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Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Society of Jesus

Frequently asked questions

Jesuits Frequently asked questions
Where does the name “Jesuits” come from?

Our founder Ignatius of Loyola wanted us to call ourselves “friends in the Lord,” as a constant reminder that our being together is the fruit of a strong personal relationship with the Lord, and this makes us “friends” with each other. Hence the term “companions” and Society of Jesus.
In his writings Ignatius never called us “Jesuits.” The term “Jesuit” was already widespread in medieval times to indicate people particularly devoted to the name of Jesus and was used mostly in a derogatory sense. Thus, as early as 1544, our first companions were being scorned or mocked under the name “Jesuits.” This name, short and immediate, started spread even within the Society because, taken seriously, it speaks the truth of what we want to be.
Over the centuries, the term has been colored with negative undertones, becoming synonymous with “false” and “hypocritical,” because a flourishing anti-Jesuit literature portrayed us as willing to do anything to reach positions of power. The Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci, in fact, used as an apostolic strategy to ingratiate himself with local rulers, perhaps with surprising gifts from Europe that aroused curiosity and attracted attention. But its ultimate goal was not to gain power, but to evangelize and ensure a social structure that would allow Christianity to take root and develop.

Why don’t Jesuits have a typical habit?

Even the way we dress is subject to discernment based on apostolic opportunity. There are places where we need to wear the clergyman and make ourselves explicitly recognizable. However there are other situations where a recognizable habit would get in the way of our mission. After all, you can’t judge a book by it’s cover…

Are Jesuits priests, friars, or monks?

The Society of Jesus is a group of reformed priests gathered into a religious order. Every Jesuit participates in this priestly charism, starting with his condition. So we are not diocesan priests, but religious, and we are not friars or monks.
The houses we live in are not convents, but “residences,” traditionally called “professed houses.” They are usually found in the heart of cities, not in isolated locations. Jesuits can be priests and brothers. When a candidate enters the Society, he can declare from the beginning whether he wants to enter to become a priest or a brother, or he can enter as an indifferent and mature the decision after the month of Spiritual Exercises.

What is the difference between Jesuit brothers and fathers?

Every Jesuit belongs to the Body of the Society, which is apostolic, religious, and priestly. Each of us is called to the universal mission of reconciliation and justice. However, there are different types of Jesuits:
– “temporal coadjutors,” usually called “brothers,” are religious who are not priests;
– “spiritual coadjutors” are priests who have completed their formation;
– the “professed fathers” are those who, in addition to the three vows, have also taken the fourth vow of direct obedience to the Pope circa missiones.

What does the fourth Jesuit vow consist of?

In addition to the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, some Jesuits also take a fourth vow. The “professed fathers” in fact promise special obedience to the Pope circa missiones, making themselves available to be sent anywhere or in any case to receive any mission that the Pope considers useful for the good of the Church.
The Society of Jesus is not the only Order to take a fourth vow. The Camillians, for example, take a vow of care for the sick, while monastic orders take a vow of stability. This “extra” vow has to do with the charism of the Order, that is, with the specific way of living the following of the Lord. For Jesuits, this means that the special obedience they live to the Holy Father is at the very heart of their identity.

What does it mean that a Jesuit is obedient perinde ac cadaver?

To describe blind obedience Ignatius uses the image of the corpse, already present in spiritual and ascetic literature since the Legenda maior s. Francisci written by St. Bonaventure (Opera VIII, 52) in 1263.
Obedience as conceived by Ignatius is always directed to divine providence or to the person of Jesus Christ, not to the superior per se. It serves to describe the radical attachment to the mission entrusted to the individual Jesuit, that of being a companion of Christ even and especially in difficulties.
In Ignatius’ view, obedience is the best way to detach oneself from the disordered affections that dominate humanity and prevent one from being totally free. In fact, the act of obedience is a movement that involves both the Jesuit and his superior in hearing what the Spirit is suggesting. Blind obedience “like a corpse” is fidelity to this existential attitude of going out of oneself.

Why does a Jesuit answer a question with another question?

Jesuit formation is based on Ignatian pedagogy, which is person-centered and aims to develop each person’s personal characteristics to the fullest. For this reason he insists a lot on the ability to ask questions in order to awaken curiosity and the desire to go deeper in front of the phenomena to be studied. The resulting quality of study of the disciplines is high because study is not reduced to a mere accumulation of information, but is a continuous process of reworking content. How is the ability to ask questions solicited? By deeply immersing oneself in daily reality, letting it challenge the heart and mind with its situations and contradictions. In this way, even insignificant details can sometimes open up new horizons of knowledge.

How many degrees does it take to join the Society of Jesus?

How many degrees does it take to join the Society of Jesus?
Contrary to popular belief, no degree is required. Only a high school diploma is required. The qualifications an applicant possesses are not a determining factor for admission to the Company. Likewise, social and economic status are not part of the criteria for vocational testing. The average age of entry into the Society is around 25, but this is purely statistical and not binding, a sign that in recent years the desire for religious life matures in university years.
A candidate who presents himself with the desire to enter the Society begins a journey of discernment in order to understand with his guide whether the Lord is really calling him to the Society or to something else. Making discernment means learning to read within oneself how the Spirit speaks to the heart through spiritual motions. An interesting statistic is that about half of those who start the journey with us make it to the end. It often happens that in the course of the journey the person realizes that he or she is called to a completely different vocation. For us, this is a success because it means that discernment has run its course.

