For the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola: 31 July
Pasquale Puca

Defending and spreading the faith

The Formula Instituti [Formulas of the Institute] is for the Society of Jesus, better known as the Jesuit Order, what the Rule of the Founder or Foundress is for the various Religious Orders or Institutes.

It constitutes the core of the original regulations of the Society of Jesus as founded by St Ignatius of Loyola. In it the spiritual experience of Ignatius and his first companions is described, and its Gospel hallmark is clearly apparent.

The three consecutive drafts vary in tone but the biblical basis of each is always either explicit or implicit, and all contain a precise reference to the Constitutions. St Ignatius also wrote these for the indispensable internal regulation of the spirituality, formation, fraternal life and government of the Society and the apostolate of its members.

On 27 September 1540, with the Bull Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae, Pope Paul III approved the so-called Five Chapters that sum up the definitive Formula or Statutes of the Society of Jesus.

Subsequently, on 21 July 1550, with the Bull Exposcit Debitum, Julius III approved what was to become the definitive Formula of the new Religious Order.

This Bull fully and clearly portrays what in modern terms we might call the "charism" of the Society of Jesus: its features, aims and the means it would use in putting its service to Christ and his Church into practice.

The Formula, in fact, recommends: "Whoever wishes to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the Cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the Name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff, the Vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a solemn vow of perpetual chastity, poverty and obedience, keep what follows in mind. He is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defence and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures and any other ministration whatsoever of the Word of God, and further by means of the Spiritual Exercises, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ's faithful through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments..." (n. 1).

The 2005 edition of the Pontifical Year Book sums up the Society of Jesus' purpose in the Church: "The defence and propagation of the Faith for the benefit of souls in Christian life and doctrine, through preaching and through the administration of the sacraments, schools and the press" (p. 1433).

Together with the Formulas of the Institute, indeed, as a practical explanation of it, St Ignatius also desired to give the Society Constitutions; these are not merely a legal code but also express an additional level of spirituality as well as a profound evangelical doctrine.

St Ignatius chose to write them in Castilian to better express his thought on the reality of the Society of Jesus. From a fragment of his Spiritual Diary, in which he noted, day by day, the lights, sentiments and divine visions that he received during the period in which he was writing the Constitutions, we may deduce that he never wrote any important text without first being deeply convinced that God approved of it.

St Ignatius prefaced the Constitutions, which has 10 sections, with another fundamental legislative text. It is called the First and General Examen. It has six chapters and is addressed by Ignatius to candidates who had asked for admission into the Society of Jesus. All that concerns the nature and requirements of the Religious Order to which they desired to belong is very clearly described. The candidates, for their part, were required to show a precise knowledge of their own identity. This was in order that they might know the Society and that the Society might know them before they were admitted to the Order.

The Society of Jesus, therefore, aimed to discover the candidate's physical and moral qualities, together with his history and the characteristics of his family; but it also sought to inform the candidate straightaway of its own end: "To devote itself with God's grace not only to the salvation and perfection of the members' own souls, but also with that same grace to labour strenuously in giving aid toward the salvation and perfection of the souls of their neighbours" (The First and General Examen, ch. 1).

In the 10 parts of the Constitutions, St Ignatius expressed his thoughts on the following themes:

I. The admission to probation

He said in this regard: "[T]he greater the number of natural and infused gifts someone has from God our Lord which are useful for what the Society aims at in his divine service, and the more assurance the Society has about these gifts, the more suitable will the candidate be to be admitted" (ch. 2).

II. Dismissal of those admitted but proven unfit

Here, St Ignatius established two principles: "[J]ust as there should not be excessive readiness in admitting candidates, so should there be even less to dismiss them... the more fully one has been incorporated into the Society the more serious ought the reasons to be" (ch. 1).

III. Preservation and progress of those who remain in probation

In this context, St Ignatius explicitly recommended: "All should take special care to guard with great diligence the gates of their senses... from all disorder, to preserve themselves in peace and true humility of their souls"... (ch. 2).

"[U]nited among themselves by the bond of fraternal charity, they may be able better and more efficaciously to apply themselves in the service of God and the aid of their fellowmen". Progress in virtue, St Ignatius then points out, "is much aided by the good example of the older members encouraging the rest to imitate them" (ch. 3).

IV. Learning to help one's neighbour by those in the Society

Part IV is very long. It contains 17 chapters and is already an anticipation of what was to be the Ratio studiorum of the Society of Jesus.

Among other things, in Chapter 12 St Ignatius recommended "humane letters", and the study of various languages, logic, natural and moral philosophy, metaphysics, scholastic doctrine and positive theology, and Sacred Scripture.

V. Admission or incorporation into the Society

As distinct from other Orders and religious Institutes, St Ignatius extended the time required to complete the novitiate to two full years. At the end of the novitiate, the candidate was to make his simple vows; these were perpetual on the part of the Religious, but continued to be conditional on the part of the Society.

Definitive incorporation into it could take place only at the end of the curriculum of formation that the candidate received and which ended with a third year of novitiate, known as the schola affectus (school of the heart).

VI. Personal life of those admitted and incorporated into the Society

The common obligations of all the Order's members are then described, including the virtue "of obedience, shown first to the Sovereign Pontiff and then to the superiors of the Society" (ch. 1).

Indeed, St Ignatius fittingly explained: "The members... ought to be ready at any hour to go to any part of the world where they may be sent by the Sovereign Pontiff or their own superiors" (ch. 3).

VII. Relations with neighbours of those in the Lord's vineyard

In Part VII of the Constitutions, St Ignatius stressed that the vow which the Society had made to the Pope "as the supreme Vicar of Christ... meant that the members were to go to any place where he judges it expedient to send them for the greater glory of God and the good of souls, whether among the faithful or unbelievers".

