Skip to main content
Euro-Mediterranean Province of the Society of Jesus
Suggested readings
Jesuits Suggested readings General Congregation Decrees On Having a Proper Attitude of Service in the Church

On Having a Proper Attitude of Service in the Church

General Congregation 34 - Decree 11


[298] 1. When General Congregation 33 spoke of our “Life in the Church,” it committed the Society once again to “serving the Church in her teaching, life and worship.” In his final address to the Congregation of Procurators, Fr. General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach reiterated this commitment. General Congregation 34 reaffirms this long and permanent tradition of service proper to the Society, one to which we dedicate ourselves not only as religious but also, and especially, in virtue of the fourth vow of obedience to the Pope in regard to missions.

[299] 2. This service is exercised in myriad humble, sometimes hidden, ways by Jesuit priests and brothers missioned to the labours of parish and mission station, pulpit and confessional, workshop and printing press, classroom and laboratory.

[300] 3. Equally humble and hidden is the service exercised by Jesuit theologians, by consultors of the dicasteries of the Holy See, by consultants and resource persons for Episcopal Conferences and individual diocesan bishops. Along with the more public service of scholarly research, teaching, speaking, and writing, these are intellectual tasks that require freedom, openness, and courage in the objective service of truth.

[301] 4. Our Jesuit service can also be the dangerous commitment of witness and struggle against the forces of injustice and persecution, both social and religious, a witness that has been once again sealed by the blood of martyrs. In recent decades, as throughout our history, the heroism of our many brothers who have suffered and died for their fidelity to the Church bears clear and irrefutable witness that the Society’s foundational commitment is truly ”to serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman Pontiff.“

Church and World: The New Context

[302] 5. Jesuits today exercise this service in a world gripped by strong socio- political and technological changes, often of a revolutionary character, fuelled by the struggle for justice, modernization, and development. This dialectic of change produces multiple problems from which the Society cannot be immune.

[303] 6. Since the Second Vatican Council the Church has been engaged in its own dialectic of traditio et progressio. New strains and conflicts have arisen as it seeks to respond to the call for an evangelization that is ever old yet ever new. These tensions affect several aspects of the Church’s life: liturgy, doctrine, ethics, discipline, pastoral ministry, and the inculturation of each of these.

[304] 7. Vatican II was a prophetic event, producing a momentous renewal within Catholicism not witnessed since the Council of Trent. This dynamic ecclesial creativity reveals a People of God on pilgrimage, striving, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to live a recovered ecclesiology of collegial (or ”synodal“ for the Eastern churches) co-responsibility. Those disoriented by the inevitable conflicts that result from such an invigorating new vision should recall that most major Ecumenical Councils have set in motion a very lengthy process of reform and renewal which did not reach a lived consensus for centuries.

[305] 8. The ecclesiological renewal of Vatican II has helped us rediscover the Universal Church as a koinônia of local Churches under the entire college of bishops, of which the Bishop of Rome is the head.

This, in turn, has renewed our consciousness of the distinctive and inalienable ecclesial role of the laity in the life of the Church. Can we be surprised that this deepened sense of the co-responsibility of all God’s people for the whole life of the Church has led to more voices speaking, and that they are not all saying the same thing? This is a source of vitality — as well as of creative tensions.

Challenges of the Times

[306] 9. Attentive to this summons to work with the People of God in the spirit of Vatican II and GC 32 and 33, and invited by the Pope to help in the implementation of the same Council, the Society renews its fidelity to the teaching of the Church as it discerns and confronts the signs of the times. For among those signs are contemporary developments that can pose intellectual, cultural, and pastoral challenges to that fidelity.

[307] 10. Hunger, religious and racial persecution, disordered economic and cultural development, the lack of political freedom and social justice; widespread socio-economic discrimination, exploitation, and sexual abuse, especially of women and children; callous disregard for the precious gift of life; pastoral challenges of secularity; social anonymity and the alienation of modern urbanization, the dissolution of the family: all these confront, often massively, the Church — and therefore ourselves — and demand our response.

