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Saturday, December 05, 2009

The fourth vow

I forgot about Francis Xavier on his day so instead I'm posting something about the notorious :) Jesuit "fourth vow" - it has to do with missions and Francis Xavier is best known as a missionary. Here's a little of what John O'Malley has on the fourth vow in The First Jesuits ......

[...] the famous "Fourth Vow," by which the professed members of the Society oblige themselves to "special obedience to the sovereign pontiff regarding missions." As we have seen, this vow raised questions in the papal curia when it was first proposed in the "Five Chapters" in 1539 and, despite the simplicity of what it intended, has raised questions and been variously interpreted ever since .....

Confusion about the meaning of the vow even among Jesuits has stemmed from inattention to the obvious. First of all, it was not a vow "to the pope," as is sometimes said elliptically, but, like all religious vows, a vow to God. Second, the vow was not even about the pope, but about "missions" -- circa missiones" .... The Jesuits' Fourth Vow was in essence a vow of mobility, that is, a commitment to travel anywhere in the world for the "help of souls" ..... The vow assumed, moreover, that the pope had the broad vision required for the most effective deployment in the "vineyard of the Lord," which by definition extended throughout the world ...


When I was looking around online for info on the fourth vow, I came across a story in TIME magazine from 1975 about the the Jesuits' 32nd General Congregation (decree 4, Our Mission Today: the Service of Faith and the Promotion of Justice), Pedro Arrupe, and the fourth vow. The story tends to dramatize the then differences between the Jesuits and the pope, but still it's kind of interesting. Here's a bit of it ......

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Religion: Extending the Vow
Monday, Feb. 10, 1975

Members of the Society of Jesus are a breed apart, not only as the biggest and most influential men's order in the Roman Catholic Church but also as the group with the famed "fourth vow." All Catholic religious orders require members to take the three age-old oaths of poverty, chastity and obedience, but the Jesuits have a fourth vow all their own: special obedience to the Pope. This vow of fealty has become the focus of the recent struggle by more liberal Jesuits against conservatives in the Vatican and in the Society. Last week the delegates to an unusual General Congregation* that is charting the controversial future course of the Jesuits voted to change policy on the papal vow—an act that violated the express wishes of the Pope .....

The fourth vow originally made Jesuits available for any tasks the Pope desired, whether to stem the tide of Protestantism or spread the gospel to other continents. The source of the present trouble is that while most Jesuit priests once took the fourth vow, today less than half are permitted to do so. The vow has evolved into a sign of special merit based largely on scholarship. Only those who take it hold leadership positions, including all seats at the current General Congregation ..... Since recruitment to the order has become a serious problem (membership dropped from 36,038 in 1965 to 29,436 last year), the fourth vow was high on the agenda when the General Congregation was convened by the progressive Basque who heads the order, Superior General Pedro Arrupe (TIME cover, April 23,1973) .....

But two weeks after the closed-door meeting began on Dec. 1, Arrupe circulated a letter he had received from Jean Cardinal Villot, the Vatican Secretary of State, informing him that Pope Paul did not want any changes made concerning the vow. The Pope did not explain why, but speculation is that he favors the elitist tradition and fears anything that might hasten radical changes. The fathers nevertheless debated the fourth vow; some proposed doing away with it altogether. Last week, however, the Congregation voted to extend it to all Jesuit priests .....

Behind Villot's December letter—and the Congregation's decision to ignore it—lay a long-smoldering feud. Many conservative Jesuits have protested that during Arrupe's nine-year reign the order has been disintegrating, particularly in discipline and in loyalty to the Pope's teachings. In addition, Cardinal Villot and his aides have passed on to the Pope complaints of conservative bishops throughout the world who were upset by the social radicalism of some of the Jesuits operating in their sees.

To embarrass Arrupe, Curia conservatives leaked several confidential dressing-down letters from the Pope to the Jesuit Superior General. The conflict erupted in public in the fall of 1973, when Villot's office prepared a letter about the forthcoming Congregation that Pope Paul sent to Arrupe. In it, the Pope urged Arrupe to end the permissiveness of recent years. He added: "We express once again our desire, indeed our demand" that the Jesuits remain "a religious, apostolic, priestly order, linked to the Roman Pontiff by a special bond of love and service." Soon Rome was rife with rumors that Arrupe would have to resign under pressure.

But if Arrupe was in trouble within the Society of Jesus, reports TIME'S Erik Amfitheatrof, the Curia maneuvers only served to help him score a major victory. The Congregation not only resented the interference with internal Jesuit issues, but feared a growth in curial influence over the order if Arrupe were weakened. It therefore rallied round the Superior General, who is now strongly entrenched in his post. Arrupe showed great confidence and diplomacy last month in a speech in which he admitted the Pope's anguish over the Jesuits. He becomingly confessed that his failings as an administrator were partly to blame, but added that any faults come from facing "very difficult problems" and "do not mean that the Society is unfaithful in its vocation" .......

But last week's vote alone makes the meeting a turning point for the Society of Jesus, and it presents Pope Paul with a delicate political problem. He has the power to reject any action of the General Congregation, including its decision on the fourth vow. But that would produce dangerous new tension between the Pope and the Jesuits who are sworn to serve him.

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You can read more about the Jesuit fourth vow in Fr. James Martin's past post - Final Vows? What's That?


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