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Ignatian Discernment: A Critical Contemporary Reading for Christian Decision Making

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 March 2013

Ma. Christina A. Astorga
Affiliation:
Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University

Abstract

Commentaries on Ignatian Discernment are sharply divided on fundamentals, especially the interpretation of the three Ignatian modes of discernment. This essay negotiates a balance between preserving the inner logic of Ignatian discernment and proposing a new interpretation. Beyond the exegesis of the Ignatian texts, the essay attempts to make Ignatian discernment accessible for Christian decision making in a contemporary context, through the matrix of theological language that translates technical discourse into one that can be generally understood and appropriated for Christian moral and spiritual life.

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Copyright © The College Theology Society 2005

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References

1 Jules J. Toner, S.J., writes: “The term used in the Spiritual Exercises is election. The Spanish term elección in the Spiritual Exercises and the term hacer elección are usually translated into English as ‘election’ and ‘to make an election.’ Some object to this translation. The correct translation, they say, is simply ‘choice’ and ‘to make a choice’ or to ‘choose.’ He says that the latter translations may sound more idiomatic and more consonant with a popular version of the Spiritual Exercises, in which precision may be sacrificed for readability. He explains that the total, complex experience to which Ignatius refers by the word in the Spiritual Exercises consists of the following main factors: “(1) the process by which a person seeks to find God's will; (2) the judgment or decision to which the process leads, in which it terminates, and which informs the act of choice; (3) the act of choice itself.” He states that “in the first two factors, the term ‘election’ coincides with what Ignatius speaks of as ‘seeking and finding God's will,’ and with ‘discernment of God's will,’ in current common but not universal usage.” (Discerning God's Will: Ignatius of Loyola's Teaching on Christian Decision Making [St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1991], 103–04. Thomas Greene, S.J., gives the term “discernment” an extremely narrow meaning. “It is the feelings we discern and not thoughts,” he says; “without feelings, the whole process of discernment has no content.” Consequently, he holds that finding God's will in the first or third mode of Ignatian election does not involve discernment in the proper sense. The first mode is a “revelation time” where there is nothing to discern; the third mode is a “reasoning time” in which there are no affective or spiritual movements to discern. Only the second mode involves discernment as Ignatius calls it, for only in this time do we find feelings to be discerned (see Weeds Among the Wheat [Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press, 1984], 83–84, 91, 98, 100). I use the term discernment in this article in its current common usage which coincides with the term “election.”

2 See Ricoeur, Paul, Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences: Essays on Language, Action and Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 190–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 Toner, , Discerning God's Will, 3032.Google Scholar

4 Pousset, Edouard S. J., Life in Faith and Freedom: An Essay Presenting Gaston Fessard's Analysis of The Dialectic of the Spirtual Exercises, trans. and ed. by Donahue, Eugene L. S. J., (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1980), 130.Google Scholar “Discernment takes on a special importance in the Christian tradition because for Christianity the primary locus of divine revelation, both public and personal, is history—through ordinary persons and events of everyday life” (Schneiders, Sandra M., “Spiritual Discernment in the Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena,” Horizons 9/1, 1982): 4759, at 49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 Patrick, Anne E., “Ethics and Spirituality: The Social Justice Connection,” The Way Supplement 63 (Autumn 1988): 103–16, at 105.Google Scholar Also see Farley, Margaret A., “New Patterns of Relationship: Beginnings of a Moral Revolution,” Theological Studies 36 (1975): 627–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Hollenbach, David S.J., Justice, Peace, and Human Rights (New York: Crossroad, 1988)Google Scholar; Lebacqz, Karen, Six Theories of Justice (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1986)Google Scholar; and Maguire, Daniel C., The Moral Revolution: A Christian Humanist Vision (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986).Google Scholar

