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RETREAT may be defined as a limited period of isolation during which an individual, either alone or as part of a small group, withdraws from the regular routine of daily life, generally for religious reasons. Retreats are one of the commoner practices in the religious life of nearly all peoples, although they are often restricted to a determinate type or class of persons: those preparing for initiation (e.g., into the adult life of a clan, into a religious group, or into some public office of a religious nature), those undergoing a process of conversion, those in search of a religious vocation, or those seeking a periodic renewal of their spiritual lives. During this period, retreatants interrupt their ordinary routine, break off regular social relationships, and (except for those who already live in monasteries or the like) withdraw into a solitary place or to a special building set apart for such purposes. This isolation, as well as the interruption of social intercourse and ordinary life, is adopted as a condition that enables individual retreatants to enter within themselves in silence, in order to establish contact with the divinity or with the world of the spirits. Hence, retreats often involve the use of various ascetical means, such as fasting, abstinence, prayer, meditation, and techniques aimed at inducing a revelatory dream, trance, or ecstasy.

Various forms of retreat may be distinguished, and participants may engage in retreats with varying frequency. A retreat accompanying a radical conversion of life or the discernment of a vocation may be a rare or even unique event in an individual's life; whereas that aimed at personal spiritual renewal might be repeated periodically. Retreats of initiation may follow quite diverse procedures, depending on the kind of initiation involved. Thus, one may distinguish retreats of tribal initiation; retreats of search for a revelatory dream; retreats of shamanistic or monastic initiaion; and retreats of conversion, discernment, and renewal.

Retreats of Tribal Initiation

In generic and somewhat abstract terms (since in reality quite different forms of ritual may be involved), initiation into the life of a tribe entails separating candidates from the social nucleus to which they belong as children, especially from their mother, and isolating them in a well-defined zone, protected by rigid taboos. There they are placed under the direction of elders chosen by the tribe. The neophytes are then subjected to certain strict disciplines (fasting, abstinence, and various taboos), are instructed by the elders in certain traditional truths and beliefs (social and sexual ethics, myths and rituals, techniques of hunting, fishing, or farming), and are forced to undergo certain more or less painful tests. At the end of this period of initiation, after passing through certain liberating rites, the neophytes, having undergone a profound transformation, return to the tribe as adults. The symbolic meaning of this period of isolation seems clear enough. Cultures that practice this kind of initiation regard it as a mutation or deep transformation of the human being: a sort of death and rebirth. Henceforth, all that had previously constituted the life of a child must be suppressed, especially the child's former dependence on its mother. The adolescent through this isolation, enters the world of the sacred, of mythic time, and is often locked in struggle with mysterious force, involving some form of bodily suffering (torture and, above all, circumcision). In this case the retreat is precisely the vehicle that allows this breaking away and entry.

Retreats of Search for a Revelatory Dream

A number of peoples, especially pre-Columbian Indians, submitted their children and adolescents to a period of isolation aimed at enabling them to enter into contact with the spirit who was to guide each of them throughout life. This phenomenon is especially notable among certain Canadian groups, such as the Athapascans, who submitted children as young as five years old to the test. The norm commonly followed involved removing these children or adolescents from their normal world of relationships, abandoning them in a solitary place, and subjecting them to a strict fast until physical weakness induced a state of hallucination. The first image that presented itself to the child or adolescent was the spirit who would accompany and protect him until death, a sort of tutelary numen whom he would thence-forward invoke. The Delaware and Algonquin of the Atlantic coast observed much the same procedure with twelve-year-old girls and boys, but introduced the concept of the compassion of the spirits, whom the adolescents were required to invoke while they practiced their total fast. The spirits then put an end to the sufferings of the initiates by revealing themselves to them in a dream. After a certain length of time, the parents visited the adolescents to see whether the revelatory experience had yet occurred. If it had, they brought their offspring back to the tribe, where they were regarded as the depositories of a sacred force (Walter Krickeberg et al., Die Religionen des Alten Amerika, Stuttgart, 1961; see also J. Blumensohn, "The Fast among North American Indians," American Anthropology 35, 1933, pp. 451469).

