“What are The Rules for the Discernment of Spirits?” by St. Ignatius of Loyola

“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” (St. Ignatius).
  • By calling them “Rules“, St. Ignatius tells us the literary genre of this work. These Rules are not a developed spiritual treatise but rather a list of practical norms for action with 3 key steps:
1) be aware of the different movements.
2)understand to some extent the different movements which are caused in the soul.
  • We discover the source of these movements: The good spirit, the bad spirit, or yourself (click here for more).
3) take action by accepting the good spirit and rejecting the bad spirit.
  • Once we become aware and truly understand what is going on, then we can take appropriate action by resisting the bad spirit and embracing the good spirit (click here for more).

Other Notes:

St. Ignatius’ Rules are the fruit of his own spiritual journey.

“These rules present the formal codification of insights and responses that aroused and found justification in Ignatius’s own spiritual life and pastoral experience” (Gallagher, DS, xvi).

St. Ignatius’ Rules are brief and need clarification.

“St. Ignatius was more a master of brevity than one of clarity. The terse simplicity and sometimes imprecise wording of his rules for the discernment of spirits can be misleading. Only through an appropriation of the Ignatian spirit which desires to know Christ more deeply, to love him more ardently, and to follow him more faithfully—as well as a meticulous reading of the texts—does one begin to fathom the spiritual profundity of the rules drawn up by this mystical titan” (xvi-xvii).

Ignatius’s style is hard, complicated, and difficult. You need to examine them, with the help of a guide, phrase by phrase, attentively exploring their dense wording, to discover the full and vital richness of his counsel.

St. Ignatius’ Rules are for “the purgative life”

In his Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius tells us that these Rules “are more proper for the first week,” that is, “the purgative life” (SpirEx, 10).

  • The “purgative life” is a stage in which persons are generously striving to overcome sin and also growing in the service of the Lord.
  • If a person lives the Christian life seriously, then that person can expect to undergo the kind of spiritual experiences these rules forsee. And that person will find in these Rules an invaluable aid in the journey.

St. Ignatius’ Rules are a path to true freedom.

Fr. Timothy Gallagher says that these rules are all about “setting captives free” (Luke 4:18).

  • Free from deception.
  • Free to love & serve God.

“In my own life, these fourteen rules have become a treasure. They set me free to accept God’s loving grace in time of spiritual consolation, and they supply indispensable wisdom in the struggle of spiritual desolation” (Fr. Gallagher, SCF, xi).

Jesus did not come so that we may be held hostage. He came to set us free for a life of freedom!

  • “The basic message of Ignatius’s fourteen rules for discernment is liberation from captivity to discouragement and deception in the spiritual life” (Gallagher, DS, 6).
  • “The words that Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue of Nazareth as a summation of his entire redemptive mission also express the central theme of this book: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives … to let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18). This is a book about setting captives free. Each rule, as we will see it in the following chapters, will guide us one step further toward that freedom” (6).

St. Ignatius’ Rules are the guidelines for living the discerning life on a daily basis.

Although the 14 Rules for the Discernment of Spirits are not exhaustive, they do outline the essential parts about living the discerning life, in which we “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” (1 John 4:1). 

These Rules are not for “remote spiritual phenomena but with the ordinary spiritual experience of all faithful persons” (5).

St. Ignatius’ Rules give us practical language to help us to understand the contrasting movements of the heart, the complex spiritual experiences we go through, and how to respond wisely and effectively to such changes.

St. Ignatius’ Rules provide a program for discovering God’s will.

Karl Rahner said that Ignatius’ “rules for the discernment of spirits provided a practical and formal systematic method for discovering God’s will for an individual” (Gallagher, DS, xvi).

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