Patterns of Spiritual Direction

James A. Davies

For the avoidance of error, have someone to advise you—a spiritual father or confessor, a brother of like mind; and make known to him all that happens to you.

                                             Theophan the Recluse1

 The help that one person gives another in order to encourage that person's spiritual development has long been called “spiritual direction.” The term “spiritual director” is given to the person who offers this help.2 Throughout church history personal spiritual direction has been a source of wisdom and growth for thousands of people.

   It is the purpose of this article to overview the significant historical patterns of spiritual direction. These patterns can be clustered into three major categories. The individual includes the “desert abba/amma,” the Eastern traditions of “spiritual father,” the lay-oriented mystical and the modern approaches. These patterns emphasize free choices of director, the director's experiences and discretion and individualized counsel in discerning the will of God for one's life. Category two is the interventional. It is dominated by the “Ignatian Exercises” where the director confronts individuals or groups with processes and subject matter designed to initiate dynamic. The interventionist format is short-term and intense; it is designed to be used in a withdrawal/retreat setting under the care of an experienced director. The Benedictine (monastic) model and the confessor-judge pattern make up the institutional category. Models in this division seek to mandate spiritual direction for all within select communities or belief systems. In practice, concern for orthodoxy sometimes outweighs concern for personal growth. (See Figure 1.) Taken together, these ecclesiastical examples contain much wisdom for the spiritual director and about spiritual direction in general. They also remind us that careful and informed spiritual direction is a vital part of growth in the Christian life. Today, perhaps as never before, grave danger may exist for losing contact with the historical roots of spiritual direction.3 Our current climate is saturated with excessive individualism, a search for internal peace through meditation, silence and contemplation—this coupled with a desire to sense and experience supernatural power through prayer. Such a climate needs guidelines and balance, drawn from principles which have stood the test of time, to give it proper orientation. Never was good spiritual direction more urgently called for than in the present climate.4

   Historical patterns of spiritual direction vary, but the practice of some form of direction has remained constant throughout the church era. This article surveys the dominant trends in spiritual direction only. Limits of time and space do not permit an exhaustive review. Each style is presented in the order in which it historically evolved. (A summary section includes Lessons for the Contemporary Church and Qualities of Good Spiritual Directors.)

 The Desert Abbas/Ammas Approach

   Among the writings of the early fathers there are many references to the need for spiritual guidance. Gregory of Nazianzen saw direction as the greatest of all sciences.5 St. Basil tells his readers to find a man6 “who may serve you as a very sure guide in the work of leading a holy life,” one who knows “the straight road to God,” and he warns that “to believe that one does not need counsel is great pride.”7 In addition St. Augustine reminds us that “no one can walk without a guide.”

   The first significant rendition of spiritual direction occurs in the “desert fathers” of the fourth and fifth centuries. It is the first sizable scale of spiritual guidance distinct from ordinary pastoral care. The isolation and harshness of life in the wilderness of Egypt, Syria and Palestine created casualties among those who rashly attempted the solitary search for God. Their need for guidance became acute.

   In desert spirituality,God was always the first teacher. The cell (a small living group) was the second. Within the cell was the guidance of holy Scripture. After this, disciples would seek out the advice and guidance of an elder. They attached themselves to the person, although it could be reversed if the neophyte eventually surpassed the spiritual maturity of the elder.

   The central concept was that of spiritual fatherhood. The title abba/amma (father/mother) was used. Each disciple freely chose the relationship. The spiritual director was not simply someone who taught a spiritual tech-nique, but was a father who helped shape the inner life of his sons or daughters through his prayer, concern, wisdom, pastoral care and answers to practical difficulties. The preferred image was one of a child to parent, spiritual paternity/maturity.

   Directees were encouraged to look for a mentor who had holiness and purity of heart. Directors were to be people of discretion, who possessed experiential knowl-edge of temptation, solitude and the life of prayer. A final characteristic of the elder was the discernment of spirits (diakrisis). This was a critical element in spiritual direction in the desert tradition. The stories of the “desert fathers” abound with illustrations of ascetics who went to ridiculous extremes and became spiritual casualties through lack of discernment.8 The dangers of traveling the journey without a guide were real and present.