Why does Jesuit formation take so long?

Our formation is based on Ignatian pedagogy, and involves a continuous alternation between study and apostolic experience. In this way, the intellectual approach is not conceptual or abstract, but rooted in the questions that emerge from being immersed in the world. So we don’t study ctually more than others, we study differently.

What are sacristy vows?

When a Jesuit is definitively incorporated into the Order, he is called to make a public solemn profession, that is, before the ecclesial assembly. He emits the traditional three vows in front of the consecrated Host, to deliver his life entirely into the hands of God. Once the celebration was over and he returned to the sacristy, the Jesuit made five more simple vows in front of a small group of brothers. That’s why they’re called “sacristy vows.” He promises to:
– not to change the Constitutions of the Society with regard to poverty, except to make them more stringent;
– not to seek or strive for roles of authority in the Society;
– not to seek or strive for roles of authority in the Church;
– report to superiors those who do;
– to listen to the advice of Father General in case of appointment to the episcopate
These are not secret vows. The reserved nature of these vows simply tells of the desire of every Jesuit: that of seeking to live a life as humble as possible, far from the pursuit of power and ever more centered in the following of the poor, humble and chaste Christ.

Why is the head of the Jesuits called “General”?

The highest authority in the Society of Jesus is known by the name of Father General. This title that has often created confusion because it is a term more related to the military than to religious orders, and it has contributed to the image of the Company as a militia. In fact, the full title is that of Superior General (Praepositus Generalis) of the Society of Jesus. The adjective “general” has nothing to do with military ranks, but rather indicates the extent of his office: it is simply meant to emphasize that the Jesuit elected to this office by the General Congregation has authority over all Jesuits in the world.

Why is the Superior General of the Jesuits called the “black pope”?

The reason lies in the fact that his election is for life like that of the Pope (and not for a fixed term, unlike other religious orders) and because the traditional Jesuit habit was the black cassock. Saying “black pope” is meant by allusion to contrast him with the “White Pope”, or the Supreme Pontiff.

Do “Jesuit nuns” exist?

There is no female branch of the Society of Jesus. There was an attempt, already at the time of Ignatius, to create the female counterpart, but ultimately without success. This shortcoming has actually proved providential throughout history. In fact, there are currently many women’s religious institutes that are inspired by Ignatian spirituality and have taken our constitutions as a model for their internal order.

Why is Jesuit synonymous with phony and hypocritical?

Anti-Jesuit literature spread the image of the Jesuit as false and hypocritical, relying on the fact that our missionaries did everything in their power to ingratiate themselves into the favor of the or emperors. Their purpose was to use power to evangelize, in accordance with the principle (now questionable) of cuius regio eius religio. Anti-Jesuit literature twists this intentionality by reversing the terms and creating a commonplace effect: Jesuits are unscrupulous people who use evangelization to get to power.

Why has an anti-Jesuit literature developed?

Anti-Jesuit literature developed mainly from the seventeenth century onward. In the first hundred years of its life, the Society of Jesus experienced a strong numerical expansion and found success and favor among people. In addition, the Jesuits were becoming increasingly important in the ecclesial and political life of catholic Europe. This generated an excess of pride in some Jesuits, and aroused hostility and envy in those who did not view them favorably.
This was probably the emotional ground that fueled a controversy of theological-pastoral origin. The Jesuits had insisted in the exercise of their ministries especially on God’s love for sinners and the abundance of his grace for all. They therefore invited the faithful to have frequent recourse to Communion as a means of allowing themselves to be transformed by God’s grace. This pastoral approach generated as a reaction the so-called “Port-Royal movement” (Jansenism). The adherents of this movement insisted above all on the necessity of ascetic rigor to obtain salvation. Per loro, l’accesso alla Comunione doveva essere raro e condizionato da una preparazione scrupolosa. The controversy between Jesuits and Jansenists flared up, and it was easy for the latter to discredit their opponents by accusing them of laxity. The Jansenists were fortunate to have among them one of the finest pens of the century, Blaise Pascal, whose polemical pages (“The Provincial Letters”) against the Jesuits had a considerable influence on the history of literature that followed, creating the commonplace of the lax and hypocritical Jesuit, ready to compromise by tempering moral rigor to please the powerful.

Is it true that the Jesuits are a military order?

Ignatius did not give the Society of Jesus a military order in terms of discipline and hierarchy, nor in terms of aggressive action. Ignatius, a man of his time, was animated by a chivalrous ideal. He passed on to the Society of Jesus a passion for selfless, high-profile service to a noble cause. Traces of this way of thinking can be found in the meditation on the call of the temporal king in the second week of the Exercises [91] which is followed by the call of the eternal king [95]. Then where does this belief originate? From the fact that the Spiritual Exercises use the metaphor of spiritual combat to indicate the struggle to which man’s heart is subjected by the various voices that stir within him and draw him in opposite directions. The terminology is not original to Ignatius: the Desert Fathers also used the same language, as did St. Paul in his letters. For example, in Eph 6:10-13: “Put on the full armor of God, that you may stand firm against the wiles of the devil; for our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of this world of darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness which are in the heavenly places. Therefore, take the full armor of God, that you may be able to stand in the evil day, and after you have done all your duty, stand.”

Our founder

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder

“He who goes about to reform the world must begin with himself”

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