Letter of Father General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach to Pope Benedict XVI on General Congregation 35 (2008)

In one of his last acts as superior general of the Society of Jesus, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach issued the following brief letter to Pope Benedict XIV. The correspondence was sent in reply to the pontiff’s own letter to the 35th General Congregation, then having recently begun at the Jesuits’ Curia in Rome.

For more from the 35th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, please consult this page.



January 15, 2008



Most Holy Father,


The General Congregation has received with profound attention and gratitude the message that Your Holiness has addressed to the Superior General and—through him—to the whole Society of Jesus during this meaningful and important moment in the life of our Order.

Your Holiness has manifested once again the affection, spiritual closeness, esteem, and gratitude with which the Successors of Peter have regarded and see the Society of Jesus, continuing to expect the faithful service of the Society for the integral and clear proclamation of the Gospel in our time. While Your Holiness confirms that the intimate union with Christ should be the secret of our apostolic and missionary life, you recall the original charism of the Society of Jesus as defined in the Formula of the Institute: “to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross … and to serve the Lord alone and the church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth.”

In continuity with the interventions of your predecessors—in particular Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, on the occasion of the previous General Congregations—and with his other previous interventions, Your Holiness recalls the particular bond that binds the Society of Jesus to the Successor of Peter, as expressed in the “fourth vow” of special obedience to the Pope. The Holy Father underlines “the formative responsibility of the Society in the fields of theology, spirituality, and mission,” asking “that the Congregation reaffirms, in the spirit of St. Ignatius, its own total adhesion to Catholic doctrine, in particular on the crucial points under attack today from secular culture,” examples of which you mention explicitly.

The Society of Jesus affirms its own desire to respond sincerely to the call and demands of Your Holiness. The General Congregation will give them full attention in the course of its labors, a considerable part of which will be dedicated precisely to the topics of the identity and mission of the Jesuits, and on religious and apostolic obedience, in particular, obedience to the Holy Father.

The Congregation has set out to face its tasks with confidence and serenity, knowing that it can count on the affection and prayer of Your Holiness and your deep understanding of the difficult challenge “to announce the Gospel in the various social and cultural contexts, being confronted with different mentalities” as the mission the Society of Jesus demands today for the service of the Church.


With profound gratitude,

Devoted yours in the Lord,

Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J.



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, “Letter Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach Acknowledging the Exhortation of Pope Benedict XVI to GC35,” pg. 815816.