Lesson #7 — Explanation of the First Week Rules for the Discernment of Spirits

In our last lesson in Mary’s School we discussed the Rules for the Discernment of the Spirits through Rule # 8. We discussed what St. Ignatius calls consolation and desolation and how to act when in desolation. In this lesson we will look at Rules #9 through #14.

St. Ignatius’s Rule #9. There are three principal reasons why we are in desolation:

  The first is because we are tepid, slothful, or negligent in our spiritual exercises, and so through our own fault spiritual consolation is withdrawn from us.


  The second is that God may try us to test our worth, and the progress we make in His service and praise when we are without such generous rewards of consolation and special graces.

  The third is that He may wish to give us a true knowledge and understanding of ourselves, so that we may truly perceive that it is not within our power to acquire or retain great devotion, ardent love, tears, or any other spiritual consolation, but that all of this is a gift and grace of God Our Lord.  Nor does God wish us to claim as our own what belongs to another, allowing our intellect to rise up in a spirit of pride or vainglory, attributing to ourselves the devotion or other aspects of spiritual consolation.

We saw in our last lesson how to react in desolation. First, we saw how it is so crucial to humble ourselves always, but especially, in the time of desolation. Likewise, we saw how Rules #7 and #8 expressly tell us how God does not abandon us when we are in desolation. Thus, by explaining our weakness to us, these Rules help us to be humble and to see the absolute need we have to simply trust in God. Yet, we need to remember that even to obtain the ability to trust God as we ought; we must beg for this gift like little children ask their parents for help.

At this point, when we are considering Rule #9, we can see clearly that desolation is a time of great merit and benefit to the soul.  Although desolation is difficult to endure, we can learn many things about ourselves when we are in desolation.  St. Ignatius explains in Rule #9 that we should examine our desolation and try to discover its cause.  This examination is, in itself, humbling.  If we discover that our desolation came from a failure of our own, then we need to tell Our Dear Lord that we are sorry and, of course, beg Him to help us improve.

Whether the desolation came from our own failing or not, it is a good idea to thank God for allowing us to have the desolation.  Gratitude is something we owe to God on all occasions.  St. Paul reminds us to “give thanks to God for all things.” Further, showing gratitude makes things easier to bear and lightens the cross.

St. Ignatius’s Rule #10. A person who is in consolation ought to think of how he will conduct himself during the desolation that will follow, and thus build up a new strength for that time.

St. Ignatius’s Rule #11. A person who is in consolation should take care to humble and abase himself as much as possible.   He should recall how little he is worth in time of desolation without such grace or consolation.  On the other hand, a person who is in desolation should recall that he can do much to withstand all of his enemies by using the sufficient grace that he has, and taking strength in his Creator and Lord.

In Rules #10 and #11, St. Ignatius tells how to act when we are in consolation and desolation. Again, St. Ignatius reminds us to abase ourselves. When we strive with all of our might to be humble, then we will be safe.[1]

The following are Three Powerful Rules to conquer the evil one:

St. Ignatius’s Rule #12.  The enemy acts like a woman in that he is weak in the presence of strength, but strong if he has his will. It is in the nature of a woman in a quarrel with a man to lose courage and take to flight when the man makes a show of strength and determination. However, if the man loses courage and begins to flee, the anger, vindictiveness, and rage of the woman become great beyond all bounds.  In the same manner, it is the nature of our enemy to become powerless, lose courage, and take to flight as soon as a person who is leading a spiritual life stands courageously against his temptations and DOES EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT THE ENEMY SUGGESTS.  On the contrary, if a person begins to take flight and lose courage while fighting temptation, no wild beast on earth is more fierce than the enemy of our human nature as he pursues his evil intention with ever increasing malice.

This Rule is often called the Agere Contra Rule.  Literally, this means to act against.  These Rules are really foolproof.  They always work!  If one actually recognizes a temptation correctly and does the exact opposite, the devil will leave him alone. This does not mean that the devil will not try again at some other point; however, just remember to use the same counter-defense.  One example of how to apply this Rule is given by St. Ignatius himself in his Spiritual Exercises.  He explains that when one is tempted to shorten his prayers, he should do the opposite and extend the length of his prayer. How wonderful to know that by simply doing the opposite of what the devil proposes, we can foil his plans and attempts to drag us down to hell! 