   Another aspect in the desert tradition of spiritual direction is the ability to facilitate the unfolding of the life of the Spirit in one's spiritual son or daughter. The seeker entrusted all interior movements of his or her heart to the elder for spiritual discernment. Guidance was dependent on the dispositions of the seeker and the discerning “word” of the elder. This “word” was uniquely individualized. It was different for each seeker. Its purpose was to reveal and heal the particular weaknesses or deficiencies in the seeker.9 The “word” was viewed as more than information, it “was not to be discussed or analyzed or disputed in any way; at times, it was not even understood; but it was to be memorized and absorbed into life.”10

   The relationship to the spiritual parent implied docility, obedience and trust. But the notion of blind obedience or domination is not found here. Spiritual fathers were to teach by example first, and only secondarily by word.


A brother asked Abba Poeman, “Some brothers live with me, do you want me to be in charge of them?” The old man said to him, “No, just work first and foremost, and if they want to live like you, they will see to it themselves.” The brother said to him, “But it is they themselves, father, who want me to be in charge of them.” The old man said to him, “No, be their example first, not their legislator.”11


    In the tradition of desert spirituality, two individuals stand out: Evagrius Ponticus (345-399) and John Cassian (360-435). Ponticus has been called the “father of our literature on spirituality.”12 From him we find eight categories of evil thoughts which formed the basis of the seven deadly sins. Cassian's 24 Conferences (extended discourses on spiritual problems) came from his time in Egypt. Two ideas emerge from them—that of unceasing repentance and that of pouring out one's thought and temptations to an experienced senior brother. From Cassian's Conferences we read of Abba Moses whose inflexible rule was only to give instruction in the spiritual life to persons who sought it in faith and heartfelt contrition.

   Another significant feature of desert spiritual direction is the origin of “spiritual exercises.” This comes from the formula for contemplation developed by Abba Issac.13 The concept of spiritual exercises plays a central role in spiritual direction. (See Figure 2.)

   Desert spiritual direction emphasized the use of a spiritual father/mother “as a help in discernment and a protection against self-deception, self-will . . . and to their evasions.”14 The teaching was unsystematic and valid only for one person. It was individual spiritual direction. High value was placed on obedience of a younger person to the example and word of the elder within the broader context of the Scripture and the cell. A person became qualified to be a spiritual guide through personal experience, the gift of discernment, powerful prayer life and discretion.

 The Eastern Orthodox Approach

   The spiritual tradition of the Christian East rejects the idea of a detached theology. Theology is viewed as an encounter with the living God, not an uncommitted academic exercise. Eastern Christians maintain there is no theology apart from experience. Spirituality, for them, is applied doctrine.

    From such a mind-set the need for a spiritual guide is still affirmed. Mark the Ascetic (d. early 5th cent.) said “those who were to follow Christ should question other servants of God . . . in order to know how and where to direct (their) steps, and not walk in the dark without a bright lamp.”15 Similar concerns were echoed by St. Dorotheos in his Directions on Spiritual Training (7th cent.):


No men are unfortunate or nearer perdition than those who have no teachers on the way to God. For what does it mean that where no guidance is, the people fall like leaves? A leaf is at first green, flourishing, beautiful, then it gradually withers, falls and is finally underfoot. So it is with the man who has no guide.16

   St. Isaac the Syrian counsels his disciples to seek one in whom they trust, saying,


Confine your thoughts to one who has studied the work in patience. Therefore follow the advice of a man who has experienced all, and knows how to judge patiently what needs discrimination in your case, and can point out what is truly useful for you.17

   The Eastern father was to be a saintly man, a teacher with knowledge of (free from) passions. Ignatius of Xanthopoulos urged disciples to:


spare no effort in trying to find a teacher and guide . . . a man bearing the Spirit within him, leading a life corresponding to his words, lofty in vision of mind, humble in thought of himself, of good disposition in everything, and generally such as a teacher of Christ should be: having found such a man, cleave to him with body and spirit like a devoted son to his father and from then onwards obey all commands implicitly.18

   St. Simeon, the New Theologian, urged obedience to the spiritual father “as to the hand of God, it is an act of faith.”

