Prayer: Especially for Those of the Society, Jerónimo Nadal (1561)

The following is an excerpt of a manuscript by Jerónimo Nadal on the spirit and practice of prayer. It is unclear if Nadal merely wrote this text (with assistance from Diego Jiménez) or delivered it, but Nadal edited it in 1561 or 1562. The selections below articulate Nadal’s contention that a Jesuit must reconcile a depth of contemplative prayer with his active spiritual ministries. A Jesuit must engage each action to deepen his experience of each. “As far as possible,” Nadal believes that a person should have “the starting point and the goal of prayer” of being the “warmth of charity in God and zeal for all souls, with burning desire for the salvation and perfection of one’s own and everyone else’s soul.” Martin Palmer, S.J., translated this excerpt, which first appeared in a volume of Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits.



The Society pursues and embraces prayer by the grace of Jesus Christ. It teaches prayer first and foremost through its Spiritual Exercises, to which we see that God our Lord has given such effectiveness, to the greater glory and praise of his divine majesty.


The Exercises have the greater spiritual effectiveness in our Lord the greater the humility and the less the curiosity, the greater the faith and trust that the Lord will act through them, the greater the desire for the salvation and perfection of our own souls, the greater the application and exactness, and the greater the desire for the glory and praise of Jesus Christ, with which we make them.


What in our Lord is of most avail in the Exercises and in all prayer is a great generosity in surrendering to God all our powers and operations, and all that we are; and also that, while not failing with his grace to do our part by every virtue and means to perfection, we hope constantly, desire intensely, and beg from God that he will bring about in them and in all whatever will be for his own greater glory and praise.


Another great help is to exercise in prayer the will and affection more than the understanding. We should avoid an impertinent avidity to understand many things in prayer, and make it our aim to increase our affective attachment for whatever is to God our Lord’s greater service. Thus, in every prayer we should draw fruit and light for our mind that is practical and connected with the virtues and their practice and the spirit of Jesus Christ.


After making the Exercises, the soul possesses by the grace of Jesus Christ the beginnings of prayer in all three ways of which the contemplatives treat: through the First Week, of the purgative way; through the Second and Third Weeks, of the illuminative way, which is properly contemplation; and, though the unitive way is not to be excluded in the first three Weeks, nevertheless it is proper to the Fourth Week in the exercise on the love of God.


Likewise, by the grace of our Lord, there is drawn from the Exercises a quite special grace which enables an individual to obtain knowledge and interior awareness of his particular vocation. The soul thereby achieves a special peace and union with God in spiritual obedience and the particular fulfillment of the way by which he must go to God.


The starting point and the goal of prayer ought to be, as far as possible, warmth of charity in God and zeal for all souls, with burning desire for the salvation and perfection of one’s own and everyone else’s soul.


Feelings in prayer and desires for it that incline a person to recollection and solitude beyond what is necessary do not seem to be the prayer proper to the Society; rather, that which inclines a person to the practice of his vocation and ministry, and especially to perfect obedience according to our Institute.


Thus it is characteristic of the Society’s prayer that it extends to the practice of vocal prayer and every exercise of the Society’s ministries; and that, so far as can be attained by the grace of Jesus Christ, the enlightenment of the understanding and the good affection of the will and union persist in, accompany, and guide all our operations, so that in all things God our Lord is found, and “the remainders of the thought keep holiday to the Lord.”


In this way prayer should be so directed that by its extension it augments and guides and gives spiritual relish to one’s works, along with strength in the Lord, and so that the works enhance prayer, giving it power and joy. In this way, Martha and Mary being joined together and assisting one another, not just a part of the Christian life is embraced—not even the better part that is contemplation —but, anxiety and worry about many things being set aside, Mary helps Martha and is united with her in the Lord….


The state of prayer is a state of spiritual life in Jesus Christ: as he is eternal light and infinite goodness, he should be known and loved above all things; all other things should be known and loved in him. In this way the entirety of our living and understanding ought to rise above and be detached from these lower things, as we live and act not by a spirit that is human but by one that is heavenly and divine. In all things we should perceive inwardly and recognize the power and goodness of God which we ought to love and serve….


Inasmuch as prayer is a gift of God our Lord, a living spiritually, a mystical understanding of things spiritual and of God, and a finding of God our Lord in every thing and every action, each one according to the measure of God’s grace given him and his own cooperation with it in great humility, simplicity, purity of heart, faith, and hope in God our Lord, being all afire with the fervor of charity and zeal for God’s honor and glory in the salvation of souls—whoever practices prayer will easily find matter for meditation and every kind of prayer in the Lord.




Original Source (English translation):

Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits, 22.5 (November 1990): 51–53, “Sources: From Jerónimo Nadal’s “Prayer: Especially for Those of the Society.”


Original Source (Spanish):

Monumenta Historica Societatis Iesu, Epistolae P. Hieronumi Nadal Societatis Jesu, ab anno 1546 ad 1577. Tomus quartus, pg. 672–677.

Scroll to Top