Discernment of the Holy Spirit

Denis Edwards

Discernment is integral to spiritual direction. One who is truly called to spiritual direction has every reason not only to ask for the gift of discernment but also to trust that this gift will be provided. [1] In the early church, Paul saw the discernment of spirits as a manifestation of the Spirit, a gift given to some in the Christian community for the good of all ( 1 Cor 12:7-10) . A fundamental way in which this gift of the Spirit is exercised in today’s church is in the relationship of spiritual direction.

The idea that discernment is a gift of the Spirit does not, of course, absolve those of us who are involved in spiritual direction from using every human means to learn about discernment from the wisdom of the Christian tradition. As always grace works upon nature. The gift of the Spirit works in and through our humanity, and in and through what we learn from the great figures of the past and from our own experience. In this brief outline, I will not attempt to deal with the whole tradition, but will gather together some practical helps from Ignatius Loyola, and build on these with further insights from John of the Cross and Karl Rahner.

Some fundamental things are being assumed here. One is that, for a Christian, the discernment of the Spirit is exercised in the context of discipleship, in the day to day following of Jesus within the community of disciples (1 Cor 12:13; 1 John 4:1-2) . A second assumption concerns the centrality of Jesus’ command to love God with one’s whole self and to love one’s neighbour as oneself (Mark 12:29 -30) . A third is the specification that this love involves what today is called the preferential option for the poor, a practical commitment to stand with those without power and resources, to see and to act from the side of the poor. A fourth foundational assumption comes from the Gospel imperative to see things in terms of their practical outcomes:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. (Mat 7:15-20)

The long tradition of Christian discernment is shaped by the teaching that things are known by their fruits, and by the understanding that the fundamental fruit is love of God and of those God places in our lives. Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit has been a constant reference point: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal 5:22 ) . All of this is basic to the Christian approach to discernment. It seems clear, however, that we Christians of today need to rediscover this ancient tradition in new ways for a new time.

A New Context for Discernment

Contemporary theologian Anne Car has pointed out how the ideas of God’s power and providence have developed in recent theology. In the past, she says, God’s power tended to be seen in king-like terms. What was emphasised was God’s sovereign power over the whole creation and the pre-ordained plan of God that governed all things. Discernment was a matter of finding this plan which tended to be thought of as clearly defined and pre-existing. In our time she sees more experience of ambiguity, as we struggle to discern some direction in the confusion presented to us by world events and the complexity of our own lives (p. 84) . God is thought of as inviting and luring us forward from within the complexity. We are seen as called upon to take up the responsibilities that are ours for our personal and communal future.

Recent theologies of divine power, including feminist theologies, have understood the power of God not as dominating power, but as a power-with and as power-in-love. The focus in discernment is more on responding to the action of the Holy Spirit at work in all the messiness of our lives. We have been reminded that our spiritual lives involve not only prayer but also practice. The mystical-political connection in recent theology points to the need to see prayer and the struggle for justice as interlinked in an authentic spirituality (p. 85) . In this new context, we can see God’s provident care in terms of the Spirit of God as always with us in the ambiguity and untidiness of our lives and always leading us into the new.

This line of thought raises the question as to how discernment of the Holy Spirit is related to the more general idea of discernment of spirits. What are these other spirits? From biblical times Christians have seen themselves as subject to a variety of impulses, desires, moods and feelings. In the Bible all of these could be called spirits. Good and bad spirits were seen as responsible for events in nature and for what impacts on the human person. Biblical scholar John Pilch writes:

Our ancestors in the faith did not have a concept of impersonal causality. Hebrew has no expression like ‘it rained.’ Rather God sent the rain. Some person is always responsible. If no human person can be identified, then it must be an other-than-human person, namely, a spirit. (Pilch, p.8)

The Christian tradition continued to talk in a biblical way about the various impulses we experience as movements of “spirits.” The great mystics were well aware of the psychological nature of many of the impulses that spring from within and the social pressures that come from without. They were well aware of the danger of self-deception, recognizing that the human mind and heart are complex and that human consciousness is many-layered.