   Much of the material of spiritual direction in the medieval period comes from the writings of the Eastern monks. But by the fifteenth century the great spiritual guides of Russia are called the staretz (plural of starsty, or “old man”). Becoming a starsty was the culmination of a long life of simplicity and humility, a life devoted to the acquiring of the Holy Spirit. Outstanding examples of staretz are Dmitri of Rostov (1651-1709), Nicodemus the Hagiorite (1748-1809), who adapted various Western spiritual exercises for Eastern use, and Marcarious of Option (1788-1860). Exemplary staretz in the nineteenth century were Amvrosy (who was spiritual director to the Option monastery for over thirty years) and Father John of Kronstadt (1829-1908). The latter being perhaps the best example in the Russian tradition of the spiritual guide who was an ordinary priest.

   In Eastern Orthodox tradition, the need for an experienced spiritual guide was stressed. Seekers were to voluntarily attach themselves to the director who knew how to live the teaching. As the Russian staretz develop, three features seemed to be central. First, they exhibited insight and discernment (diakrisis) with their charges. As a result of their personal prayer and ascetic struggle, they were able to see the heart of another. Second, they had the ability to love others and to make the sufferings of others their own. They shared the passion and death of Christ by being responsible for everything and for everyone. Third, the intensity of their love had power to transform. They were always to decide “I will combat it by love.” Loving humbly is a terrible force, it is the strongest of things, there is nothing like it.19

 The Benedictine Rule

   During medieval times, Gregory the Great (540-604) held an important place in Western thinking about the cure of souls. His three volume Pastoral Rule includes instructions for spiritual directors as well as the famous observation that “the art of ruling souls is the art of arts” (ars est artium regimin animaruin).20

   The importance of tenderness and mutual love in the spiritual director-directee relationship is made clear in the writings of Aelred of Rievaulx. His Pastoral Prayer furnishes us with a striking example of spiritual fatherhood expressed in intercession:


Grant me to accommodate myself to the character, ways, disposition, gifts, and shortcomings of each: to do as circumstances demand, and as you see best. You know, Lord, my intention is not so much to be their superior as to lovingly help them and humbly serve them, to be at their side, one of them. Grant them, Lord, the grace to ever think and feel towards me your servant and theirs, for your sake, as best serves their spiritual welfare. Let them love and fear me, but only so far as you see is for their good.21

   Thomas Merton has said the “thing most characteristic of Aelred's theology is its emphasis on friendship.”22 Aelred's writings abound with the significance of friendship. “To live without friends,” he says, “is to live like a beast.”23 Aelred saw genuine friendship as “a step to raise us to love and knowledge to God. Friendship lies close to perfection.”24

   Later Western monasticism was dominated by the Rule of St. Benedict.25 While maintaining the ideal of the “spiritual father” from both the desert and Eastern traditions, Benedict's context for this relationship was dramatically different. His “father” was the role of the abbot of a stable community. The monastery community was viewed as a place of training. Its purpose was to lead others to salvation through the practice of the ascetic life.26

   The Rule itself and the community—its living expression—became the primary rule for guidance.

 The Rule carefully spelled out the external details of life as well as the desired internal dispositions of heart all were to practice, namely, obedience, silence, humility, and fraternal love. All, including the abbot, were obligated first of all to be obedient to the provisions of the Rule.27

   Chapter 46 of the Rule instructed those who offended to manifest their guilt to the abbot or the spiritual seniors (experienced monks) who knew how to deal with their own wounds and not to disclose or punish those of others. The relationship emphasized was that of apprentice to a master.

    An abbot was freely selected for life by the seasoned monks. He was chosen for the qualities of spiritual leadership, especially discretion.28 He was a man of wisdom who could “adapt himself to a variety of characters” (i.e., guide the monks according to individual needs and differences). The abbot was further expected to understand what a difficult and arduous task he had undertaken. Thus, as spiritual director, the abbot was no longer purely a charismatic figure around whom others gathered. Rather he was an office holder charged with an institutional obligation to teach and direct his community toward spiritual growth.

