Ignatius on the Importance of the Spiritual Exercises (1554)

The following letter to Filippo Leerno, the rector of the Jesuit college at Modena, was written on behalf of Ignatius by Juan Alfonso de Polanco. It deals with day-to-day matters in the life of the Society, first with an internal matter of governance, and then with real estate and with several of the apostolates of the Society. The directory mentioned in the letter was a handbook for confessors that Polanco, the secretary to Ignatius, had written and recently published. The “collateral” mentioned was an unusual component of the Society’s governance structure set up by Ignatius. The collateral was supposed to be a trusted companion of the superior, a support to him in his governance, but neither under the superior’s jurisdiction nor, in turn, holding authority over the superior. However admirable as an ideal, the office eventually was discontinued in the face of the real difficulties it entailed for both the superior and the collateral. As for real estate, this is one of the many hundreds of letters Ignatius wrote dealing with that subject, setting for the physical needs for property and buildings experienced by the growing Society and describing the rapidly expanding work of the colleges. Yet, finally, and perhaps most importantly, the letter bears witness to how important in the eyes of Ignatius were the Spiritual Exercises.

For more sources from Ignatius, please visit the Letters of Ignatius of Loyola.


The peace of Christ.

We received no letter from Your Reverence last Saturday.

We wrote you two weeks ago, sending you the Directory for Confessors. We are sending our letters by the post, no longer by way of Bologna. We also sent the document or memorandum on points that needed to be observed, and on Your Reverence’s duties towards your collateral, Master Giovanni Lorenzo, as well as the collateral’s towards the rector, towards you, namely, by helping you in every way possible, acting as an angel of peace between yourself and our other men, and in general making efforts to be helpful in every respect. Seeing how highly Your Reverence wrote of him. Our Father has given him this office, which he gives to people in whom he has great confidence.

I also wrote that efforts should be made to obtain a church. I said that we could accept the chapel of Sant’Antonio with the responsibilities that go with it; accepting this chapel, I think, would be preferable to going to San Bernardino’s or the church of the reformed women to preach and hear confessions.

In addition, I wrote that while it is looked upon here as a quite useful and holy practice to get people to go to confession once a week, it is not considered a good idea to urge men or women to reception of the sacraments every day, although it may be permitted to some especially good and devout persons. A single reception over and above the regular weekly one may more readily be allowed, especially on feast days.

Regarding the Spiritual Exercises, Our Father has commission me to send a reminder everywhere that we should endeavor to make use of them with both men and women (the latter, however, should come to the church to receive them). This refers to giving the exercises of the First Week and leaving the persons with some methods of prayer suitable to their capacity; and to Exercises where the person is not put into seclusion but takes a few hours each day for this purpose. In this way we can extends to large numbers of people the usefulness of the Exercises up through the general confession and methods of prayer, as already stated. Moreover, Our Father says he wants a weekly written report on whether anything is being done about the Exercises, giving the number of persons who have made them, just as with the number of the students. In giving the full Exercises, there is no need to be so expansive; in fact, these should be given only to particularly apt subjects, such as men suitable for our Society or other persons of importance, since for these persons they would be particularly valuable and the time devoted to them well spent. Your Reverence should not be surprised at Our Father’s strong insistence on this matter of the Exercises. Among all the means used by our Society, this is in a special way the Society’s own, one which God our Lord has made great use of for countless souls. The majority of good subjects in the Society today were drawn there from the world by this means. Thus, if we wish to increase the Society’s numbers with good men, this would appear to be an excellent means. The Exercises, especially those of the First Week, are also of great value for married persons or others in secular or religious life. No more on this.

We all commend ourselves earnestly to the prayers of Your Reverence, Father Giovanni Lorenzo, and all the other beloved brothers.

Rome, February 3, 1544


Original Source (English translation):

Ignatius of Loyola: Letters and Instructions, ed. John W. Padberg, et al. St. Louis, Mo.: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996, “To Filippo Leerno from Juan de Polanco, by commission, Rome, February 3, 1554,” pg. 467–469. 23–24.

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