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Spiritual Exercises


A systematic series of meditations composed by St. ignatius of loyola, and one of the great classics of Christian spirituality. St. Ignatius was the originator neither of the spiritual retreat nor of methodical prayerin which fields he was the heir of an already existing traditionbut he did nevertheless make a significant contribution in both respects through the Spiritual Exercises.

History. The Exercises was not written at a single time. It was composed between 1521 and 1548. Ignatius began with a notebook of quotations put together during his spiritually decisive convalescence at Loyola after the battle of Pamplona. Shortly afterward, in Manresa in 1522, he roughed out his work, and completed it in Paris in 1534. This edition he revised slightly in 1548. The Spanish original of the Exercises has been lost. There is one copy called "autograph" because Ignatius himself made corrections in it, and three Latin translations: the versio prima, done, it would seem, by Ignatius himself at Paris in 1528; the vulgata of André des Freux, printed in 1548; and the versio litteralis of Jean Roothaan, done during the first part of the 19th century. The vulgata is considered the official text, although the autograph has gained general favor, especially with modern translators. The paragraph numbering used by all recent editors was introduced by A. Codina in the handbook edition published at Turin in 1928.

Three major influences contributed to the Exercises: Ignatius' reading of the Vita Christi of Ludolph of Saxony, the Flos Sanctorum of James of Voragine, and the Ejercitatorio of García de Cisneros; his spiritual experiences during his conversion; and the mystical graces received at Manresa and noted in his autobiography (nn. 2830). Ignatius' later studies, especially at Paris, and his knowledge of budding Protestantism provided a signifi-cant complement to these earlier influences.

Contents. The book contains instructions, admonitions, warnings, meditations, examinations of conscience, and other practices, together with the method of arranging the different exercises for their fruitful use by the exercitant. The work was not composed with any thought to elegance of style or easy readability. Indeed, it was not intended for light reading, and was not written so much for the exercitant as for the retreat master. It was conceived as a kind of vade mecum to aid the latter in directing persons making the exercises. The various exercises can be used more or less completely according to the spiritual needs of the exercitant and the time he can devote to solitude and prayer. By its more or less integral use the Exercises provides a basis for what amounts, in effect, to different kinds of retreats. It can be used over a period of months by those who have only a short time each day to give to its program, but for those who are able to withdraw from other activities and give themselves entirely to the making of the exercises, they are designed to take about 30 days. Apparently Ignatius himself did not foresee the short retreat that condensed the whole of the exercises. This practice was begun by St. Peter cani sius in 1588 and became quite popular. Similarly Ignatius did not think of giving the exercises in their entirety to assembled groups. His retreat was intended for individuals, not for groups, and it was the function of the retreat master or director to adapt the various exercises to the needs of the exercitant and to the action of the Lord in him. The Ignatian exercises were, in fact, intended to be a personal enterprise of the exercitant, and the director was expected neither to preach nor to suggest decisions to him; he was merely to provide the retreatant with "points" on subjects of meditation, and to help him, through the discernment of spirits, to understand what was taking place in his soul during the course of the retreat.

When the exercises are used in their complete form, the first week is given to the systematic consideration of sin and its consequences, the second to the kingdom of Christ, the third to the Passion, and the fourth to the risen and glorified Christ. The meditations appeal to the retreatant's sense impressions, imagination, and understanding in a way calculated to move his will toward decision in the pursuit of perfection.

Development. The Exercises is a delicate instrument, difficult to handle with unfailing fidelity to its original intent. Soon after the death of Ignatius deviant tendencies began to appear among Jesuits. A need for establishing authoritative norms was felt, and a directory was drawn up, which was published in 1599 by C. Aquaviva, General of the Society. This document was more practical than theological in character, and while it made possible a return to the Ignatian method, it did not contribute much to a profound understanding of the Exercises, or to a uniform application of its principles.

The work of retreats grew. At the end of the 16th century the colleges of the Society reserved accommodations for the making of the exercises, and soon houses were built for this ministry exclusively. Individual retreats, however, especially those lasting a month, tended to disappear. In the 17th and especially in the 18th centuries there were mass retreats and popular missions, which no doubt accomplished a great good, but in many cases strayed from the Ignatian concept. At the end of the following century, the exercises were often reduced to a short span of three days.