   All members of the community were encouraged to fraternal obedience to their guide for assistance with discernment, encouragement in the spiritual life and a knowledge of God derived from the abbot's personal contemplative experience.29 It is important to note that this relationship to the elder was originally distinct from the confessor/penitent status. Not until the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries did the role of confessor-director receive dominant emphasis. It was then that the present concept in which parish priest and spiritual director may be different people was established.30

   The original Benedictine construct, however, continued to emphasize individual care for each disciple, the practicing of discernment and receiving the manifestation of heart from the directee. These functions could be dispersed among members of the community. Experienced monks and an appointed director of novices took delegated spiritual leadership roles. A similar approach to spiritual direction existed in women's monasteries. An external rule of life voluntarily agreed to and a stable community environment were the milieu in which this type of spiritual direction existed.

 The Lay-oriented Mystical Approach

   The Benedictine/Cistercian model of spiritual direction dominated the entire Middle Ages. New developments in lay piety began to emerge, however, in the twelfth-fifteenth centuries. Books and manuals for lay directors appeared in the twelfth century, including the works of Peter of Blois. Confraternities of the Blessed Sacrament for lay people developed in a number of cities. Meanwhile in England, the ecstatic solitaires were recognized as spiritual directors during the thirteenth century.

   Other major developments which had profound effects on spirituality were the Franciscan and Dominican movements. The Franciscans (founded in 1221 by Francis Bernadone) began as a lay group who depended upon almsgiving for a living. They espoused a life of poverty and preaching the gospel. St. Bonaventure was the most significant spiritual writer. He seemed to have regarded meetings with a spiritual director as a necessary part of growth, particularly during one's early formation. Also aimed at the laity was the Dominican Order. Founded in 1216 by Dominic Guzman, the movement's concerns were “to be useful to the souls of our neighbors.” It initiated the “Third Order” groups for lay persons.31 Dominicans moved into the areas of spiritual direction with great seriousness. By the end of the thirteenth century, many religious women were being given spiritual direction and serving as spiritual directors.

    A number of holy women (mulieres religiosae—the name given to women who were non-monastic in lifestyle, yet totally dedicated to God) were recognized as spiritual directors. In the Dominican tradition, Catherine of Siena (1347-1380) became spiritual director to a circle of friends, her bella brigada, and she wrote numerous letters of guidance. She called her followers her “family,” while she was acknowledged as “Mamma” regardless of the age differences among them. She possessed remarkable discernment, which allowed her to “read other people's secret thoughts and intentions.”32 Other influential female spiritual directors of this time period included Hadewijch of Antwerp, Julian of Norwich and Catherine of Genoa.

   Spiritual directors in the lay-oriented, non-monastic approach tended to have charismatic personalities.33 They had a strong mystical theology, which came from both the ecstatic experience and the tradition they received. Experienced in the spiritual life, they were sought out by others for instruction, encouragement in faith and group or individual counsel. The primary relationship between the director and directee was dominated by tenderness and mutual love. Some gave direction to communities which gathered around them. All communicated pro-foundly through their writings, most of which were produced toward the end of their lives.

 The Ignatian Interventionist Approach

   A different approach to spiritual direction was inaugurated in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. First established in Rome in 1548, the text was actually a handbook for the one who gave the exercises. It was based on experiential self-observation, on experience in guiding others through a sequence of active, ascetical exercises and study of the lives of the saints.34 The exercises contained a variety of types of meditations, examinations of conscience and prayers. Their focus was on imparting the disciplined life of the Spirit to others through self-examination. These processes were designed to prepare “the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments and, after their removal, of seeking and finding the will of God in the disposition of our life for salvation of our soul.”35 Participating in the exercises led the faithful to ever-increasing levels of maturity in Christ.

    Structurally, the exercises were designed for use in times of personal retreat—the original period being thirty days. The text itself was divided into four basic sections, each to be practiced for one week. The first week was a time of spiritual purgation and preparation. “Exercitants” (those who practice the exercises) were to examine their lives with utmost honesty and intensity. Week two exercises involved meditation on the kingdom of Christ and the virtues of the kingdom. The third week was directed toward meditation on the sufferings of Christ. This centered around the events that led to our Lord's crucifixion and burial. The final week required contemplation of the resurrection of Christ and experience of divine love.

