One of the books I read thirty years ago which I keep reading over and over again is Don Cameron Allen’s DSC_0002Mysteriously Meant: The Rediscovery of Pagan Symbolism and Allegorical Interpretation in the Renaissance.  It is a book I found because I found  Allen’s Image and Meaning Metaphoric tradition in Renaissance poetry so helpful. So for fun I  decided to read Mysteriously, it was in the library and it looked like it would be a quick read….  In the preface Allen  says  than when he wrote Image and Meaning, ” I say through the glass darkly. In the following ten chapters I shall try to clear the glass, but I am afraid it is still fairly cloudy. ”


“Wrest a never meant meaning “


Thomas Nashe Summers Last Will and Testament..


I was right in expecting this book to be more over cast than slightly cloudy, and indeed, my literary adventures have been (and still are) a quest for “Permutatio” a form in which one thing is said by the words, another by the meaning. No genre of books does this more explicitly than Emblem Books, at least to a modern reader. I in fact will look at a subspecies, The Jesuit Emblem Book.  I’m not sure this is a fair distinction, but it is at least a mechanical one.   Richard Dimler, made a Short title listing of Jesuit Emblem books in Emblematica 2, 1, 1987  and then there is  Dimler’s Jesuit Series .(Corpus Librorum Emblematum Series)  In these five volumes  he lists over 500 first editions and another 1200 reprint editions.  I am using the online Google Books version  of this which I am growing to hate.


At present I don’t have any Jesuit Emblem books in my stock, but I’ve been thinking about the biblioevangelism practiced by the Jesuit Presses. I can’t really think of another ‘Organization’ which has such a structure,organized and strategic plan to spread basic ideas. ( Maybe Mao’s little Red Book)  Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, the foundational document , both ecstatic and structured. Reading through Dimler’s great work I see that there exists a few emblematicised editions of the  Exercises. Now what a challenge that must be, not just illustrating such an important book, but Embleizing it.. Meditation upon images and the mnemonic use of images was quite popular with the sixteenth century Jesuits.  Jerónimo Nadal one of the founding generation of Jesuits was coaxed by Ignatius to “compile and distribute an illustrated guide for prayerful meditation on the Gospels, in the tradition of the Spiritual Exercises, although the work was not completed until after both men had died. Nadal selected the biblical scenes to be included, commissioned and directed the layout of the illustrations, and composed notes to accompany each scene. With the cooperation and support of Antwerp publishers Christophe Plantin and Martinus Nutius, 153 engravings were eventually produced by Bernardino Passeri, Marten de Vos, and Jerome and Anton Wierix.


In 1593 these illustrations were published in a volume entitled Example1(“Illustrations of the Gospel Stories”), arranged in chronological order of the life and ministry of Jesus. In 1594 and 1595 they were again published in larger volumes, entitled Adnotationes et Meditationes in Evangelia (“Notes and Meditations on the Gospels”). Like the Virgil Solis: Biblische Figuren deß Alten (und Newen) Testaments I wrote about last month. { } Nadal’s book is a beautiful and extravagant book, but Nadal’s is following the Bible per se, instead it is a teaching device.




Not many years after this, an illustrated Spiritual Exercises was produced, but first about the Exercises.




