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St. Ignatius’s Rules for Discernment of Spirits
In this post we’re going to talk about the 1st and 2nd Rules of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I’ll be referring to Fr. Timothy Gallagher’s book “The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living” (affiliate link). This post is the third in my series on Ignatian discernment.
St. Ignatius actually wrote two sets of rules on spiritual discernment. “The Discernment of Spirits” (affiliate link), and this series, explores of the first set. The second set of rules is covered in Fr. Gallagher’s book, “Spiritual Consolation: An Ignatian Guide for Greater Discernment of Spirits” (affiliate link). We’ll save that for another series.
St. Ignatius refers to the two sets as being “proper” for the first and second week respectively. Scholars believe he is talking about the first and second weeks of a retreat so I wanted to be sure I began with the first set – which focus on the discernment of spirits.
Good and Bad Spirits in Ignatian Discernment
St. Ignatius’s rules are intended to help a person tell the difference between the influence of good and bad spirits. According to Fr. Gallagher, and others, Ignatius understood the good spirit to be the Holy Spirit or created spirits such as angels, while he understood the bad spirit (which he also called the enemy or evil spirit) to be Satan or demons.
Fr. Gallagher goes on to suggest that the bad spirit can also be understood in a broader or more “global” sense. This expanded understanding of the bad spirit would include human nature and appetites or various worldly pressures. These influences, per Fr. Gallagher, are exerted in addition to demonic influences. In other words both exist.
While I do absolutely believe in spiritual warfare, I like that this generalized or more inclusive approach.
I think Fr. Gallagher’s book is especially important because it opens up the rules to general (as opposed to scholarly or specialized) readers. It would be easy for most of us (general readers) to skim over the rules of St. Ignatius without realizing their deeper meaning. Thanks to Fr. Gallagher’s insightful word by word analysis, however, the rules really do come alive.
Working with the Rules of Spiritual Discernment
Rules for becoming aware and understanding to some extent the different movements which are caused in the soul, the good, to receive them, and the bad to reject them. And these rules are more proper for the first week.Title to the Rules of St. Ignatius (Fr. Gallagher’s own translation)
According to the title of the rules (and Fr. Gallagher) there is a process that we need to apply as we practice our discernment and work with the rules. This process asks us to:
- Be fully aware of our inner state.
- Understand or identify where the influences we observe are coming from.
- Take action (by accepting the good spirit or rejecting the bad).
This, of course, is easier said than done which is why the fourteen rules are so important.
The 1st and 2nd Rules of St. Ignatius in particular layout the fundamental difference between the good and bad spirits.
The First Rule in the Discernment of Spirits
The first rule: in persons who are going from mortal sin to moral sin, the enemy is ordinarily accustomed to propose apparent pleasures to them, leading them to imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sings. In these persons the good spirit uses a contrary method, stinging and biting their consciences through the rational power of moral judgment. – First Rule of St. Ignatius (Fr. Gallagher’s own translation)
The first rule in the Rules of Spiritual Discernment describes someone who is going from “mortal sin to mortal sin.” This is a person, Fr. Gallagher points out, who is moving away from God. According the the rules the enemy will entice such a person to go further and further in this direction by leading them to imagine pleasure and sensual delights.
What is key to the first rule, per St. Ignatius’s own personal experience, is that there is no lasting satisfaction for a person in this state. This can be seen in people who are caught in any sort of addiction or insatiable appetite – including compulsive shopping, overeating, and other activities we tend to consider socially acceptable.
In this case, the good spirit (such as God or our guardian angel) will work through our conscience in an attempt to wake us up to the reality of what is happening. As Fr. Gallagher points out, the good spirit may also work through other people who support or encourage us.
While Ignatius is specifically talking about a person who is in mortal sin, to me, this description of going from sin to sin applies to even venial, or lesser, sins. I can see the same serial pattern when I watch two or three TV shows in a row and end up with no time to pray before bed – or eat six (or ten) cookies when I intend to only eat 3 or 4.
The enemy (or our disordered appetites) must, in my experience, continually offer us more because what we have just been fed, and will never, fulfill.
The Second Rule in the Discernment of Spirits
The second: in persons who are going on intensely purifying their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord, the method is contrary to that in the first rule. For then it is proper to the evil spirit to bite, sadden and place obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, so that the person may not go forward. And it is proper to the good spirit to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing and taking away all obstacles, so that the person may go forward in doing good.Second Rule of St. Ignatius (Fr. Gallagher’s own translation)
The second rule applies to people who are actively going from “good to better” or are moving, as Fr. Gallagher says, in the direction of God. Initially I wasn’t sure if this was me (even though Fr. Gallagher says that anyone who is working at spiritual discernment is very likely to be in this category, at minimum).
As I read Discernment of Spirits, however, I began to appreciate the fine but fundamental difference between the actions of the good and the bad spirit – both in the book and in my own life. They are, as Ignatius says, contrary.
How the 1st and 2nd Rules of St. Ignatius Helped Me
The good spirit has the weight of truth on his side. Because the bad spirit does not, he must confuse and demoralize us. The good spirit on the other hand meets us with compassion and peace (quiet and easing), granting us the courage of faith.
Yesterday I spent a lot on the blogging ebook I’ve been working on. At first things went pretty well, then I started to think about how many ebook have been written on blogging and how there was nothing special about mine. The advice was solid, yet. But there was no clever system or hook. I struggled to come up with an angle that would help my book stand out. I spent a lot of time developing a particular angle and making it fit.
When I finished my edits, I felt good about what I’d done. But not long after, I began to feel irritable and out of sorts.
This morning I woke up early. I realized that there was something not quite right about the new idea. Although I had wrestled with it until it was reasonably coherent, I could now immediately see the holes in it. I remembered how confused I had felt and how hard it had been to work it out. Then I thought about the doubts that precipitated the changes I had made.
I didn’t know if I had Satan or my own feelings of inadequacy to thank for the confusion and lost time, but I knew that the changes I had not made the book better.
I don’t think I would have realized this if I hadn’t been working with the 1st and 2nd Rules of St. Ignatius
In my next post in this series I’ll talk about the third rule of St. Ignatius as presented by Fr. Gallagher.
Read my previous post on St. Ignatius here: Spiritual Discernment and Writing with St. Ignatius
To read my next post please click here, Spritiual Consolation with St. Ignatius Rule 3
To order Fr. Gallagher’s book please click here The Discernment of Spirits: An Ignatian Guide for Everyday Living (affiliate link)
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