   Spiritual Exercises was not a manual for participants. It was a series of instructions intended primarily for directors. Ignatius and his followers later amplified this text with additional commentary called The Directory of the Exercises. Much wisdom for current spiritual directors is contained in the Directory. The director is instructed to adapt the exercises to the age, capacity, strength and disposition of the retreatant. The director confronts the exercitant with processes and subject matter that are designed to initiate a dynamic in the directee that is less likely to occur without this intervention. After these interventions the director's role is to stay in the background, to watch and encourage the participant in deriving personal meaning from the meditations and to allow God to work within him.36 At the same time the director is to be “kept fully informed about the various disturbances and thoughts caused by the action.”37 Through discernment, discretion and wisdom the director guides the participant through the process. Thus the director is to be experienced in the exercises and skilled in giving and explaining them.

   The Ignatian approach to spiritual development had tremendous impact. It was a form of direction adaptable to pious people who had sufficient leisure to take an enclosed retreat experience (quite similar to present day evangelicals). The Ignatian retreat has become such an established form of spiritual direction in the Western church that Pope Pius XI called it “the wisest and most comprehensive handbook of spiritual direction . . . the soundest guide to inner conversion and deep piety.”38 Even Leetch, who did not write from a Roman Catholic perspective, commented on the wisdom and benefits of the Ignatian approach. He said it


is a very thorough concept of direction, full insight and common sense, characterized by an insistence on methodology and stern discipline, and containing much that will be still of value to the spiritual guide of today.39

   The specific methods used in the exercises have often been cited by authors as the characteristic feature of Ignatian spirituality.40 But Ignatius did not claim to have invented the methods. For instance, the method of imaginative contemplation described in the exercises is also found in St. Bonaventure's De Triplici Via, in Ramon Lull's thirteenth century work The Art of Contemplation and in the writings of Aelred of Rievaulx. In the meditation on hell, for example, the exercitant is urged to feel the heat, smell the brimstone and hear the screams of the damned. On another occasion one is to imagine being bound in chains and standing before God in judgment. Through the intensity of visualization, the believer moves to deeper spiritual learnings. There is thus a strong emphasis on the union of reason with the heart.

   The Ignatian retreat was a set of structured meditations, examinations of conscience and prayers. During this time the director carefully intervened and adjusted according to the participant's ability and response. This form of structured spiritual direction was originally highly individualized and one-on-one, although it has now been adapted for groups. At least three unique features arise in this form of spiritual direction. First, the director intervenes to lovingly yet intentionally stimulate the developmental process. Remember, however, that all participants are willing volunteers. Second, the structural text-centeredness can cause spiritual directors to assume the role of guardian of a method. Third, the retreat format means this is a short-lived withdrawal from “normal life.” This has both inherent disadvantages and advantages. One of the latter being that the process can be used again and again by the same person, at different stages of one's Christian walk.

 The Confessor-Judge Approach

   After the Council of Trent41 (1545-1563), spiritual direction in the Catholic tradition placed priority concern on “orthodoxy” and the confessor/penitent relationship. This approach dominated for 300 years. Frequent devotional confession became common practice for those seeking holiness of life. This spiritual direction became tied to a person who assumed the role of judge, a “quasi-superior.” The link with sacramental confession resulted in spiritual direction becoming one of the functions of office and the responsibility of “cleric-confessors.”42 In the face of the threat posed by the Protestant Reformation, directors saw a major role to be the avoidance of heresy and of dubious forms of spiritual mysticism.43 Indeed spiritual direction became preoccupied with sin and “cases of conscience.” As Merton accurately observed, “This imposed rather unfortunate juridical limitations upon the traditional concept (of spiritual director).”44 Spiritual directorship had become institutionalized.

    Though institutionalized, spiritual direction became available to all Roman Christians regardless of their vocation, provided they were able to find a suitable confessor/director. New Canon law required members of ecclesiastical orders to present themselves weekly to confessors, as well as to different confessors quarterly. Within such parameters many functions of traditional spiritual direction were performed. During this period the relationship between director and directee clearly lacked mutuality. Descriptive images include overbearing authority and an almost infantalizing obedience. Often directors were saintly and helped many people. Others were autocratic, mediocre and incompetent. Several voices spoke out against the harm being done by such directors. Among the critics were Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), John of the Cross (1542-1591) and Augustine Baker (1575-1641).

