The expression, “the missions,” in modern English refers to the “foreign missions,” such as India, Africa, and so on. It makes no difference to the meaning and reference of the expression that those territories are no longer considered mission territories—in fact, many parishes in the United States and in Europe are staffed today by African and Indian priests. Despite changes in the ecclesial situation, the expression “ the missions” retains its meaning as indicating places “other,” to which missionaries are sent. The problem is that the Latin, which was in all likelihood composed by Ignatius himself, does not speak of the missions but simply of missions. It runs: “Insuper, promitto specialem obedientiam Summo Pontifici circa missiones.” As many of you will recall from the first week of freshman Latin class, that language contains no articles, so the phrase “circa missiones” can be translated either as “in regard to the missions” or as “in regard to missions,” depending on the context and the meaning intended by the original author. And it is clear that Ignatius did not mean for the fourth vow to apply just on those occasions when a Jesuit was sent to “the missions.” It was rather, as he put it—this time in Spanish, not Latin—“nuestro principio y principal fundamento” “our starting point and principal foundation,” the starting point and principal foundation of the Society of Jesus itself. (with effort) be construed as referring generally to any missions that the Pope gives to the Society, which include the whole work of the Society itself, conducted in the Pope’s name by the Society’s General Superior; secondly, because after the vow, the vovens says the words, “according to the same apostolic letters and the Constitutions.” In those apostolic letters, the popes who approved the Society—Paul III and Julius III—indicate clearly what they mean by the missions referred to in the vow. In Paul III’s bull, the anniversary of which we celebrate today, we read:
Whoever desires to fight as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Roman pontiff, his vicar on earth, should, after a solemn vow of perpetual chastity, bear in mind that he is part of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to direct its efforts primarily at the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine and at the propagation of the Faith by means of public preaching and the ministry of the word of God.
A second bull, entitled Exposcit debitum, promulgated in 1550 by Julius III incorporates these words of Paul III’s (which originate with Ignatius and his original Jesuit companions), but changes some things. First, he specifies that the Society is to serve the Church under the Roman pontiff (and not, in the first instance, to serve Roman pontiff); secondly, by a change in word order, he makes more prominent the mission of propagating of the Faith and adds the word “defensionem et,” so that purpose of the Society is the propagation and defense of the Faith.