EXERCITIA SPIRITUALIA ("Spiritual Exercises"):

Sources. A work by St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. Originally written in Spanish, it was translated into Latin and first published at Rome in 1548 with the approval of Paul III. The military asceticism and obedience which characterize the Jesuits are essentially the result of this book, which has promoted the steady growth of the order through the centuries and extended its influence both to the regular and to the secular clergy. In its content the "Spiritual Exercises" is no new creation of its author, but is based on older rules for inward prayer and spiritual meditation, finding close analogues in the works of contemplative mystics of the close of the Middle Ages, such as Jan van Ruysbroeck. Among the more immediate sources were probably the Abecedario espiritual de las circonstancias de la passion de Cristo nuestro Señor y otros mysterios (1521) of the Minorite Francesco de Osuna and the Exercitatorium spirituale (1500) of the Benedictine abbot Garcia de Cisneros. From the former book may have been derived much pertaining to the meditations on the Passion in the "third week" of Loyola's course, while the latter furnished the basis for the threefold way of purification, illumination, and union. Manresa, where Loyola wrote the "Spiritual Exercises," is situated near Montserrat, where the Exercitatorium was composed, so that Ignatius doubtless came under the same influences which had inspired De Cisneros. This is shown conclusively by the Benedictine Antonio de Ypez (d. 1621), while the older Jesuits maintained that the Exercitia had been miraculously revealed to Loyola at Manresa by the Virgin. Modern Jesuits, however, recognize more or less fully the dependence of Loyola's book on the Exercitatorium, although they emphasize the superiority of their founder's work over that of his predecessor both on account of its more practical form and because of the special rules for examination of conscience and care of souls which are lacking in the composition of De Cisneros.

Arrangement. The Exercitia spiritualia, which contains besides its main topic, additions, annotations, and instructions, is based upon a series of meditations divided into four weeks. These meditations treat of purification through contemplation of the sinful corruption of mankind, illumination through contemplation of the incarnate and crucified Redeemer, and mystic union with the risen and glorified Savior. The first week, or via purgativa, leads to consciousness of sin and repentance for it by five daily meditations on the purpose of man and complete resignation to the divine will, the fall of man and angels, the guilt incurred thereby, and the eternal punishment of hell. In the course of each day one who practises these exercises is required to examine his conscience, and to watch and combat his besetting sins, while in the evening he must review his general conduct during the past day. The via illuminativa occupies two weeks. The first half is devoted to meditations on the mysteries of the sending of the Redeemer from the time of his resolve to become incarnate to his Passion, closing with the requirement to choose between Christ and the world. The second half of the via illuminativa is devoted to meditations on the Passion, deepening and strengthening the resolve to follow Christ. The fourth week is filled with meditations on the resurrection and exaltation of Christ, wherein he who has died with Christ rises again as a new man united with God. The exercises close with a prayer of absolute resignation to God in Christ in memory, intelligence, and will. Certain ascetic practises are recommended for the promotion of meditation, but these are spiritual, such as the reading of ascetic writings, or frequent confession and communion, rather than fasting, scourging, and the like. To the Exercitia are appended certain "rules for harmony with the Church," intended to reconcile one who has gained union with God through the three ways wholly with the cardinal doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, thus guarding him against a heretical mysticism, and at the same time ignoring all teachings outside the Roman Catholic body.

History and Influence. Through their skilful adaptation to the requirements of Roman Catholic devotions, as well as through their elasticity, which rendered them suitable for use both within and without the Order of Jesus, the Exercitia spiritualia proved victorious over the attacks made upon it immediately after its appearance, even by Roman Catholic theologians. The Dominican Melchior Cano aroused opposition against the work in the University of Alcala, and aided the archbishop of Toledo to forbid its use and dissemination in 1551. Yet within a few decades Loyola's book met with the universal approval of the entire Roman Catholic world, including the Dominicans themselves. St. Charles Borromeo had it recommended by a provincial synod of Milan in 1576, while Francis of Sales, Juan and Theresia de Avila, Vincent de Paul, and others lauded it highly. A series of papal bulls sanctioned it, especially after 1593, when the Directorium of Aquaviva, the General of the Order, required its use among the Jesuits. In an abbreviated form the Exercitia spiritualia was recommended even to non-Jesuits, both clergy and laity. Paul V. granted a plenary indulgence to all who should practise the Exercises for ten days (May 23, 1606); Alexander VII. granted similar privileges to the laity for a period of eight days (Oct. 12, 1657); while Benedict XIV. reduced this minimum to five days (July 15, 1749), and later even included those who "should pass but a single day under the direction of the Jesuits as a preparation for a good death" (Mar. 29, 1753).

In this double form of a four weeks' course for members of the Order of Jesus, to be performed at least twice, once during the novitiate and again after the completion of the education, and of an abbreviated course for non-Jesuits, the Exercitia spiritualia is in use at the present day and is an important factor in modern Roman Catholic religious thought and life.