This work originated in Ignatius’ experiences, while he was at Loyola in 1521, and the chief meditations were probably reduced to their present shapes during his life at Manresa in 1522, at the end of which period he had begun to teach them to others. In the process of 1527 at Salamanca, they are spoken of for the first time as the “Book of Exercises”. The earliest extant text is of the year 1541. At the request of St. Francis Borgia. The book was examined by papal censors and a solemn approbation given by Paul III in the Brief “Pastoralis Officii” of 1548. “The Spiritual Exercises” are written very concisely, in the form of a handbook for the priest who is to explain them, and it is practically impossible to describe them without making them, just as it might be impossible to explain Nelson’s “Sailing Orders” to a man who knew nothing of ships or the sea. The idea of the work is to help the exercitant to find out what the will of God is in regard to his future, and to give him energy and courage to follow that will. The exercitant (under ideal circumstances) is guided through four weeks of meditations: the first week on sin and its consequences, the second on Christ’s life on earth, the third on his passion, the fourth on His risen life; and a certain number of instructions (called “rules”, “additions”, “notes”) are added to teach him how to pray, how to avoid scruples, how to elect a vocation in life without being swayed by the love of self or of the world. In their fullness they should, according to Ignatius’ idea, ordinarily be made once or twice only; but in part (from three to four days) they may be most profitably made annually, and are now commonly called “retreats”, from the seclusion or retreat from the world in which the exercitant lives. More popular selections are preached to the people in church and are called “missions”. The stores of spiritual wisdom contained in the “Book of Exercises” are truly astonishing, and their author is believed to have been inspired while drawing them up. (See also next section.) Sommervogel enumerates 292 writers among the Jesuits alone, who have commented on the whole book, to say nothing of commentators on parts (e.g. the meditations), who are far more numerous still. But the best testimony to the work is the frequency with which the exercises are made. In England (for which alone statistics are before the writer) the educated people who make retreats number annually about 22,000, while the number who attend popular expositions of the Exercises in “missions” is approximately 27,000, out of a total Catholic population of 2,000,000.” CE


The autograph manuscript of this “Spiritual Exercises” has unfortunately been lost. What is at present called the “autograph” is only a quarto copy made by a secretary but containing corrections in the author’s handwriting. It is now reproduced by phototypy (Rome, 1908). Two Latin translations were made during the lifetime of St. Ignatius. There now remain:


  • the ancient Latin translation, antiqua versio latina, a literal version probably made by the saint;
  • a free translation by Father Frusius, more elegant and more in accordance with the style of the period, and generally called the “Vulgate”.


The antiqua versio is dated by the copyist “Rome, 9 July, 1541”; the vulgate version is later than 1541, but earlier than 1548,


Exercitia spiritualia
Exercitia spiritualia


when the two versions were together presented to Paul III for approval. The pope appointed three examiners, who praised both versions warmly. The Vulgate, more carefully executed from a literary point of view, was only chosen for printing, and was published at Rome on 11 September, 1548, under the simple title: “Exercitia spiritualia”. This princepsedition was also multiplied by phototypy (Paris, 1910). Besides these two Latin translations there exist two others. One is the still unpublished text left by Bl. Peter Faber to the Carthusians of Cologne before 1546; it holds a middle place between the literal version and the Vulgate. The second is a new literal translation by Father Roothaan, twenty-first general of theSociety of Jesus, who, on account of the differences between the Vulgate and the Spanish autograph, wished to retranslate the “Exercises” into Latin, as accurately as possible, at the same time making use of the versio antiqua. His intention was not to supplant the Vulgate, and he therefore published the work of Frusius along with his own in parallel columns (1835).


The Spanish autograph text was not printed until long after the Vulgate, by Bernard de Angelis, secretary of the Society of Jesus (Rome, 1615); it has often been republished. The most noteworthy English versions are:


  • “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. With Approbation of Superiours. At Saint Omers; Printed by Nicolas Joseph LeFebvre.” This translation bears no date but it can be traced back to 1736; the printer was a lay brother of the Society.
  • “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Translated from the Authorized Latin; with extracts from the literal version and notes of the Rev. Father Rothaan [sic] by Charles Seager, M.A., to which is prefixed a Preface by the Right Rev. Nicholas Wiseman, D.D.bishop of Melipotamus” (London, Dolman, 1847); which was republished by Murphy atBaltimore, about 1850.
  • “The Text of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, translated from the original Spanish”, by Father John Morris, S.J., published by Burns and Gates (London, 1880).


The reader of the “Exercises” need not look for elegance of style. “St. Ignatius”, says F. Astrain, “writes in coarse, incorrect, and laboured Castilian, which only at times arrests the attention by the energetic precision and brevity with whichcertain thoughts are expressed.” There are outpourings of the soul in different colloquies, but their affecting interest does not lie in words; it is wholly in the keen situation, created by the author, of the sinner before the crucifix, the knight before his king, etc.


