Looking at the more than four centuries of the history of the Society of Jesus, we are all used to talking about the “first” or “ancient” Society of Jesus (from the time of its foundation in the 16th century to its suppression in 1773) and the “second” or “new” Society (from its restoration in 1814 to the present day). But in more recent years we have also begun to speak of a “third” Society, generally active during the period from the Second Vatican Council until today. There have been many substantial changes in the life of the world and the Church that have been profoundly reflected in the Society of Jesus over the last six decades, leading us to consider them as a new historical period in the history of the Jesuits.
The Second Vatican Council (1962-65) undoubtedly constitutes a watershed in the history of the Church and, consequently, in that of religious institutes, called to renew themselves in depth. During the Council, on October 5, 1964, the superior general of the Jesuits, the Belgian Jean-Baptiste Janssens, who had been ill for some time, died and the 31st General Congregation was convened for the election of his successor.
On May 22, 1965, Fr. Pedro Arrupe was elected general. He was able to participate in the last session of the Council and – after a period of interruption in the sessions of the Congregation – actively presided over the resumption and conclusion of the work of the Congregation itself. In the last months of 1966 this Congregation carried out a great work of revision of the government and of the life and activities of the Society of Jesus in the light of the indications of the Council.
It is therefore reasonable to consider the Second Vatican Council, the 31st General Congregation and the beginning of Fr. Arrupe’s generalate as the beginning of a new period in the history of the Society of Jesus.