   The confessor-judge approach to spiritual direction tended to emphasize authority over love, concern for proper doctrine over example and practice. It mandated the habitual practice of spiritual direction for thousands of people. Directors could be good, bad or mediocre in the institutionalized approach.

 Protestant Reaction

    It was the confessor-judge approach to spiritual direction from which many classical Protestants rebelled, not the concept of spiritual directing itself. Luther, for example, was accustomed to exercising personal direction by mouth and letter. In an early letter to George Spenlein, he urges him to reveal “the condition of thy soul.”45 More significant are the works of Martin Bucer (On the True Cure of Souls—1538) and Philip Spencer. They drew up a pattern of mutual cure of souls by laymen in Lutheranism. Zwingli recommended confession to God alone, but advised the Christian, if necessary, to consult a wise counselor. “A wise counselor who looks at the conscience can be a useful guide,” he stated.46 John Calvin furnished a strong example of a personal spiritual guide in the reformed tradition, while John Knox provided many letters of direction in the Scottish Presbyterian church. Certainly the Wesleyan band and class meetings formed an intensive type of mutual spiritual direction.47 (The open sharing and accountability was so strenuous that reactionaries called it “popish confession.”) The elements of mutual admonition and mutual direction served as the distinctive features of Quaker guidance. These were promoted by George Fox, William Penn and Cotton Mather.

   Seventeenth-century Puritans make the need for spiri-tual directors clear in their writings. Best known are Richard Baxter's A Christian Directory (1673) and The Reformed Pastor (1656), along with Immanuel Bourne's The Godly Man's Guide (1620). It was said of the Puritan guide Robert Bolton that at the level of personal guidance he was a “sonne of consolation,” while in the pulpit he was a “sonne of thunder.” “He never taught any point but he first wrought it in his own heart.”48 A different emphasis, however, comes from Bunyan's Pilgrims Progress (1678). Here, perhaps because of the author's extended isolation in prison, the Christian is pictured as a stalwart independent, one who must go it alone. This “do-it-yourself” spirituality has remained “one of the central features of wide sections of evangelical Christianity.”49

 The Modern Approach

   The modern approach to spiritual direction appears to have returned to the individual and charismatic emphasis of earlier times. In marked contrast to the authoritarian judge, the predominant models are currently noninstitutional. Ruffing has accurately overviewed the present scene saying,

 People freely choose a spiritual director of either sex who may or may not share the same Christian lifestyle. Directors are usually expected to be knowledgeable about the spiritual tradition, to understand the dynamics of spiritual development and prayer from the personal experience, and to be able to assist with discernment.50

   The modern approach concerns itself with the concrete religious experience of the individual. What is required is the ability to discern God's work in the whole life. As such, the role of the director is helpful yet auxiliary. The director by virtue of superior knowledge or the assertion of truth in a situation guides the directee. Discernment of God's movement in relationship to the life situations confronting the directee becomes central.

   A degree of asymmetry is evident in the relationship. It is freely chosen and freely ended. Both persons view each other as peers who are mutually growing in the spiritual life. Recent emphasis on friendship (cf. Celtic term anm-chara, soul friend) confirms this prognosis. Often the director assumes a reflective/listening role in relation to the other only for the situation of the spiritual direction conversation.51 In addition special focus has recently returned to contemplative prayer and the spiritual crisis, known as the “dark night.”52

 Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Direction

   We live in an era of excessive psychological self-consciousness.53 Large numbers of clergy have looked to the counseling industry as a way of finding help in their pastoral care ministries. Is the pastoral counseling movement a contemporary form of spiritual direction? Some writers interpret pastoral counseling in a broad sense. It thus becomes a virtual synonym for the cure of souls.54 Hurding, for instance, sees little distinction between the two. He claims, “the `inward journey' is one that can be made in both the contexts of counseling and spiritual direction.”55 Clearly there is a close link between being concerned about personal wholeness, self-realization and the traditional Christian ministry of spiritual direction. The values expressed by the Christian counseling movement are quite similar to those which appeared in the literature of spiritual direction. Christian styles of therapy have, almost by definition, recognized the important spiritual dimension of their work.