Retreats of Shamanistic Initiation

Mircea Eliade treats shamanism as a religious limit-experience: a form of mysticism originating in a vocation awakened by a crisis that is found in many religions (Shamanism: Archaic Techniqes of Ecstasy, rev. and enl. ed., New York, 1964). Here, shamanism is taken in its original, strict sense, as a characteristic and primary expression of the religious life of the peoples of north central Asia. The shaman is an individual who has been suddenly overcome by a spirit and has, by that very fact, received a distinctive gift. The signs whereby this possession becomes known coincide with what the Western mind would call symptoms of epilepsy or, more generally, a form of nervous disorder. Whoever receives such a "dangerous" gift must stay in constant contact with the world of the spirits, and this the shaman does by isolating himself. Frequently, the candidate is instructed by an old shaman, or the whole tribe may take part in the shaman's initiation by contributing to its ritual sacrifices. The future shaman learns the necessary formulas and offertory rites and then retires to the wild in order to learn the techniques of ecstasy by sitting before a fire and repeating certain formulas. At the end of the shaman's retreat, the individual is consecrated in a rite celebrated by the ancient shaman who provided instruction. From this retreat the new shaman emerges endowed with special powers, and can now enter into contact with the world of the spirits, and the new shaman's mediation thus becomes important for the tribe.

Retreats of Monastic Initiation

Among the four exemplary stages that Hindu tradition distinguishes in the life of a personthe third, after those of student and father of a family, but before that of wandering holy personis that of the individual who withdraws in solitude into the forest, where he or she (now called a vanaptrasthin ) commits to meditation and to certain practices of asceticism. This retreat portends the person's coming to spiritual maturity and eventual irradiation of the surrounding people, by way of the vanaptrasthin 's example and teaching. Since a long period of isolation is involved here, this retreat may well be classified as an experience of the eremitical life. Significantly, in the history of Western monasticism, Athanasius, in his Life of Antony, describes how his hero, after his conversion, first underwent a stage of basic initiation under the direction of an ascetic, after which he underwent a further stage of isolation in a necropolis, followed by a third and decisive stage of enclosure in a ruined castle, where he remained for twenty years. At the end of this stage, Athanasius relates in terms reminiscent of the mystery cults, that Antony "came forth as from a sanctuary, initiated in the mysteries and filled with the divine spirit" (Life of Antony 14). Finally, after receiving the gift of spiritual fecundity, Antony accepted some disciples, although he remained with them in solitude. The parallels to Hindu monasticism are revealing: In both cases there is a retreat into complete solitude, which prepares the individuals for full spiritual maturity and confers on them a certain irradiative power. The Hindu ascetic then embarks upon an itinerant, renunciative life (sanyasa ), returning to society but not forming part of it. The Christian anchorite becomes an eldera religious father or motherand accepts disciples, instructing them in the spiritual life.

A similar phenomenon appears in the lives of other Christian saints, who were dedicated not to monastic contemplation but rather to intense activity among people. Ignatius Loyola spent almost an entire year, from March 1522 to February 1523, in Manresa, where he devoted himself to prayer (seven hours daily), fasting, and abstinence. He emerged from this experience transformed and illumined in spirit by revelations of various kinds. Three centuries later, Anthony M. Claret (18071870) spent some months at San Andrés del Pruit (Girona, Spain), dedicated to prayer. He went forth from this retreat powerfully consecrated to itinerant preaching. In both cases, the retreat was one of initiation into an intense religious experience, accompanied by an outburst of apostolic irradiation. It would be easy to cite numerous other examples of this type.

A different sort of retreat of monastic initiation is represented by the novitiate, a relatively long period of trial prior to incorporation into a religious community. During the novitiate, candidates are separated from otherseven from professed members of the communityand placed under the direction of a master, who instructs them and tests their vocation. The novitiate appears in the Buddhist tradition, where it is called upasapadā ("goal, arrival"). Its aim is to prepare the novices for entry upon the way of salvation, and it ends with an anointing ceremony (abhieka ), which consecrates them. In Christian monasticism, an initial period of instruction and trial originated among the anchorites of the fourth century. It was a rather long period, which ended when the elder in charge adjudged the novice to have reached the required maturity, and invited the novice to withdraw into chosen solitude. In monastic communities, the novitiate was reduced to a period of a year. At present, it lasts from one to two years, according to custom. Originally, the year of novitiate began with investiture of the novice in the habit, while it later came to be terminated with his commitment to the religious life. Besides this investiture, another feature observed in the past was a change of the novice's name, to indicate that a secular individual had died and a religious one had come to birth. The medieval Christian theology of the religious profession as a second baptism referred to this idea of a symbolic death and rebirth.