6 Margaret Ellen Burke proposes a paradigm of discernment that takes into account the integration of the personal, interpersonal, and structural dimensions in her article “Social Sin and Social Grace,” The Way Supplement 85 (Spring 1996): 40–54. See other articles that address the social or public dimension of the Spiritual Exercises or of Ignatian discernment in particular: Lefrank, Alexander, “The Spiritual Exercises as a Way of Liberation: The Social Dimension,” The Way Supplement 46 (Spring 1983): 5666Google Scholar; Wookey, Charles, “Making Christian Choices in the Political World,” The Way Supplement 64 (Spring 1989):103–15Google Scholar; English, John J., “Discerning Identity: Towards a Spirituality of Community,” The Way Supplement 64 (Spring 1989): 115–28Google Scholar; Boateng, Paul, “Faith and Politics,” The Way Supplement 60 (Autumn 1987): 4050Google Scholar; Clarke, Thomas E., “Ignatian Prayer and Individualism,” The Way Supplement 82 (Spring 1995): 714Google Scholar; Clarke, Thomas E., “Discerning the Ignatian Way in Poverty Today,” The Way Supplement 19 (Summer 1973): 8895Google Scholar; Clarke, Thomas E., “Ignatian Spirituality and Societal Consciousness,” Studies in the Spirituluality of the Jesuits (September 1975): 142–50Google Scholar; Örsy, Ladislas, “Faith and Justice: Some Reflections,” Studies in the Spirituality of the Jesuits (September 1975): 151–68.Google Scholar See also the whole issue of The Way Supplement (Autumn 1988): “Spirituality and Social Issues.”

7 St. Ignatius of Loyola, Exercitia Spiritualia (Romae [Rome]: In Collegio Romano eiusdem Societatis, Anno Domini M. DC.XV. [1615]), [175].Google Scholar Hereafter, referred to as SpEx with the standard numbering in the text. (The text number referred here is from the English translation in Toner, , Discerning God's Will, 108).Google Scholar

8 Toner, , Discerning God's Will, 109.Google Scholar Some refer to Ignatius' visions at Cardoner River and at La Storta (Autobiography, [30] and [96] as experiences of the first mode of discernment. See Egan, Harvey D. S.J., The Spiritual Exercise and the Ignatian Mystical Horizon (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1976), 135.Google Scholar

9 Rahner, Karl, “The Logic of Concrete Individual Knowledge in Ignatius Loyola,” in The Dynamic Element in the Church (London: Burns and Oates, 1964), 106.Google Scholar

10 Dulles, Avery S.J., “Finding God's Will,” Woodstock Letters 94 (1965): 139–52, at 142.Google Scholar

11 Haight, Roger S.J., “Foundational Issues in Jesuit Spirituality,” Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits 19/4 (September 1987): 161, at 32–35.Google Scholar

12 McGrath, Thomas, “The Place of Desires in the Ignatian Exercise,” The Way Supplement 76 (Spring 1993): 29.Google Scholar See also Kinerk, E. Edward S.J., “Eliciting Great Desires: Their Place in the Spirituality of the Society of Jesus,” Studies in the Spirituality of the Jesuits 19/4 (November 1984): 129.Google Scholar

13 Doty, Mark, “Sweet Chariot,” in Wrestling with the Angel: Faith and Religion in the Lives of Gay Men, ed. Bouldrey, Brian (New York: Riverhead Books, 1995), 6.Google Scholar

14 Kinerk, , “Eliciting Great Desires,” 4.Google Scholar “The heart is the focal point of Christian discernment. ‘The tradition of discernment maintains that what we want in our heart of hearts will be consistent with whom God is enabling and requiring us to be and with what we are to do’” (Panicola, Michael, “Discernment in the Neonatal Context,” Theological Studies 60 [1999]: 723–46, at 729CrossRefGoogle Scholar, quoting Gula, Richard, Reason Informed by Faith [New York: Paulist, 1989], 321).Google Scholar

15 McGrath, , “The Place of Desires in the Ignatian Exercises,” 29.Google Scholar See also Anges, Lachlan M., “Affectivity, Conscience, and Christian Choice,” The Way Supplement 24 (Spring 1975): 3645.Google ScholarBlack, Peter states that eros while it is viewed with suspicion and dealt with uneasiness is a source of power, a power that can provide energy for integration, change, and challenge (“The Broken Wings of Eros: Christian Ethics and the Denial of Desire,” Theological Studies 64 [2003]: 106–26, at 122).CrossRefGoogle Scholar Edward Collins Vacek, S.J. objects to the excessive exaltation of agape and the diminishment of any positive value of eros. He writes, “A life solely of selfless, self-forgetting, self-sacrificial agape would be seriously deficient.” Love, Human and Divine: The Heart of Christian Ethics [Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1994], 247).

