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					Philip Endean, ‘Aplicación de Sentidos’, in Diccionario de espiritualidad ignaciana,
edited by José García de Castro and others (Bilbao: Mensajero, 2007), 184-192. (in

APLICACION DE LOS SENTIDOS The title given in the Vulgate translation to a form of
prayer prescribed in the Spiritual Exercises for the final period of the day during the Second,
Third and Fourth Weeks. The interpretation of this form of prayer is a matter of uncertainty.

That the Vulgate gives the exercise a distinctive, substantival title, applicatio sensuum,
suggests that Ignatius at this point is introducing a fundamentally new form of prayer, and
therefore subsequent discussion has often been preoccupied with the question of just how this
new form is to be specified. But Ignatius himself introduces the theme unobtrusively, and
does not directly give this exercise a distinctive title at all. Where we would expect a title, he
writes „La quinta (sc. contemplación) será traer los cinco sentidos sobre la primera y segunda
contemplación‟; and his own introduction, after specifying the standard preparatory prayer
and the preludes, tells us that „aprovecha el pasar los cinco sentidos‟. Ignatius then
encourages us to work with each of the five senses on the material of the different
contemplations. In the four puntos (smell and taste are conflated into one point) we are told to
„ver las personas con la vista imaginativa, meditando y contemplando en particular sus
circunstancias‟; „oir con el oído lo que hablan o pueden hablar‟; „oler y gustar con el olfato y
con el gusto la infinita suavidad y dulzura de la divinidad del ánima y de sus virtudes y de
todo‟ (a phrase toned down in the Vulgate to quanta sit suavitas et dulcedo animae, divinis
donis ac virtutibus imbutae); „tocar con el tacto, así como abrazar y besar los lugares donde
las tales personas pisan y se asientan‟. The exercise then finishes „con un coloquio, como en
la primera y segunda contemplación, y con un Pater noster‟. (Ej 121-126)

There is, of course, a structural difference between this final prayer of the senses and the first
and second contemplations earlier in the day. Whereas the latter had moved from looking and
listening simply to a consideration of what the characters in the scene were doing before
passing on to the colloquy, here in the prayer of the senses all five senses are named. The
association of smell and taste with the „divinidad del ánima‟, and the affective intensity of
„abrazar y besar‟ in connection with touch may indeed indicate that Ignatius is indicating
some kind of greater emotional concentration in comparison with the exercises earlier in the
day. But it would be a mistake to interpret this shift in terms of vulgar polarities, whether
between heart and head, between affectivity and understanding, still less between mysticism
and asceticism, and least of all between divinity and humanity. For the continuities are also
striking: the colloquy is „como en la primera y segunda contemplación‟; each of the points
instructs us to „sacar algun provecho‟; and the point about smell and taste imagines an
exercitant „reflitiendo en si mismo‟. It may indeed be that this form of prayer is more, rather
than less, discursive in comparison with what takes place earlier in the day: only here are we
explicitly invited not just to listen to what the characters „hablan‟ sino también a lo que
„pueden hablar‟. And in the early Exercises of Master John (Codure), it is precisely in the
prayer of the senses that the exercitant is encouraged to be expansive about their desires,
whereas in the first and second exercise the one giving the Exercises is much more reticent
(MHSI Ej [1969], 574 n.127 [end]; 579 n. 143 [end]).

La oración en la cual se trae o se pasa los sentidos occurs at the end of the Ignatian day,
before supper (Ej 129.3; 133.2 etc.); it carries through into the Third Week (Ej 204.2; 208.2)
and into the Fourth (Ej 226.5). There is a puzzling passage, however, in the Additions for the
Fourth Week, however, Ignatius may be glossing „trayendo los cinco sentidos sobre los tres
ejercicios del mismo día‟ in terms that are far closer to his re-seekings, or repetitions1:
„notando y haciendo pausa en las partes más principales y donde haya sentido mayores
mociones y gustos espirituales‟ (Ej 227.3—and conversely „tres ejercicios‟ in that text
suggests that Ignatius may have collapsed „re-seeking‟ into a third initial exercise). Some
have suggested that the fifth exercise of the First Week, the meditation on Hell, serves a
function analogous to that of the so-called Application in later weeks.

The Directories and Modern Discussions

The drawing of the senses is one of several features in the Exercises where Ignatius may be
touching on what commentators who think in terms of rank and hierarchy want to call
„higher‟ forms of prayer (consolation without preceding cause; the first „time‟ of election; the
petitions of the Third and Fourth Weeks). Regarding all of these, the evidence Ignatius leaves
us is scanty and ambivalent, for reasons which can only be a matter of speculation. Perhaps
he felt the need for caution with regard to the Inquisition; perhaps the number of exercitants
in Ignatius‟ own experience for whom such texts would have been applicable was small and
he simply did not have much experience of how it worked in different people (Polanco
himself tells us that the majority of those to whom the Exercises were given were in
meditatione minus exercitati—Dir 20.65). Or perhaps Ignatius here, out of his profound
respect for the Spirit‟s freedom to work in individuals, was being typically reticent.
Moreover, the subtle differentiations between the prayer of the senses and Ignatian
contemplation simpliciter were probably no longer intelligible once the preached retreat had
become the normative form of the Exercises.

