Musical Meditations

Musical Meditations

Spiritual Exercises: Contemplation and Meditation

In the Introduction to his Spiritual Exercises Ignatius of Loyola states that, “just as taking a walk, traveling on foot, and running are physical exercises, so is the name of spiritual exercises given to any means of preparing and disposing our soul to rid itself of all its disordered affections.” (Ignatius Loyola, The Autobiography, 28; in George E. Ganss’ Ignatius of Loyola: The Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works) 

Among the spiritual exercises are “his two chief methods of” “meditation” and “contemplation.” (396, 121)  Contemplation “consists in attending to the persons, their words, and their actions, largely by use of the imagination.  In general, contemplation is viewing or gazing and it stimulates reflections and emotions.” (402) 

“The person who is contemplating…by going over [the subject matter] and reasoning about it for oneself, can thus discover something that will bring better understanding or a more personalized concept….For, what fills and satisfies the soul consists, not in knowing much, but in our understanding the realities profoundly and in savoring them interiorly.” (121) 

Ignatius recommends contemplating the Incarnation, concerning “how the Three Divine Persons… decided in their eternity that the Second Person would become a human being, in order to save the human race.” (148)  Let us contemplate correspondences between the compound self, the Triune Deity, and musical harmony.

Application of Musical Illumination

Ignatius recommends “an application of the…senses to the subject matter of…contemplations.” (151)  “In it there is less reasoning and drawing of conclusions, and a more restful manner of absorbing in an affective and more passive way the fruit of the previous contemplations of the day.  It is ‘not discursive, but merely rests in the sensible qualities of things, such as the sights, sounds, and the like, and finds in them enjoyment, delight, and spiritual profit’ (Directory of 1599, ch. 20, no. 3) 

“It is useful in two ways.  For sometimes when a soul is unable to search into more profound things, while it dwells on these sensible impressions it is gradually disposed and raised up to those loftier thoughts.  Sometimes, on the other hand, when it is already enriched and filled with devotion from its [314] meditation on those profounder Mysteries, descending from them to the contemplation of these sensible things, it finds in every one of them nourishment, and consolation, and fruit, because of the abundance of its love which makes every smallest thing, and even the slightest hints, to be of great value and to furnish matter for devotion and consolation.” (4, 314-15)  “Many, coming from the previous contemplations with warm devotion, find their love nourished by these sensible objects (ibid., no. 4).  This method is less fatiguing than meditation or contemplation, and is therefore done in the evening.” (403)

Five Points from The Autobiography, Ch. 3:

The Autobiography of Ignatius states that in 1522 “God treated him at this time just as a schoolmaster…. Something of this can be seen from the five following points.”

“28.  FIRST.  He had great devotion to the Most Holy Trinity, and so each day he prayed to the three Persons separately.  But as he also prayed to the Most Holy Trinity, the thought came to him: Why did he say four prayers to the Trinity?  But this thought gave him little or no difficulty, being hardly important.  One day…his understanding began to be elevated so that he saw the Most Holy Trinity in the form [or harmony] of three musical keys.”  Note 12: “Teclas: keys as on a piano.  Each produces its own sound, but the three sounds together are one harmony.”  “For the rest of the day” Ignatius could not “stop talking about the Most Holy Trinity…with much joy and consolation.” 

Ignatius’ joyful response to this divine illumination parallels Baroque music theorist Andreas Werckmeister‘s perception of a “presentation” of divine wisdom in the “three-note chord….Could any clearer likeness be imagined, in which the threefold unity of God’s being were better mirrored than in this?  Would to God that all good Christians understood music thus; they would find heartfelt joy in this symbol.” (from Godwin, Spheres, 297)  Kevin Mongrain refers to Hans Urs von Balthasar’s belief “that the Father – the divine pedagogue – can use the risen Christ ‘like an alphabet or a keyboard’ to express customized sacraments of divine love uniquely suited to the educational needs of all his human pupils.”

