Way of Life Literature

Publisher of Bible Study Materials

Way of Life Literature

Publisher of Bible Study Materials

Ignatius of Loyola and His Spiritual Disciplines
September 17, 2008
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061


Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) was the founder of the Jesuits or the Society of Jesus. He was pronounced a saint in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV.

Ignatius was “converted” by reading the legendary lives of Catholic saints (in
The Life of Christ by Ludolph of Saxony and The Golden Legend by Jacopo of Varazze) and by allegedly seeing a vision of the baby Jesus in Mary’s arms. Ignatius vowed to “serve only God and the Roman pontiff, His vicar on earth.”

He also dedicated himself to Mary. At the pilgrimage site of Our Lady of Arantzazu in Spain he made a vow of chastity to her and entrusted himself to her protection and patronage. He spent an entire night venerating the Black Virgin at the Abbey of Montserrat near Barcelona and surrendered his sword and dagger to her (http://www.ignatiushistory.info/conversion.html).

Loyola’s asceticism was very extreme. He lived for a year in a cave, wearing rags, never bathing, and begging for his food. All of this was an effort to do penance for his sins. He scourged and starved himself and slept very little. He taught that “penance” for sin requires “chastising the body by inflicting sensible pain on it” through “wearing hairshirts, cords, or iron chains on the body, or by scourging or wounding oneself, and by other kinds of austerities” (
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, First Week, Vintage Spiritual Classics, p. 31).

The Society of Jesus was approved in 1540 by Pope Paul III with the papal bull “Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae” (To the Government of the Church Militant) and was a major part of the brutal Counter Reformation. The Jesuits were called the pope’s “shock troops.” By 1650 there were 15,000 of them operating throughout the world. Pope Paul was a staunch proponent of the Inquisition and the founder of the Council of Trent, which issued curses against those who refused to accept Catholic doctrine.

Ignatius’ Jesuits took a vow of complete submission to the pope, the superiors of their order, and the Catholic Church. They were determined “to go without questioning wherever the pope might direct,” and were instructed as follows: “Let every one persuade himself that he who lives under obedience should be moved and directed, under Divine Providence, by his superior, JUST AS IF HE WERE A CORPSE, which allows itself to be moved and led in any direction.”

In his
Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius taught absolute obedience to Rome:

“WE MUST PUT ASIDE ALL JUDGMENT OF OUR OWN, and keep the mind ever ready and prompt to obey in all things the true Spouse of Christ our Lord, our holy Mother, the hierarchical Church. We should praise sacramental confession ... the frequent hearing of Mass ... vows of religion ... relics of the saints by venerating them ... the regulations of the Church ... images and veneration of them. ... Finally, we must praise all the commandments of the Church, and be on the alert to find reasons to defend them, and by no means in order to criticize them. ... If we wish to proceed securely in all things, we must hold fast to the following principle: WHAT SEEMS TO ME WHITE, I WILL BELIEVE BLACK IF THE HIERARCHICAL CHURCH SO DEFINES” (
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Vintage Books edition, Rules, 352-362, 365, pp. 124-124).

The members of Ignatius’ Society were willing to lie, steal, and kill for the pope and for their immediate superiors. The Jesuits plotted and often succeeded in the violent overthrow of governments and the assassination of non-Catholic leaders. They were instigated in the Gunpowder Plot, which was an attempt in November 1605 to kill King James I and the members of the British Parliament. Six months earlier Guy Fawkes had taken a solemn oath with his co-conspirators, which oath “was then sanctified by the performing of mass and the administering of the sacraments by the Jesuit priest John Gerard in an adjoining room” (David Herber, “Guy Fawkes,” http://www.britannia.com/history/g-fawkes.html).

Ignatius is very influential in the modern contemplative movement through his
Spiritual Exercises. These emphasize purifying oneself through asceticism and using the imagination in prayer. The Spiritual Exercises is intended to be a handbook for retreat directors, and it takes about a month to go through the entire course.

The first three weeks correspond to the three-fold path of Catholic mysticism. Week One is a time of “purgation” and purifying through confession and asceticism. Week Two is a time of “illumination” by meditating on Christ. Week Three is “unitive,” characterized by intimate and habitual union with God.”

Visualization prayer is a central part of Ignatius’ exercises. The practitioner is to spend four or five hours each day in this practice. He is to walk into biblical and extra-biblical historical scenes through the imagination and bring the scene to life by applying all five senses, seeing the events, hearing what people are saying, smelling, tasting, and touching things--all within the realm of pure imagination. He is even to put himself into the scene, talking to the people and serving them. Ignatius encourages practitioners, for example, to imagine themselves present at Jesus’ birth and crucifixion.

Consider some excerpts:

“Imagine Christ our Lord present before you upon the cross, and begin to speak with him ...” (First Week, 53).

