“Rule #12: Stand Firm in the Beginnings” by St. Ignatius of Loyola

  • “The twelfth: the enemy acts like a woman in being weak when faced with strength and strong when faced with weakness. For as it is proper to a woman, when she is fighting with some man, to lose heart and to flee when the man confronts her firmly, and, on the contrary, if the man begins to flee, losing heart, the anger vengeance and ferocity of the woman grow greatly and know no bounds. In the same way, it is proper to the enemy to weaken and lose heart, fleeing and ceasing his temptations when the person who is exercising himself in spiritual things confronts the temptations of the enemy firmly, doing what is diametrically opposed to them; and, on the contrary, if the person who is exercising himself begins to be afraid and lose heart in suffering the temptations, there is no beast so fierce on the face of the earth as the enemy of human nature in following out his damnable intention with such growing malice” (St. Ignatius). 

“the enemy acts”

  • the enemy acts“: In Rule 12, Ignatius moves away from focusing on spiritual desolation (which always involves painful affectivity – sadness, disquiet, hopelessness, agitation, and similar feelings) and now focuses on temptations.
    • Spiritual desolation often exposes us to temptations. Like spiritual desolation, temptations come from the enemy and has only 1 goal in mind = to harm us spiritually.
    • Temptations are the deceptive suggestions of the enemy. Temptations may come without affectivity or even be accompanied by a sense of attraction.

“the enemy of human nature”

  • The enemy is against what is natural to the human person. This is why Ignatius’ metaphor describes 3 unnatural qualities to the enemy’s workings, 3 anti-human ways that the enemy attacks us.

“like a woman… when she is fighting some man”

  • “when she is fighting some man”: We are not comparing the enemy simply to a woman but with an unnatural situation that does not describe the true nature of a woman since we are created by God not to battle but to share life in love and mutual service. Man and woman are called to assist each other, not fight.
  • This metaphor should disturb us because it describes a situation directly contrary to God’s intention for man and woman relating to each other.
  • fighting“: the enemy tries to be aggressive with us – with hostile fears, condemnation about the past, unrelenting sorrow.

Contemporary Metaphor: Spoiled Child

  • “The evil spirit often behaves like a spoiled child. If a person is firm with children, children give up petulant ways of acting. But if a person shows indulgence or weakness in any way, children are merciless in trying to get what they want, stomping their feet in defiance or wheedling their way into favour. So our tactics must include firmness in dealing with the evil spirit in our lives” (David Fleming).

Since metaphors need to be received well to make an impact, one popular adaptation today is that of a spoiled child.

  • If a person is firm with such spoiled children, they give up their petulant ways of acting.
  • If, however, a person shows indulgence or weakness in any way, such children are merciless in trying to get what they want, stomping their feet in defiance or wheedling their way into favour.
  • St. Anthony of the Desert refers to the enemy acting like a powerless child (click here).

“in being weak when faced with strength”

  • “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
    • When we resist, he flees.
  • This Rule shows the enemy’s essential weakness when we respond firmly.
  • weak: The enemy is not weak compared to us (he is an angelic being of a higher order than humans) but rather weak compared to the power of Christ’s grace in us (Lk 11:21-22), if we open ourselves to that grace.
  • This gives us hope! The enemy is essentially weak, he is a coward. He always flees when resisted.
    • Have you ever thought of the enemy as essentially weak? someone who flees, loses heart and ceases his temptations when resisted firmly?
    • The battle with the enemy is unequal – in your favour! You live in and with the triune God.
  • We show this strength by doing the exact opposite of what he is attempting to get us to do (the exact opposite of what we feel or desire in desolation). 
    • Example: “Why not let prayer go until later?” the enemy asks. “No, I will pray right now, as planned” you respond.
    • Example: When tempted to delay prayer, start a couple minutes earlier than planned.

“and strong when faced with weakness”

  • When we show weakness or turn and run, the anger and ferocity of the enemy grow dramatically and thus his power, influence, and impact on us grow dramatically too.

Other Notes:

Remember, the battle is unavoidable!
  • Either we fight and become stronger, or we avoid and become weaker. Don’t allow your spiritual muscles to atrophy. Heaven and hell are really at stake in all of this. 
The snowball effect
  • When a snowball is just beginning to form on a mountainside, a person can put out a finger and stop it; but when it has traveled halfway down the mountain slope, gaining mass and speed along the way, it will be immensely more difficult to stop.
  • In the same way, the enemy’s temptations, if resisted firmly when they first begin, simply cease, but if not, the temptation “snowballs” and grows in strength. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to resist.
Resist the thoughts before they become actions
  • Evagrius, a desert father from the fourth century, names the “eight principal thoughts” with which the enemy assails the spiritual person: thoughts of gluttony, fornication, love of money, sadness, anger, listlessness, vainglory, and pride. The urging of Evagrius’s teaching is that the spiritual person resist these suggestions of the enemy while they are still thoughts and before they become actions.
“Dash them against Christ” (St. Benedict)
  • Rule of St. Benedict #50: “As soon as wrongful thoughts come into your heart, dash them against Christ, and reveal them to your spiritual father.”
  • Image of hurling an ugly piece of pottery against a solid mass of rock & shattering it so completely that it can never be restored.
Confidence with God’s grace
  • “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
The blessings of Rule 12
  • When is it easiest to resist the temptation to pick up the smartphone in a way that is “low and earthly” (rule 4)? to anger against a family member? or relinquish prayer? or not speak badly against a family member?
  • In every case, the answer is the same = right away!
Examples from the Bible & the saints of Rule 12:
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