While J. Roothaan was general of the Society, at the beginning of the 19th century, a renewal began, the effects of which are still being felt. An effort was made to discover the full meaning of the Exercises by studying the text itself and by reference to other works of St. Ignatius that had long remained unknown. Studies appeared, such as those of P. I. Casanovas and those of the Collection de la Bibliothèque des Exercices published by H. Watrigant; critical studies also have appeared, such as that of A. Codina in the Monumenta Historica Societatis Jesu and that of P. J. Calveras in manual form; reviews dedicated to Ignatian spirituality have been founded (e.g., Manresa, Christus ); congresses have been held in various countries. There has been a serious effort to discern the theology latent in the text of the Exercises and to give to the exercises their full spiritual efficacy.

Constitutive Elements of the Ignatian Exercises. The Exercises is not a product of the work of the mind; it is rather the fruit of an experience through which St. Ignatius lived during the year of his spiritual conversion. In the words of G. da Camara, a confidant of Ignatius, at the end of the Autobiography (n.99), "Certain things which he observed in his soul and which he found useful, seemed to him to have a possible value to others, and thus he wrote them down." Ignatius saw that his experience had an objective value and could be communicated in its essentials to other human beings. This prompted him to write the Exercises. Thus it is important, in understanding it, to bring out the elements of this experience that the exercitant in turn undergoes. Ignatius read the lives of Christ and the saints and then fell into a prolonged meditation, in which he experienced a struggle between good and evil for his soul. He was under interior pressure to give himself generously to God, then came mystical graces through which he received illumination of mind with regard to the Trinity, Creation, the Eucharist, the humanity of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary. Finally, a transforming illumination seems to have revealed to him, in synthesis, the design of God for the world. From these experiences, all intimately linked, the essential traits of the Exercises are derived.

Prayer. In the Ignatian retreat, prayer in various forms plays a major role. The exercises are really something to be done or performed. The exercitant is called upon to devote himself to interior activity, under divine action, to enter into the supernatural world, to experience what it means to be a Christian. Every day he must make either four, or more often five exercises, each lasting a whole hour, from the brief indications given by the director. In the evening he should recall, as he is retiring, the subject on which he will meditate after his sleep, and on rising he gives all his attention to this subject. At the beginning of each exercise he puts himself in the presence of God, to whom he makes an act of reverence. In his mind's eye he pictures the subject on which he will meditate; he leaves himself open to the message it bears, he asks for the grace that awaits him and that he desires with his whole being. During the prayer, in which intelligence, will, the heart are engaged, and docility is an operative force, he pauses at particular points where he finds what he was seeking; he "tastes things interiorly," to fill himself with them (n.2). After completing the exercise he reviews it in order to observe what took place in his soul. First place is given to the interiorization of the subjects that have been meditated upon. For each day there are only one or two subjects for the five exercises, the fourth and fifth being a "repetition," and the last an "application of the senses," a very intimate contact with the contemplated mystery. The Ignatian retreat is a time of profound prayer, of generous receptivity. Thus St. Ignatius asks the exercitant to bring his particular examination of conscience to bear on his faithfulness in assuring the success of his prayer in whatever way this depends upon himself.

Interior Struggle. A successful prayer is one in which interior motion has taken place, whether it be in the form of what Ignatius calls "consolations" or "desolations." Faced with supernatural mystery, the exercitant feels either peace or trouble, light or dark, attraction or repulsion, for God and Satan are at work in a soul that has placed itself completely in the hands of the Creator. If the exercitant is not thus moved during the exercises, St. Ignatius felt there is cause for concern and asks the director or retreat master to examine the case more carefully. Indeed this is the function of the Ignatian director. To give the exercises requires above all the discernment of spirits in order to bring the exercitant to understand and distinguish the activity of God and of Satan in his own soul. To enable the director to do this, St. Ignatius provided two series of rules for the discernment of spirits.