16 Walsh, James, “Discernment of Spirits,” The Way Supplement 16 (Summer 1972): 5466, at 64.Google Scholar

17 Rahner, Hugo, Ignatius the Theologian, trans. Barry, Michael (New York: Herder and Herder, 1968), 145.Google Scholar

18 Margerie, Bertrand de holds that the first mode is normal in the sense of usual (Theological Retreat [Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1976], 155).Google Scholar

19 Toner, , Discovering God's Will, 129.Google Scholar

20 Buckley, Michael, “The Structure of The Rules for Discernment of Spirits,” The Way Supplement 20 (Autumn 1973): 1937, at 33.Google Scholar

21 Walsh, , “Discernment of Spirits,” 64.Google Scholar

22 Coathalem, Hervé S.J., Ignatian Insights, 2nd ed., trans. McCarthy, Charles S.J., (Taiching, Taiwan: Kuanchi Press, 1979), 187–88.Google Scholar

23 Margerie, De, Theological Retreat, 155–56.Google Scholar

24 Egan, , Mystical Horizon, 140–41.Google Scholar

25 Toner, , Discerning God's Will, 115–18.Google Scholar

26 SpEx, [176] (English translation in Toner, , Discerning God's Will, 131Google Scholar). For the study and understanding of the rules for discernment of spirits in this second mode, Michael Buckley brings an illumination on the structural or internal unity of the rules beyond the mere interpretation and application of individual rules. Enormous value has been given to the individual instructions, he says, but none has been attributed to their collective form and anatomy. The rules are treated as individual units or groupings brought to bear on specific occasions as they are warranted. Buckley contends that the renewed interest in discernment necessitates an inquiry into the rules as a tight-knit collectivity, using a structural analysis which can yield a deep understanding of the meaning of the individual rules and their location within the whole schema of the Exercises. The main argument of this kind of analysis is that when the elements are conjoined, their meanings are specified and their functions illumined (Buckley, , “The Structure of the Rules for Discernment of Spirits,” 1937Google Scholar).

27 SpEx, [316] Rule 1:3. The English translation used is “The Text of St. Ignatius' Rules for the Discernment of Spirits,” in Toner, Jules J. S.J., A Commentary on Saint Ignatius' Rules for the Discernment of Spirits (St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1982), 2144Google Scholar, at 24–25. Hereafter referred to as Text.

28 Toner, , A Commentary on Saint Ignatius' Rules, 98.Google Scholar

29 SpEx, [317] Rule 1:4 (Text, 25)

30 Buckley, , “The Structure of the Rules for Discernment of Sprits,” 29.Google Scholar

31 “An Interview with Dorothy Day, “National Jesuit News (May 1972), 10.

32 Toner, , A Commentary on Saint Ignatius' Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, 150.Google Scholar

33 SpEx, [322] Rule 1:9; [323] Rule 1: 10; [324] Rule 1: 11 (Text, 26–27).

34 SpEx, [331] Rule 2:3; [332] Rule 2: 4; [333] Rule 2: 5; [334] Rule 2: 6 (Text, 28–29). William Delany compares and contrasts Teresa of Avila's advice on the discernment of spirits, especially as contained in the Interior Castle with Ignatian rules for the discernment of spirits. One striking point of similarity he discerns is the awareness of the danger of deception in the spiritual life, (“Discernment of Spirits in Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila,” Review for Religious 46 (July-August, 1987): 598–611, at 606–07.

35 SpEx, [335] Rule 2:7 (Text, 29).

36 Buckley, , “The Structure of the Rules for Discernment of Spirits,” 3536.Google Scholar

37 SpEx, [314] Rule 1:1; [315] Rule 1:2 (Text, 23).

38 Toner, , A Commentary on Saint Ignatius' Rules for the Discernment of Spirits, 26.Google Scholar

39 Wagner, Walter H., “The Demonization of Women,” Religion in Life 42 (Spring 1973): 5674, at 56.Google Scholar “It is difficult to convey the shock women felt when confronted by the misogyny that informs the theological tradition of Christianity. Women were blamed for the incursion of evil into the world, taught that we were created by God subordinate in the order of authority because inferior in the order of creation, shaped by rituals and regulations that held the most natural functions of our bodies to be unclean and defiling” (O'Neill, Mary Aquin R.S.M., “The Nature of Women and the Method of Theology,” Theological Studies 56 [1995]: 730–42, at 731CrossRefGoogle Scholar).