In recent times we become even more aware of the complexity of our inner selves. Psychology has taught us that we are capable of acting out of needs and drives that are partly or completely unconscious. Liberation theology, feminism and the sociology of knowledge have taught us how easy it is to be unaware that we are operating in ways that reinforce the privilege of our own economic status, class, race, or sex. The drive to maintain a privileged position can shape our consciousness, limit our awareness, impinge on our freedom, and influence our decisions. This new awareness reinforces the traditional understanding of the complexity of Christian decision-making.

In this context how can we know what is of the Holy Spirit? How can we be led by the Spirit in our times as Jesus was “led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) in his life and ministry? Ignatius, and with him John of the Cross and Karl Rahner, can continue to offer some helpful and practical suggestions. In what follows, I will gather insights from their work in a three fold structure of discernment that involves 1. weighing up a decision, 2. the discernment of interior movements, and 3. discernment on the basis of the experience of the Holy Spirit.

Weighing up a Decision

Ignatius distinguishes three “times” or ways in which a person can seek to find the invitation of God. The first time is when God’s call is clear and unmistakable. The second time is when a person is pulled in different directions, and there is need for a discernment of these different movements. The third time is when a person who is peaceful uses a more cognitive approach, weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of a decision (Spiritual Exercises, pars. 175-8) . As Harvey Egan notes, in the concrete, “the Three Times are not three distinct ways of finding God’s will, but actually aspects of one core experience and election in which all three aspects are present in varying degrees of intensity” (p. 152) . While Ignatius sees this last approach as particularly useful when we are not experiencing turbulent feelings, it can be a helpful part of any discernment, and it often a good way to begin a process of discernment.

This kind of discernment involves using our minds to evaluate all the information available to us. This, of course, includes the Scriptures and the teaching of the church, but it may also include information about the decision we are pondering that is available to us in other ways, including books, newspapers and the internet. This process of cognitive discernment is relatively simple. It is an approach that many would see as a matter of common sense. Perhaps precisely because it does seem relatively straight forward and obvious, it is easy to overlook, or to approach without enough care. In involves the following elements:

  • Prayer for freedom and openness to whatever way the Spirit might be leading-including the way that seems less appealing
  • Clarifying the options before us
  • Making a list of what supports one option and then the alternative
  • Taking time to mull these over and weigh them up
  • It may involve consultation with a friend or spiritual director
  • A decision needs to be confirmed in prayer. It is placed before God and tested to see whether it leads to peace in God

A decision made in this way needs confirmation in prayer and in everyday life. The matter can be placed before God in prayer and tested to see whether it leads to a sense of peace in God. And what is truly of the Spirit will find confirmation in freedom and peace in the demands of life, even in the midst of complexity, challenge or opposition. What is of the Spirit leads to a deep peace in God, and the freedom to love those God gives us. This kind of cognitive discernment, weighing up the options, leads to and involves, to some extent, the other levels of discernment discussed below.

The Discernment of Interior Movements

We very often find ourselves influenced by a variety of feelings, thoughts, desires, commitments and prejudices. We are drawn simultaneously in opposite directions at different levels of our being. I may, for example, be convinced intellectually that I ought to forgive someone, while finding, at the same time, a level of my being where there is unresolved anger and resentment towards the person. Ignatius offers some “rules” that can help to distinguish between various inner movements and promptings. His approach is embedded in the retreat process of the Spiritual Exercises. [2] I will not try to summarize all that he says, but will pick out six insights that I believe are useful aids in the everyday discernment to which all Christians are called. The last of these six will provide a bridge to insights from John of the Cross:

1. The best guide to the discernment of interior movements is the discovery of the direction in which they lead.

According to Ignatius, what best reveals the nature and origin of our inner experiences, such as thoughts, feelings and moods, is their orientation. The basis question is always: where does this line of thought lead? Where does this emotional state take me? The ancient biblical maxim provides the foundation for all discernment of interior movements: “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt 7:16 ). Does this feeling lead towards God, or away from God? Does it lead to a profound sense of peace in God, or to a lack of interior peace?

I find myself, for example, desiring to retreat from those around me. How do I know whether this is a God-given, life-affirming instinct or irresponsible escapism? According to Ignatius’s principle, I can best answer this question by noticing where my inclination tends to lead me. Does it lead towards interior restoration, to a sense of God’s presence, and to a renewed commitment to those I am called to love? Or does it lead to an experience of self-indulgence and emptiness? This same principle can also be used to discern in a more communal way. As the Roman Catholic Church to which I belong, for example, seeks to discern the Spirit in its present crisis over ordained ministry, it needs to question, among other things, its practice of ordaining only celibates as priests. Key questions in ecclesial discernment will be: Where does the maintaining of the requirement of celibacy lead the church? What effects will it have? Where would restoring a married clergy lead? What effects would it have? Which direction seems likely to result in a richer eucharistic communion for the People of God throughout the world?