[308] 11. Even positive developments are not without their ambiguities: remarkable advances in the life sciences and the accompanying new problems of bio-ethics; the need to nuance cherished theological theories in the light of contemporary hermeneutics and historiography; the new culture created by the explosion of mass media; internal problems of liturgical discipline and sacramental life provoked by modernization and inculturation. These are among the “new situations being presented to the Society, demanding, in full fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church, valid responses to so many healthy questions from the People of God” to which Father General alludes in his final address to the Congregation of Procurators. This fidelity will adhere to the accepted norms of assent, and to Catholic teaching on the hierarchy of truths and the development of Church doctrine, as contained in the official documents of the Magisterium and in the common teaching of proven Catholic theologians.

[309] 12. A Jesuit, especially the scholar or theologian engaged in research and the moulding of informed public opinion, will see these challenges as occasions for service. His mission must ensure that the Christian tradition maintain its respectability as a coherent and valid world-view in dialogue with the realm of secular scholarship and science. Only through the exacting labour of the scholarly enterprise, carried out with faith and in an atmosphere of freedom and mutual trust, can the Church remain an active force for good in the contemporary world of intellectual and cultural discourse. GC 34 expresses its deep appreciation to, solidarity with, and support for the Jesuits engaged in this crucial service to the Church today.

[310] 13. Such service requires courage and integrity; it can also involve pain. As Father General said, aware of “strong tensions within the Church from which the Society may not stand aloof, and through their very apostolic responsibility, Jesuits are inevitably dragged into conflictual, even explosive ecclesiastical situations.” Our response to such situations can give rise to tensions with some church authorities. Despite — indeed, because of — our sincere desire to live in fidelity to the Magisterium and the hierarchy, there may be times when we feel justified, even obliged, to speak out in a way that may not always win us general approval, and could even lead to sanctions painful to the Society and constituting an impediment to our work.

[311] 14. To do so does not put the Jesuit in a stance of disobedience or revolt. Ignatian obedience, in accord with the tradition of Catholic theology, has always recognized that our first fidelity must be to God, to the truth, and to a well-formed conscience. Obedience, then, cannot exclude our prayerful discernment of the course of action to be followed, one that may in some circumstances differ from the one suggested by our religious and Church superiors. Such discernment, and its respectful representation to superiors, is an authentic element of our Ignatian tradition confirmed in GC 31 and clarified in GC 32.

[312] 15. At the same time, Ignatian obedience is one of concrete fidelity to the real, visible, hierarchical Church, not to some abstract ideal. This Church is not something distinct from us: it is the community of believers to which we belong, and whose virtues and defects, triumphs and tragedies, we share. Once the discernment is accomplished and the representations made, the Jesuit attitude will ultimately be one modelled on the “Rules in order to have the proper attitude of mind in the Church Militant” of St Ignatius.

[313] 16. In saying this we are well aware that the context in which Ignatius wrote these Rules is very different from that of today. But Ignatian service in the Church is not a history lesson. It is a profound mystical bond that transcends the particularities of its historical origins in the sixteenth-century Church. Rooted in faith that the Holy Spirit is guiding the Church, it drives us to seek the magis, serenely confident that “to them that love God, all things work together unto good” (Rom 8:28).

[314] 17. Therefore, if there is a time for speaking out, there may also be a time for silence, chosen by discernment or even imposed by obedience. If there is a time for representation, there is also a time for the abnegation of our intellect and will, which becomes for us a new way of seeing through the clouds of suffering and uncertainty to a higher truth and wisdom, that of the Cross.

The Jesuit Response: A Contemporary Perspective

[315] 18. A contemporary Ignatian response to these problems is given in the address of Fr. General to the Congregation of Procurators to which we have already referred. It is not meant to provide an updated version of the “Rules in order to have the proper attitude of mind in the Church Militant;” still less does it pretend to give an exhaustive treatment of the theme or of its history and interpretation. We find instead a profound reflection on the foundational inspiration that motivated the Society to integrate itself more fully into a living experience of the mystery of the Church, in the spirit of the fourth vow in regard to missions that so distinctively unites us with the Holy Father.

[316] 19. This Congregation makes its own the teaching of Father General’s address and recommends it to the whole Society for attentive study in an atmosphere of prayer, examen, and individual and communal reflection and discernment. In accord with GC 33, Fr. General affirms that the Society must “seek to incorporate itself more and more vigorously and creatively into the life of the Church…,” and “learn in the Church, with the Church, and for the Church, how to live our faith as adults in the conditions, cultures and languages of this end of the century.”