Retreats of Spiritual Renewal

The practice of withdrawing for a relatively brief period of time in order to revitalize oneself spiritually seems to be evidenced in all religions that attach great importance to the spiritual experience of the individual. The retreat in the woods constitutes one of the stages of the ideal way of the Hindu. Even masters return periodically to the forest solitude, in order to encounter themselves more deeply. But it is above all in Islam and Christianity that this kind of retreat has been most popular.


The custom of devoting a period of time to prayer and fasting (khalwah ), while withdrawing from social contacts and ordinary occupations, is amply documented in the Muslim world much earlier than in Christendom. The source of inspiration for this practice is the fact that, according to the Qurʾān, God gave the Law to Moses at the end of a retreat of forty days (sūrah 7:142). It is also said that Adam received his life-breath only forty days after he had been formed from the clay. The Prophet himself left an example, by going frequently into retreat. The great Andalusian mystic Muammad ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1240) tells of the revelations he received during a retreat he made as a very young man in Seville (Al-futūāt al-makkīyah, Cairo, ah 1329/1911 ce, vol. 1, p. 186). Ibn al-ʿArabī also wrote a treatise on the conditions for making a retreat, the Kitāb al-khalwah. A century later, the Indian Sharaf al-Dīn Manērī (d. 1381) devoted one of his Hundred Letters to explaining the origin and aim of the retreat. An essential element in it is the remembrance of God, that is, the sense of God's presence and the invocation of his name. By reviving the sense of the divine presence, the retreat heals and fortifies the soul, and disposes it to continue in that presence when the retreatant returns to ordinary life.

In ūfī orders, the superior of a house is obliged to go on retreat periodically. The novices, too, must make a retreat, ordinarily for forty days. This forty days' experience must be made in a solitary place or, if one is a member of a community, in a dark cell. Fasting is essential to this kind of retreat: Whoever makes one must reduce their food consumption considerably throughout, and abstain completely from eating during the last three days. The lives of the ūfī mystics contain numerous allusions to this practice (see Javad Nurbakhsh, Masters of the Path, New York, 1980, pp. 115, 117). Ibn al-ʿArabī tells of a retreat he made with the master Abū Zakarīyāʾ Yayā ibn assān (Sufis of Andalusia, Berkeley, Calif., 1971, p. 138).


In Christianity, especially during the last few centuries, this type of retreat, aimed at the spiritual renewal of the individual through meditation, prayer, and silence, has reached a high level of development. Such a retreat is often made under the direction of a master, who engages in periodic dialogue with the individual retreatant, or else delivers instructions, when the retreat is made by a group.

It is significant that certain popular histories of the retreat begin with the episode narrated by the evangelist Mark (repeated, with amplifications, in the Matthean and Lukan parallels), concerning Jesus' withdrawal into the desert of Judaea after his baptism and the "descent" of the Holy Spirit upon him. The Markan account (Mk. 1:1213) is not only Christological in content, but also exemplary in intention. Jesus, after his baptism and his anointing by the Spirit, appears as the New Adam, dwelling among the wild beasts and ministered to by angels. During this time (scholars debate whether the passage existed in the tradition prior to Mark), Jesus was tempted by the spirit of evil but, unlike the first Adam, overcame the temptation (see Vincent Taylor, The Gospel according to Mark, London, 1955, pp. 162164). Of itself, the episode did not overtly attribute to Jesus the intention of devoting himself especially to spiritual exercises of prayer. The accounts of Matthew (4:111) and Luke (4:113) add that Jesus' stay in the desert lasted forty days, and that the temptation came at the end of this period.

The account of Jesus' sojourn in the desert added even richer spiritual implications to the biblical texts on the passage of the Hebrew people through the desert, before their entry into Canaan. The desert now became the symbol of a new spiritual attitude. Origen, in his commentary on Exodus, speaks of the need for retreat: One must leave familiar surroundings and go to a place free of worldly preoccupations, a place of silence and interior peace, where one can learn wisdom and come to a deep knowledge of the word of God (In Exodum Homiliae, Wilhelm Baehrens, ed., Leipzig, 1920, p. 167).