“Here it will be to see in imagination the length, breadth, and depth of hell. ... to see in imagination the vast fires, and the souls enclosed ... to hear the wailing ... with the sense of smell to perceive the smoke ... to taste the bitterness ... to touch the flames” (First Week, fifth exercise, 65-70).

“I will see and consider the Three Divine Persons, seated on the royal dais or throne of the Divine Majesty ... I will see our Lady and the angels saluting her. ... [I will see] our Lady, St. Joseph, the maid, and the Child Jesus after His birth. I will make myself a poor little unworthy slave, and as though present, look upon them, contemplate them, and serve them...” (Second Week, 106, 114).

“While one is eating, let him imagine he sees Christ our Lord and His disciples at the table, and consider how He eats and drinks, how He looks, how He speaks, and then strive to imitate Him” (Third Week, 214).

Visualization prayer has become very popular and widespread within the modern contemplative movement, but it is heretical.

First of all, visualization prayer is disobedience. The Bible contains everything we need for faith and practice. It is able to make the man of God “perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible contains everything we need to learn how to pray correctly, and it says nothing whatsoever about imagination prayer. This is not the type of prayer that Jesus taught us to pray (Matthew 6:9-15).

Second, visualization prayer is vain and foolish because it is pure fantasy. We can’t imagine Jesus’ birth beyond the simple facts described in Scripture. We don’t know what Mary or Joseph or baby Jesus or the room or the manger or the angels or the shepherds or the wise men looked like. We don’t know what they said to one another. We don’t know the temperature or the exact smells and tastes. If I try to imagine such things I am entering into the realm of pure fantasy.

Third, visualization prayer is not faith. Faith is not based on imagination; it is based on Scripture. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). God has given us everything we need in Scripture and our part is to believe what God says. “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).

Fourth, visualization prayer is presumptuous because it goes beyond divine Revelation. Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” By going beyond what the Bible says and trying to delve into Bible history through the imagination, I am leaving the revealed things and entering the secret things.

Fifth, visualization prayer is dangerous. It is dangerous because it adds to Scripture. If I get in the habit of visualizing Bible scenes, I can easily think that my visualizations are authoritative. I can fall into Rome’s error of accepting extra-biblical revelations. It is also dangerous because demonic entities can involve themselves in my vain imaginings. Satan influenced Peter’s thinking (Mat. 16:22-23), and he can certainly influence mine if I venture into forbidden realms.

Spiritual Exercises are filled with Mary veneration. The practitioner is instructed to pray the Hail Mary many times and to ask Mary for grace.

“A colloquy should be addressed to our Lady, asking her to obtain for me from her Son and Lord the grace to be received under His standard...” (Second Week, 147).

Ignatius also recommended praying
Hail Holy Queen (“Three Methods of Prayer,” p. 258). This blasphemous prayer addresses Mary as holy Queen, the Mother of Mercy, our life, our love, our hope, and most gracious advocate:

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile,
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Ignatius taught a works gospel, which is cursed by God according to Galatians 1:6-8.

He says that some are in hell “because though they believed they did not keep the Commandments” (First Week, Fifth Exercise, 71).

He says it is “necessary for salvation” “that as far as possible I so subject and humble myself as to obey the law of God our Lord in all things” (Week Two, “Three Kinds of Humility,” 165).

Ignatius promoted the use of
spiritual directors. One of his practices, called Revelation of Thoughts, involves examining one’s soul and exposing its contents to a director. It is based on the heresy of Catholic confession.

Ignatius promoted the repetitious
Breath prayer, which he called “a measured rhythmical recitation.” He described this as follows:

“With each breath or respiration, one should pray mentally while saying a single word of the
Our Father, or other prayer that is being recited, in such a way that from one breath to another a single word is said” (The Spiritual Exercises, “Three Methods of Prayer,” p. 258).

The Lord Jesus forbad vain repetitions in prayer (Matthew 6:6-7).

Next to Ignatius’ tomb in the Chiesa del Gesu, the Jesuit headquarters in Rome, is a 16th century statue depicting Mary violently casting Protestant Reformers Martin Luther and John Huss out of heaven because of their doctrines of “scripture alone” and “grace alone.” The statue’s title is “The Triumph of the Faith over Heresy” and it was created by Pietro Le Gros. It depicts official Catholic doctrine that was encapsulated in the proclamations of the Council of Trent, which issued a curse against any person who believes that the Bible
alone is the standard for faith or that salvation is by the grace of Christ alone. In spite of the ecumenical ventures of the Catholic Church in recent decades, the Council of Trent has never been rescinded and was quoted authoritatively by the Vatican II Council of the 1960s. The same monument in the Jesuit Church features an angel gleefully tearing up a small book, depicting either “heretical” Protestant books or the vernacular Bible translations that were condemned by Rome.


This report is excerpted from our new book
CONTEMPLATIVE MYSTICISM: A POWERFUL ECUMENICAL BOND. This book is available from Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143, www.wayoflife.org (online catalog), fbns@wayoflife.org (e-mail).

copyright 2013, Way of Life Literature

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