[317] 20. If our love of Christ, inseparable from our love for his spouse the Church, impels us to seek the will of God in each situation, it can also oblige us to engage in constructive criticism based on a prayerful discernment. But it cannot justify a lack of solidarity with the Church, from which we are never in any way distinct or apart. In the elaboration and expression of our theological views and in our choice of pastoral options we must always actively seek to understand the mind of the hierarchical Church, having as our goal the end of the Society to help souls. At the same time, we must try to articulate the sensus fidelium and help the Magisterium discern in it the movements of the Spirit in accord with the teaching of Vatican II. Formed by the experience of the Spiritual Exercises and desirous of being faithful to this Ignatian vision, we pray God to instil in us the spirit that animates these Ignatian Rules.

[318] 21. Even when it is not possible to refrain from all critical observations in the objective evaluation of certain situations in the life of the Church, or even of the comportment of persons holding responsible positions in its service, we will always seek to do so in this spirit. As men of integrity we must of course be true to our consciences. But we will speak (or keep silent) in prudence and humility, and with a sense of genuine respect and affection for the pastors of the Church, both local and universal. We will strive for the honesty to acknowledge gratefully the grace of their guidance as a needed corrective to whatever may be tainted by narrowness or the limitations of what is personal and subjective. We will be aware that as members of the Society we are bound to them in a special way, and that our prime concern is to cooperate with them in building up and, where necessary, healing both the universal and local Church.

[319] 22. We will be conscious, too, that the Church cannot be explained in purely socio-political terms, but is animated by a transcendent Spirit that guides and authenticates the Christian community through the collegial action of the Pope and bishops, and is affirmed by the sensus fidelium.

The Jesuit Response: Concrete Modalities

[320] 23. We will recognize that, particularly in sensitive doctrinal and moral questions, it is often difficult for magisterial statements to explicitate exhaustively all aspects of an issue. Rather than indulging in selective and superficial criticism, we will look for the central message and, through discerning theological reflection, attempt to understand it in depth and explain it positively, respectfully, and clearly.

[321] 24. We will keep difficulties in perspective and not isolate them from their context. We will not underestimate the possibility of giving scandal, nor forget that between the extremes of premature, ill-considered public criticism and servile silence there exists the alternative of moderate and respectful expression of our views. We will avoid particular interests and bear in mind the greater good of the whole Church. When possible we will seek recourse through official channels; we will remain in active dialogue and discernment with our own superiors in the Society and conduct consultation and dialogue with other competent Church authorities in a spirit of mutual respect and understanding. To this end, wherever possible we will show ourselves ready to foster informal personal contacts of cordial friendliness with the local bishops in areas where we exercise our mission, and seek to contain and defuse possible sources of conflict before they develop.

[322] 25. If the Church appears to be attacked or defamed in the media, we cannot limit ourselves to a dismissive condemnation of such abuses. We must enter the world of communication and defend the truth, while at the same time honestly acknowledging conflicts and polarities within the Church. Though we will do so without sharpening tensions or weakening authority, we cannot avoid issues which, as news, the media will present in any event.

[323] 26. We must cooperate with the media so that the Church’s true face can appear and the Gospel be inculturated in this new mass culture as well. We will strive to see that issues conducive to good receive effective media attention. Though we remain always loyal to the truth, our Ignatian sense of sentire cum ecclesia will lead us to present what is praiseworthy in the Church, revealing the bonds of affection that make us love the Church and cleave to it as a source of life, solace and healing, as an internal authority for genuine religious experience, as a nurturing matrix of our deepest values.

Conclusion — Fidelity to Our Jesuit Charism to Serve

[324] 27. If in today’s world the Society is to be engaged “in the most difficult and extreme fields, in the crossroads of ideologies, in the front line of social conflict,” as the Holy Father said in his Address at the beginning of this Congregation, repeating the words of Pope Paul VI at the opening of GC 32, we are there as “men whom Christ himself sends into the world to spread his holy doctrine among people of every state and condition.”

[325] 28. In that same spirit, on this eve of the Third Millennium we pledge ourselves once again to generous service of all our brothers and sisters. This service will be Christian only if anchored by fidelity to him who makes all things new. It will be Jesuit only if it is in union with the successor of Peter. For this union has always given us the assurance ─ indeed, it is the visible sign — “of our communion with Christ, the first and supreme head of the Society which by its very name is his: the Society of Jesus.”

Latest news
View all news