On the Employment of the Spiritual Exercises, Claudio Acquaviva (1599)

The official Directory of the Spiritual Exercises was published in 1599. The directory was the culmination of study and experimentation through commissions over the course of four generalates. A committee appointed by the Fifth General Congregation of the Society of Jesus (1593-94) appointed the committee that ultimately produced the official directory. To mark the occasion, Superior General Claudio Acquaviva sent the following letter to all Jesuit provincials. Acquaviva hopes that the directory’s publication would be a “fresh occasion” for provincials “to strive with all possible fervor to awaken and stimulate the practice of the Exercises.” He also notes it is “necessary for local superiors to display readiness and generosity in welcoming laypeople who desire to be helped by the Exercises,” including having “rooms set aside in each college or house for non-Jesuits wishing to make the Exercises.” English translations of the 1599 directory and other earlier directories are available at Jesuit Sources (On Giving the Spiritual Exercises). The following version of Acquaviva’s letter first appeared in a volume of Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits.




We have on many other occasions urged the use of the Spiritual Exercises, since it is evident how from the very beginning of the Society God our Lord has fostered the help of souls through them. Now, however, with the Directory to the Exercises being sent to the provinces, finally revised by the committee appointed in the Fifth General Congregation, we thought that we should not pass up this fresh occasion for even more strongly urging Your Reverence to strive with all possible fervor to awaken and stimulate the practice of the Exercises, not merely for our own men but for those outside the Society as well.


For experience has shown that God regularly communicates spiritual grace through the Exercises not only to religious in their various vocations but abundantly also, in accord with their capacities and states, to persons in the world. For this reason, I am very anxious that our men should cultivate the Exercises by frequent personal use so as to become competent masters of them, able to give them afterwards fruitfully to lay persons. I would also like Your Reverence to urge seriously upon our confessors the practice of suggesting the Exercises to any of their penitents they judge suitable, and of gently inviting and encouraging them to make them. Once these persons have tasted their fruit, they will be the best agents for attracting and stimulating others to desire them.


Here in Rome it is clear how, once the Exercises started being given to laypeople, it proved, through God’s goodness, extremely edifying, rewarding, and consoling for them.


This being the case, it will be necessary for local superiors to display readiness and generosity in welcoming laypeople who desire to be helped by the Exercises. Setting aside considerations of the inconvenience or even the expense that will sometimes have to be incurred, they should open wide their hearts, give priority to the spiritual fruit which with God’s grace may be expected, and energetically promote this. For if superiors show themselves grudging and disinclined to receive people, it is likely that not many will come to make the Spiritual Exercises; confessors, too, if they see superiors making difficulty in this matter, will hardly be inclined to urge their penitents to request them.


It will also be helpful if, as far as is feasible, Your Reverence has a certain number of rooms set aside in each college or house for non-Jesuits wishing to make the Exercises; moreover, future houses should be built with such rooms suitably located so as not to interfere with our own men.


Since I know Your Reverence clearly realizes the great importance of this matter, and how much it would contribute to the service of God and the good of souls to have this practice progressively introduced and flourish, I consider it superfluous to spend more words on the subject. I would merely suggest that an excellent occasion for this would be conferences with superiors on the practice of government, as well as provincial congregations which bring together all the superiors along with the professed and others whom you select. I want you to make clear to them what an ardent desire the Lord has deigned to instill in me for seeing our men really zealous and laboring as strenuously as possible for the help of souls: this is what the Lord called us to this institute for, and it is of this that he will demand that we give an accounting.


For this reason, Your Reverence should not merely urge all your men forward to this zeal; you should at the same time also discuss the best means and methods for aiding the largest number of souls, urging upon our men this ministry of the Exercises as well as those of preaching, hearing confessions, and the others which we practice by virtue of our institute, so that they will take care to make use of them with fervor of spirit both for themselves and for those entrusted to them, for the glory and praise of the Lord in all things and the benefit and gain of numerous souls.


I commend myself to your prayers.


Rome, August 14, 1599.


Your Reverence’s servant in the Lord,

Claudio Aquaviva




Original Source (English Translation):

Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits 22.2 (March 1990): 34–35, “Sources: Claudio Aquaviva, S.J., To the Provincials of the Society on the Employment of the Spiritual Exercises.”

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