   There are some critical differences between the pastoral counseling movement and the tradition of spiritual direction. It is important to recognize these.56 First, the clinical pastoral counselor tended to be primarily concerned with states of emotional distress. But spiritual direction in the traditional understanding is not restricted to the troubled or distressed points in life. Indeed the ministry of spiritual direction is often more important when there are no particular crises57 or as the people begin to make progress in contemplative inwardness.58 The director is primarily concerned with spirituality as the fundamental requirement of health and wholeness, with nourishment in the inner life and discerning the will of God. The therapist is most often concerned with relief of temporary anguish and emotional strain. The areas overlap, but the focus is different.

   Second, the counseling movement has been clinic-based or office-based, while spiritual direction is church-based or community-based. As such, counseling tends to be short term or situational. It has lacked the continuous involvement with people so essential to pastoral care. Spiritual direction, to put it quite simply, is rooted in the liturgical framework of the body of Christ. It was this fact which R.A. Lambourne insisted on in his writings:


To state the argument very strongly, pastoral care, of which pastoral counseling is a part, is separated from its very life unless it is substantially concerned with the continual renewal of the holiness-in-service of the church as koinonia, rather than being preoccupied with the ego-formation, identity-righteousness or salvation of its individual members.59

   The pattern may be shifting. During the 1980s counseling was, in many instances, becoming less separated from the common life of the local church. It would be foolish to deny that the Christian tradition of spiritual guidance has learned much from counseling and pastoral care. The point here is that there are differences. Perhaps modern churchmen would be wise to remember the words of Michael Ramsey: “To be healthy and to be whole is no substitute for being penitent, forgiven and holy.”60

 Lessons for the Contemporary Church

   The following lessons are suggested from the study of spiritual direction in church history:

    1. True spirituality is doctrine applied.

    2. The life of prayer and contemplation is a way of progress.

    3. The linking of contemplation with action is one of the essential aims of guidance.

    4. Careful and informed reading of the masters is advisable for balanced progress.

    5. Greater emphasis is needed on Christian community, accountability and sharing.

    6. A resurgence on the importance of the mystical walk/experience in Western Christianity.

    7. Increased prayer/study on spiritual direction should be an integral part of pastoral work and preparation.

 Qualities of a Good Christian Spiritual Director

   Good spiritual directors should exhibit the following qualities:

    1. Experienced in the spiritual life and direction.

    2. Deep, personal prayer life.

    3. Spiritual insight and perception.

    4. Humility, a self-effacing manner.

    5. Non-judgmental attitude.

    6. Deep sensitivity, love and care for those being directed.

    7. Recognition and guidance according to each person's unique life path and needs.


    1Igumen Chariton of Valamo, The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology. trans. E. Kadloubovsky and E.M. Palmer (New York: Image Books, 1966), 116.

    2J. Ruffing, Uncovering Stories of Faith (New York: Paulist, 1989), 2.

    3E. Underhill, Anthology of the Love of God (New York: Harper & Row, 1953), 123f.

    4K. Leetch, Soul Friend: The Practice of Christian Spirituality (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1977), 139.

    5M. Boulby, Hermann Hesse: His Mind and Art (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967), 136.

    6Where noninclusive language is used, I have opted for the traditional wording of the original author. No sexist implication is intended.

    7Cited in R. Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life (London: Cambridge University Press, n.d.), 256.

    8Leetch, 42.

    9J.R. Sommerfeldt, ed., “Spiritual Fatherhood in the Literature of the Desert,” Abba: Guides to Wholeness, Holiness, East and West (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publishers, 1982), 42.

    10O. Chadwick, “The Sayings of the Fathers,” Western Asceticism (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1958), 176.

    11Leetch, 42.

    12S. Collier, “Man Alive,” BBC, 31 May 1972.

    13The formula consisted of the constant use of “O God, make speed to save me: Oh Lord, make haste to help me.”

    14Ruffing, 4.

    15Leetch, 46.

    16“The Miracle of Being Awake,” Peace News, 5 Dec. 1975.

    17Leetch, 45.

    18M. Mahesh, The Science of Being and Art of Living (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1966), 58-59.

    19Leetch, 49.

    20D.W. Basham, A Handbook on Holy Spirit Baptism (1969): 10.

    21Leetch, 54.

    22T. Merton, Spiritual Friendship (Boston: Anthony Clark, 1962), 43.

    23Leetch, 54.


