Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

St Ignatius of Loyola and the Development of the Society of Jesus

by Pasquale Puca

Descriptive Title

IHS: Totally at the Disposal of Christ and His Pope


This article by Pasquale Puca provides a brief look at the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola before his conversion through the development of the Society of Jesus as well as the current status of the Society.

Larger Work

L'Osservatore Romano



Publisher & Date

Vatican, January 30, 2008

Ignatius was Basque, the youngest of 13 children born to Marina Saenz de Licona and Beltran Yanez de Onaz y Loyola in 1491, probably on 23 October, in the castle of Loyola, Azpeitia, the domain of the lords of Loyola. The family coat of arms above the entrance to the home of his birth consists of a shield with two wolves drinking from a cauldron. Ignatius was baptized "Inigo" in the Church of St Sebastian, Soreasu.

His multifaceted personality made him a complicated person.

He was a man of the world, a courtier, a daring soldier, a passionate reader of romances. He was also impetuous, yet thoughtful and very practical, with a surprising amount of common sense and self-control. His moods were sometimes incomprehensible.

He converted to Christ and his Gospel during his convalescence after being seriously wounded in his leg on 20 May 1521, the day after Pentecost, while defending the fortress of Pamplona from a violent attack by the French army.

From that time, he lived as a man of God: he was penitent, zealous, with a devotion to the Apostle Peter; he was a contemplative in action, dedicated unreservedly to the good of his neighbour for a more effective service to the Church and the greater glory of God.

Inwardly attentive to God's Spirit, he was totally willing to carry out the special "missions" which from time to time he received from the Roman Pontiff. He was an expert teacher of spiritual life and initiated a new form of evangelization in the Church. He frequently encountered adversity, opposition and at times even real persecution.

This is an essential and realistic profile of Inigo. It was only later, out of devotion to St Ignatius of Antioch, that he decided to call himself Ignatius. This may have been because, while recovering from the injuries received at Pamplona, he read in the Legenda aurea or Flos sanctorum by James of Voragine that Ignatius of Antioch's executioners, when they opened up his heart, found in it three golden letters: IHS, Jesus' monogram, which Loyola was to choose for the Society of Jesus' coat of arms.

This can be seen and appreciated from an attentive reading of his various writings: the Autobiography, the Spiritual Diary, the Spiritual Exercises, the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, and approximately 7,000 letters.

In fact, these writings reveal his extraordinary humanity, realism, wisdom, prudence and foresight in the face of the intrigues of his time, his organizational genius, his rare psychological penetration through which he acquired a profound knowledge of the human spirit, his burning apostolic zeal, his authentic spirit of faith, his deep union with God, as well as the intuition and charism of the founder of a Religious Order whose true Superior could only be Jesus himself and his Vicar on earth, the Pope. This is how it came to be called the "Society of Jesus".

Unconditional Papal service

The Society was not to be restricted by favouring any one place, people or sector of Church life and mission. Its members had to be ready to go anywhere its apostolate could benefit those God desired to illuminate, comfort, sanctify and save.

Ignatius' insight and his decision to place the Society entirely at the Pope's disposal fit into this context. It was to be ready for whatever decision or "mission" the Pope wished to entrust to its members, so that they might make themselves useful in practice wherever the needs of the evangelization and sanctification of the People of God were the most pressing.

This also explains the significance of and reason for the special vow of obedience and the total availability of the Society and its members to whatever mission the Roman Pontiff saw fit to entrust to them.

Indeed, for greater peace of mind and to put his project on solid foundations, Ignatius ensured that the nature, spirituality, community life and apostolate of the new Religious Order were clearly and authoritatively expressed in the Papal Document that approved this new ecclesial realty in the Church.

It can be read in the two fundamental Papal Bulls: Regimi Militantis Ecclesiae of 27 September 1540, signed by Pope Paul III, and Exposcit Debitum dated 21 July 1550, signed by Pope Julius III. Both Bulls contain the Formula of the Institute of the Society of Jesus, that is, the plan of life and of the apostolate of the new Religious Order, approved by the Roman Pontiff.

The text of Julius III's Bull, for instance, states: "Whoever desires 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 retreats, 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.

"Moreover, he should show himself ready to reconcile the estranged, compassionately assist and serve those who are in prisons or hospitals, and indeed, to perform any other works of charity, according to what will seem expedient for the glory of God and the common good" (n. 1).