The earliest significant commentary which we have on the prayer of the senses as such comes
in Polanco‟s Directory; it may emerge from a sense that Ignatius‟ text had somehow to be
explained rather than from any fully developed reflection on a tradition of practice.
Nevertheless, the terms in which Polanco explained the prayer of the senses have dominated
subsequent discussion (Dir 20: 65-66).2

For Polanco the text can be understood in two ways: either as referring to the „imaginative
senses‟ for the less experienced, or de sensibus superioris rationis aut mentalibus, which
quadrant for proficientibus et versatis in vita contemplativa. His concern is to assure the
reader that there is no great difficulty in this text. The less advanced must be counselled
against any erotic developments—we can touch and kiss Christ‟s feet and clothes, but not go
any further. For its part, the „higher‟ version can be understood in terms developed in
Bonaventure‟s Itinerarium mentis in Deum, but should be given only in so far as prudentia
instructoris determines quatenus … haec attingi vel explicari oporteat. Both approaches are
presented as possible and legitimate.

Two claims here have regularly been contested or developed by subsequent commentators.
The first concerns the precise nature of the „higher‟ interpretation. Given the terseness of
Ignatius‟ text, any interpretation will need to import a theory from outside the text itself.
Polanco draws on Bonaventure: the „mental senses‟ refer to the senses of the „anima, in qua

      si puedes permitirme esta idiosincrasia, sugiero re-peticiones como traducción española

  2 I‟m citing by document number and paragraph in order to facilitate reference for readers in different languages (an MHSI page number
wouldn‟t be all that helpful for a reader without Latin who had, say, the English version of the Directories to hand). I don‟t have the Spanish
translation to hand—I‟m using English and Latin, and anticipate that you‟ll use the Spanish version.

Dei imago per gratiam Dei, fide, spe et charitate, reformata est‟. There are obvious problems
here. What on earth is a „mental sense‟ supposed to be? How does it relate to any other sorts
of sense? What of the contradiction between standard teaching on Baptism and the
implication that only those experienced in contemplation can be said to be reborn in Christ?
In more or less conscious awareness of such problems, subsequent authors understandably
amplified Ignatius‟ text in other ways. Gagliardi presents the application of the senses as
deepening discursive meditation; after a phase of moving from one idea to another,
„intellectus noster . . . solet plenius illustrari circa eamdem materiam per quemdam quasi
intuitum illuis tamquam praesentis, et sine motu ullo, aut mentis agitatione, totam rem in
momento conspicere, quasi habeat ob oculos‟ (22-23). Antonio Cordeses unashamedly
crudifies Polanco: „Estos sentidos espirituales . . . son la misma mente, en quanto con ella
contemplamos el resplandor de Christo, no corpóreo sino espiritual‟. (Dir 32.87)—as if the
glorified Christ no longer had a body. The twentieth-century discussions contain a range of
further variations.

The other claim of Polanco‟s to be contested subsequently (and largely rejected) is his
cautious acceptance of both approaches as legitimate. As the Official Directory moved
towards completion, the „higher‟ approach was gradually suppressed. Revealing here are the
comments of Gil González Dávila, chair of the commission which produced the Official
Directory, with respect to Polanco‟s version. The Bonaventuran material is abstractiora a
communi hominum sensu, et curiosa magis quam quae oporteret communiter tradi harum
rerum rudis et inexpertis. Moreover, eiusmodi sunt fere qui ad Exercitia facienda accedunt.
For such people, all that is needed regarding the „higher‟ approach is an indication of the
source in Bonaventure; their real need is for an account of the „lower‟ approach, dilucide
magis, et accommodatius ad vulgarem hominum praxim (Dir 31.14). The preliminary text of
the Directory produced in 1591 thus mentioned the „higher‟ approach, and noted that it was
approved by viris spiritualibus and that exercitatio sensuum spiritualium est signum
spiritualis vitae. Nevertheless, it sharply discouraged the use of this approach , and suggested
that the Application (by this stage the term has become standard) remain a purely imaginative
exercise: the „higher‟ interpretation encourages idle curiosity, and does not produce solid
effects—spiritual interpretations should be left aside, and instead we should imitate Ignatius‟
focus on rebus solidioribus, ut sunt actiones vel personae et alia huiusmodi (Dir 34.154). In
its account of the „lower‟ approach, the 1591 Directory claimed that meditation, as more
„intellectual‟ and more involved with reasoning, was „altogether higher‟. Meditation deals
with the attributa Dei, such as bonitatem, sapientiam, charitatem and so on. At vero
applicatio non discurrit, sed tantum inhaeret in …sensibilibus. It can be used in preparing for
meditation or alternatively as a form of rest and intermission after its cognitione …
mysteriorum altiorum (Dir 33/34/43.156-157). When the definitive version of the Directory
came out in 1599, the marginalisation of the Bonaventuran reading reached its logical
conclusion, in that all references to it had been cut. Whereas, then, Polanco had allowed the
two interpretations to exist side by side, the Official Directory clearly preferred the „lower‟
one. Much twentieth-century discussion, by contrast, led by such figures as Joseph Maréchal
and Hugo Rahner, has wanted to rehabilitate the „higher‟ one, and to regard the 1599
Directory as mistaken.