The unique importance of this illumination is indicated in a note to The Spiritual Diary, 85: “At one moment I saw in a remarkable way the same vision of the Holy Trinity as at first.  All the while my love for the Divine Majesty was growing greater still.”  Note 57: “This probably means his first Trinitarian vision at Manresa (Autobiog, 28).  This is the only passage which Ignatius enclosed on all four sides.”  The special significance of this passage (the key to Ignatian spirituality?) is implied in Note 34 of The Spiritual Diary: “To indicate some passages of the Diary as especially meaningful to himself, Ignatius drew around them lines left open at the right.  A manuscript exists in the National Library at Madrid which contains only these passages, transcribed by his own hand.  His desire to have them on one separate sheet manifests their special importance to him.”  

“29. SECOND.  Once, the manner in which God had created the world was presented to his understanding with great spiritual joy.  He seemed to see something white, from which some rays were coming, and God made light from this.”

“THIRD.”  “While he was hearing Mass…at the elevation of the Body of the Lord, he saw with interior eyes something like white rays coming from above….what he saw clearly with his understanding was how Jesus Christ our Lord was there in that Most Holy Sacrament.”

“FOURTH.  Often and for a long time, while at prayer, he saw with interior eyes the humanity of Christ.  The form that appeared to him was like a white body, neither very large nor very small.”

“FIFTH.”  “The eyes of his understanding began to be opened; not that he saw any vision, but he understood and learnt many things, both spiritual matters and matters of faith and of scholarship, and this with so great an enlightenment that everything seemed new to him.  [Camara]: This left his understanding so very enlightened that he felt as if he were another man with another mind.”

“Meaningful Excerpts from The Spiritual Diary

The Spiritual Diary, Note 34: “To indicate some passages of the Diary as especially meaningful to himself, Ignatius drew around them lines left open at the right.  A manuscript exists in the National Library at Madrid which contains only these passages, transcribed by his own hand.  His desire to have them on one separate sheet manifests their special importance to him.”  The “especially meaningful” passages follow.

Stage III,  “[5.  Before, during, and after Mass he receives great insights into the Holy Trinity (52-64).]

52: “During the Mass there were many and very peaceful tears, and very many insights into the Holy Trinity.  These enlightened my understanding to such a degree that it seemed to me I could not learn so much by hard study.  Later when I reviewed the matter again I thought that I had understood more in my experiencing or seeing than I would even if I should study all my life.” 

Note 35: “In Autobiog, 30, he makes a similar remark about his outstanding illumination beside the Cardoner.”

54: “[during Mass and before it the insights were about the appropriation (Note 36) of the prayers of the Mass when one is addressing God, or the Father, or the Son,] and so on while attending to the operations of the Divine Persons and their processions, more by experiencing with feeling or contemplating than by understanding.” 

Note 36: “Appropriation: attributing to one Person what is common to the three.  Already at Manresa he prayed to the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, and the whole Trinity, and then wondered for a moment: ‘Why four prayers to the Trinity?’ (Autobiog, 28).  Now after his theological studies he understands and appreciates the appropriations far more deeply.”

Note 37: “Processions: The theological explanation that the Father produces the Son (who proceeds from him by generation from the divine intellect), and the Father and the Son produce the Holy Spirit (who is the act of love proceeding from the divine will).  Ignatius contemplates these divine operations as they are in God.”

55: “On that same day, even when I was walking in the city with great interior joy and when I saw three rational creatures, or three animals, or three other things, and so forth, I saw them as images reminding me of the Holy Trinity.” 

Note 38: “In Autobiog, 28, to explain his vision of the Trinity he used the image of three musical keys.  His procedure here is somewhat similar.”

63: “But during this Mass I was knowing, or experiencing, or contemplating – the Lord [Note 42] knows – that to speak to the Father was to recognize that he was one Person of that Holy Trinity.  This brought me to love that Person’s whole self; and that all the more because the other two Persons were by their very essence present in that One.  I experienced the same recognition about prayer to the Son, and again about prayer to the Holy Spirit.  I rejoiced that when I perceived consolations from any One of them I recognized them with joy as coming from all Three.  To have untied this knot, or whatever else it might be called, seemed so important to me that I kept on saying about myself: ‘And you, who are you?  Where did you come from?  How could you merit this?  Or whence did this come to pass?’ and the like.” 

Note 42: “See 2 Cor. 12:2.  Ignatius, like Paul, is vainly struggling to find language to express his ineffable mystical experiences.”

Stage IV.  “[1.  He receives confirmation from Jesus in an unexpected way (65-70).]

