(Examination of Conscience)


The apotheosis of St. Ignatius.  Baciccio

MS-Word doc

and Three Modern, Simplified Approaches


A Treatise on Ascetical and Mystical Theology, by Adolphe Tanquerey, tr. H. Branderis, Desclee, (New York, 1930).

466. B) Methods for the examination of conscience. Every one acknowledges that these have been greatly perfected by St. Ignatius. In his Spiritual Exercises, he carefully differentiates between the general and the particular examination. The former bears upon all the actions of the day, the latter upon one special point, a fault to be corrected, a virtue to be cultivated. Both may, however, be made together. In this case, one will limit the general examination to a summary glance over the day’s actions in order to discover the chief faults, passing directly on to the particular examination which is far more important.

467. a) The general examination, which every good Christian should make in order to know and to improve himself, comprises five points, says St. Ignatius:[1]

1) “The first point is to return thanks to God Our Lord for the benefits received.” This is an excellent exercise, at once consoling and sanctifying, for it brings into relief our ingratitude, thus preparing the way for contrition, and at the same time it sustains our confidence in God.[2]

2) “The second is to ask grace to know the sins and cast them out.” If we want to know ourselves it is in order to reform ourselves, but we accomplish neither without the helping grace of God.

3) “The third, to demand of the soul an account from the hour of rising to the present examen, taking hour by hour or period by period; and first of thought, then of word, and afterwards of deed, in the same order that has been mentioned for the Particular Examen.”

4) “The fourth is to ask pardon of God Our Lord for the faults.” In fact, we must not lose sight of this, that sorrow is the principal element of the examination and that this sorrow is mainly the work of grace.

5) “The fifth is to purpose amendment with His grace.” This resolution, to be practical, should bear upon the means of reform. He who wills the end, wills also the means. The recitation of the Our Father is a fitting conclusion for this examination, bringing before our eyes the glory of God which we must seek, and uniting us to Jesus Christ in our supplication for the pardon of our sins and for the grace of avoiding them in the future.

468. b) The particular examination,[3] in the judgment of St. Ignatius, is of greater moment than the general one, and of even more importance than meditation itself, because it enables us to run down, one by one, our defects and thus overcome them the more easily. Besides, if we examine ourselves thoroughly on some important virtue, we not only acquire that virtue, but all the others related thereto. Thus, whilst we advance in the practice of obedience, we perform at the same time acts of humility, of mortification, and we exercise ourselves in the spirit of faith. Likewise, to acquire the virtue of humility means that we are perfecting ourselves in the practice of obedience, of the love of God, of charity, since pride is the chief obstacle to the exercise of these virtues. There are, however, rules for the choice of the subject of examination, and for the manner of performing it

469. The choice of a subject.

1) In general we must attack our predominant fault by striving to practice the contrary virtue. This fault is, as a matter of fact, the great stumbling block, the great leader of the opposing forces. If it is conquered, the entire host is routed.

2) Once the subject is determined upon, we must attack first the outward manifestations of the particular fault so as to do away with whatever offends or scandalizes the neighbor. Thus, if charity be the subject chosen, we must begin by suppressing words and actions contrary to this virtue.

3) Then, we must without great delay pass to the subject of the hidden cause of our faults. This may be, for instance, feelings of envy, a desire to be brilliant in our conversation, etc...

4) It is important not to limit our efforts to this negative side, that is, to the struggle against faults, but we must carefully cultivate the opposite virtue. Here, to suppress means to replace.

5) Lastly, in order to make more certain of our progress, we should carefully divide the subject of our examinations in accordance with the different degrees of a virtue, so as not to cover the whole field, but merely those acts that more exactly correspond to our individual needs. Thus, as regards humility, one should practice, first, what may be called self-effacement or forgetfulness of self; speaking but little, giving others the opportunity to speak by means of discreet questions, loving to be unnoticed, to lead a hidden life etc...