Composition of the exercises


The book is composed of documents or spiritual exercises, reduced to the order most fitted to move the minds of thefaithful to piety, as was remarked in the Brief of approval. We find in this work documents (instructions, admonitions, warnings), exercises (prayers, meditations examination of conscience, and other practices), and the method according to which they are arranged. The sources of the book are the Sacred Scriptures and the experiences of spiritual life. Ignatiusindeed was little by little prepared by Divine Providence to write his book. From 1521 the thoughts which precede hisconversion, the progress of his repentance, the pious practices which he embraces at Montserrat and at Manresa helped to give him a knowledge of asceticism. His book is a work lived by himself and later on lived by others under his eyes. But a book so lived is not composed all at once; it requires to be retouched, corrected, and added to frequently. These improvements, which neither Polanco nor Bartoli hide, are revealed by a simple examination of the Spanish text, where along with the Castilian there are found Latin or Italian expressions together with Scholastic terms which the writer could not have used before, at least, the beginning of his later studies. Ignatius himself admitted this to Father Luis Gonzales: “I did not compose the Exercises all at once. When anything resulting from my own experience seemed to me likely to be of use to others, I took note of it”. Father Nadal, Ignatius’s friend and contemporary, writes of the final redaction: “After having completed his studies, the author united his first attempts of the Exercises, made many additions, put all in order, and presented his work for the examination and judgment of the Apostolic See“.


It seems probable that the “Exercises” were completed while St. Ignatius was attending lectures at the University of Paris. The copy of Bl. Peter Faber, written undoubtedly about the time when he followed the Exercises under Ignatius’s direction (1533), contains all the essential parts. Moreover, some parts of the book bear their date. Such are: the “Rules for the distribution of alms”, intended for beneficed clergymen, masters, or laureates of the university, in which occurs a citation of the Council of Carthage, thus leading one to suppose that the writer had studied theology; the “Rules for thinking with the Church”, which appear to have been suggested by the measures taken by an assembly of theologians at Valladolid in 1527 against the Erasmists of Spain, or by the Faculty of Paris in 1535, 1542, against the Protestants. The final completion of the “Exercises” may be dated from 1541, when a fair copy of the versio antiqua, which St. Ignatius calls “Todos exerciciosbreviter en latin”, was made. It may be asked how far the work of composition was carried out during the residence of thesaint at Manresa. This spot, where Ignatius arrived in March, 1522, must always be considered as the cradle of the “Exercises”. The substance of the work dates from Manresa. Ignatius found there the precious metal which for a long time he wrought and polished. “A work,” as Fr. Astrain rightly says, ‘which contributes throughout so admirably to realize the fundamental idea set up by the author, is evidently not an invention made by parts, or composed of passages written at various times or under varying circumstances.” The “Exercises” clearly bear the mark of Manresa. The mind of Ignatius, during his retirement there, was full of military memories and of thoughts of the future; hence the double characteristic of his book, the chivalrous note and the march towards the choice of a state of life. The ideas of the knight are those of the service due to a sovereign, of the shame that clings to the treason of a vassal (first week), and in the kingdom, those of thecrusade formed against the infidels, and of the confrontation of the Two Standards (second week). But during his convalescence at the castle, the reading of the lives of the saints gave a mystical turn to his chivalrous ideas; the great deeds to be imitated henceforth are no longer those of a Roland, but of a Dominic or a Francis.


To help him in his outline of evangelical perfection, Ignatius received a special assistance, which Polanco and Ribadeneiracall the unction of the Holy Ghost. Without this grace, the composition of the “Exercises” remains a mystery. How could a rough and ignorant soldier conceive and develop a work so original, so useful for the salvation and the perfection of souls, a book which astonishes one by the originality of its method and the powerful efficacy of its virtue? We ought not, however, to consider this Divine assistance as a complete revelation. What St. Ignatius knew of spiritual ways, he had learned chiefly from personal experience and by the grace of God, Who treated him “as the schoolmaster does a child”. It does not mean that he had not the advice of a confessor to guide him, for he was directed by John Chanones at Montserrat; nor does it mean that he had read nothing himself, as we know that he had books at hand. We must therefore consider the revelationof the “Exercises” not as a completely supernatural manifestation of all the truths contained in the work, but as a kind ofinspiration, or special Divine assistance, which prevented all essential error, and suggested many thoughts useful for the salvation of the author, and of readers at all times. This inspiration is the more admissible as Ignatius was favoured with great light in Divine things. Ribadeneira, writing from Madrid, 18 April, 1607, to Fr. Girón, rector of Salamanca, dwells on the wonderful fruits of the “Exercises”, fruits foreseen and willed by God. Such a result could not be the effect of   reading and study, and he adds:  “This has been the general opinion of all the old fathers of the Society of us all who have lived and conversed with our blessed father”.