Drawing their inspiration from the example of Jesus, the Christian churches soon established a period of forty days dedicated to fasting, abstinence, and greater prayer, in order to prepare the faithful for the celebration of the Pascha. Two themes were interwoven in the sermons of the Fathers on Lent: that of participation in Christ's struggles and sufferings during his passion as a preparation for the celebration of the Resurrection, and that of a model projection on it, of the fast and temptations of Jesus in the solitude of the Judean desert. On this fundamental model, they occasionally superimposed the image of the wandering of the Israelites in the desert, with all the trials and temptations to which they were subjected there (see Leo the Great, "Sermons on Lent," Patrologia Latina, vol. 54). In addresses to the laity, the latter were not asked to go on retreat (although they are asked to prolong their prayer), but were exhorted to conversion, to charity toward the poor, and to reconciliation with enemies. Traditionally, it was also recommended that they forgo diversions and entertainments.

The anonymous author of the Rule of the Master (central Italy, c. 500) introduced three chapters on the observance of Lent by monks, prescribing that they multiply their prayers and perform more acts of fast and abstinence (Rule of the Master, chaps. 5153). Benedict (480c. 547) reduced the rule for Lent to a single chapter, in which he echoed Leo the Great and the Rule of the Master. In it he added a recommendation that monks recite more numerous individual prayers and restrict their dealings with each other (Rule of Saint Benedict, chap. 49). Lent thus tended to become a sort of forty-day retreat spent in silence, prayer, fasting, and abstinence. From the Middle Ages on, the monastic orders began to interrupt all contact, even by way of letter, with outsiders, throughout the period of Lent. Thus, the Lenten retreat was fundamentally a retreat of spiritual renewal, in which the individual retreatant relived certain fundamental themes of Christianity, derived primarily from the passion of Christ, but secondarily from his withdrawal and fast in the desert.

It is fitting at this point to inquire into the rise, in Christian churches, of the practice of the retreat proper, that is to say, of that prayerful kind of withdrawal practiced by a person, either alone or as part of a small group, for a certain short period of time. It was precisely the celebration of Lent that suggested the first tentative steps in this direction. Around the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth, Euthymius the Great, a monk of Melitene, adopted the custom of withdrawing during Lent of each year and going to a mountaintop, where he gave himself over to prayer and fasting. Later, he went with a friend each year into the desert of Koutila (see Cyril of Scythopolis, Life of Euthymius, edited by E. Schwartz, in Texte und Untersuchungen, vol. 49, no. 2, Lipsia, 1939, pp. 385). Jesus' stay in the Judean desert thus became a model that was imitated literally. It is quite possibleindeed, probablethat other monks followed the same norm, in an endeavor to practice a stricter eremitical life during Lent.

Yet another historical fact might be considered as a precursor of the modern retreat. Pilgrimages to shrines, which were so frequent during certain periods of the Middle Ages, involved a break with the normal situation of the individual, a going forth from one's city and family, in order to visit some usually distant holy place ("to ferne halwes," as Chaucer noted in his prologue to the Canterbury Tales, poking fun at English pilgrims who managed to get no farther than Canterbury). Palestine, the tombs of the apostles in Rome, and Compostela were among the most common goals. The deep reason behind these journeys was the desire to visit a sacred place where the presence of the supernatural was more perceptible, thanks to the presence either of the relics of a saint or of some venerable holy image. Sometimes these pilgrimages became the occasion of a process of conversion and separation from the world. It is noteworthy, for example, that the primitive nucleus of twelfth-century hermitages of Our Lady, at Mount Carmel (the future Carmelite order), were constituted by people of western Europe who had established themselves in the Holy Land. In certain cases, the pilgrimage shrine was served by a community of monks who ran a hostelry for those who wished to spend a limited period of prayer and silence nearby. This fact is documented in connection with the shrine and abbey of Einsiedeln, Switzerland, perhaps as early as the twelfth century (Ludwig Raeber, Our Lady of Hermits, Einsiedeln, 1961), and, somewhat later, at the shrine and monastery of Montserrat, Spain (Joan Segarra, Montserrat, Barcelona, 1961).