67: “[thoughts] increased and appeared to be a confirmation, although I did not receive consolations in this regard.  The fact that Jesus showed himself or made his presence felt seemed to me to be in some way a work of the Most Holy Trinity; and I remembered the occasion when the Father placed me with the Son.”

Note 46: “He refers to his moving experience at La Storta (Autobiog, 96).”

70: “Later during the day whenever I thought of Jesus or memory of him came to my mind, I had a certain deep perception or intellectual seeing which brought continual devotion and confirmation.”

[3.  He clearly sees a past error (74-78).]

74: “in the house of Trana, while perceiving or seeing Jesus I experienced many interior motions amid many tears.”

75: “All through these hours I found in myself such intense love and such perception or seeing of Jesus that I thought that in the future nothing could come and separate me from him, or make me doubt about the graces or confirmation I had received.”

[5.  The Mediation of Jesus and visions confirm him in this new attitude (83-91).]

83: “Upon entering the chapel, during prayer I perceived deeply in my heart, or more precisely I saw beyond my natural powers, the Most Holy Trinity and Jesus.  He was representing me, or placing me, or serving as my mediator with the Most Holy Trinity in order that intellectual vision might be granted to me.  At this perception and sight I was covered with tears and love terminating chiefly on Jesus.  Toward the Trinity too I felt a respect of affectionate awe clos[er] to reverential love.”

85: “At one moment I saw in a remarkable way the same vision of the Holy Trinity as at first.  All the while my love for the Divine Majesty was growing greater still.” 

Note 57: “This probably means his first Trinitarian vision at Manresa (Autobiog, 28).  This is the only passage which Ignatius enclosed on all four sides.”  This complete enclosure signifies that the passage is the most meaningful and important.

87: “In writing this I find my intellect being drawn to see the Holy Trinity in such a way that I seem to see the three Persons, though not distinctly as before.”  “it seemed to me that in spirit I saw Jesus in the same way as I described the first time, as something white, that is, his humanity.  But now in this second time, deeply in my soul I was seeing him in another way, that is to say, I perceived not the humanity alone, but that in his whole self he is my God, and so forth.  There was a fresh outpouring of tears, great devotion, and the like.”

Note 59: “Here too is continuity with the visions at Manresa and later (e.g., Autobiog, 44), but there is a progression.  At Manresa his attention was more on ‘the humanity of Christ’ like a white body and small, and here on Christ as God and man.  On the intellectual character of Ignatius’ visions and the comparative poverty of his images, see DeGuiJes, pp. 60-61, 608.”

The Autobiography, 44: “Our Lord appeared to him often, giving him great consolation and determination; but what he seemed to see was something round and large, as though it were of gold.”

Compare with Rev. 1: 12-16: “I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.  The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire.  His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.”

88: “I had a manifestation or vision of Jesus at the feet of the Most Holy Trinity and, with this, motions and tears.  This vision was not as long or as clear as the past one on Wednesday, although it seemed to be of the same kind.”

89: “I had a vision of the heavenly fatherland or of its Lord, in the form of an insight into the Three Persons, and into the Second and Third Persons as being in the Father.  During Mass at times there was much devotion.”  “[When] Mass was finished I had the same vision of the fatherland or of its Lord without the distinction of Persons, but clearly, just as I did on many other occasions, sometimes more clearly and sometimes less.”

The Directory was written by S. Ignatius in his own hand.  Additional Notes were written by Suarez. 

Note I, 1: Meditation by means of the Three Powers of the Soul

“It may often be best first to apply the memory to the whole subject, and then the understanding in a succession of points, taking up in order each of the considerations and reflections suggested, and lastly to exercise the affections and the will.  S. Ignatius…gives us an example of this method in the second Exercise on our personal sins.  The subject of this meditation might be briefly stated in the proposition, ‘I am a sinner.’  In the first point I exercise my memory, reviewing the chief sins of my past life.  Then various considerations arising out of the fact that I have thus sinned are dealt with by the understanding in the second and two following points; and lastly the affections and will are brought into play in the last point and the colloquy.  It should be added, however, that this separate exercise of the powers in different points is never absolute.  They cannot in practice be entirely isolated from one another.  All that is meant is that in some points it is chiefly the memory that comes into play, in others the understanding, and in others again the will….What has been here said is not to be understood as if the exercise of the three powers belonged only to meditation, and had no place in repetitions or in the application of the senses.  The three powers must indeed be operative more or less in every form and degree of prayer.”

