When we search for information online about the Jesuit oath, we find descriptions of obscure and secret rituals, made up of gestures, often macabre formulas with references to violent acts against heretics, freemasons or people professing other religions. All this is false and a figment of the imagination: today our Archival documentation will help us recount the actual formulas pronounced by Jesuits emitting their vows, as shown in our Archives.
The religious life of the Jesuits
The members of the Society of Jesus pronounce their vows twice: at the end of their two-year novitiate, choosing to continue the formation provided by the order, and then at the end of this long journey. The formula is slightly different, since these are two different ‘stages’ of formation.
For the Catholic Church, the first vows are binding. If a novice chooses to leave the novitiate, i.e. before taking his first vows, the resignation procedure is very quick, since he is not yet considered a religious. If, on the other hand, the resignation takes place afterwards, then the procedure involves the Fr General and, in the case of Jesuit priests who wish to request the annulment of their priesthood, also the Holy See.
The Final Vows represent the effective and definitive membership for the Society, but it is always possible to choose the path of resignation:
At the end of the two-year novitiate, the Jesuit takes his first vows. The ceremony takes place in the novitiate in Genoa and is attended by family and friends.
The oath formula
Approaching the altar, the Jesuit pronounced these words, in the Latin formula:
Omnipotens sempiterne Deus, ego [nome cognome], licet undecumque tuo divino conspectu indignissimus, fretus tamen pietate ac misericordia tua infinita et impulsus tibi serviendi desiderio, voveo coram sacratissima Virgine Maria, et curia tua coelesti universa, Divine Maiestati tuae, Paupertatem, Castitatem et Oboedientiam perpetuam in Societate Jesu et promitto eandem Societatem me ingressurum, ut vitam in ea perpetua legam; omnia intelligendo iuxta ipsius Societatis Constitutiones. A tua ergo immensa bonitate et clementia per Jesu Christi sanguinem peto suppliciter, ut hoc holocaustum in odorem suavitatis admittere digneris, et ut largitus ad hoc desiderandum et offerendum, sic etiam ad explendum gratiam uberem largiaris.
[place, date and signature]
After the Second Vatican Council these formulas were also translated and today Jesuits swear in their own language, here is the English translation of the formula recited today by Italian Jesuits:
Almighty and eternal God, I [Nome Cognome], although unworthy to stand in your divine presence, trusting nevertheless in your infinite piety and mercy and moved by the desire to serve you in the presence of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints, vow to your divine Majesty perpetual poverty, chastity and obedience in the Society of Jesus; and I promise to enter the same Society. I therefore ask your immense goodness and clemency, through the Blood of Jesus Christ, to accept this offering as a sacrifice graciously pleasing to you, and as you have given me grace to desire and offer it, so also grant me abundant grace to bring it to fulfilment.
The Jesuit, who after the first vows ceases to be a novice, by this formula makes a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience and commits himself to enter the Order. From then on, every six months, the Jesuits commit themselves to renew this commitment, according to the formula of renewal, also mentioned several times by Rocci in his diary until they take their Last Vows.
After studies in philosophy, theology, a period of teaching, priestly ordination and the Third Year, the Jesuit is ready for the Last Vows. The Provincial discusses with his council whether to propose his brother for Last Vows. The final decision rests with Father General.
The oath formula
These are the words pronounced, once in Latin, during the Last Vows ceremony, also held in the presence of family, friends and the faithful during Mass:
Ego [Nome Cognome] professionem facio et promitto onnipotenti Deo coram eius Virgine Matre, et universe coaelesti curia, ac omnibus circumstantibus, et tibi Reverendo [nome del Generale], Patri Generali Societatis Jesu et successorum eius, locum Dei tenenti, perpetuam paupertatem, castitatem, et oboedientiam, et, secundum eam, peculiarem curam circa puerorum eruditionem, iuxta formam vivendi in litteris apostolicis societatis Jesu et in eius constitutionibus contentam.
Insuper promitto specialem oboedientiam Summo Pontifici circa missiones, pro ut in eisdam litteris apostolicis et Constitutionibus continetur.
[place, date and signature]
As with the previous, this formula is no longer pronounced in Latin. Here is the English translation of the Italian version:
I [Nome Cognome], make my profession and promise to Almighty God, in the presence of the Virgin his Mother, the whole heavenly court and all those around, and to you, Reverend Father [name of Provincial], Provincial of the Euro – Mediterranean Province, representative of the Superior General of the Society of Jesus and his successors, that you keep the place of God, poverty, chastity and perpetual obedience. And in accordance with this obedience, I promise special care for the education of children, all according to the form of life contained in the apostolic letters of the Society of Jesus and its constitutions.
Furthermore I promise a special obedience to the Supreme Pontiff concerning the missions, according to the norms of the same apostolic letters and Constitutions.
[Place, date and signature]
As the text reads the Jesuit swears and promises poverty, chastity, and obedience, committing himself to the observance of the Constitutions of the Society and to live according to what is to be prescribed.
The last paragraph is reserved for Jesuits ‘professed in four vows’: they commit themselves to obey specific duties that may be assigned to them by the Pontiff, at one time linked to missions, today to various types of commitments for the Holy See.
Moreover, the professed of four vows undertake, in a written document, not to aspire to an ecclesiastical career and, in the event of any appointment, to discuss it with Father General.
The day of the Final Vows
If we check the dates of Jesuit Final Vows in the annual catalogues, in the alphabetical list of Jesuits, under the column gradus and available on the ARSI website, we can see that the same dates always occur: 2 February, 15 August, 22 April, 8 December. According to tradition and internal norms, in fact, Last Vows are made on the day of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple or the Assumption of Our Lady; other dates related to St Ignatius’ biography or other liturgical feasts may also be chosen.
This is the formula that Jesuits still pronounce today, in a public liturgical ceremony, they then sign the document that is kept in our historical archive, a copy of the act is kept at ARSI.