But the retreat as commonly known during the past few centuries has its roots, properly speaking, in the spiritual movement called the Devotio Moderna, initiated by Gerhard Groote (13401384) in the Low Countries, of which the most widely known representative is Thomas à Kempis (c. 13801471). Groote, converted to a fervent life in 1374, withdrew for a time to the charterhouse of Munnikhuizen, near Arnhem on the Rhine. The Brethren of the Common Life and the authors of the Devotio Moderna popularized their form of piety among the secular clergy and the laity, giving it a practical and ascetical interpretation, well suited to the clearly individualistic horizons of the spirituality of the Christian West in their day. Next came the refinement of different methods of meditation, and the compilation of various handbooks of meditations. In the early fourteenth century, the Tuscan Franciscan John de Caulibus published his Meditations on the Life of Christ ; Gerard of Zutphen (d. 1398), in his De spiritualibus ascensionibus, propounded a precise method of meditations and examens, a procedure repeated later by the Dutch canon regular, John Mombaer (d. 1501), the last master of the Devotio Moderna, who used it as an instrument of reform in the monasteries of the clerks regular in France. In 1500, the reforming abbot of Montserrat, Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros, printed his Ejercitatorio de la vida espiritual, containing a precise method of meditations, and a plan that structured the various meditations into four successive weeks. The technique developed out of the Devotio Moderna could thus be used in a period set aside especially for prayer and meditation.

This technique culminated in the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. It is a methodical interweaving of meditations, contemplations, and examens, more or less developed, taking place over four weeks and accompanied by a series of counsels and rules. He first sketched out the method during his own retreat at Manresa, and perfected it over the years until the definitive version was approved by Pope Paul III in 1548. Although there are points of contact between Ignatius and some of his predecessors (especially Jiménez de Cisneros, whose method he seems to have known), he is quite original in definitively tying these meditations to a retreat made under the direction of a master, with the basic aim of choosing a proper mode of life for the greater service of Godhence, the rules of discernment that accompany the Exercises. Starting with the first companions of the founder, the Jesuits have continued to be trained in the Exercises of Ignatius.

In the sixteenth century, retreat exercises according to the Ignatian method had already become popular, although they were practiced only by priests and religious at the time, not by the laity. Retreat houses were established in order to facilitate the arrangement of retreats for those who wished to make them. The first such house was opened in a villa in Siena, Italy, in 1538. This was followed by the retreat houses of Alcala, Spain, in 1553, Cologne, Germany, in 1561, and Louvain, Belgium, in 1569. In the seventeenth century this practice was adopted by the principal representatives of French spirituality. Vincent de Paul (d. 1660) is said to have directed the Exercises of more than twenty thousand persons. The Exercises, in somewhat modified and shortened form, began to be practiced by the laity in great numbers. An outstanding figure in the history of retreats was the Argentinian María Antonia de San José de la Paz (17301799), who organized Ignatian retreats in the course of her life for more than a hundred thousand people. However, the Ignatian retreat was gradually converted into a retreat of spiritual renewal as it came to be repeated periodically by persons who had already chosen a type of Christian life (priestly, religious, or secular) and only sought to be spiritually revitalized through a retreat.

Priests, religious, and seminarians of the Roman Catholic church commonly make eight days of spiritual exercises annually. Many members of the Catholic laity follow the same norm in the present time. Some periodically make even a month's exercises. Hence one may find retreat houses in all countries where the Roman Catholic Church is present. In 1836, the bishop of Viviers, France, approved the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of the Cenacle, founded by Marie Victoire Thérèse Couderc and by Jean-Pierre Étienne Terme. Initially called Dames de la Retraite ("retreat ladies"), the Sisters promoted the practice of retreats among laity. They have retreat houses in England (since 1888), and even more exist in the United States, where they arrived in 1892. A similar end is pursued by the Retreat Sisters of the Sacred Heart, founded in 1678 in Quimper, France, by Claude Thérèse de Kermeno. Other men and women religious are dedicated to the same apostolate. In France, toward the end of the nineteenth century, the Oeuvre des Retraites de Perseverance was founded, and soon the movement spread to Italy. Its aim is to promote yearly retreats and monthly days of recollection among the laity, as a means of renewing Christian life. Besides the month-long and annual eight-day retreat forms, where the dominant influence is Ignatian, there are weekend retreats for laity, which follow many different methods: scriptural, charismatic, healing, and so forth. In the United States, the National Catholic Laymen's Retreat Conference was founded in 1928. A retreat league founded by the Sisters of the Cenacle became, in 1936, the National Laywomen's Retreat Movement.