Note I, 2: Repetition

“A repetition differs from a meditation in two respects.  First, in making a repetition we are not to dwell at length on all the points of the former meditation, but to make a selection, marking and dwelling on the points in which we have felt greater consolation, or desolation, or greater spiritual relish.  For consolation is a sign that the Holy Spirit desires us to dwell on those points in which we have experienced it, and to lead us along that way; while desolation is often due to some fault or negligence on our part, or may be caused by the devil in order to hinder the fruit of our meditation.  In both these cases ti must be met by returning to the points in question, and persevering in our meditation with humility and confidence in God.  For it may often be that these are the very points on which it is most important for us to dwell, and from which we shall eventually reap most fruit, and even consolation, if we have courage to persevere.  See Directory xv. 3.” 

“An application of the senses…is itself a kind of repetition.”

“Frequent repetitions help us to enter more deeply into the truths upon which we meditate, or the mysteries which we contemplate, and to gain more abundant fruit from them.  Without them our meditations would often be in danger of becoming shallow, scarcely going beyond the intellectual exercise, and missing that interior savour of the truth which S. Ignatius is so anxious that we should enjoy.  (See Annotation ii, and Directory xv. 2.)” (Note I, 2)

From Annotation ii: “It is not the abundance of knowledge which fills and satisfies the soul, but to feel and taste the matters interiorly.”  Directory xv. 2: “These repetitions are of great value, for it often happens that in a first meditation upon such matters the understanding is stimulated by their novelty and by a certain curiosity, but afterwards, when its activity is moderated, the way is more open for the exercise of the affections, in which the fruit chiefly consists.” 

Note I, 3: Application of the Senses

“The third form of meditation is that which S. Ignatius calls the application of the senses.  It is, of course, not the bodily senses, but the interior sense of the soul, either imaginative or intellectual, which are here meant.  [Luis de la Puente, Meditations on the Mysteries of Our Holy Faith, vol. i. Introduction xi; and vol. ii, med. xxvi]  How the application of the senses differs from ordinary meditation is explained in the Directory xx. 3, where meditation is described as being more an exercise of the discursive reason, whereas the application of the senses does not proceed by reasoning and drawing conclusions, but simply rests in those sensible aspects of things which appeal to the eye and ear and other senses, drawing fruit from them, and finding in them spiritual delight and profit.”

Note O, 1

“If it be asked what is the difference between these two forms of exercise (meditations and contemplations), the answer is not altogether clear.  S. Ignatius does not use the terms with absolute consistency.  But broadly speaking we may say that ‘meditation’ is a general term applied to all forms of mental prayer, and specifically to mental prayer on an abstract or invisible subject, while ‘contemplation’ is the usual name when the subject-matter of the prayer is something that is, or once was, visible, as in the Mysteries of our Lord’s incarnate life.  With this difference in subject-matter there is also a difference of method.  In a contemplation there is less use of the intellect in discursive reasoning than in a meditation.  We simply put ourselves in the presence of the mystery, or historical event, as though we were actual spectators of it, beholding the persons who take part in it, listening to their words and watching their actions and from each o them gathering some spiritual fruit….looking at them and contemplating them…as though I were present there.”

Note O, 2: “The application of the senses does not appear to differ essentially from a contemplation….With regard to the sense of hearing, if it differs at all from the hearing in a contemplation, it is that it is a still more interior kind of hearing: a hearing of the heart rather than of the understanding.” 

Note P: On Contemplation

“S. Ignatius uses this term [contemplation] in a very different sense from that in which it is employed in mystical theology.  He means by it a mental prayer based upon historic facts, such as are the Mysteries of our Lord’s incarnate Life; and the special form which the prayer takes is that we behold, observe and consider in each Mystery the persons who take part in it, the words they speak, their actions and other points as if we were actually present.  It is obvious that this is to a great extent an exercise of the imagination, though of course it doe not exclude the use of the understanding in making reflections, and of the will in eliciting affections and resolutions.  Indeed S. Ignatius expressly bids us at the end of each point to reflect on ourselves so as to derive some profit or fruit.” “Speaking generally of all our meditations and contemplations, the fourth of the ten Additions says: in the point in which I find that which I desire, there I will rest without being anxious to proceed farther, until I have satisfied myself.” 