Another tradition concerns the part taken by the Blessed Virgin in the composing of the “Exercises” at Manresa. It is not based on any written testimony of the contemporaries of St. Ignatius, though it became universal in the seventeenth century. Possibly it is founded upon earlier oral testimony, and upon a revelation made in 1600 to the Venerable Marina de Escobar and related in the “Life of Father Balthazar Alvarez”. This tradition has often been symbolized by painters, who represent Ignatius writing from the Blessed Virgin’s dictation.


Although Ignatius had been educated  just like the ordinary knights of his time, he was fond of calligraphy and still more of reading; his convalescence at Loyola enabled him to gratify this double inclination. We know that he wrote there, in different coloured inks, a quarto book of 300 folios in which he seems to have gathered together extracts from the only two books to be found in the castle which were “The Flower of the Saints” in Spanish and “The Life of Jesus Christ” by Ludolph of Saxony or the Carthusian, published in Spanish at Alcalá, 1502 to 1503. “The Flower of the Saints” has left no apparent trace in the “Exercises”, except an advice to read something similar after the second week. Ludolph’s influence is more noticeable in expressions, ascetic principles, and methodic details. The part of the “Exercises” treating of the life of Christ, is especially indebted to him.


Ignatius, having recovered his health and determined to lead a hermit’s life, left Loyola for Montserrat and Manresa. He spent the greater part of the year 1522 in the latter town, three leagues distant from Montserrat, under the direction of his confessor, Dom John Chanones. According to a witness in the process of canonization Ignatius went to see Chanones everySaturday. He could moreover have met him or other Benedictines at the priory of Manresa, which was dependent on Montserrat. It is possible that he received from them a copy of the “Imitation of Christ” in Spanish for he certainly had that book at Manresa; they must have given him also the “Ejercitatorio de la vida espiritual”, of Dom Garcia de Cisneros, published at Montserrat in 1500. Ribadeneira in his letter to Fr. Girón thinks it very probable that St. Ignatius was acquainted with this Castilian work, that he availed himself of it for prayer and meditation, that Chanones explained different parts to him, and that the title “Exercises” was suggested to him by the “Ejercitatorio”. The Benedictines made use of this book for the conversion or edification of the pilgrims of Montserrat; in fact the tradition of the monastery relates that Chanones communicated it to his penitent. The “Exercises” borrow very little expressly from the “Imitation of Christ”. There is, however, to be noticed a general concordance of its doctrine and that of the “Exercises”, and an invitation to read it.


Was the “Ejercitatorio” more closely followed? In trying to solve this question it is not sufficient to draw conclusions from the resemblance of the titles, or to establish a parallel with a few details; it is necessary above all to compare the plans and methods of the two works. Whilst the “Exercises” consider the word “week” in its metaphorical sense and give liberty to add or to omit days, the “Ejercitatorio” presents a triple series of seven meditations, one and not several for each day of the real week. The whole series of twenty-one meditations is exhausted in just three weeks, which answer to the three lives: the purgative, the illuminative, and the unitive. The author seeks only to raise the “exercitador” gradually to the contemplative life, whereas St. Ignatius leads the exercitant to determine for himself the choice of a state of life amongst those most pleasing to God. The “Ejercitatorio” does not mention anything of the foundation, nor of the kingdom, of the particular examination, of the election, of the discernment of spirits, nor of the rules for rightly regulating one’s food and for thinking with the Orthodox Church, nor of the three methods of praying. Only a few counsels of Cisneros have been adopted by St. Ignatius in the annotations 2, 4,13, 18, 19, 20, and the additions 2, 4. Some of Cisneros’s ideas are to be found in the meditations of the first week. The other weeks of St. Ignatius are entirely different. The similarities are so reduced in fact to a very small number.


