3

Ignatian Spiritual Exercises has been around for centuries, yet only in the past few decades Evangelicals and Charismatics started to appreciate it:

For those new to this spirituality, here are some introductory resources for a major component of the Spiritual Exercises: Discernment of Spirits.

My question: Are there any scriptural objections to using Ignatian Spiritual Exercises for spiritual growth according to Protestants?

Resources for researching the answer

  1. Hearing God's Words: Exploring Biblical Spirituality reviewed here, here, and here. Google preview here, a 2004 monograph by Peter Adam, discussing Biblical principles for evangelical spirituality (Chapters 1-3) and the related issues such as the role of images, liturgy, and sacrament (Chapter 5). While the coverage is limited to mostly Reformed spirituality (such as the view of Calvin, Richard Baxter, the Puritans, etc. discussed in Chapters 4 and 6) this book can be the basis of critiquing (or validating!) Ignatian Spiritual Exercises which also engages God's Word affectively and imaginatively (not just intellectually).
2
  • Never thought of it as such! +1
    – Ken Graham
    Jul 2 at 20:00
  • @KenGraham me neither. Doesn't hurt to ask though, like how the priest asks whether anyone object to this marriage before proceeding :-) Jul 2 at 20:02
1

I am unaware of any official objections published by a Protestant denomination, but as a result of looking into Ignatian Spirituality, a couple of things give me cause for concern. Although the objectives of the spiritual exercises are praiseworthy, an examination of the history behind this revival is useful.

Ignatius of Loyola was a 16th-century Spanish priest, theologian, and founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). While the life and devotion of Ignatius of Loyola was truly remarkable, his vows—still taken by all Jesuits—include “absolute obedience to the Pope.” Whilst nobody is suggesting Protestants who engage in these spiritual exercises will be compelled to take any such vow, they might want to do some research into this organisation. After presenting a brief overview of the history of the Jesuits, the article below makes this comment:

The Jesuits are still active in the world today, though the military actions of those early years have been left behind. The goal of spreading the Catholic faith is still their primary objective, and they do it through missionary work and education.

Another practice is deep and constant meditation on the sins that have been committed, so as to rouse intense sorrow for sins... Source: https://www.gotquestions.org/Jesuits-Society-of-Jesus.html

As the Wikipedia article you quote from says, the first week of contemplation is devoted to sin and God’s mercy. Whilst it is essential that sinners must face up to and repent of their sins, our focus should be on God’s plan of salvation and how salvation is entirely the work of God, from start to finish. Protestants believe no amount of good works, no adherence to the traditions and laws of men, can add to the salvation that is granted freely to all who come to saving faith in Christ Jesus.

This is possibly one of the most fundamental differences between Catholics and Protestants. I do not say this to provoke an argument, but merely to express one of my concerns about engaging in these spiritual exercises.

What really concerns me, though, is this paragraph in the Wikipedia article you quote from and, in particular, the last sentence (emphasis mine):

"Discernment" is very important to Ignatian thought. Through the process of discernment, the believer is led toward a direct connection between one's thought and action and the grace of God. As such, discernment can be considered a movement toward mystical union with God, and it emphasizes the mystical experience of the believer. This aspect of the Spiritual Exercises reflects the trend toward mysticism in Catholic thought which flourished during the time of the counter-reformation (e.g., with Teresa of Ávila, Francis de Sales, and Pierre de Bérulle). However, while discernment can be understood as a mystical path, it can also more prosaically be understood as a method of subjective ethical thought. The Exercises emphasize the role of one's own mental faculties in deciding what is right and wrong. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spiritual_Exercises_of_Ignatius_of_Loyola#Spiritual_vi

As a Protestant that sounds a very loud alarm bell, spiritually speaking. Protestants rely on the word of God in deciding what is right and wrong:

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (Joshua 1:8).

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).

Bible-believing Christians are grounded in God’s word, and focus on what God, in Christ Jesus, has done to save us from our sinful condition. Our mental faculties are not reliable and we can be easily deceived. 1 Corinthians 2:10-16 describes how the Spirit of God alone knows the thoughts of God:

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words... But we have the mind of Christ.

The point is that Christians do not rely on their own mental faculties in deciding what is right and wrong. Christians rely on the words taught by the Holy Spirit, which are found in the Holy Bible. Born-again Christians receive the Spirit by believing what they have heard about the gospel and are warned against trying to attain their goal by human effort. We are justified before God by faith in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:3-4; 11). We follow Christ, and do not place our faith in methods designed by humans, regardless of how holy and sincere they are.

Everything necessary for our salvation has already been accomplished by Christ Jesus. Christians who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit model their lives on Him.

