The First Italian Text of Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola?

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola have a complex history regarding their origin, development and publication. In their origin they were the fruit of Ignatius’s personal experience. Ignatius took notes of the different methods or exercises he used in prayer and the experiences that resulted from such exercises. This activity began during his Manresa days in 1522-23, or perhaps as early as his 1521 convalescence period. The Latin version of the text got papal approval in 1548. Between 1522 and 1548, the core text of Manresa was enriched, put to use in directing others and examined by the competent Church authorities. The subsequent copies of the Spiritual Exercises were based on the 1548 version approved by the Pope, while the original text, Autographum, was in Spanish. This was published in 1615 after the General Congregation V of the Society of Jesus.


The staff at the Archives of the Gregorian University has recently pulled out from its stacks what could be the very first Italian translation of the text of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. It carries the code Ms. F.C. 2180. Chatilly possesses, in photograph negatives, the exact copy of this manuscript. (Monumenta 100, p. xli, xlv). In the Monumenta 100, Sancti Ignatii de Loyola Exercitia Spiritualia, the editors reproduce what is written in script on the first unnumbered page of the manuscript: this is an ancient book of spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius according to the method in which they were given (communicated) before they were printed. It was donated to our Fr. General Giovanni Paolo Oliva [Questo è un libro antico degli Esercizi spirituali di S. Ignazio, secondo il metodo col quale si comunicavano prima che si stampassero. Fu donato al N. P. Generale Gio. Paolo Oliva] (Fr. Oliva was General between 1664-1681).

The “libro antico degli Esercizi” raises many questions and opens up scope for fresh investigation and research. Without being exhaustive, here are some possible areas of interest for students of history of spiritual texts and Ignatian Spirituality.

  1. When, by whom and under what circumstances was this ancient text composed? The note on the opening page indicates that the text was composed before the Exercises were printed. It is unlikely that the reference made to the printed text has in mind the Latin text Versio Vulgata, rather the first printed Italian text. According to Sommervogel, V, 71 the first Italian text of the Exercises was published in Rome in 1906. This text printed by Zanettum only carries the frontispiece in Italian, the rest being in Latin. This leads to the next unresolved issue.
  2. When was the first Italian text of Exercises published? The library of the Gregorian University possesses what is probably the first published Italian text of the It bears the title, Esercitii spirituali del b.p. Ignatio Loyola, fundatore della Compag. di Giesù, and adds, In Roma, nel Coll. Romano (Library location code Ris. 101 EH 5). Unfortunately, the date of the publication is not specified. This is a rare copy, as only less than a handful of copies of this edition are extant today. According to the staff of the Gregorian Archives, judging by the typography of the print, this newly found edition of the Exercises is prior to the above mentioned 1906 edition. With regard to the content, a first look shows that it is not strictly faithful to the Vulgata, neither in form nor in matter. The text begins with the Annotations, but it does not follow the order of the Vulgata. E.g., the Additions follow soon after the General Examination of Conscience. The paragraphs are not numbered.
  3. Textual study of the ancient manuscript F.C. 2180: The manuscript has 108 pages with coeval page numbering.   The calligraphy is clear and perfectly readable. The content is relatively brief in comparison to the later editions. Probably being the first text of Exercises in Italian, its textual study could be enriching and insightful, and could contribute to the historical critical study of the text of Exercises. An arbitrary example: P. 92 has this expression, “Contemplatione della Missione del Spirito Santo la oratione solita…”. This comes at the end of the book, but not as part of the Fourth Week, but after a somewhat lengthy prayer with the title, “Parole Attrattive” (p. 87). Surprisingly, Contemplatione della Missione del Spirito Santo follows the five steps of exercises of the four weeks. One wonders, “Why such a prayer exercise is placed toward the end of the book?” or “Why is this title not found in subsequent versions of the Exercises?”.

Comparative study of the text of the ancient manuscript: It begins with the first Annotation alone and then moves on to the Principle and Foundation, “L’huomo è creato da Dio per cognoscere et amare, laudare e rivivere e servire a Dio, Signor nostro e per questo mezzo lui salvarse la sua anima…”. The text certainly does not follow the Vulgata but a first look reveals certain similarities with the order of the text of Esercitii spirituali del b.p. Ignatio Loyola, fundatore della Compag. di Giesù. A comparative study would be helpful toward understanding better the history of the development of the Italian versions of the Spiritual Exercises.

Rolphy Pinto SJ

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