Ten Shining Features of the Society of Jesus


A number of attempts have been made in recent years to gather up certain principles that shine through the writings of St. Ignatius and are envisaged as permanent features of the Society he founded. Any such list presupposes, of course, the common elements of all religious orders in the Catholic Church, including the faithful observance of the usual vows of religion: poverty, chastity and obedience. The following 10 features may serve as a summary of what is more specific to the spirit of St. Ignatius.

1. Dedication to the glory of God, the “ever greater God,” whom we can never praise and serve enough: This gives the Jesuit a kind of holy restlessness, a ceaseless effort to do better, to achieve the more or, in Latin, the magis. Ignatius may be said to have been a God-intoxicated man in the sense that he made “the greater glory of God” the supreme norm of every action, great or small.

2. Personal love for Jesus Christ and a desire to be counted among his close companions: Repeatedly in the Exercises Jesuits pray to know Christ more clearly, to love him more dearly and to follow him more nearly. Preaching in the towns of Italy, the first companions deliberately imitated the style of life of the disciples whom Jesus had sent forth to evangelize the towns of Galilee.

3. To labour with, in and for the church: thinking at all times with the church in obedience to its pastors. Throughout the Constitutions, Ignatius insists on the teaching of the doctrine that is “safer and more approved,” so that students may learn the “more solid and safe doctrine.”

4. Availability: To be at the disposal of the church, available to labor in any place, for the sake of the greater and more universal good. Regarding the Society as the spiritual militia of the pope, St. Ignatius sees the whole world, so to speak, as his field of operations. Inspired by this cosmic vision, he admits no divisions based on national frontiers and ethnicities.

5. Mutual union: Jesuits are to see themselves as parts of a body bound together by a communion of minds and hearts. In the Constitutions St. Ignatius asserted that the Society could not attain its ends unless its members were united by deep affection among themselves and with the head. Many authors quote in this connection the term used by Ignatius of his first companions: “friends in the Lord.”

6. Preference for spiritual and priestly ministries: The Jesuits are a priestly order, all of whose professed members must be ordained, although the cooperation of spiritual and lay coadjutors is highly valued. In the choice of ministries, Ignatius writes, “spiritual goods ought to be preferred to bodily,” since they are more conducive to the “ultimate and supernatural end.”

7. Discernment: Ignatius was a master of the practical life and the art of decision-making. He distinguished carefully between ends and means, choosing the means best suited to achieve the end in view. In the use of means he consistently applied the principle: “tantum...quantum,” meaning “as much as helps,” but not more. In this connection he teaches the discipline of indifference in the sense of detachment from anything that is not to be sought for its own sake.

8. Adaptability: Ignatius always paid close attention to the times, places and persons with which he was dealing. He took care to frame general laws in such a way as to allow for flexibility in application.

9. Respect for human and natural capacities: Although Ignatius relied primarily on spiritual means, such as divine grace, prayer and sacramental ministry, he took account of natural abilities, learning, culture and manners as gifts to be used for the service and glory of God. For this reason he showed a keen interest in education.

10. An original synthesis of the active and the contemplative life: Jerome Nadal (1507-80) spoke of the Jesuit practice “of seeking a perfection in our prayer and spiritual exercises in order to help our neighbor, and by means of that help of neighbor acquiring yet more perfection in prayer, in order to help our neighbor even more.” According to Nadal, it is a special grace of the whole Society to be contemplative not only in moments of withdrawal but also in the midst of action, thus “seeking God in all things.”