2. We can expect to experience both consolation and desolation in our spiritual journeys and awareness of these can help guide discernment.

Ignatius uses the word consolation to describe the experience of being caught up with the love of God. Consolation is an interior movement that leads a person to God. It can involve interior peace, spiritual joy, tears, and any increase in faith hope and love (316). All of these are the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Desolation involves the opposite: darkness, turmoil, laziness, tepidity, and lack of faith, hope and love (317-8) .

However, it is not always easy to distinguish between genuine consolation and desolation. A choice that takes me beyond my comfort zone may seem at first like desolation, but may actually come to be seen as a genuine consolation. This can be true in such ordinary things as taking up work, beginning to write, or embracing any kind of new challenge. On the other side, acting in a way that brings comfort may at first feel like consolation but end up in desolation. Examples of this might be the taking of too much food or alcohol or engaging in gossip. The crucial issue is the discovery of what leads to a deepening of relationship with God, to peace in God.

Joanne Wolski Conn offers an example of how Ignatius’s guidelines on consolation and desolation can work in assisting in a feminist approach to Christian spirituality. A woman who has been given a one-sided and false view of self-sacrifice may feel insecure and uncomfortable in her first attempts at learning to care for herself. This discomfort may at first seem like desolation. But if it results in the experience of a more mature and loving relationship to God, then this would show that the real result of her care for herself is authentic consolation. Another example might be the experience of frustration that leads to anger. This may seem like desolation, but if it finds expression in healthy anger, including anger at God, and this results in a more candid and adult relationship to God and to others, then this may be truly be seen as consolation ( p. 315).

3. Decisions about one’s life should not be made in time of desolation.

Ignatius insists that the time of desolation is never the time for making a change (par. 318). It is not the time to reverse a previous decision or to make a new decision. In desolation we are easily misled into a path that is not of God. All the good directions of our life seem under attack. We experience turmoil and lack of peace. All of this means we are not in a position to discern the quiet and subtle invitation of the Spirit of God.

Times of desolation include those where we experience emotional conflict with others, confusion, distress, depression at the state of the church or the world, distress at our own failure and inadequacy, dryness in the life of faith and doubt about God’s existence, goodness or love for us. These kinds of experience can leave us inclined to make a decision that involves abandoning long-held commitments. Ignatius’ advice is to hold fast to the decisions that have been guiding us. The time of desolation is a time for continuing and deepening our commitment and our prayer.

Perhaps it needs to be said that this advice would not apply when it is quite clear, as in a case of sexual or physical abuse, that a person needs to change their life immediately because to continue things as they are would be destructive of self or others. In such a case there is no doubt where the Spirit is leading. Ignatius is concerned with situations where there is lack or clarity and where a person is being swayed in different ways, and where the prompting of the Spirit needs to be discerned.

4. When a person is being drawn towards God, interior movements that are of God will tend to be at one with this direction, while those that are evil will be disruptive. When a person is being drawn away from God, evil movements will tend to be at one with this direction, while those that are of God will be disruptive.

This rule appears in different forms at the beginning and the end Ignatius’s rules for discernment (pars. 314-5 and 335) . He says that the grace of the Holy Spirit touches a person going in a good direction sweetly and gently, like a drop of water being absorbed into a sponge. In this case, it is evil that appears as incongruent and disruptive. Ignatius says it is violent and noisy, like water falling onto stone. For those going away from God, however, it is precisely the opposite. For them, the promptings of the good spirit will be disruptive and challenging, while those of the bad spirit will appear sweet and gentle.

If I find myself carrying a state of hurt feelings after a disagreement, I might eventually come to see that this direction does not lead to authentic life or to God. Then I might use Ignatius’s principle to see that the apparently “sweet and gentle” tendency to remain locked in a state of self-pity is actually of the bad spirit. I might come to see that the “disruptive and challenging” voice that suggests a movement towards creative rebuilding of connections is ultimately of the Holy Spirit.