470. The manner of performing the particular Examen.[4]

St. Ignatius tells us that this particular examen involves three periods of the day and two examinations of conscience.

The first time is that in the morning, as soon as the man rises, he ought to purpose to be carefully on his guard against that particular sin, or defect, of which he wishes to correct and amend himself

The second, after dinner, the man ought to beg of God what he wants, to wit, the grace to remember how often he has fallen into that particular sin or defect, and to amend himself in future; and thereupon let him make the first examen, taking account of his soul of that particular thing proposed, whereof he wishes to correct and amend himself, ranging through the time hour by hour, or period by period, beginning from the hour that he rose even to the hour and moment of the present examen; and let him score on the top line of the figure as many dots as are the times that he has fallen into that particular sin or defect; and afterwards let him purpose anew to amend himself until the next examen that he shall make.

The third time, after supper, the second examen shall be made also from hour to hour, beginning from the first examen until the present second examen, and let him score on the second line of the same figure as many dots as shall answer to the times that he has fallen into that particular sin or defect.


The first Addition is that, as often as the man falls into that sin or particular defect, he puts his hand to his breast, grieving that he has fallen,--which may be done even in presence of company without their noticing what he is doing.

The second, since the first line of the figure represents the first examen, and the second the second examen, let him observe at night whether there is any improvement from the first line to the second, that is, from the first examen to the second.

The third- to compare the second day with the first, that is, the two examens of the second day with the other two of the day previous, and see whether from the one day to the other there has been improvement.

The fourth Addition; to compare one week with another, and see whether there has been improvement in the present week upon the former.

We must observe that the first great _ which follows signifies Sunday; the second smaller signifies Monday ; the third Tuesday, and so of the rest.



____ [etc.]

472. This method may, at first sight, appear somewhat complex; in actual practice, it proves less so. Should one be unable to devote to it such a notable space of time as indicated above, one can condense the essential features of these acts within a shorter period, for instance, ten minutes at night. If one foresees that it cannot be performed in the evening, a part of the time given to visiting the Blessed Sacrament may be set apart for it.

473. C) The Dispositions that should attend this examination. That the examination of conscience general or particular, may be effective in uniting us more closely to God, it must be accompanied by sentiments or dispositions that are, so to speak, its soul. We shall note the principal ones: gratitude, sorrow, purpose of amendment, and prayer.

a) First in order is a lively sense of gratitude toward God, Who all through the day has encompassed us about with His paternal Providence, protected us against temptation, and guarded us from innumerable sins. Without the aid of His grace, we should have fallen into many a fault. We should overflow with gratitude, thanking Him in a practical way--by putting His divine gifts to better use.

474. b) Such a sentiment will beget a sincere sorrow, all the more profound, as we have abused so many benefits received, offending so good and so merciful a Father. Out of this sorrow a sincere humility is born. Realizing from our own experience our frailty, our helplessness, our unworthiness, we accept with joy the confusion we feel at the sight of our repeated failures; we are happy to exalt the boundless mercies of a Father ever ready to forgive; and we rejoice that our misery serves to proclaim the infinite perfection of our God. These dispositions are not a passing mood; rather they abide with us through the spirit of penance, calling often to mind the thought of our faults: “My sin is ever before me!” (Ps. 50: 5)

475. e) The firm determination to atone for sin and to reform our lives will follow: to atone by acts of penance, which we take care to impose upon ourselves in order to deaden in us the love of pleasure, the source of our sins; to reform our lives by determining the means we shall employ, in order to lessen the number of our faults. Such determination must carefully exclude presumption, which by having us rely too much on our own will and our own strength, would deprive us of manifold graces and expose us to additional imprudences and further falls. On the other hand, our determination must rest confidently upon the omnipotence and the infinite goodness of God, ever willing to come to our aid when we acknowledge our weakness.