“Suarez sums up….these interior senses ought to be applied in such a way that the mind by means of them gazes upon some object with admiration and love, or hears words so as to be deeply moved by their meaning, or inhales the fragrance of the virtues or gifts of some soul, and so with the other senses; for indeed this application partakes of the nature of contemplation.”

“In writing to Sister Rejadella, he uses these words: ‘All meditation where the understanding works, fatigues the body.  There are other meditations, equally in the order of God, which are restful, full of peace for the understanding, without labour for the interior faculties of the soul, and which are performed without either physical or interior effort.’”

Desolation and Consolation

“It is characteristic of God and his angels, by the motions they cause, to give genuine happiness and spiritual joy, and thereby to banish any sadness and turmoil induced by the enemy.  It is characteristic of the enemy to fight against this happiness and spiritual consolation, by using specious reasonings, subtleties, and persistent deceits.”

“In the case of persons who are progressing from good to better in the service of God our Lord it is characteristic of the evil spirit to cause gnawing anxiety to sadden, and to set up obstacles.  But with persons of this type it is characteristic of the good spirit to stir up courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations, and tranquility.  He makes things easier and eliminates all obstacles, so that the persons may move forward in doing good.”

“Under the word consolation I include every increase in hope, faith, and charity, and every interior joy which calls and attracts one toward heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, by bringing it tranquility and peace in its Creator and Lord.”  “By desolation I mean darkness of soul, turmoil within it, an impulsive motion toward low and earthly things, or disquiet from various agitations and temptations.  These move one toward lack of faith and leave one without hope and without love.  One is completely listless, tepid, and unhappy, and feels separated from our Creator and Lord.” (202)

“When we are in desolation we should think that the Lord has left us in order to test us, by leaving us to our own natural powers so that we may prove ourselves by resisting the various agitations and temptations of the enemy.  For we can do this with God’s help, which always remains available, even if we do not clearly perceive it.  Indeed, even though the Lord has withdrawn from us his abundant fervor, augmented love, and intensive grace, he still supplies sufficient grace for our eternal salvation.  One who is in desolation should strive to preserve himself or herself in patience.  This is the counterattack against the vexations which are being experienced.  One should remember that after a while the consolation will return again.”  (203)

“The desolation serves to test how much we are worth, that is, how far we will go in the service and praise of God, even without much compensation by way of consolations and increased graces….We cannot by ourselves bring on or retain increased devotion, intense love, tears, or any other spiritual consolation…all these are a gift and grace from God.” (203)

Letter to Tereas Rejadell, On Discernment of Spirits: “I will mention…two lessons which our Lord either gives or permits (giving the first and permitting the second).  The lesson which he gives is interior consolation….In this consolation to some persons he gives light, and to others he reveals many secrets, and so forth….This consolation points out and opens for us the path we should follow and the contrary path we should avoid….Then, when we are left without this consolation, the other lesson comes.  That is, our ancient enemy sets up every possible obstacle to turn us aside from what we have begun.  He sorely afflicts us in ways completely contrary to the first lesson….We cannot pray with devotion, cannot contemplate, cannot even speak or hear of the things of God our Lord with any interior taste or relish….We must observe which is on the offensive.  If it is consolation, we must abase and humble ourselves and remember that the trial of temptation will soon come.  And if temptation, darkness, or sadness comes, we must oppose it without letting it affect us, waiting patiently for the consolation of the Lord which will disperse all confusion and outer darkness.” (337)

“We should pay attention to the whole train of our thoughts….if the train of the thoughts which a spirit causes ends up in something evil or diverting, or in something less good than what the soul was originally proposing to do; or further, if it weakens, disquiets, or disturbs the soul, by robbing it of the peace, tranquility, and quiet which it enjoyed earlier, all this is a clear sign that it comes from the evil spirit, the enemy of our progress and eternal salvation.”


Note: an alternate title to Musical Meditations is Psalms and the City: Changing Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll to God, Drones, and Sacred Songs.