But the work of Cisneros itself is only a compilation. Cisneros admits having reproduced passages from Cassian, Bernard,Bonaventure, Gerson etc.; moreover, he does not give the names of the contemporaries from whom he copied. Amongst other books Cisneros read and copied the “De spiritualibus ascensionibus” of Gerard Zerbolt of Zutphen (1367-98) and the “Rosetum exercitiorum spiritualium” of John Mombaer, or Mauburnus (died 1502), who was also indebted to Gerard. Almost all in Cisneros that pertains to the method of spiritual exercises is extracted from the “Rosetum”. The different ways of exercising oneself in the contemplation of the life and passion of Jesus Christ are taken from the “De spiritualibus ascensionibus”. All Cisneros’s borrowings were disclosed by Fr. Watrigant (see bibliography). Zutphen and Mombaer, likeThomas à Kempis, belonged to the Society of the Brothers of Common Life, founded towards the end of the fourteenth century by Gerard de Groote and Florence Radewyns. This society caused a revival of spiritual life by the publication of numerous ascetic treatises, several of which appeared under the title of “Spiritual Exercises”. The Brothers of Common Life, or the Devoti, devoted themselves also to the reform of the clergy and monasteries. The Benedictine Congregation of Valladolid, on which Montserrat was dependent, had been under the influence of Lewis Barbo, who was connected with the brothers. We must therefore conclude that Ignatius may have profited by the result of Zutphen’s and Mauburnus’s labours whilst he read Cisneros or listened to Chanones’s explanations at Manresa. Later, when he understood Latin, during his studies at the Universities of Alcalá and Paris, or while travelling in Flanders he may himself have become acquainted with the works of the Devoti. A greater analogy is to be noticed between Zutphen and Ignatius, two practical minds, than between Loyola and Cisneros.


Originality of the work


We may therefore look upon the question of a supposed plagiarism on the part of St. Ignatius to the detriment of Cisneros, as being definitively settled. This question was raised by Dom Constantine Cajetan, or rather by some one who assumed his name, in a treatise published at Venice in 1641: “De reigiosa S. Ignatii . . . per patres Benedictinos institutione . . .”. TheJesuit John Rho answered him in his “Achates” (Lyons, 1644). Both the attack and reply were put on the Index, no doubt on account of their excessive acrimony. Besides, the general assembly of the Congregation of Monte Cassino which met atRavenna in 1644, by a decree dissociated itself from the aggressor. The quarrel was afterwards renewed on several occasions, chiefly by the heterodox, but always without success. Benedictines and Jesuits agree to acknowledge that if St. Ignatius owes anything to Montserrat, he has retained his entire originality. Whatever may be said about the works he read and what he borrowed, his book is truly his own. A writer is never blamed for having previously searched and studied, if his own work is impressed with his personality, and treats the subject from a new point of view. This has been successfully accomplished by St. Ignatius, and with all the greater merit, as he could not change anything of the traditional truths ofChristianity or pretend to invent mental prayer.


Ignatius’s originality appears at first sight in the selection and co-ordination of his material. To select some of the greattruths of religion, to drive them deeply into the heart, until man thoroughly impressed falls at the Lord’s feet, crying out like another Saul “Domine, quid me vis facere?”, such is the genius, the ascetic character, of St. Ignatius. But to bring about this result it was necessary for the selected truths to be linked together in a logical series and animated by a progressive movement. The methodic order and irresistible deduction of the “Exercises” distinguish them from a large number of spiritual works. Above all the originality of St. Ignatius is displayed in the care with which he combines the subjects of meditation and ascetic principles, and the minute advice that guides and moderates, when necessary, the application of the “Exercises”. We find in the annotations at the beginning, in the notes strewn here and there, in the rules for the discernment of spirits a real system of spiritual training, that makes adequate provision for the different states of soul of the exercitant, and warns him, or rather his director, of what is most fitting, according to the circumstances of the case. Nothing is left to chance. One sees how to adapt the general progress of the retreat to different persons, according to their occupation” the degree of their fervour, and the advantage they derive from the “Exercises”, This art of proportioning spiritual instruction to the powers of the soul and to Divine grace was entirely new, at least under the precise and methodic form given to it by St. Ignatius.”


Debuchy, Paul. “Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. 16 May 2013 <;.