476. d) It is to implore this divine help that we conclude the examination with a prayer, all the more humble, all the more earnest, now that the sight of our sins has made us more distrustful of self. Realizing that of ourselves we are incapable of avoiding sin and still more incapable of rising up to God by the practice of virtue, we rely on the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, and cry out to God from the depths of our wretchedness, to come unto us, to lift us from the mire of our sins, and to raise us up to Himself It is through these dispositions rather than by a minute scrutiny of our faults that our souls are gradually transformed under the influence of grace.


477. In this way, then, the knowledge of God and of self cannot but promote the intimate and affectionate union between the soul and God. He is infinite perfection, and we are absolute poverty. Hence, there is between the two a certain contact.--He has all that we need, and we need -that He has. He stoops down to us to surround us with His love and His favors, whilst we tend toward Him as toward the One Being Who alone can supply for our deficiencies, the One Who alone can make up for our weakness. Our thirst for happiness and for love is quenched only in Him, Who with His love satiates our heart and all its longings, giving us at once both perfection and bliss. Let us repeat these well-known words: “May I know Thee O Lord, that I may love Thee; may I know myself, that I may despise myself.”





1. Become aware of God's presence.

2. Review the day with gratitude. Gratitude is the foundation of our relationship with God. Walk through your day in the presence of God and note its joys and delights.

3. Pay attention to your emotions. Reflect on the feelings you experienced during the day. Ask what God is saying through these feelings.

4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it. Ask the Holy Spirit to direct you to something during the day that God thinks is particularly important. It may be a vivid moment or something that seems insignificant.

5. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow's challenges.

St. Ignatius encouraged people to talk to Jesus like a friend. End the Daily Examen with a conversation with Jesus. Ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask for his protection and help. Ask for his wisdom about the questions you have and the problems you face. Do all this in the spirit of gratitude.


Steps in Making the Ignatian Examen

1. We begin by quieting ourselves. Become aware of God’s goodness, the gifts of life and love. Be thankful.  Recall that without faith, the eye of love, the human world seems too evil for God to be good, for a good God to exist.

2. Pray for the grace to see clearly, to understand accurately, and to respond generously to the guidance God is giving us in our daily history.

3. Review in memory the history of the day (week, month, etc.) in order to be shown concrete instances of the presence and guidance of God and, perhaps, of the activity and influence of evil. These can be detected by paying attention to strong feelings we experienced that may have accompanied or arisen from situations and encounters.

4. Evaluate these instances in which we have either collaborated with God or yielded to the influence of evil in some way. Express gratitude and regret.

5. Plan and decide how to collaborate more effectively with God and how, with God’s assistance, to avoid or overcome the influence of evil in the future.

Conclude with an "Our Father."


The general examination of conscience is a simple form of prayer directed toward developing a spiritual sensitivity to the special ways God approaches, invites and calls.

It may be done at the end of each day, though it can be done more frequently as the person feels drawn.  The more frequently performed, however, the more natural it becomes and more a way of growing into an ever-closer relationship with God. It can take anywhere between five and fifteen minutes, although it does not matter how long one spends.  The important thing is to open oneself to recognizing and responding to God’s movement in your heart.

St. Ignatius' General Examination of Conscience

1. Give thanks to God our Lord for the favors received

2. Ask for the grace to know your sins

3. Examine how you have lived this day

4. Ask forgiveness for any faults

5. Resolve to amend with the grace of  God



[1] “Spiritual Exercises,” 1st week. The words within the quotation marks belong to St. Ignatius’ own text; translation is by Father RICKABY, S J., “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.”

[2] Here the method of S. Sulpice adds the adoration, that is to say all those acts by which we adore, praise, bless, love and express our gratitude to God; we place ourselves then in the presence of Jesus Christ, our model and our Judge, as has been explained above, n. 462.

[3] MEYER, “Science of the Saints,” Vol. I, Lesson XIV.

[4] From the translation of the Spiritual Exercises of S. Ignatius, by Father Joseph Rickaby, S.J


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