    25Benedict of Nursia wrote his Rule sometime after 525 at Monte Cassino, Italy. This Rule formed the basis of Benedictine and Cistercian (a reform dating from the late eleventh and twelfth centuries) monastic life.

    26Ruffing, 5.


    28Relevant articles in the Rules are Chapter 2, “The Qualities of an Abbot,” and Chapter 64, “The Election of an Abbot.” Also see T. Fry, ed., The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English Notes (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1981).

    29William of St. Thierry, Exposition on the Song of Songs, trans. Mother Columba Hart (Shannon: Irish University Press, 1969), 58.

    30Leetch, 57.

    31S. Tugwell, “Dominican Spirituality, Domicians,” Gordon S. Wakefield, ed., The Westminster Dictionary of Western Spirituality (1983).

    32K. Foster and M.J. Ronayne, eds. and trans., I, Catherine: Selected Writings of St. Catherine of Siena (London: Collins, 1980), 15.

    33S. Meech and H. Allen, eds., The Book of Margery Kempe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), 42.

    34See William Leonard, “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola,” Frank Magill and Ian McGreal, eds., Christian Spirituality: The Essential Guide to the Most Influential Spiritual Writings of the Christian Tradition (San Francisco: Harper & Row), 232-37.

    35Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, trans. L.J. Pahl (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1951), #1.

    36Ignatius of Loyola, #2 and 15.

    37Ignatius of Loyola, #17; Directory, #2 and 15.

    38Pope Pius XI, as quoted in Mens Nostra, 20 Dec. 1919.

    39Leetch, 61.

    40Pourrat, for instance, sees the exercises as the climax of “the evolution of methodical prayer.” Christian Spirituality, III (1924): 23-48.

    41The ecumenical council was primarily concerned with elaborating the Catholic response to the challenge of the Protestant Reformation.

    42Ruffing, 7, 12.

    43Leetch, 58.

    44T. Merton, Cistercian Studies, 3:1 (New York: Image, 1968), 3.

    45M. Bucer, “On the True Cure of Souls and the Right Kind of Shepherd,” F. Greeves, Theology and the Cure of Souls (Cork: Mercier Press, 1960), 11.

    46J.T. McNeill, “Personal Counseling in Early Protestantism,” Christendom: An Ecumenical Review 6 (1941): 367-75.

    47J.A. Davies, “Small Groups: Are They Really So New?” Christian Education Journal 2 (1984): 43-52.

    48O.C. Walkins, The Puritan Experience (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1972), 8.

    49Leetch, 87.

    50Ruffing, 15.


    52K. Leetch, “Spiritual Direction,” A. Cambell, ed., A Dictionary of Pastoral Care (New York: Crossroads, 1987), 265-66.

    53See B. Zilbergald, The Myths of Counseling; I. Illich, The Disabling Professions; and M. Gross, The Psychological Society.

    54D. Jenkins, Clinical Theology (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1966).

    55R. F. Hurding, The Tree of Healing (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985), 35.

    56See C.D. Kean, Christian Faith and Pastoral Care (1961); K. Leetch, Soul Friend (1977); and R.S. Lee, Principles of Pastoral Counseling (1986).

    57Leetch, A Dictionary of Pastoral Care, 265.


    59R.A. Lambourne, Contact, 44 (1974): 31-32.

    60M. Ramsey, The Charismatic Christian (1974):<+> 45.

Editorial: A Mighty Dear Hyphen to Me!

A.B. Simpson as and the Modern Faith Movement, Paul L. King

Saving Faith in the Gospel of John, David K. Huttar

Opposition to Radical Reformation: Martin Luther Against Anabaptist and Radicals, Harold P. Shelly

Putting God to the Test: An Examination of Biblical Data, John V. Dahms

The Contribution of Cultural Anthropology to Missiology, Norman E. Allison

Separation Anxiety Disorder in a Missionary Child: Theoretical Considerations and Intervention Strategies, Mark D. Bullock

Patterns of Spiritual Direction, James A. Davies

An Effective Deliverance Methodology: Then and Now, Gerald E. McGraw

Dangers in the Deliverance Ministry, K. Neill Foster

Elio Cuccaro, Ph. D., Editor

About the Authors

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