A particular form of retreat, originally among Catholics, has been propagated by the movement known as Cursillos de Cristiandad, founded by Bishop Hervás in Majorca in 1949, whence it has spread to several other countries. A group of Christians, from almost any walk of life, retreat for a few days dedicated to community reflection, liturgy, dialogue, and private reflection. They examine and share the concrete faith-experience of their ordinary life. The Cursillos movement, which has existed for some years in the United States, is organized on national and diocesan levels, and has, to some extent, been practiced by other Christian groups, mainly Lutherans and Episcopalians.

Finally, some mention should be made of the monthly retreat or recollection day. Practiced mainly by religious and priests in the nineteenth century, it became almost obligatory after Pius X recommended it in his exhortation to the Catholic clergy in 1908. The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on Priests, also recommended the practice of retreats to the clergy (Presbyterorum Ordinis, no. 18).

See Also

Deserts; Eremitism; Initiation; Monasticism; Quests; Shamanism.


Very little, if anything, of a general nature has been published on the topic of retreat. References to retreats, seclusion, and the like can be found in any general survey on Hindu, Muslim, and Christian mysticism, as well as in works dealing with phenomenology of religion.

Works dealing with specific traditions can, however, be recommended. For a discussion of retreat traditions in tribal societies, see Victor Turner's The Forest of Symbols (Ithaca, N.Y., 1969). On the role of seclusion in the Buddhist monastic tradition, see John C. Holt's Discipline: The Canonical Buddhism of the Vinayapataha (Delhi, 1981). On retreat in the Christian tradition, the New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. 12 (New York, 1967), includes a valuable article by Thomas E. Dubay. Further discussion of the topic is available in Historia de la practica de los Ejercicios Espirituales de San Ignacio de Loyola, 2 vols. (Bilbao, Spain, 19461955), by Ignacio Iparraguirre. For the role of retreat in Eastern Orthodox churches, see Catherine de Hueck Doherty's Sobornost (Notre Dame, Ind., 1977). For discussion of Muslim retreats, see Muammad ibn al-ʿArabī's Kitāb al-khalwah (Aya Sofia, 1964) and letters 96 and 22 in Sharafuddin Maneri's The Hundred Letters, translated by Paul Jackson (New York, 1980).

Juan Manuel Lozano (1987)


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The retreat developed in the sixteenth-century Roman Catholic Church as a way of helping priests, other members of religious orders, and soon thereafter lay people to grow in their faith by way of an intense time spent in contemplation and meditation away from the day-to-day world. The classic retreat manual is the Spiritual Exercises (1544) of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, or Jesuits, a Catholic religious order. The origins of retreats can be traced in part to practices designed to help members of religious communities that provide ministry in the world (the "apostolic" communities founded over the past five hundred years) to cultivate a kind of more intensive monastic or hermit-like spirituality, by way of rigorous silent retreats. Thus annual retreats were required by St. Ignatius for every Jesuit, with a longer, thirty-day retreat prior to final profession of vows or definitive commitment. Many other religious orders followed suit.

These newer apostolic communities emphasized work in the world rather than the begging and preaching of the classic itinerant or mendicant orders such as the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites, and Augustinians, or the relatively more otherworldly, cloistered life of the properly monastic orders such as the Benedictines and Cistercians. Active in the "apostolate"—the work of the members in ministering to the needs of the world—members of these new communities ran schools, hospitals, and missionary and charitable enterprises with an energy and commitment nourished by their spirituality, which in turn was informed or enhanced by these regular retreats.

It soon became clear, however, that a short, intensive spiritual experience devised to help the vowed Catholic religious to perform their work in the world could also be of use to other Catholic religious, diocesan priests, and particularly the laity. The retreat was thus adapted and typically shortened to serve the spiritual needs of the laity.

As new religious communities, such as the Passionists and Redemptorists, dedicated to parish preaching and cultivating religious devotion among the laity, grew in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they took the retreat format to parishes in the form of "missions"—multi-day affairs that involved a structured process of preaching, prayer, and confession. Retreats are to be sure not individual prayer experiences: they involve a retreat director, preacher, spiritual director, or other person skilled in prayer, and they utilize a particular retreat manual or method.