When evil is being done, the promptings that come from the Holy Spirit are not gentle and soothing but opposing and resistant. This principle can be seen at work in Spirit-led prophetic resistance to injustice and evil. When Catherine of Sienna came to see that the popes of her time were leading the church in a direction that was not of God, she recognized that remaining passive, and the way of being “sweet and gentle,” was the way of complicity in evil. She knew that she was called by the Spirit to offer an active and disruptive challenge to church authorities. When Archbishop Romero came to know the extent of the oppression of the poor in El Salvador , he saw that remaining quiet and peaceful, “keeping out of politics,” was the way of collusion in evil. He knew that the disruptive path of identification with the poor was the way of fidelity to the Spirit of God.

5. Apparent consolation can come from an evil source.

According to Ignatius, it is proper to God and God’s angels to give true consolation and it is the enemy who normally fights against this with subtle and fallacious reasoning, raising up doubts and anxieties (par. 329) . But he insists that the experience of consolation needs to be tested because some forms of apparent consolation can come from an evil source. Evil may take on the appearance of the good. It can appear as an angel of light, which is present in apparently good thoughts, desires or ambitions (par. 331-2) . The presence of a deceptive angel of light is revealed when an apparently good beginning ends in something distorted.

I might find myself, for example, reacting to a situation with what at first appears to be righteous anger, but eventually discover that I am actually being self-righteous and intolerant. Or I may find myself taking on extra commitments in response to those with whom I work, but find that this apparent generosity leads to into a situation that damages family or community relationships. What appears in the beginning to be good is revealed to be evil masquerading as an angel of light. Ignatius insists that when we find this pattern at work in ourselves, it is an occasion for learning about discernment. It gives us the opportunity to grow in discernment, by noting all the stages we have passed through from the apparently good beginning through to its evil conclusion (pars. 333-4). This will enable us to be aware of the way we are moved, to be on guard against this pattern, and to learn the freedom of the Spirit.

6. Apparent desolation as a time of grace – the Dark Night.

Ignatius points to three kinds of reasons why we may suffer desolation (par. 322) . The first is because of our own tepidity, laziness or neglect. In this case the right response is to act against the desolation with prayer. The other two instances are times when desolation comes to us as a gift of grace. God may allow a period of desolation as a trial period in which we learn to follow God’s call in darkness or be leading us towards an inner purification of spirit. The experience of desolation after consolation can help us recognize that consolation was a pure gift of the Spirit. In these kinds of experiences, God is at work in the dryness and darkness.

At this point Ignatius’ thought connects to the experiences that John of the Cross describes in much more detail as theDark Night. John of the Cross was imprisoned in a tiny dark cell in Toledo and was whipped and humiliated for nine months by his own Carmelite brothers. In and through experiences of suffering, his beautiful poem of love, The Dark Night, took shape. He had found love at work in the terrible experience of abandonment and suffering. In the poem, John of the Cross tells us that this dark night is the “night more lovely than the dawn” the night “which unites the lover with the beloved” (Collected Works, p. 711). It is “the inflow of God” (Night, p. 355) . As Constance Fitzgerald points out, the dark night is not primarily some thing, an impersonal darkness, but someone – a presence leaving an indelible imprint on the human spirit and on one’s whole life. It is the presence of Jesus, the Wisdom of God (pp. 100-1) .

In his book The Dark Night, John of the Cross describes two parts of the journey in faith that he calls the passive Night of the Senses and the passive Night of the Spirit. In the Night of the Senses a person may experience only darkness and desolation in prayer. The words, thoughts and images that were so meaningful in the past now seem to lead only to dryness and emptiness. John of the Cross invites such persons and their spiritual directors to consider that they may be being called by God from active forms of prayer to a more contemplative form of prayer. Such a person, he says, should be encouraged to liberate themselves from thinking and meditating and “be content simply with a loving and peaceful attentiveness to God.” (Night, p. 317) . They should “learn to remain in God’s presence with a loving attention and a tranquil intellect,” even thought it seems like idleness (Ascent, p. 149) . Gradually such a person will be led to know the subtle sense of the presence of God in what at first seems like only darkness.