St. Ignatius’s Rule #13. Our enemy also behaves like a false lover who wishes to remain hidden and does not want to be revealed.  For when this deceitful man pays court, with evil intent, to the daughter of some good father or the wife of a good husband, he wants his words and suggestions to be kept secret.  He is greatly displeased if the girl reveals to her father or the wife reveals to her husband his deceitful words and depraved intentions, because he clearly sees that his plans cannot succeed.  In like manner, when the enemy of our human nature tempts a just soul with his wiles and deceits, he wishes and desires that they be received and kept in secret. When they are revealed to a confessor or to some other spiritual person who understands his deceits and evil designs, the enemy is greatly displeased for he knows that he cannot succeed in his evil design once his obvious deceits have been revealed.

In Rule #13, St. Ignatius is fostering communication and opening up one’s heart to an appropriate person who can help us when we are being tempted.  Prudence must be used when choosing the person to whom one will tell the temptation.   Once the temptation is told, it loses its attraction and goes away.  There are really several logical reasons for this.  First of all, since sin is inherently irrational, then it follows that temptations are not reasonable.  When one articulates his temptation to someone, then the irrational aspects of the temptation stand out and become more evident to the one being tempted.  The person told the temptation can see even more flaws in the temptation and then can explain these additional flaws to the poor person being tempted. A good little saying to remember for this Rule is things hidden, that are forbidden, are from the devil.

There are countless examples from human history of hidden plots and intrigues that were inspired by the evil one.  In our own times and surroundings as well, we can find many examples of things that were kept secret, which were diabolical, and the Good Lord allowed them to leak out and foil the plan of the evil-doers.

God does not intend for us to fight our battles alone.  Prayer is essential, yet, God intends us to use other reasonable means as well. If we keep our temptations to ourselves, then the devil will trick us into some kind of false reasoning and we will undoubtedly fall into sin.

Another aspect of the revealing of our temptations is that doing so is an act of humility.  We see our weakness and our need of help.  We see that we cannot “go it alone” and this is good to curb our fallen human nature and the pride of life.  For one to think he is an island and doesn’t need any help is clearly a form of pride. “God helps those who help themselves” is certainly applicable here.

St. Ignatius’s Rule #14. The enemy’s behavior is also like that of a military leader who wishes to conquer and plunder the object of his desires.  Just as the commander of an army pitches his camp, studies the strengths and defenses of a fortress, and then attacks it on its weakest side, in like manner, the enemy of our human nature  studies from all sides our theological, cardinal, and moral virtues.  Wherever he finds us weakest and most in need regarding our eternal salvation, he attacks and tries to take us by storm.

This Rule is a very practical one and fits with St. Ignatius’s military background.  This makes perfect sense that the devil studies us.  Lucifer was the highest angel and did not lose his nature when he fell, although he is blinded by his pride.  The devil knows human nature very well.  Of course he will see our weakest spot and attempt to catch us in a snare when we least expect it.  This Rule shows how important it is for us to know ourselves well.  The Spiritual Exercises themselves are a powerful way to get to know ourselves.  They are very humbling and foster in us a desire to see ourselves more and more how God sees us.  They foster in us the desire to please God, namely, they foster in us an eternal perspective.[2]

Later on, St. Ignatius will talk about the Particular Examine which is meant to help us find our particular fault, namely, what Rule 14 calls our weak spot.  It is a great blessing from God to find one’s particular fault. We have many weak spots but usually one particular biggest weak spot which we must try to find. We ought to beg God to help us find it if we have not found it yet.  Once we find it, then we concentrate on fixing this fault.

The devil will be at his tricks again to find the next weakest spot but we can pray and take the appropriate means to find that one too.  How good God is to give these Rules to help us fight the evil one and his helpers!  These are all of the Rules for the first Week of the Spiritual Exercises, although they apply for our whole life.

In our next lesson we will begin to look at the Rules for the Discernment of Spirits for the second week of the Spiritual Exercises (Which also are applicable to our whole lives).  The Rules for the Second Week are more about consolation; its causes; and the subtle tricks that the devil uses then.  We really cannot thank God enough for the countless blessings that He has given us, one of which is the work of St. Ignatius in giving us the Spiritual Exercises!


[1]           St. Vincent de Paul said, “The most powerful weapon with which to overcome the devil is humility; because, not knowing how to use it [humility], he does not even know how to defend himself from it [humility].”  Taken from Spiritual Diary, 1962 ed. Page 37; Daughters of St. Paul, Boston, Mass.

[2]      For a further examination of the importance of having an eternal perspective see Catholic Candle Reflection #18 in the Objective Truth Series, available here: https://catholiccandle.org/2021/01/01/having-an-eternal-perspective/