General Congregations


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 MomentThe 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.

General Congregation 31

General Congregation 32

General Congregation 33

General Congregation 34

General Congregation 35
 

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