The theme of the discernment of spirits, characteristic of the spirituality of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and the pivotal point of his Spiritual Exercises (SE), has long been the subject of specialized studies. Typical of our times is the attempt to elaborate a theology of the Exercises, that is, a search in the sources of speculative theology for themes that in the past were only the focus of historical or spiritual commentary.
The theology that St. Ignatius developed in his Exercises has a special character. We think of it as a type of theological reflection that Ignatius called “positive theology” and that we will call “kerygmatic theology.” It is a theology that attempts to combine the theological rigor of systematic speculation – which seeks a balance among all the themes involved – with the vital vigor of asystematic reflection, which privileges discernment, sacrificing, as it were, the logic and balance of the text for the benefit of a depth of theological perspective.
The proper aspect of the kerygmatic theology of discernment lies in its practical orientation, that of faith working through charity. It is a lived theology, reflecting, making conscious a spiritual experience, ordering and deepening it to the extent necessary in order to share it with others.
Indeed, the discernment of spirits lies at the heart of the entire process of the Spiritual Exercises. Therefore, the totality of the themes and the order and timing of these Exercises are essential for this discernment.