Discovery of God's Will. The Spirit of the Lord manifests His designs for the exercitant and the course He wishes him to pursue. St. Ignatius thought of God as active in the world, as having a design for each individual soul, as personally calling the soul to His service. The exercitant makes the exercises expressly to discover the design God has for him, to seek and find the divine will in the disposition of his life (n.1). So also Christ voices a call, reveals His holy will to the soul contemplating His mysteries, and the love that moves and causes one to choose descends from above, that is, from the love of God (n. 184). This choice is concerned with a state of life or with the amendment of a state already chosen. Ignatius designed his exercises particularly for those who must reach a decision with regard to their state of life, but they are also profitable to one who is at a turning point of his spiritual life. What matters is that the exercitant should offer to his Creator and Lord all his will and liberty, that His Divine Majesty dispose of him and all he possesses, according to His most holy will (n.5).

The meditation in which the choice one is called to make becomes evident, centers upon the history of salvation revealed in the Bible. Of the four weeks into which the exercises are divided, only the first is concerned with the sinful condition of man, and the three others are taken up with the consideration of the life of Christ: His hidden life and public life, His Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. The Trinity is clearly invoked in the meditation on the Incarnation and is prominent in the triple colloquy that St. Ignatius introduces at crucial moments in the exercises: one prays to Our Lady, then through her to the Son, and through the Son to the Father, always in the "Spirit who directs and governs us." At the center of the exercises one finds Jesus Christ, "Eternal Lord of all things" who guides souls "to the glory of His Father" (nn.98, 95), in His Eucharistic mystery that is shared during the days of the exercises, in the give and take of love (n.234). He is present throughout. In the first exercise, where the theme is sin, He appears in the colloquy as Creator made man to die for man's sins (n.53); during the second, third, and fourth weeks, the mysteries are entered into in order to follow Him into the way of Incarnation-Death-Resurrection. He is the Kyrios of St. Paul, the Lord lifted up from earth, whom St. John reveals. The four weeks of exercises unfold the complete mystery of the Kingdom, which is at the root of the exercises (nn.9198).

To make the exercises is thus to contemplate the mystery of salvation and to discover therein the divine will for oneself. The Ignatian exercitant ponders in prayer the great facts of divine revelation; he perceives in it the design of God for man; he seeks in the debate that the Spirit and Satan awake in his nature, the particular way in which he is to participate in the plan of God, his way as God sees it, of taking part in the work of Christ here on earth. The exercises introduce the retreatant into a total spiritual experience: he lives the revelation realized in Christ, an interior dialogue with God, a sovereign act of liberty that engages his person and his destiny. During his 30 days of retreat, he personally submits himself to the initiative of the Lord.

Objections to the Ignatian Exercises. The exercises have been charged with not respecting the liberty of the exercitant, of being an instrument of pressure on the part of the director, of autosuggestion on the part of the one who makes them, a powerful psychological machine. Certainly a retreat, especially in the form of the Ignatian exercises, which require solitude and silence, tends to be a precise framework, and some of its provisions with respect to behavior can lead to abuse under a willful and dominating director, or in the case of a retreatant with strong emotions. But this danger is not inherent in the exercises. St. Ignatius wished the retreat master to be retiring and "permit the Creator to deal directly with His creature" (n.15), to adapt the exercises to the condition of him who is to engage in them (nn.1820), to apply only the directions and regulations that will be helpful (nn.130229). On the other hand, though St. Ignatius demanded much generosity and effort on the part of the exercitant, he clearly gave priority to grace, to the work of the Holy Spirit, to an attitude of spiritual receptivity.

Another complaint, related to the foregoing, is that the exercitant is expected to be sanctified in a month through the exercises, as though they had an automatic efficacy and amounted to a kind of spiritual magic. The fact is that although St. Ignatius justifiably expected that a serious retreatant would receive light and inspiration from God, he did not suppose for a moment that the exercitant would be confirmed in sanctity at the conclusion of the exercises. Like other retreats, the exercises reorient the soul, without, however, bringing it immediately to the perfection of Christian life. St. Ignatius desired that after the exercises one should assiduously practice the examination of conscience and try steadfastly to live in union with the Lord.