"The Society did not mean the vow for a particular place, but rather for being dispersed to various regions and places throughout the world, wishing to make the best choice in this matter by having the Sovereign Pontiff make the distribution of its members" (ch. 1).

He added further: "[T]he superiors of the Society, in accord with the faculty granted by the Sovereign Pontiff, will have authority to send any of the Society's members to whatsoever place these superiors think it more expedient to send them, although these members, wherever they are. will always be at the disposition of His Holiness" (ch. 2).

Further, the criterion that the superiors were bound to comply with when sending out the Society's members to carry out a specific apostolate in a particular region always had to be that of the "greater glory of God" and the "universal good", since: "The more universal the good is, the more is it divine. Hence, preference ought to be given to persons and places which, once benefited themselves, are a cause of extending the good to many others who are under their influence..." (ch. 2).

VIII. Uniting dispersed members to their head and themselves

St Ignatius makes it clear 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.... This union is produced in great part by the bond of obedience" (ch. 1), but also by dialogue and communication through frequent correspondence and regular meetings at specific times.

IX. The Society's head, and the government that descends from it

St Ignatius then sketches an interesting profile of the person of the General of the Society, to be elected for life, and with simple but deft strokes portrays his government and authority.

The Portuguese Jesuit, G. da Camara, who was very familiar with St Ignatius' approach to governing the Society, saw this part of the Constitutions as a faithful self-portrait of the Founder of the new Religious Order.

He wrote: "In regard to the qualities which are desirable in the superior general, the first is that he should be closely united with God Our Lord and have familiarity with him in prayer.... [H]e [should] be a person whose example in all the virtues will be a help to the other members of the Society. Charity towards all his neighbours should particularly shine forth in him... likewise a genuine humility which will make him highly beloved of God Our Lord and of human beings.

"He ought also to be free from all inordinate affections, having them tamed and mortified so that interiorly they will not disturb the judgment of his intellect, and so that exteriorly he will be so composed and, in particular, so circumspect in speaking that none, either members of the Society (who should regard him as a mirror and model) or externs, will observe any thing or word in him that is not edifying....

"However, he should know how to mingle the required rectitude and severity with kindness and gentleness in such a way that he neither lets himself be deflected from what he judges to be more pleasing to God Our Lord, nor fails to have proper sympathy for his sons....

"Magnanimity and fortitude of soul are likewise highly necessary for him, so that he may bear the weaknesses of many, initiate great undertakings in the service of God Our Lord and persevere in them with the needed constancy, neither losing courage in the face of the contradictions, even from persons of high rank and power....

"[H]e ought to be endowed with great intelligence and judgment, so that he is not lacking in this talent in either speculative or practical matters which may arise. And although learning is highly necessary for one who will have so many learned men in his charge, still more necessary is prudence along with experience in spiritual and interior matters, so that he may be able to discern the various spirits and to give counsel and remedies to so many who will have spiritual necessities.

"He also needs discretion in exterior matters and a manner of handling such diverse affairs as well as of conversing with such various persons from within and without the Society" (ch. 2).

X. Persevering and increasing the whole body of the Society

In Part X, the last part in the Constitutions which consists of a single chapter, St Ignatius summed up various problems that he had already addressed earlier. In particular, he recalled: "The Society was not instituted by human means; and it is not through them that it can be preserved and increased, but through the grace of the omnipotent hand of Christ Our God and Lord....

"For the preservation and growth not only of the body or exterior of the Society but also of its spirit, and for the attainment of the objective it seeks, which is to aid souls to reach their ultimate and supernatural end, the means which unite the human instrument with God and so dispose it that it may be wielded well by his divine hand are more effective than those which equip it in relation to human beings....

"Much aid is given toward perpetuating the well-being of this whole body by what was said [above]..., about not admitting a mob and persons unsuitable for our Institute, even to probation, and about dismissals during the time of probation when it is found that some persons do not turn out to be suitable....

"Since the well-being or illness of the head has its consequences in the whole body, it is supremely important that the election of the superior general be carried out as directed in Part IX. Next in importance is the choice of the lower superiors in the provinces, colleges, and houses of the Society. For in a general way, the subjects will be what these superiors are....

"Whatever helps toward the union of the members of this Society among themselves and with their head will also help much towards preserving the wellbeing of the Society. This is especially the case with the bond of wills, which is the mutual charity and love they have for one another.

"This bond", St Ignatius concludes, "is strengthened by their getting information and news from one another and having much intercommunication...".

*  *  *

In brief, reading (or re-reading) even only some of the writings of St Ignatius of Loyola will certainly be a positive experience.

Firstly, it will build one's understanding and appreciation of the saving action of Christ who died and rose and who, also at the beginning of the Third Millennium, evangelizes and offers the Father's truth and love to weary and bewildered humanity: through the total consecration to God of those who are called to continue, more closely and in his own way of life, the evangelizing mission that he started and now entrusts to his Church.

Secondly, it can foster a motivated and constructive collaboration among those who, in the diversity of the spirituality, programmes, methodologies and pastoral means, are today the witnesses of the presence and love of Christ in the Church: for a more tangible and true ecclesial communion, lived in fullness though the knowledge and appreciation of the different charisms, which are an expression of one and the same Spirit.

However, also for the members of the Society of Jesus themselves and for all those in the Church who draw inspiration from the Gospel realities lived and proclaimed by St Ignatius of Loyola, a re-reading, even only in part, of certain fundamental Ignatian writings might prove very useful and concretely binding for an appropriate ascertainment of one's own emotional identity today in the Church, and for a more effective re-evangelization in the specific areas of the People of God.


Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
26 July 2006, page 10

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