Discernment, desolation and decisions

June 2, 2009

I’m working my way up to writing on St Ignatius of Loyola‘s Spiritual Exercises and the theme of discernment of spirits. Though in a way there’s something of a somewhat dry structuralism in his Sade/Fourier/Loyola, Roland Barthes‘ analysis of what work the Spiritual Exercises actually does as a text has a lot of value. To simplify things a little, Barthes observes that the text has various addressees, including the exercitant and the Divinity in addition to the director.

I’d like to say more on the structure of the work at a later point. Suffice to observe now that there are a number of appendices or supplements to the Exercises (more explicitly addressed to the director than the text proper) among which is the “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits”.

I’m still studying this text in its conjunction with the Exercises, but the Fifth Rule in the initial sequence struck me as very good advice indeed, for all sorts of conjunctures. So I’m resolved to try to heed it:

In time of desolation never to make a change; but to be firm and constant in the resolutions and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation, or in the determination in which he was in the preceding consolation. Because, as in consolation it is rather the good spirit who guides and counsels us, so in desolation it is the bad, with whose counsels we cannot take a course to decide rightly.

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2 Responses to “Discernment, desolation and decisions”

  1. Caroline said

    Parts of the Philokalia do it for me in in a very practical sense, (once one has come to grips with the age of the texts and with a prevailing morality in terms of the body). But with regard to stepping aside desolation discrimination etc, as ever–

    6. Watchfulness is a continuous fixing and halting of thought at the entrance of the heart. In this way predatory and murderous thoughts are marked down as they approach and what they say and do is noted; and we can see in what specious and delusive form the demons are trying to deceive the intellect. If we are conscientious of this, we can gain much experience and knowledge of spiritual warfare.

    (On Watchfulness and Holiness Written for Theodolus. St Hesychios the Priest.)

    Discernment occurs on so many levels, but the necessisty of it has been described to me as an internal filing system, where we are mindful not to give the same import or file in a similar drawer, the Big W catalogue, as we might a deeply moving poem. i.e, we watch where we put things in our hearts and what we let enter.

  2. msbahnisch said

    That’s nicely put, Caroline!

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