Finally, the exercises have been accused of fostering individualism. No doubt the Ignatian retreat, as it is understood by an individual, will always be conceived as addressed to his particular self; it is a matter of converting the retreatant himself. But he is nevertheless led to see himself in his relation to all of creation and to the Church. He is invited to consider all things on the face of the earth (see n.23, First Principle and Foundation ). In the first week, he integrates himself to the whole story of sin in creation; hell reminds him that all human beings are judged with reference to the central event in the history of humanity, which is the coming of Jesus Christ (n.71); the Kingdom of Christ presents the "whole world" to him, which he helps the Lord to conquer (n.93). The second week in the contemplation of the Incarnation he sees the Three Divine Persons looking down upon the whole of the earth, and decreeing that in the fullness of time the Word would become man to save the human race (n.102). The Two Standards depict to him Christ and Satan addressing themselves "to all the world" and to every person (nn.141, 145); Contemplation to Attain the Love of God invites him to serve the Lord in all things, the Lord who lives in all, works in all, showers them with his goods (n.235237); at the end of the text, the rules show him that he must think with a "militant Church" (n.352), which is the "Spouse of Christ our Lord" and "our holy Mother Church who is ruled and governed" by the Spirit (n.365). Individualism is a strange charge to level against a spirituality so charged with apostolic spirit.

Commendation. If some few critics have spoken unfavorably of the Exercises, many otherstheologians, masters of the spiritual life, saintshave taken a different view, and with this substantial majority the authority of the Church has always sided. Even during the lifetime of Ignatius, Paul III, in his brief Pastoralis Officii of July 31, 1548, approved and praised the Exercises. Other popes have done the same: Clement VIII, Gregory XIII, Alexander VII, Innocent XI, Benedict XIV, Pius IX, Leo XIII, Plus X, and Benedict XV. In his apostolic constitution Summorum pontificum of July 25, 1922, Pius XI proclaimed St. Ignatius celestial patron of spiritual exercises, and in 1929, in the encyclical, Mens nostra he recommended to all the practice of the Ignatian exercises. Pius XII confirmed the praise of his predecessors in the encyclical Mediator Dei of Nov. 20, 1947.

Bibliography: Texts. Exercitia Spiritualia Sancti Ignatii de Loyola, ed. a. codina (Monumenta historica Societatis Jesu ;1919); Ejercicios espirituales, Directorio y Documentos, ed. p. j. calveras (Barcelona 1944). Various English translations, especially by l. j. puhl (Westminster, Maryland 1951) and t. corbishley (New York 1963). History. a. brou, Les Exercices spirituels de saint Ignace de Loyola (Paris 1922). i. iparraguirre, Historia de los ejercicios de San Ignacio, 2 v. (Rome 194655). h. pinard de la boullaye, Les Étapes de rédaction des Exercices de S. Ignace (Paris 1945). c. d. plater, Retreats for the People (St. Louis 1912). Commentary. j. rickaby, The Spiritual Exercises: Spanish and English, with a Continuous Commentary (2d ed. New York 1923). h. d. egan, The Spiritual Exercises and the Ignatian Mystical Horizon. (St. Louis, 1976). d. l. flemming, The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius: A Litera Translation and a Contemporary Reading (St. Louis, 1978). Studies. g. fessard, La Dialectique des Exercices spirituels de saint Ignace de Loyola (Paris 1956). a. goodier, The Life That Is Light, 3 v. (London 1935); St. Ignatius Loyola and Prayer (London 1940). p. leturia, Estudios Ignacianos, 2v. (Rome 1957). h. rahner, The Spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, tr. f. j. smith (Westminster, Maryland 1953). Spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola: An Account of its Historical Development (1968). Directoria Exercitiorum Spiritualium, ed. i. iparraguirre (Monumenta historica Societatis Jesu ; 1955). Papal documents. c. h. marÍn, Spiritualia Exercitia secundum Romanorum Pontificum Documenta (Barcelona 1941). Other editions and literature, j. juambelz, Bibliografía sobre la vida, obras, y escritos de San Ignacio de Loyola 19001950 (Madrid 1956) 1100, 8322397.

[j. lewis]

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