The delegates at the 34th General Congregation recognized the “distinctive importance” of the tradition within the Society of Jesus for “intellectual labor.” They note in the following decree that this contemporary work was of great importance since “present needs and challenges” require not only a Jesuit’s “ongoing acquisition of knowledge” but “the ongoing development of each one’s personal capacity to analyze and evaluate, in our circumstances of rapid change, the mission which he has received.” Therefore, the delegates “resolutely” encourage “a vigorous spiritual and intellectual formation for young Jesuits and ongoing spiritual and intellectual formation for every Jesuit.”
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1. Since its foundation, the Society has held intellectual labor in high esteem, as a signiﬁcant contribution to the discovery of the creative work of God and to the recognition of the legitimate autonomy of human inquiry. This tradition of the Society is particularly relevant today within the context of urgent issues confronting us in our mission. For this reason General Congregation 34 strongly reaffirms the distinctive importance of the intellectual quality of each of our apostolic works. The value of this aspect of our ministry is fundamental in contemporary circumstances, characterized as they are by changes which are as rapid as they are radical.
2. Where pietism and fundamentalism join forces to disparage human abilities, human reason will be ignored or held of little account. Contrariwise, especially in countries where secularism holds sway or which have recently emerged from Marxist atheism, some seem to regard faith as little more than a “superstition” which will gradually disappear in the face of ever more rapid human progress. But freedom and the ability to reason are attributes which characterize human beings as created in the likeness of God and are closely tied to genuine faith. Therefore, everywhere and in all circumstances, an intellectual tradition continues to be of critical importance for the Church’s vitality as well as for the understanding of cultures which deeply affect each person’s way of thinking and living. All of us experience the need to “explain” the hope that dwells in us (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15) and the concern to acknowledge “everything that is true, everything that is honorable, everything that is upright and pure, everything that we love and admire, whatever is good and praiseworthy” (Phil. 4:8).
3. For this reason, GC 34 resolutely encourages a vigorous spiritual and intellectual formation for young Jesuits and ongoing spiritual and intellectual formation for every Jesuit. The Society, sensitive to present needs and challenges, must insist on the necessity not only for each one’s ongoing acquisition of knowledge but also on the ongoing development of each one’s personal capacity to analyze and evaluate, in our circumstances of rapid change, the mission which he has received. There can be no substitute for individual, painstaking, and, quite frequently, solitary work. Such capacity is indispensable if we wish to integrate the promotion of justice with the proclamation of faith, and if we hope to be effective in our work for peace, in our concern to protect life and the environment, in our defense of the rights of individual men and women and of entire peoples. Serious and active intellectual inquiry must also characterize our commitment to integral evangelization. This assumes a basic knowledge of the economic, social, and political structures in which our contemporaries ﬁnd themselves immersed, and it cannot be ignorant of the development of traditional and modern cultures or of the effects of the emerging culture of communication. For evangelization to be effective, accuracy in knowledge, respect for the other in intercultural dialogue, and critical analysis are all imperative.
4. In apostolic works which are more directly intellectual, professional formation and competence are to be accompanied by that legitimate responsible autonomy and freedom which are requisites for progress in scholarly teaching and research. Furthermore, today more than ever before, it is essential that we recognize the speciﬁc characteristics of each of the various scholarly disciplines, including science and technology. We must help our contemporaries to respect this autonomy and freedom and to recognize these speciﬁc characteristics. For those with faith, to deny “the rightful autonomy of science” can lead to tragedies well known in the history of recent centuries. We who have learned to pray before the “Eternal Lord of all things” must, therefore, be especially careful to avoid the same mistakes under new forms.
5. The intellectual dimension of every apostolic work also supposes that each Jesuit knows how to be active in companionship with others. Those engaged in an intellectual life experience periods of exaltation and of doubt, of recognition and of being ignored, of intense satisfaction and of bitter trial. More than is the case in other areas, an intellectual mission calls for a humble ability to accept praise and also to face rejection and controversy; this mission is constantly exposed to the judgment of others in conversations, in scholarly publications, and in the media. To accept this reality simply and directly is one way of being “servants of Christ’s mission”—the Christ who continues his paschal mystery through us.
6. These characteristic challenges of the intellectual apostolate require that each of us acquire the ability to live the creative tension between profound insertion into all the details of our work and an open and critical attitude towards other points of view and other cultural or confessional positions. However, acceptance of such tension must not lessen our witness of personal commitment to the service of the Church in its journey towards the Kingdom of God.
7. Among the ways of being engaged in the intellectual apostolate in the service of the Kingdom of God, theological research and reﬂection has a special place and merits speciﬁc mention. Father Pedro Arrupe named theological reﬂection as one of the four priority apostolates of the Society of Jesus. Among the urgent contemporary issues needing theological reﬂection, he listed humanism, freedom, mass culture, economic development, and violence. GC 32 cited and conﬁrmed Father Arrupe’s emphasis on theological reﬂection and also called for a social analysis of the structural causes of contemporary injustices and for Ignatian discernment regarding the appropriate apostolic response to these injustices. GC 34 reconﬁrms the need for this theological reﬂection and, to the issues it must address, adds the contemporary understanding of the promotion of justice, including inculturation and interreligious dialogue.
Theological reﬂection, social analysis, and discernment are phases of a process which Pope John XXIII and Vatican II called “reading the signs of the times”: the effort to discern the presence and activity of God in the events of contemporary history in order to decide what to do as servants of the Word. This will bring the perennial sources of Catholic theology to bear upon the lived experiences, individual and communal, of the members of the faith community that is the Church, especially their experience of poverty and oppression; it relates Catholic theology to the secular disciplines, especially philosophy and the social and natural sciences, in order to discern, illuminate, and interpret the opportunities and problems of contemporary life.
8. When theological reﬂection is undertaken with the seriousness of research and the creativity of imagination that it merits, within the broad spectrum of Catholic theology and in the midst of the varied circumstances in which Jesuits live and work, it can give rise to speciﬁc theologies which, in diverse times and places, incarnate the gospel message. Theological research and reﬂection in service of the Gospel can thus help to respond to the broadest questions of the human mind and the deepest yearnings of the human heart.
9. Not only in our ministries, but also in our personal way of seeing and interpreting individual, social, cultural, and political situations, and even in our spiritual life, we can be guided by such reﬂection. It will be the more productive to the extent that it roots itself in a personal faith lived and expressed in the Christian community. It must be attentive to the questions which reality poses to believing men and women. And the Jesuit engaged in such reﬂection must know how to join awareness of contemporary circumstances with a careful listening to the voice of God in personal prayer.
Original Source (English translation):
Jesuit Life & Mission Today: The Decrees & Accompanying Documents of the 31st–35th General Congregations of the Society of Jesus, ed. John W. Padberg. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2009, General Congregation 34, Decree 16, “The Intellectual Dimension of Jesuit Ministries,” pg. 626–628 [394–403].