These views and concerns are personal, although I am a Christian of the Reformed Protestant persuasion.

2
  • I appreciate giving time to respond, but maybe I should have described the exercises more to prevent misunderstanding. You said "Protestants rely on the word of God in deciding what is right and wrong." I don't see anything in the exercises that deny that. In the quote that ends with "right and wrong", the previous sentence sets the context for "subjective ethical thought" as opposed to "mystical path". The discernment process is a 3 step process: awareness, understanding, action. Jul 5 at 17:46
  • Discernment is choosing the "right" action to take, after the first 2 steps (awareness+understanding) of Satan's influence and God's prompting manifested in our thought in the midst of our spiritual condition. That's why the wikipedia says it's "subjective", not because it's opposed to the Bible (which is "objective") but an evaluation of a moral circumstance from the subject's point of view. Thus it's an application of the objective moral truth to the specific situation by an individual. Jul 5 at 17:46
1

Decades ago, when I was a new Christian, I read Joyce Huggett’s book, ‘Listening to God’ and thought it really good. I have since thrown it out, along with other literature that is basically proposing a system of ‘climbing up to’ or ‘attaining special knowledge and experience of God’ that is not the way the Bible says.

First, it might be useful for anyone wanting to examine this whole matter of various ‘spiritual exercises’ to gain a brief over-view of the history of this practice. Try https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Christian_meditation

More detailed information is needed regarding some Protestants of a charismatic bent exhorting others to try such ‘spiritual exercises’ as that of Ignatius, as did Joyce Huggett. It should become apparent that those people went a long way down the road of joining and supporting ecumenical attempts to create partnership with Catholicism. Basically, that is why many Protestants who know such things would object.

The Bible does not propose a system of particular exercises to get closer to God. It tells believers in Jesus that the Holy Spirit gives them the mind of Christ once they have had a ‘spiritual heart-transplant’ (1 Cor. 2:9-16). As new-born babes in Christ, they are to crave spiritual milk as provided in God’s word, the Bible (1 Cor. 3:2; Heb. 5:12; 1 Pet. 2:2), and the basic gospel truths of Christ as explained by Holy Spirit appointed teachers in the Church (Jude vs. 3). But problems arise when men (and women) claim to be speaking for God and that to listen to them is to (effectively) listen to God (3 John vs. 9).

Christians have three God-given means of grace: the Holy Spirit, the word of God, and the fellowship of the saints especially in prayer, praise and worship. Nobody needs anything else. Jesus did not advocate a system of spiritual exercises, did he? Enough said?

4
  • Thank you for taking the time to write the answer, esp. your tip on Joyce Huggett. Despite her analysis why Ignatian Spirituality should resonate with evangelicals, there must be something in her books that promotes a "climbing up" system which is not authorized by the Bible. But Ignatian spirituality is not a "climbing system" and therefore different than earlier spiritualities. It is rather a set of exercises to 1) help one enters a Biblical scene and 2) discern (aware and understand) good / bad thought that influence action in the midsts of a spiritual consolation/desolation. Jul 5 at 18:06
  • The purpose is to deepen a Christian's personal relationship with God, to purge sin, to increase love to God and others, and to do actions that promote waiting for joy and peace given by God. The waiting in the midst of God-allowed desolation is understood to be for growing spiritually (i.e. less dependent on circumstances but on God alone). I don't see it as doctrine / new requirement. I completely agree with your last paragraph, but I don't understand the logic. Jesus also didn't advocate liturgy, Christmas/Easter, quiet time, Sunday school, yet we do them. Why not this one too? Jul 5 at 18:06
  • @GratefulDisciple Very many Christians have experienced that 'dark night of the soul' without either seeking for that or viewing it as an exercise to grow spiritually. Indeed that is not a 'doctrine' - just par for the Christian course, it seems to me. And you are spot on when pointing out that Jesus did not advocate liturgy, Christmas/Easter or Sunday school (though he DID value quiet times and sought them out!) so you are right to ask, "Why do we do them?" Why, indeed!!!
    – Anne
    Jul 5 at 19:46
  • Just to clarify: Ignatian "spiritual desolation" is a lot broader than John of the Cross's "dark night of the soul". The latter IS part of a ladder system, but Ignatius treats "spiritual desolation" horizontally in terms of what we need to DO in the world, always connected to the 3rd step Accept or Reject (thus, not mystical), while in the "dark night of the soul" you're wrapped in a mystical contemplation. Anyway, now that we have established it to be optional, you haven't really answered my Q: whether there is any element in the exercises that contradicts the Bible. Jul 6 at 1:33

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.