John of the Cross goes on to describe a far more painful aridity and suffering that he calls the Night of the Spirit. He writes in detail of a variety of terrible experiences of emptiness, aridity and seeming abandonment. Kieran Kavanaugh points out that John of the Cross’s deepest concern in writing The Ascent of Mount Carmel and The Dark Night was for those who were suffering in their spiritual life. He wanted to make sure that those who suffer could find themselves in his description: “If his vehement portrayal of the afflictions of the dark night proves frightening to some, it is only because he wished to describe these suffering in their most intense form and thereby exclude no one” (Collected Works, p. 29) . John of the Cross insists that one who experiences such painful darkness may be being led by God into a deeper, transforming love, a passionate union with Christ crucified and risen. What appears as the bleakest of experiences can be a movement in love. Like fire acting on a log of wood, drying out and blackening the wood before it bursts into flame, so the fire of divine love can be experienced as drying and purifying when the soul is being transformed by the living flame of divine love.

These six principles of discernment from Ignatius and John of the Cross, in the case of the last one, can help spiritual directors in the process of accompanying others as they seek to understand the interior movements they experience. This discernment would be greatly helped if we could find in our lives a touchstone for discernment. Ignatius points to such a touchstone—an experience that clearly comes from God alone.

Discernment on the Basis of the Experience of the Holy Spirit

Ignatius speaks of being drawn wholly into the love of God. Such an experience comes upon us as sheer grace. It appears simply as a gift. There is no thought or event that can account for it. What we experience goes beyond our own efforts, our images, thoughts and words. Ignatius calls this a “consolation without previous cause” (par. 330) . It can be distinguished from the more superficial experiences of peace that may have their source in ourselves. In such an experience there is an encounter with God that is beyond images and words, even though we can interpret it only by means of our human images and words.

John Futrell sums up Ignatius at this point by saying that this kind of experience involves two characteristics. First, it is always experienced as sheer grace. And, second, it is always an experience of the presence of the Other who cannot be contained in any concept, thought or image (p. 158) . Such an experience can be understood as an experience of the presence and action of the Spirit. It is a gift by which human beings are enabled to taste and experience the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Ignatius goes on to point out that in all our interpretation of such experience, human limits come into play as we use our images, concepts and words to express what we have experienced (par. 336) . Contemporary philosophy and theology would say that the human person brings an interpretative framework to every new experience. This interpretative framework is at work not only after the experience, but also precedes all new experience. Our interpretative framework, with all its possibilities and biases, enters into the interpretation of experience at every stage. All experience, no matter how profound, is filtered through our finite human preconceptions and limited human language.

Karl Rahner offers an important contemporary reading of Ignatius’s “consolation without previous cause.” He sees it as experience of the Holy Spirit, a moment when we are open to the mystery of the incomprehensible God, an experience of presence and love that is beyond all concepts and words (pp. 132-5). While we interpret this encounter only through human images, concepts and words, these point beyond themselves towards the mystery that transcends them. He holds that not just the great mystics of the church, but all of us experience grace. And this experience of grace is nothing else than the Spirit of God, graciously present to us at every moment in self-offering love. All of us are called to what Rahner calls the “mysticism of everyday life.” This experience of the Spirit can become the touchstone for discernment in the ordinary circumstances of day-to-day life.

The process he has in mind for Christian decision-making is a kind of prayerful thought experiment (pp 155-6) . The idea is to bring to conscious attention our deepest experience of God’s grace and the matter to be discerned. It is a matter of testing to see whether a potential decision “sits” well with the place in our being where we are most open to God. Avery Dulles describes the process: “Through a process of ‘play acting’ we imaginatively place ourselves in the situation we are on the point of choosing, attempting to measure whether it is translucent to pure consolation” (p. 36) . Such testing may need to take place over a long time. In this process the choice we make is not directly revealed by God. We make the decision in the light of our perception of the “fit” between the matter being discerned and our experience of God. Does the proposed course of action sit with our deepest experience of God in such a way as to produce a sense of peace in God?

As philosophers have clarified the systematic logical rules that govern human thinking, so Rahner sees Ignatius as offering a systematic approach to the logic of Christian decision-making. While he recognizes that Ignatius builds on the ancient tradition of discernment, he sees Ignatius as offering “the first and so far the only detailed method” for discerning the invitation of the Spirit in the concrete circumstances of everyday life (p. 115). The experience of grace, the experience of the Spirit, functions as a kind of first principle in the logic of Christian decision-making (p. 130).

