The Ignatian Year IV: Types of Persons and Spirits

There are two types of persons from Ignatius’ point of view: one he describes as moving from good to greater good and the other he describes as going from sin to sin.  He also identifies two kinds of spirits; Ignatius calls one the angel of light (we could as easily say voice of God or pull of the Holy Spirit), and the other the evil or enemy spirit.  And each of the angel of light and the enemy spirit produce a certain movement and those movements are different depending on which of the two types of person we are dealing with.

If you are reading this blog, I am guessing are in the category of people Igntatius describes as people who “go on earnestly striving to cleanse their souls from sin and who seek to rise to the service of God our Lord to greater perfection” (in short, someone going from good to greater good – someone growing in the spiritual life such that God’s desire is a priority). 

That is not to say that any of us are perfect – we all miss the mark at times.  But we are generally people trying to find what God wants for us and to live up to that.

For people trying to do that: The enemy spirit disturbs, causes doubts, encourages weakness, makes person feel unworthy, creates anxiety. You know the voice of which I’m speaking: “You can’t do it.  Why even try.”  “You’re not worthy.  Stop pretending you are.”  “Why would God be interested in you.” Or “think of what you will have to give up if you do this thing God wants you to do.”

In contrast, the angel of light encourages and supports those moving in this direction with confidence, joy, delight.  Brings courage and strength.  The angel of light (Holy Spirit) gives delight and joy, and the sense that any obstacle can be overcome with God’s help.

 In the case of those who, in Ignatius’ words “go from one mortal sin to another,” that is, their orientation is away from God and the enemy spirit is at home in person: The angel of light stings conscience, pricks conscience.  It pricks one to look at what she is doing, trying to shake up the person, making him uncomfortable.  This is God trying to help the person. In contrast, the enemy spirit works to encourage such a person to stay in sinfulness.  Ignatius says that in the case of one moving from one sin to another, “the enemy is ordinarily accustomed to propose apparent pleasures.  He fills their imagination with sensual delights and gratifications, the more readily to keep them in their vices and increase the number of their sins.”

Ignatius speaks of moving from sin to sin.  But it is useful to understand that this may operate in the case of, for example, someone going through a difficult transition or something else is causing a movement away from God. 

So for us a more useful phrasing is to recognize how both the angel of light and the enemy spirit operate at times when we are moving toward God and times when we are moving away from God.

 This teaching of Ignatius is helpful whether or not one literally accepts as “real” the spirits Ignatius speaks of.  Whether it is spirit or impersonal force, we all intuitively recognize that there is a counter to the pull of God.

For Ignatius, it is so important that we learn to distinguish the feel of the enemy spirit from the feel of God or the angel of light.  The feel of God always brings us to greater faith, hope and joy and brings us out of ourselves.  The enemy turns us inward on ourselves.

This is one of the things I often say to people when they have an experience, eg., in prayer, and want to know how they can be sure what they heard was the voice of God.  One of the questions is precisely – does it lead to a sense of greater faith, hope and joy and bring us out of ourselves or turn us inward on ourselves?  Or, does it reflect the glory of God or me?

Recognizing the difference doesn’t mean you will never hear the voice of the enemy spirit.  You assuredly will.  (And in fact, Ignatius tells us that the enemy spirit tends to attack the weak point of our defense, at places where we are most vulnerable.  And can be quite tricky.)  BUT, recognizing means you don’t have to follow that voice.  You can let it go.  This is not God.  The voice you want to listen to and respond to is the voice of God, Ignatius’ angel of light.

Note that this is a the fourth in a series of posts in celebration of the Ignatian Year, which began on May 20.