The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus recognized the difficulty in maintaining a unity among Jesuits so dispersed in the world, noting that “the Society cannot be preserved or governed, or consequently, attain the aim it seeks for the greater glory of God unless its members are united among themselves and with their head.” In Part VIII, the Constitutions established measures to aid Jesuits, first, in a union of hearts and, second, in a union of body. The latter union took the form of “general congregations,” which were not to be held too often as to be a distraction. Yet, at other times, selected Jesuits were to congregate to address matters that proved “urgent and of great importance,” such as the election of a new general or to establishment of policies for works worldwide. The general congregations, in short, serve as the supreme governing authority of the Society of Jesus.
There have only been 36 general congregations in history, the most recent ending in November 2016. Below are some details of each general congregation.
Some facts about the 36 general congregations:
— The congregations occurring before the papal suppression of the Society of Jesus lasted an average of 78.6 days.
— The congregations occurring after the papal restoration of the Society of Jesus have lasted an average of 67 days.
— Only one congregation (the 31st, held during the Second Vatican Council) took place over two sessions, meeting for a total of 141 days. Still, the 31st General Congregation only ranks third among the longest in Jesuit history.
— The average duration between congregations before the papal suppression of the Society of Jesus was 3,979 days.
— The average duration between congregations after the papal restoration of the Society of Jesus has been 5,461 days.
— The congregations occurring before the papal suppression of the Society of Jesus had an average of 74 delegates in attendance, none with more than 100.
— The last six congregations have had an average of 220 delegates.
— In all, there have been nine congregations that did not elect a new father general (one elected a vicar general), but one congregation elected two fathers general.
The decrees and historical commentaries for the first 30 meetings can be found in For Matters of Greater Moment. The same for the next five congregations appear in Jesuit Life & Mission Today. The decrees from General Congregation 36 appear in a volume with the same title. For recent scholarship on the general congregations, please consult these results from the Boston College Jesuit Bibliography.
UPDATE: The Portal now presents free access to all the decrees and statements from General Congregations 31-35. All documents are freely searchable and may be downloaded. Each congregation has a wordcloud for the most popular words used in its decrees.
|wdt_ID||Number||Location||Start Date||End Date||Duration of the Congregation, in Days||Duration Since the Previous Congregation, in Days||Jesuits Worldwide at the Time of the Congregation||Jesuits Attending the Congregation||Superior General Elected||Number of Decrees Issued by the Congregation|
|1||General Congregation 1||Rome||June 19, 1558||September 10, 1558||83||—||1,000||20||Diego Laínez||168 (20 before the election, 148 after the election)|
|2||General Congregation 2||Rome||June 21, 1563||September 3, 1563||75||1,745||3,500||39||Francis Borgia||120 (27 before the election, 93 after the election)|
|3||General Congregation 3||Rome||April 12, 1573||June 16, 1573||65||3,509||3,905||47||Everard Mercurian||53 (5 before the election, 48 after the election)|
|4||General Congregation 4||Rome||February 7, 1581||April 2, 1581||74||2,793||5,165||57||Claudio Aquaviva||69 (2 before the election, 67 after the election)|
|5||General Congregation 5||Rome||November 3, 1593||January 18, 1594||76||4,598||8,519||63||—||81|
|6||General Congregation 6||Rome||February 21, 1608||March 29, 1608||36||5,147||10,640||64||—||47|
|7||General Congregation 7||Rome||November 5, 1615||January 26, 1616||144||2,777||13,112||75||Muzio Vitelleschi||101|
|8||General Congregation 8||Rome||November 21, 1645||April 14, 1646||145||10,892||—||92||Vincenzo Carafa||60|
|9||General Congregation 9||Rome||December 13, 1649||February 23, 1650||73||1,339||—||89||Francesco Piccolomini||44|
|10||General Congregation 10||Rome||January 7, 1652||March 20, 1652||73||683||—||86||Luigi Gottifredi; and Goswin Nickel||18|