Introductory Note:

Ignatius (1491–1556) was born in the family castle of Loyola in the Basque country of Spain. His family belonged to a long line of nobility, and Ignatius reflected his refined upbringing throughout his early life. He participated in all the revelry of royalty—gambling, dueling, romance—and worldly attraction.

In 1517 he took service in the army and in May of 1521 received a leg wound in a border skirmish with the French. He returned to Loyola to recuperate and found himself able to do nothing but read. He happened upon a book called The Life of Christ and was converted as a result. He also read The Imitation of Christ and the stories of St. Francis. He concluded by asking, “Could I not do what Francis did?” He then resolved to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, disposed of all his worldly goods, and clothed himself in sackcloth.

His ship was detained in Manresa, however, and he was forced to remain there for a year. During that time he had several profound mystical experiences that led him to begin sharing his faith with others. He also penned a large portion of The Spiritual Exercises during his stay in Manresa, and carried these notes with him as he continued the journey to Jerusalem. Ignatius would later become famous for these simple yet profound instructions on how to take a spiritual retreat. His “exercises” became the standard for Jesuit retreats and have remained so to this day.

—Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith

Excerpt from Devotional Classics

Excerpts from The Spir­i­tu­al Exer­cis­es of St. Ignatius 

Dif­fer­ent Movements

The fol­low­ing are some rules for per­ceiv­ing and under­stand­ing the dif­fer­ent move­ments that are pro­duced in the soul — the good that should be accept­ed; the bad that should be rejected.

The ene­my is accus­tomed ordi­nar­i­ly to pro­pose appar­ent plea­sure to those per­sons who go from mor­tal sin to mor­tal sin. He thus caus­es them to imag­ine sen­su­al delights and plea­sure in order to hold them more and more eas­i­ly and to increase their vices and sins. The good spir­it acts in these per­sons in a con­trary way, awak­en­ing the con­science to a sense of remorse through the good judg­ment of their reason.

This takes place in those who earnest­ly strive to puri­fy them­selves from their sins and who advance from good to bet­ter in the ser­vice of God our Lord. For these per­sons it is com­mon for the evil spir­it to cause anx­i­ety and sad­ness and to cre­ate obsta­cles based on false rea­son­ing, thus pre­vent­ing the soul from mak­ing fur­ther progress.

It is char­ac­ter­is­tic of the good spir­it to give courage and strength, con­so­la­tion, tears, inspi­ra­tion, and peace, mak­ing things easy and remov­ing all obsta­cles so that the soul may make fur­ther progress in good works.

Tears Inspired by Love

I call it con­so­la­tion when the soul is aroused by an inte­ri­or move­ment which caus­es it to be inflamed with love of its Cre­ator and Lord and con­se­quent­ly can love no cre­at­ed thing in this world for its own sake, but only in the Cre­ator of all things. It is like­wise con­so­la­tion when one sheds tears inspired by love of the Lord, whether it be sor­row for sins or because of the Pas­sion of Christ our Lord, or for any oth­er rea­son that is direct­ly con­nect­ed to his ser­vice and praise. Final­ly, I call con­so­la­tion any increase of faith, hope, and char­i­ty and any inte­ri­or joy that calls and attracts to heav­en­ly things, and to the sal­va­tion of one’s soul, inspir­ing it with peace and qui­et in Christ our Lord.

I call des­o­la­tion all that is con­trary to the third rule, as dark­ness of the soul, tur­moil of the mind, incli­na­tion to low and earth­ly things, rest­less­ness result­ing from many dis­tur­bances and temp­ta­tions which leads to loss of faith, loss of hope, loss of love. It is also des­o­la­tion when a soul finds itself com­plete­ly apa­thet­ic, tepid, sad, and sep­a­rat­ed as it were, from its Cre­ator and Lord. For just as con­so­la­tion is con­trary to des­o­la­tion, so the thoughts that spring from con­so­la­tion are the oppo­site of those that spring from desolation.

Stand Firm and Constant

In time of des­o­la­tion one should nev­er make a change, but stand firm and con­stant in the res­o­lu­tion and deci­sion which guid­ed him the day before the des­o­la­tion, or to the deci­sion which he observed in the pre­ced­ing con­so­la­tion. For just as the good spir­it guides and con­soles us in con­so­la­tion, so in des­o­la­tion the evil spir­it guides and coun­sels. Fol­low­ing the coun­sels of this lat­ter spir­it, one can nev­er find the cor­rect way to a right decision.

Although in des­o­la­tion we should not change our ear­li­er res­o­lu­tions, it will be very advan­ta­geous to inten­si­fy our activ­i­ty against the des­o­la­tion. This can be done by insist­ing more on prayer, med­i­ta­tion, fre­quent exam­i­na­tions, and by increas­ing our penance in some suit­able manner.

One who is in des­o­la­tion must strive to per­se­vere in patience which is con­trary to the vex­a­tions that have come upon him. He should con­sid­er, also, that con­so­la­tion will soon return and strive dili­gent­ly against the desolation.

