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