Up to the mid-1960s in the United States, many Catholic retreat centers were built. They were often associated with a men's religious order known for retreats or with parish missions, such as the Passionists, Redemptorists, and Jesuits. There were also some diocesan-sponsored or privately organized retreat houses such as at Malvern in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, organized by local businessmen and conducted largely by priests of that archdiocese. Many older traditions of religious life, such as the monastic and mendicant communities, maintained or developed traditions of welcoming outsiders for brief visits and spiritual sustenance.

Since the late 1960s many women religious and laity have increasingly become involved in sponsoring retreat houses and giving retreats, serving as retreat directors and spiritual directors. Many worked from within the traditional framework of the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises or some other traditional format, but many others combined traditional formats with a more explicitly psychological approach, including a focus on the relationship between spiritual self-actualization and personality types, specifically feminine spiritualities, religious insights, and creation spiritualities influenced by the great religions of Asia or the nature religions of pre-Christian Europe or the Americas. Over the past thirty years, interest in retreats in the United States has risen steadily, as evidenced by the growing number of retreat houses throughout the country.

See alsoCentering Prayer; Creation Spirituality; Meditation; Parish; Prayer; Priesthood; Religious Communities; Roman Catholicism; Spirituality.


Christian-Meyer, Patricia. Catholic America:Self-RenewalCenters and Retreats. 1989.

Cooper, David A. Silence, Simplicity, and Solitude:A Complete Guide to Spiritual Retreat. 1999.

Pennington, M. Basil. On Retreat with ThomasMerton. 1995.

Bryan Froehle


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re·treat / riˈtrēt/ • v. [intr.] (of an army) withdraw from enemy forces as a result of their superior power or after a defeat: the French retreated in disarray. ∎  move back or withdraw, esp. so as to remove oneself from a difficult or uncomfortable situation: it becomes so hot that the lizards retreat into the shade | [as adj.] (retreating) the sound of retreating footsteps. ∎  withdraw to a quiet or secluded place: after the funeral he retreated to the shore. ∎  (of an expanse of ice or water) become smaller in size or extent: a series of trenches which filled with water when the ice retreated. ∎  change one's decisions, plans, or attitude, as a result of criticism from others: his proposals were clearly unreasonable and he was soon forced to retreat. ∎  (of shares of stock) decline in value: shares retreated 32 points to 653 points. ∎  [tr.] Chess move (a piece) back from a forward or threatened position on the board.• n. 1. an act of moving back or withdrawing: a speedy retreat | the army was in retreat. ∎  an act of changing one's decisions, plans, or attitude, esp. as a result of criticism from others: the unions made a retreat from their earlier position. ∎  a decline in the value of shares of stock.2. a signal for a military force to withdraw: the bugle sounded a retreat. ∎  a military musical ceremony carried out at sunset, originating in the playing of drums and bugles to tell soldiers to return to camp for the night.3. a quiet or secluded place in which one can rest and relax: their mountain retreat in New Hampshire. ∎  a period of seclusion for the purposes of prayer and meditation: the bishop is away on his annual retreat | before his ordination he went on retreat. PHRASES: beat a retreat see beat.


views updated May 23 2018

Retreat. A period of days spent apart from the world, in pursuit of religious ends. In Christianity, retreats are formally part of the life of Jesuits (Ignatiusʾ Spiritual Exercises being a retreat plan), and it was the Jesuits who promoted the retreat as a formal practice. In the 17th cent. retreats became popular, and retreat houses were set up.

The term is used, in application, in other religions for withdrawal from the world, e.g. the time spent by Muḥammad in isolation on Mt. Hira (which led to the revelation of the first words of the Qurʾān); vassa in Buddhism.


views updated May 21 2018

retreat (mil.) signal to retire XIV; act of retiring in the face of danger, etc.; withdrawal into privacy; place of seclusion XV. Late ME. retret —OF. retret, etc., vars. of retraite, sb. uses of m. and fem. pps. of retraire :- L. retrahere RETRACT1.
So vb. retire XV; †retract, revoke XVI. — OF. retraitier — L. retractāre RETRACT2.