40 Piper, Loretta, “A Feminist Reflection on Ignatian Mission,” The Way Supplement 79 (Spring 1994): 3037, at 34.Google Scholar

41 See Hayes, Pamela, “Women and the Passion,” The Way Supplement 58 (Spring 1987): 5673Google Scholar; King, Ursula, “Women's Contribution to Contemporary Spirituality,” The Way Supplement 84 (Autumn 1995): 2637, at 26–30.Google Scholar See also the whole issue of The Way Supplement 93 (1998): “Where Now? Women's Spirituality after the Ecumenical Decade.”

42 Fischer, Kathleen, Women at the Well: Feminist Perspectives on Spiritual Direction (New York: Paulist, 1988), 2.Google Scholar

43 SpEx, [325] Rule 1:12; [326] Rule 1:13; [327] Rule 1:14 (Text, 26–27). See Toner, , A Commentary on Saint Ignatius' Rules for Discernment, 198210.Google Scholar

44 SpEx, [332] Rule 2:4 (Text, 28).

45 SpEx, [333] Rule 2:5; [335] Rule 2:6 (Text, 28–29).

46 Buckley, , “The Structure of the Rules for Discernment of Spirits,” 3233.Google Scholar

47 SpEx, [336] Rule 2:8 (Text, 29).

48 SpEx, [177] (English translation in Toner, , Discerning God's Will, 161–62Google Scholar).

49 Rahner, , “The Logic of Concrete Individual Knowledge in Ignatius Loyola,” 168.Google Scholar

51 Egan, , Mystical Horizons, 147.Google Scholar

52 Toner, , Discerning God's Will, 166.Google Scholar

53 Ibid., 167.

54 Ibid., 180.

55 Ibid., 173.

56 Toner, , Discerning God's Will, 174–75.Google Scholar

57 Ibid., 177–78.

58 Ibid., 178.

59 Ibid., 235.

60 Rahner, , “The Logic of Concrete Individual Knowledge in Ignatius Loyola,” 105.Google Scholar

61 Ibid., 130–31, 158, 160, 164.

62 Ibid., 127–28, note 25.

63 Ibid., 103–06.

64 Ibid., 102–03.

65 Ibid., 160–62.

66 Ibid., 158.

67 Egan, , Mystical Horizon, 152–54.Google Scholar

69 Toner, , Discerning God's Will, 237.Google Scholar

70 Ibid., 152–55.

71 Ibid., 320–22.

72 Ibid., 52–53. Kyne, Michael points out the need for constant purification of our choices and that we should not invest them with pseudo-infallibility. “Difficulties in Discernment,” The Way 14 (1974): 103–09, at 109.Google Scholar See also Murphy, Lawrence J., “Psychological Problems of Christian Choice,” The Way Supplement 24 (Spring 1975): 2635.Google Scholar

73 Gula, Richard M. discusses the difference between scientific reasoning and practical moral reasoning of discernment in his Moral Discernment (New York: Paulist, 1997), 5052.Google Scholar

74 Ibid., 62–64.

75 Simpson, Michael, “Philosophical Certitude and the Ignatian Election,” The Way Supplement 24 (Spring 1975): 5866, at 61.Google Scholar

76 Keane, Philip S. S.S., “Discernment of Spirits: A Theological Reflection,” American Ecclesiastical Review 168 (1974): 4361, at 50–51.Google Scholar

77 Panicola, Michael R., “Discernment in the Neonatal Context,” 734–35.Google Scholar Panicola bases his description on Gula's, Moral Discernment, 4153.Google Scholar Gula builds on the work of Callahan, Sidney, In Good Conscience (New York: Harper Collins, 1991).Google Scholar

78 Orsy, Ladislas S.J., “Toward a Theological Evaluation of Communal Discernment,” Studies in the Spirituality of the Jesuits 5 (October 1973): 139–89, at 171–72.Google Scholar

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