Fifth general of the Jesuits; b. Atri, Sept. 14, 1543; d. Rome, Jan. 31, 1615. He was the youngest son of the Duke of Atri, Giovanni Antonio Donato A. d'Aragona.
He studied jurisprudence in Perugia, entered papal service and was appointed a chamberlain by Pius IV.
On July 22, 1567, he entered the Society of Jesus after learning about it from Francis Borgia and Juan de Polanco. In 1574 he was ordained, and became a professor of philosophy at the Roman College. The next year he was named rector of the Collegium Maximum in Naples. In 1576 he was provincial of the Neapolitan province and three years later, of the Roman province. On Feb. 19, 1581, with 32 of the 57 votes, Acquaviva was elected general of the society; he had the longest term of office to 1964.
His administration was marked by a very sharp increase of the society in Europe and in the missions. The number of members grew from approximately 5,000 to more than 13,000, and colleges, from 144 to 372. To the tasks posed by this expansion, Acquaviva brought a disciplined handling of his office, judged by many to have been too authoritative. He molded the society as no other general had since its founder, Ignatius of Loyola. His chief concern was the maintenance and promotion of religious spirit during this period of rapid growth. In the resultant regimentation that seemed necessary, the individual initiative envisioned by Ignatius was perforce retarded. During Acquaviva's long term, the standardization that had actually begun earlier was conclusively established, e.g., a binding regulation for the daily hour of mental prayer, annual repetition of the Exercises, and a one-year tertianship. Significant is his letter Quis sit orationis et paenitentiae usus of 1590, in which Acquaviva, as did his predecessor Everard Mercurian, takes an openminded attitude on the question of extent and type of mental prayer and external penitential exercises. Differences of opinion on this point led to a clash with the German assistant and admonitor, Peter Hoffaeus, who subsequently was relieved of his office.
In 1599 the final Directorium for making and conducting the Spiritual Exercises appeared, which, although in use for centuries, is today not considered to correspond completely with the intentions of St. Ignatius. Acquaviva also provided the definitive text of the Ratio Studiorum, which regulated Jesuit learning and higher studies until the society's suppression on Aug. 16, 1773. He issued as well the Industriae … ad curandos animae morbos, directed to superiors and reflecting wide experience and genuine piety. Among the many difficulties that tested his brilliant talent for diplomacy and administration were: the movement among Spanish Jesuits toward a national independence which was supported by Phillip II and had an influential advocate in Francesco Toletus, who was elevated to the cardinalate in 1593; the intention of Sixtus V to amend the constitution of the society on very significant points; and the plan of Clement VIII to name Acquaviva archbishop of Naples in order to remove him from control of the society. There were also the controversies on theological questions, such as the doctrine stated by St. Robert Bellarmine on the potestas indirecta of the pope; the debates on grace caused by Luis molina's Concordia liberi arbitrii cum gratiae donis that led to the congregatio de auxiliis; and the doctrine of Juan de Mariana on the murder of tyrannical leaders. Through these difficulties Acquaviva was able to consolidate the society into its ultimate stability with circumspection and tenacity.
Bibliography: c. sommervogel et al., Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus (Brussels-Paris 1890–1931) 1:480–491; 8:1669–70; 12:46–48, 318–319, 910–911. b. schneider, Archivum historicum Societatis Jesu 26 (1957) 3–56; 27 (1958) 279–306. j. de guibert, La Spiritualité de la Compagnie de Jésus, ed. e. lamalle (Rome 1953).