Obedience in the Society of Ignatians

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Society of Ignatians Rejects St. Ignatius Loyolas’s Emphasis on “Blind Obedience”

In St. Ignatius’s method of governing his order, time and again in his letters, he insisted on “prudence” , i. e. careful, analytic decision-making in applying principles to concrete situations, and gave great freedom of action to the members of his institute.

While the Society of Ignatians upholds this dimension of St. Ignatius Loyola’s understanding of the virtue of obedience, it utterly rejects certain key policies he wanted for his Compañía de Jesús.

Firstly, the Society of Ignatians will not accept St. Ignatius’s understanding of obedience as not only external fulfillment of orders but also, when he thinks the order is either faulty reasoning or unwise, or otherwise unsuitable, a changing of his way of thinking about it to conform to the mind of the superior. As St. Ignatius himself wrote:

“They should obey entirely and promptly, not only by exterior execution of what the superior commands…without excuses or complaints…but also by striving interiorly to have genuine resignation and abnegation of their own wills and judgments, bringing their wills and judgments wholly into conformity with what the superior wills and judges in all things in which no sin is seen, and regarding the superior’s will and judgment as the rule of their own….” ( The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus and their Complementary Norms (St. Louis, MO: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996), p. 123)

The Society of Ignatians rejects the idea of an obedience of judgment because to oblige anyone to alter his understanding even in minor matters, is to blunt and dull a man’s God-given capacity to reason about right and wrong, good and evil. This is unacceptable, now and always.  It is to attempt to enter where no man should ever dare to go ‒ the most sacred place on earth ‒ a man’s conscience.

Secondly, the Society of Ignatians totally rejects from its spirituality all of his statements that give the impression of an obedience that is uncritical or robotic or that could be interpreted by unscrupulous superiors and used to manipulate the consciences of their subjects.

“To arrive at complete certainty, this is the attitude of mind we should maintain: I will believe that the white object I see is black if that should be the decision of the hierarchical Church…” ( Rule 13, “Rules for Thinking with the Church” in the The Spiritual Exercises)
“We must put aside all judgment of our own, and keep the mind ever ready and prompt to obey in all things the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, our holy Mother, the hierarchical Church.” (“Rules for Thinking with the Church” in Spiritual Exercises)

“We should be more inclined to approve and speak well of the regulations and instructions as well as the personal conduct of our superiors. It may well be that these are not or have not been always praiseworthy; but to criticize them…is likely to give rise to complaint and scandal.”  [Rule 10, “Rules for Thinking with the Church”, from The Spiritual Exercises]

Society of Ignatians Rejects St. Ignatius Loyolas’s Policy of “Account of Conscience”

Neither will the Society of Ignatians follow St. Ignatius’s policy, the “Account of Conscience”  whereby Jesuits are morally obliged to reveal their conscience regularly to their superior:

“Wherefore, whoever wishes to follow this Society [of Jesus] in our Lord or to remain in it for his greater glory must be obliged to the following. Before he enters the first probation or after entering it, before his going through the general examination or some months later…in confession or in secret or in another manner which may be more pleasing or spiritually consoling to him, he must manifest his conscience with great humility, transparency, and charity, without concealing anything which is offensive to the Lord of all men. He must give an account of his whole past life, or at least of the more essential matters, to him who is the superior of the Society….[they] will do the same thing on various other occasions…”  ( The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus and their Complementary Norms (St. Louis, MO: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996), pp. 43-44.

This practice, although approved by the Holy See for the Jesuits, will not be a part of the Society of Ignatians. In my opinion, such a practice can be used to manipulate the freedom of conscience of both the superior and the subject, and could, in extreme cases, enable moral perversion to spread and corrupt not only an individual but an entire community.

However, these objections to some of St. Ignatius’s policies should not be interpreted to imply the slightest allegation that St. Ignatius intended to use obedience in a manipulative way. He always intended obedience to be lived in the context of the Faith and the Natural Law.