations can today be called “ordinary” and which are “of great importance and proper to our Institute?”

—What does “to preach in poverty” presuppose today?

—What are the consequences, today, of our absolute availability “with loins girt day and night?”

—Where does one find today the greater needs, or the more urgent, or the more universal (not only geographically, but also by reason of the transcendent nature of their problematic)?

—Where does one encounter today the persons or the means that have a “multiplier” effect? Are they still “the princes, lords, magistrates” as in the days of St. Ignatius?

—Where has the enemy sown the cockle, so that there the Society can “labor more intensely?”


It is these and similar questions that are put to us time and again. And we cannot fail to recognize that we have not always known how to exploit all the energizing power of this “beginning and principal foundation” of ours: either because we have not discovered its full potential, or because we have not applied it in a sufficiently radical fashion or as the circumstances demand, or because the passageway between our principles and our actions has been blocked by the fears and the unconscious resistances that rise up from the unfathomable depths of our being.


All these obstacles must be overcome if we wish to come to be Ignatian men in the nth degree and if we wish the Society to lend a service that does not contradict its own charism or its own history. This should be done on the basis of discernment and renewal, and certainly it is not the task of a single day. But we nourish the fond hope of not standing still on the path that leads to this ideal, and we have the certainty that the Spirit, which led Ignatius and his companions by such unforeseen and providential paths to put themselves in a posture of unconditioned service at the orders of the Supreme Pontiff, will abide with us in our renewed service at the orders of the Vicar of Christ.


I close with some splendid lines from a letter of January, 1543 to Dr. Bernal. In them our Founder gives us the ultimate reason, that of faith, for his availability for service at the orders of the Pope: “As to the indeed good and holy desire … that there be some [of the Society] for Spain and others for the Indies, I too desire that. And also for many other places. But because we are not our own men, nor do we wish [to be], we are content to wander wherever the Vicar of Christ our Lord ordains to send us; at whose voice while heaven echoes, and in no way the earth, in us I feel neither any laziness nor any disturbance.”



Original Source:

Challenge to Religious Life Today: Selected Letters and Addresses—I, ed. Jerome Aixala. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1979, “Ecclesial Service,” pg. 253–277.

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