Why We Are in Desolation

There are three rea­sons why we are in des­o­la­tion. The first is because we have been tepid, sloth­ful, or neg­li­gent in our Spir­i­tu­al Exer­cis­es, and so through our own fault spir­i­tu­al con­so­la­tion is with­drawn from us.

The sec­ond is that God may try to test our worth, and the progress that we have made in his ser­vice and praise when we are with­out such gen­er­ous rewards of con­so­la­tion and spe­cial graces.

The third is that he may wish to give us a true knowl­edge and under­stand­ing so that we may tru­ly per­ceive that it is not with­in our pow­er to acquire or retain great devo­tion, ardent love, tears, or any oth­er spir­i­tu­al con­so­la­tion, but that all of this is a gift and a grace of God our Lord. Nor does God wish us to claim as our own what belongs to anoth­er, allow­ing our intel­lect to rise up in a spir­it of pride or vain­glo­ry, attribut­ing to our­selves the devo­tion or oth­er aspects of spir­i­tu­al consolation.

The Suf­fi­cient Grace

A per­son who is in con­so­la­tion ought to think of how he will con­duct him­self dur­ing a future des­o­la­tion and thus build up a new strength for that time.

A per­son who is in con­so­la­tion should also take care to hum­ble and abase him­self as much as pos­si­ble. He should recall how lit­tle he felt he was worth in the pre­vi­ous time of des­o­la­tion when he was with­out such grace or consolation.

On the oth­er hand, a per­son who is in des­o­la­tion should recall that he can do much to with­stand all of his ene­mies by using the suf­fi­cient grace that he has and tak­ing strength in his Cre­ator and Lord.

A Show of Determination

The ene­my is weak in the pres­ence of strength, but strong if he has our will. He will lose courage and take flight when we make a show of deter­mi­na­tion. In like man­ner, if we lose courage and begin to retreat, the anger, rage, and vin­dic­tive­ness of the ene­my becomes great beyond all bounds.

The ene­my will lose courage and take flight as soon as a per­son who is fol­low­ing the spir­i­tu­al life stands coura­geous­ly against his temp­ta­tions and does exact­ly the oppo­site of what the ene­my sug­gests. On the con­trary, if a per­son begins to take flight and los­es courage in the midst of fight­ing temp­ta­tion, no wild beast on earth is more fierce than the ene­my as he pur­sues his evil inten­tion with ever-increas­ing malice.

A False Lover

The ene­my also behaves like a false lover who wish­es to remain hid­den and does not want to be revealed. For when this deceit­ful man pays court, with evil intent, to the daugh­ter of some good father or the wife of a good hus­band, he wants his words and sug­ges­tions to be kept secret. He is great­ly dis­pleased if the girl reveals to her father, or the wife to her hus­band, his deceit­ful words and depraved inten­tions, for he then clear­ly per­ceives that his plan can­not succeed.

In like man­ner, when the ene­my tempts a just soul with his wiles and deceits, he wish­es and desires that they be received and kept in secret. When they are revealed to a con­fes­sor or some oth­er spir­i­tu­al per­son who under­stands his deceits and evil designs, the ene­my is great­ly dis­pleased for he knows that he can­not suc­ceed in his evil design once his obvi­ous deceits have been discovered.

The enemy’s behav­ior is also like that of a mil­i­tary leader who wish­es to con­quer and plun­der the object of his desires. Just as the com­man­der of an army pitch­es his camp, stud­ies the strength and defens­es of a fortress, and then attacks it on its weak­est side, in like man­ner, the ene­my of our souls stud­ies from all sides our the­o­log­i­cal, car­di­nal, and moral virtues. Wher­ev­er he finds us weak­est and most in need regard­ing our eter­nal sal­va­tion, he attacks and tries to take us by storm.

An Angel of Light

It belongs to God and his angels to bring true hap­pi­ness and spir­i­tu­al joy to the soul and to free it from the sad­ness and dis­tur­bance which the ene­my caus­es. It is the nature of the ene­my to fight against such joy and spir­i­tu­al con­so­la­tion by propos­ing (seem­ing­ly) seri­ous rea­sons, sub­tleties, and con­tin­u­al deceptions.

Also, it is char­ac­ter­is­tic of the evil one to trans­form him­self into an angel of light, to work with the soul in the begin­ning, but in the end work for him­self. At first he will sug­gest good and holy thoughts, and then, lit­tle by lit­tle he strives to gain his own ends by draw­ing the soul into his hid­den deceits.

It is well for a per­son who has been tempt­ed to exam­ine after­ward the course of the good thoughts that were sug­gest­ed to him. Let him con­sid­er their begin­ning and how the ene­my con­trived, lit­tle by lit­tle, to make him fall from the state of sweet­ness and spir­i­tu­al delight that he was enjoy­ing until he final­ly brought him to per­verse designs. With the expe­ri­ence and knowl­edge thus acquired and not­ed, one may bet­ter guard him­self in the future against the cus­tom­ary deceits of the enemy.

