Final Vows: Jesuitspeak for Availability and Mission

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Final Vows: Jesuitspeak for Availability and Mission
After having lived two decades of my life as a Jesuit, the Society of Jesus invited me to pronounce my final vows within the religious order. The profession unfolded on 26 February 2019 during a Eucharistic celebration presided over by Fr. Arturo Sosa SJ, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, who received my vows at the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa. Together with me, Kelwin Monteiro SJ, also pronounced his final vows. What are the final vows? “Hadn’t you already pronounced your vows when you joined the Jesuits?,” my family and friends wanted to know. “And how are these different from those first vows?” These differences that are self-evident to Jesuits are not necessarily obvious to everyone. At the end of two years of novitiate when the Jesuit makes his first vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, he makes a “promise that I[he] shall enter that same Society in order to lead my[his] entire life in it, understanding all things according to its Constitutions”.1 In the successive years the Jesuit undergoes the various stages of Jesuit formation — while also being ordained a priest or choosing to be a brother — that eventually culminate with the tertianship. It is following these years that the Society of Jesus invites the Jesuit to profess his final vows; which besides the three vows now includes a fourth vow of special obedience to the Pope with regard to the missions.2 Apart from these final vows, the professed Jesuit also makes five simple vows which have traditionally been pronounced privately in the sacristy. The five simple vows relate more to the Institute of the Society of Jesus and the governance of its members with regard to it. These involve (1) never to change any statute concerning poverty within the Constitutions of the Society unless to make it more strict, (2) never ambition for any prelacy or dignity in the Society, (3) never ambition for any prelacy or dignity outside the Society; and not consent to one’s election unless forced by circumstances of obedience, (4) communicate the name of anyone seeking the two aforementioned positions to the Society or its superior and (5) if ordained a bishop, never to refuse to listen to the counsel of the General of the Society.3 The path to the final vows within the Society of Jesus can be a protracted journey as outlined by its Institute.4
“By experience we have learned that the path has many and great difficulties connected with it. Consequently we have judged it opportune to decree that no one should be permitted to pronounce his profession in this Society unless his life and doctrine have been probed by long and exacting tests. For in all truth this Institute requires men who are thoroughly humble and prudent in Christ as well as conspicuous in the integrity of Christian life and learning.”5
The Society thus probes its men by subjecting them to “long and exacting tests” that apart from its training involve a process of discernment as well as a process of informationes that provides feedback on its men. It is a system by which the Society seeks to enshrine its core values within its body. The simple vows surrounding poverty and not ambitioning for positions are illustrative of how the Society preserves its fundamental principles that are outlined within its Institute. The final vows along with the five simple vows need to be interpreted in the light of “complete availability and mobility for missions and ministries of the Society”. Availability has been of strategic importance for the Jesuits which then makes them readily available to their superiors. The attribute of availability thus implies mobility which further contributes to the global imagination of Jesuit missions. In what could be seen to be a metaphor of the Jesuit availability for missions is exemplified by the historical significance of the Casa Professa (Professed House) and the attached Igreja do Bom Jesus (declared Basilica of Bom Jesus in 1946) within the erstwhile Cidade de Goa, now referred to as Old Goa. Following the arrival of the Navarrese Jesuit Francis Xavier in 1542, Goa would soon emerge as the nerve centre of the Jesuit missionary enterprise in the East.6 The Casa Professa that housed the offices of the provincial, as also the mission and province procurators and other officials would serve as the headquarters of this enterprise from where its activities would be coordinated. While these pre-modern European Jesuit missionaries accommodated to indigenous cultures, they simultaneously navigated through colonial spaces produced by the networks of Portuguese empire as also bearing witness to a universal Catholic faith.7 When the Society of Jesus was globally restored in 1814, Jesuit presence in Goa began in 1889, and was declared an independent province only in 1993. 8 While there is continuity and discontinuity between its pre-suppression pasts and post-restoration present, the Jesuits in Goa reflect a rather indigenised province. The nature of its apostolic works has now evolved from educational and pastoral activities to also focus on issues of reconciliation and social justice. This brings dynamism to the Jesuit mission. However, for a Jesuit, what has not changed is his availability for mission. The final vows are a manifestation of that availability to adapt to the dynamism of Jesuit mission. The Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus for 2019-2029,9 that were promulgated recently on 19 February, outlines priorities for Jesuit apostolic activities for the next ten years:
  • To show the way to God through the Spiritual Exercises and discernment
  • To walk with the poor, the outcasts of the world, those whose dignity has been violated, in a mission of reconciliation and justice.
  • Accompany young people in the creation of a hope-filled future.
  • Collaborate in the care of our Common Home — God’s creation.
And as Pope Francis avers that these Universal Apostolic Preferences “are in agreement with the current priorities of the Church” is indicative of how the Jesuit mission participates and makes itself available to the mission of the Church. The fourth vows are an expression of this availability for mission.    

  1. Padberg, John W (ed), The Constitutions of The Society of Jesus and Their Complementary Norms, Saint Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996, [540] 
  2. The Constitutions of The Society of Jesus, [527] 
  3. The Constitutions of The Society of Jesus, [CN 134] 
  4. The Institute — more formally known as the Formula of the Institute (Formula Instituti) — is the official charter of the Society of Jesus. It was ratified in 1540 by Pope Paul III in the papal bull, Regimini militantis ecclesiae. Ten years later, the Institute was confirmed with a few more adaptations by Pope Julius III through the papal bull, Exposcit debitum (1550). 
  5. Padberg, John W (ed), The Constitutions of The Society of Jesus and Their Complementary Norms, pp. 12-13 (Exposcit debitum, no. 9)
  6. Ignatius of Loyola raised Goa into a Jesuit province in 1549 and appointed Francis Xavier as its first provincial superior. Goa was thus the third province of the Society of Jesus, following Spain and Portugal. As its missionary enterprise spread eastward, Malabar (1601) and Japan (1611) emerged as provinces. 
  7. Chakravarti, Ananya, The Empire of Apostles: Religion, Accommodatio, and the Imagination of Empire in Early Modern Brazil and India, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2018. 
  8. Naik SJ, Gregory, Jesuits of the Goa Province: A Historical Overview, 1542-2000, XCHR Studies Series No. 13, Margao: CinnamonTeal Publishing, 2019. As Goa continued to be politically associated with Portugal until 1961, the Jesuit presence in Goa was intermittently declared a mission, subsequently attached to Belgaum (1954) and Pune (1963), and later declared an independent province in 1993. 
  9. Sosa SJ, Arturo, “Universal Apostolic Preferences of the Society of Jesus, 2019-2029”, 2019/06, 19 February 2019, Rome: Curia Generalizia della Compagnia di Gesù, (accessed on 28 February 2019) 

Rinald D'Souza

Rinald D'Souza is a historian of religion and society in modern South Asia. He specialises on twentieth-century Christianity and the history of the Jesuits in India. He is presently pursuing a PhD in history at the Department of History at KU Leuven, Belgium. His current research explores the self-fashioning of Adivasi Jesuits through the missionary periodical press. Read more.

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