To the Whole Society

On Dealing with Superiors


Rome, December 1, 1554

summary | text of letter | footnotes

          In December 1554 Ignatius drew up this instruction listing the norms to be kept when treating or dealing with superiors. He also gives rules regarding writing to Ours in distant places, and rules about the reception of candidates into the Society. Ignatius ordered that a copy of this instruction be sent to every Jesuit house, not only in Europe, but also in India, Brazil, and the Congo. This instruction exists in Spanish and Italian versions [Ep. 9:90-96].

Method of Treating and Dealing with Superiors

          1. He who has business with a superior should have the matter well in hand, arranged in order, and thought out by himself or together with others, in keeping with the greater or lesser importance of the matter. In matters of lesser importance, however, or when there is need of haste and no time is available for study or consultation, it is left to his own judgment whether or not he should represent the matter to the superior.

          2. After he has examined and studied his proposal, he should place it before the superior, and tell him that this matter has been examined by himself or with others, as the case may be. He should give the superior the results of his examination and study, but he should never say to a superior in discussing a point with him, "This or that is the right one," or "This is the way it should be," but he should speak conditionally and with a certain amount of reserve.

          3. Once he has proposed the matter to the superior, it will be the superior's duty to make a decision, or wait for further study, or refer the proposal back to him or to those who submitted it, or appoint others to examine it, or make the decision then and there, according to the nature of the difficulty involved.

          4. If he points out some drawback in the superior's decision, and the superior should reaffirm his decision, there should be no answer or discussion for the time being.

          5. But if, after the superior has made his decision, he who is dealing with him sees that something else would be better, let him call the superior's attention to it, giving his reason. And even if the superior has withheld judgment, this may be done after three or four hours, or a day. He could then represent to the superior what he thinks would be good, preserving, however, a manner of speaking and use of words that would neither be nor appear to be dissentient or quarrelsome. He should then accept in silence what is then and there decided.

          6. But even supposing that a decisive answer had been given the first time, or even the second, he might, a month or more later, represent his view in the manner already indicated. For time and experience uncover many things, and the superior himself may change his mind.

          7. He who deals with a superior should accommodate himself to the character and abilities of the superior. He should speak distinctly, so that he can be clearly heard, and whenever possible at an hour that is suited to the superior's convenience.

          8. As far as possible, Ours should not wait until the day or the previous evening to write what should have been written by Saturday, or at other ordinary or extraordinary times when the post is about to leave for places beyond Italy, and then be forced to write in a hurry. But they should try to arrange to begin writing on the Sunday before what should be written by Saturday, and finish the dispatch by Wednesday evening, and leave as little as possible to be written in answer to letters received up to that time. In this way Thursday, Friday, and Saturday will be free to deal with and to answer other matters of importance that may turn up and need an immediate response.

          9. Ordinarily do not write to different parts of Italy more than once a month; inform the rectors that this is in keeping with the orders given, unless something arises that does not permit a longer delay.

          10. To places that are more distant, write every three months, unless something important happened, or the post is more frequent than usual.

          11. Regarding the reception of candidates for the Society in Italy, the enclosed points1 are sent to the colleges; these points deal with the qualities required in those who are to be admitted to the Society. And they should not receive anyone, or send anyone here, until we have been informed about them, point by point.

          12. However, if there are some who impressively, and beyond the possibility of any doubt, fulfill the conditions set forth in the points, they may be received or even sent to Rome, if they are of such high-standing, or if there be danger in delay, in which case superiors will have to use their own judgment. But it would be much better to advise the general in Rome and wait for an answer. There might be no difficulty about the candidates, but there might well be difficulty for the house in Rome.

          13. We are sending these same points and directions everywhere; they had been prepared for Italy and Sicily (which is always to be understood when we speak of Italy). It will prove advantageous for other places to know what goes on in Italy, and these points may be of the greatest possible help to them. It is true that in places far distant from Rome, such as in other kingdoms, there is no need to consult with the general about admissions, or about sending men to Rome. But the charity and discretion of the commissary or provincial, with whom lower superiors such as rectors will consult, will take the place of consulting with the general. There could well be cases that will not allow the delay involved in consulting the general.

          14. Provision has been made that a copy of this notice be sent to all places where there are any of the Society, and in the book in which this is entered in Rome a note has been made at the foot of the page indicating that it has been sent everywhere, and whether it has been received. Until such a time that a notice arrives of its receipt, let a reminder of this instruction be sent with each letter you write, and ask them to advise you of its receipt.

          15. This same instruction is being sent to India, and the provincial there should send the same to the remote parts of his jurisdiction. The same dispatch can be sent from Portugal to Brazil and the Congo, although in such remote places, especially among infidels and recently converted Christians, even though they should be helped by what is here written, it is left to the discretion of superiors, who, taking into consideration the condition of the region and other circumstances, will act according to their judgment about what is best for the greater glory of God and the greater spiritual progress of souls.


1 Ignatius may be referring to something similar to a questionnaire indicating the qualities candidates should possess.