An Open Door

In those who are mak­ing spir­i­tu­al progress, the action of the good angel is gen­tle, light, and sweet, as a drop of water enter­ing a sponge. The action of the evil spir­it is sharp, noisy, and dis­turb­ing, like a drop of water falling upon a rock. In those souls that are going from bad to worse, the action of these two spir­its is the reverse.

The cause for this dif­fer­ence of action is the dis­po­si­tion of the soul which is either con­trary or sim­i­lar to the spir­its men­tioned above. When the dis­po­si­tion of the soul is con­trary to that of the spir­its, they enter it with noise and dis­tur­bances that are eas­i­ly per­ceived. When the dis­po­si­tion of the soul and that of the spir­its are sim­i­lar, they enter silent­ly as one com­ing into his own house through an open door.


Hum­ble your­selves there­fore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anx­i­ety on him, because he cares for you. Dis­ci­pline your­selves, keep alert. Like a roar­ing lion your adver­sary the dev­il prowls around, look­ing for some­one to devour. Resist him, stead­fast in your faith, for you know that your broth­ers and sis­ters in all the world are under­go­ing the same kinds of suf­fer­ing. And after you have suf­fered for a lit­tle while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eter­nal glo­ry in Christ, will him­self restore, sup­port, strength­en, and estab­lish you. To him be the pow­er for­ev­er and ever. Amen.


The fol­low­ing ques­tions can be used for dis­cus­sion with­in a small group, or used for jour­nal reflec­tions by individuals.

  1. There has always been a lot of dis­cus­sion (some good, some bad) about the spir­i­tu­al realms of good and evil. How do you under­stand the pres­ence and work of angels and demons? How did Ignatius of Loy­ola clar­i­fy or con­fuse your pre­vi­ous under­stand­ing?

  2. Feel­ings of con­so­la­tion and des­o­la­tion are one of the main top­ics of this selec­tion on dis­cern­ing the spir­its. Have you ever expe­ri­enced either of these in the man­ner Ignatius describes? Share your expe­ri­ences.

  3. What are the three rea­sons Ignatius gives for a soul enter­ing into a state of des­o­la­tion? (See sec­tion 4.) Have any of these three been a part of your expe­ri­ence? How did the Spir­it move in order to help you grow in that sit­u­a­tion?

  4. In sec­tion 7, the author reveals the enemy’s one great fear. What is it? What can we do to ensure that the ene­my has that fear? 

  5. In 1 Peter 5:6 – 11, espe­cial­ly verse 8, Peter offers us both a warn­ing and some advice when we face temp­ta­tion. What are they? Com­pare this coun­sel with the teach­ings of Ignatius.


The fol­low­ing exer­cis­es can be done by indi­vid­u­als, shared between spir­i­tu­al friends, or used in the con­text of a small group. Choose one or more of the following.

  1. The dev­il will attack our weak­est side, writes Ignatius. How­ev­er, we can com­bat this attack by know­ing where we are weak and mak­ing a move to strength­en that side. This week make it your goal to dis­cov­er your weak­est areas, and resolve to strength­en that side.

  2. Pay close atten­tion this week to the inner move­ments in your soul. Dis­cern the source of your thoughts and feel­ings by using Ignatius’s descrip­tions.

  3. The ene­my is weak in the pres­ence of strength,” writes Ignatius. Stand firm in the pres­ence of temp­ta­tions this week, rely­ing not on your own strength but on the strength of God.

  4. 1 Peter 5:7 encour­ages, Cast all your anx­i­ety on him, because he cares for you.” Be bold this week as you pray, cast­ing all your anx­i­eties on God, know­ing that he cares deeply about each of them.


There is a four-part struc­ture to the Igna­t­ian spir­i­tu­al retreat. The first week is giv­en to the con­tem­pla­tion of our sin in the light of God’s love. The sec­ond week cen­ters on the life of Christ, the third week on the death of Christ, and the fourth week on the res­ur­rec­tion of Christ.

Many read­ers would be uncom­fort­able with var­i­ous details of The Spir­i­tu­al Exer­cis­es, but I want to com­mend this four-part rhythm to you. We need a deep­er mus­ing upon our peren­ni­al knack for dis­obe­di­ence and God’s unbound­ed habit of mer­cy. We need a rich­er con­tem­pla­tion upon that Life that shows us the way so we may fol­low in his steps.” We need a fuller med­i­ta­tion upon that Death that sets us free. We need a more pro­found expe­ri­ence of that Res­ur­rec­tion that empow­ers us to obey Christ in all things.

—Richard J. Foster

Excerpts tak­en from Devo­tion­al Clas­sics: Select­ed Read­ings for Indi­vid­u­als and Groups (Richard J. Fos­ter & James Bryan Smith, Edi­tors. Harper­Collins, 1993.)

Paint­ing © Car­los Saenz de Teja­da (1958), Ignatius Writes His Spir­i­tu­al Exercises

Text First Published June 2005 · Last Featured on September 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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