Just as an ordinary person uses logic without having studied it, Rahner argues, ordinary people often make important decisions more or less in the way suggested by Ignatius. A person might ponder something to be decided over some time, and then make a decision on the basis of what feels right and in harmony with her global sense of herself. Theologically, Rahner points out, this global sense of herself may include her deepest sense of herself before God. This deepest sense of self is the place of grace, the place of the Holy Spirit.

Such a decision is made not only on the basis of rational analysis, but also by a sense of what “suits” a person deep down. Many people express the need to “sleep” on a decision. It seems that they need time to find out what is congruent with their true sense of self in a particular context. In the light of this, Rahner suggests that faithful Christians “who have never heard of St. Ignatius’s instructions nevertheless instinctively make their decisions by their everyday religious logic in essentially the same way as Ignatius provides for” (p. 166-7).

It must be admitted that we always face the danger of delusion: If I decide something on the basis that I feel “at home” with it, this can easily be a self-centered judgment. It simply indicates that the proposal does not take me out of my comfort zone. The more refined process suggested by Ignatius creates the possibility of finding freedom to make the hard choice. It seeks to ensure that I am testing a decision not against a superficial sense of myself, but against a real openness to the otherness of God.

David Fleming encapsulates the heart of discernment when he writes that discernment is “a grace given to a lover.” One who loves has a “lover’s instinct” – a “sense” or a “feel” for what pleases the one who is loved (p. 565) . One who loves God will have a lover’s instinct for what it of God. By way of conclusion it might be helpful to list the key elements in Christian decision-making that emerge from this reflection:

  • Prayer for the freedom to recognize that God might be leading in either direction of a proposed choice.
  • The intellectual assessment of the “pros” and “cons” of a proposed decision, perhaps by listing them and pondering them
  • The discernment of inner movements, such as thoughts, desires, feelings and moods, particularly through recognizing whether they lead in the direction of deeper life in God or away from God.
  • Calling to mind the central experience of the Spirit in our lives, holding this together with the proposed decision, and seeking to determine whether the union of the two produces a sense of peace in God.
  • Testing and confirming the decision in a life lived in love and in prayer that leads to peace in God.


Carr, Anne E. “ Providence , Power and the Holy Spirit.” Horizons 29/1 (2002): 80-93.

Dulles, Avery. “The Ignatian Experience as Reflected in the Spiritual Theology of Karl Rahner.” Jesuit Spirit in a time of Change edited Raymond Schroff. Westminster , Maryland : Newman Press, 1968.

Egan, Harvey D. The Spiritual Exercises and the Ignatian Mystical Horizon ( St Louis , Missouri : The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1976.

Fitzgerald, Constance. “Desolation as Dark Night: the Transformative Influence of Wisdom in John of Cross.” The Way Supplement 82 (1995): 96-108.

Fleming, David. “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Review for Religious 58 (1999): 564-5.

Futrell, John Carroll. “Commentaries on Ignatius’ Rules.” Marian Cowan and John Carroll Futrell, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola: A Handbook for Directors. St Louis : Ministry Training Services, 1981.

Ignatius Loyola. The Spiritual Exercises, in the translation of Louis J. Puhl, The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius: Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph. Chicago : Loyola University Press, 1951.

John of the Cross. The Ascent of Mount CarmelThe Dark Night in the translation of Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross. Washington , D.C. : Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979.

Pilch, John J. Cultural Tools for Interpreting the Good News. Collegeville , Minnesota : Liturgical Press, 2002.

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

Wolski Conn , Joanne. “Revisioning the Ignatian Rules for Discernment.” Women’s Spirituality: Resources for Christian Development, edited Joanne Wolski Conn. New York : Paulist Press, 1986.


[1] This article is based on a paper given at the first national gathering of The Australian Ecumenical Council for Spiritual Direction, 30th June – 2nd July 2006. It builds upon chapter 11 of my Breath of Life: A Theology of the Creator Spirit ( Maryknoll , NY : Orbis, 2004).

[2] Ignatius provides two sets of rules for the discernment of spirits, the first set appropriate for the first week of theSpiritual Exercises (pars. 313-27), and the second set appropriate for second week (pars. 328-36).