In the same Papal Document of Julius III, it is explained further: "For the sake of greater devotion in obedience to the Apostolic See, of greater abnegation of our own wills and of surer direction from the Holy Spirit, we have nevertheless judged it to be supremely profitable that each of us and any others who will make the same profession in the future should, in addition to that ordinary bond of the three vows, be bound by this special vow to carry out whatever the present and future Roman Pontiffs may order which pertains to the progress of souls and the propagation of the faith; and to go at once, without subterfuge or excuse, as far as in us lies" (n. 3).

Later, in writing the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus for spiritual, community and apostolic life and for the government of the Society itself, St Ignatius stressed that "the vow which the Society made to obey him as the supreme Vicar of Christ without any excuse 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" (part VII, ch. 1, n. 1).

Indeed, in this regard he did not fail to add: "In order to achieve better the end of our profession and promise, he who happens to be the Superior General when a new Vicar of Christ takes office should be obliged, either himself or through another and within the year after the Pontiff's election and coronation, to manifest to His Holiness the profession and express promise which the Society has to be obedient to him, especially in regard to the missions, to the glory of God our Lord" (Ibid., n. 8).

The Jesuit reality today

Today, the Society of Jesus, which in accordance with the Ignatian spirit is at the disposal of the present Vicar of Christ, the Holy Father Benedict XVI, is present on all five continents.

On 1 January 2007 it had 19,216 members: 13,491 priests, 3,049 scholastics (students who are preparing for the priesthood), 1,810 brothers (Jesuits who are not priests) and 866 novices. Their average age on the same date was 57.34 years; 63.40 years for the priests, 29.89 years for the scholastics and 65.54 years for the brothers.

With regard to its administration, the Society is currently divided into 91 Provinces with 12 dependent Regions: three in Africa, four in the Americas and five in Asia and Oceania. All together, they constitute 10 administrative units (Assistances).

On the above-mentioned date, the Jesuits in these units were distributed as follows: in

Africa: 1,430 (723 priests, 128 brothers, 443 scholastics, 133 novices);

Southern Latin America: 1,513 (954 priests, 217 brothers, 276 scholastics, 66 novices);

Northern Latin America: 1,374 (974 priests, 123 brothers, 228 scholastics, 49 novices);

Southern Asia: 4,018 (2,379 priests, 271 brothers, 1,093 scholastics, 275 novices);

Eastern Asia: 1,672 (1,135 priests, 110 brothers, 330 scholastics, 97 novices);

Central Europe: 732 (610 priests, 59 brothers, 43 scholastics, 20 novices);

Southern Europe: 2,448 (1,763 priests, 466 brothers, 157 scholastics, 62 novices);

Western Europe: 1,958 (1,644 priests, 155 brothers, 123 scholastics, 36 novices);

Eastern Europe: 1,119 (797 priests, 118 brothers, 148 scholastics, 56 novices);

the United States of America: 2,952 (2,509 priests, 163 brothers, 208 scholastics, 72 novices).

The percentage of the presence of the Jesuits in the 10 Assistances today is thus the following: 20.9 percent in Southern Asia; 15.4 percent in the U.S.A.; 12.7 percent in Southern Europe; 10.2 percent in Western Europe; 8.7 percent in Eastern Asia-Oceania; 7.9 percent in Southern Latin America; 7.4 percent in Africa; 7.2 percent in Northern Latin America; 5.8 percent in Eastern Europe; 3.8 percent in Central Europe.

A considerable part of the universal mission entrusted by the Church to the Society is carried out today at the international houses in Rome, directly dependent on the Superior General. In addition to the General Curia, these are: the Pontifical Gregorian University, the Pontifical Biblical Institute (with its dependent headquarters in Jerusalem), the Pontifical Oriental Institute, the St Robert Bellarmine College, the International College of Jesus, the St Peter Canisius Residence, the Pontifical German-Hungarian College, the Pontifical Pio Latino Americano College, the Pontifical College known as "The Russicum", the journal Civilta Cattolica, the Vatican Observatory at the Papal Residence of Castel Gandolfo and the Tucson Residence in Arizona.

At the beginning of the year 2006-07, present in these communities were 446 Jesuits (three Cardinals, 368 priests, 30 brothers, 45 scholastics). Their nationalities are very varied. According to the criterion of the apostolic universality of the Society which St Ignatius expressed in the Constitutions: "The more universal the good is, the more is it divine" (Constitutions, P. VII Chap. II, n. 1).

Although they continue to belong to their original Province, they are temporarily employed for the necessary time, as the Superior General deems fit, in apostolic activities at the service of the universal Church.

© L'Osservatore Romano

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