Resources for Moving Forward

There are important exegetical, theological, and practical considerations which do not seem
significantly to have influenced the most authoritative commentators on this exercise.

Exegetically, we need to note firstly that Polanco‟s did not invent the double interpretation: it
reflects conflicting indications in the text. The teaching of the Ej on „re-seeking‟ suggests that
the framework of Ignatian points should be left aside once we reach el punto en el cual
hallare lo que quiero (Ej 76.3); and, as we have seen, at one point even the prayer of los
sentidos is described in terms that seem to assimilate it to re-petición (Ej 227.3). One would
expect greater concentration and affective intensity at the end of the day, and some of
Ignatius‟ language suggests just that. Yet Ignatius also seems to be encouraging us to adopt a
new and more complex structure for our prayer, around the five senses. Even if we interpret
the prayer of traer los sentidos strictly in the light of Ej 76, it seems odd that Ignatius‟
guidelines for a process concentrating on points of consolation and desolation should end
with something so schematic and comprehensive. The regression here gives surely some
Ignatian basis (against the virtually unanimous consensus of modern commentators) that
there is some truth after all in the Official Directory‟s idea that the „drawing of the senses‟ is
a moment of respite from the more intense work done in the other exercises. More generally,
any cogent interpretation must respect the close similarities between what Ignatius says about
the „drawing of the senses‟ and standard Ignatian contemplation, as well as the evocative
references to tasting and smelling. In the absence of further evidence about Ignatius‟ own
understanding and practice, the exegetical problems remain insoluble. We are confronted
with an enigmatic text, and we have no adequate evidence on which to base any detailed
claim about what it might mean.

There is certainly something to be gained, however, by challenging the theology of prayer
and spiritual growth which seems to hold Polanco and his successors in unholy captivity, The
account of two different levels of prayer in terms of which the whole classical discussion is
conducted is shot through with theological heresy and philosophical incoherence, and owes
more to sub-Platonist gnosticism than to the New Testament. We need seriously to question
the assumptions underlying the claim that any serious interpretation of the Ignatian „drawing
of the senses‟ must refer to a form of prayer somehow elevated or extraordinary, going
beyond the styles of faith and prayer common in those nevertheless able to make the
Exercises. The framework adopted in the mainstream discussion is beset with the well-known
philosophical and theological difficulties of an extrinsicist theology of grace, and with
implicitly docetic Christologies that suggest the fleshly form of Jesus is merely a propaideutic
disguise for what really matters in him: the divinity.

The conventional distinctions between asceticism and mysticism, meditation and
contemplation, imply a view of the God-world relationship that is, in fact, hardly tenable for a
Christian. The object of prayer is rigorously other-worldly, supernatural in a crude sense.
Thus, contact with God is generally established either through reasoning about pieces of
information, about propositions, or else through what is effectively a paranormal
transportation into another sphere. For the general run of Christians, mental prayer must be
about abstract truths, and a matter chiefly of thinking; it must be meditative and ascetical, a
human activity supported by divine grace. By a special, extraordinary grace, however, some
people are lifted into a mystical, contemplative sphere, in which God takes over and the
prayer is no longer ours.

Figures such as Michel de Certeau have suggested that the idea of the mystical as something
extraordinary, out of the normal run of the Christian life, took hold in Catholic consciousness
only around 1600; the word „mysticism‟, with its connotation that the mystical life involves
something substantively different from Christianity as such, is a coinage from around this
period. Speculative though such theories must be, they offer some explanation in terms of

sociology and the history of ideas for why theologies of prayer in modernity seem often to be
couched in such anti-Christian terms. Be that as it may, Ignatian prayer challenges these
assumptions radically. The text of the Application implies that an exalted form of prayer
requires concentration on an imagined sensory object. Both conventional lines of
interpretation avoid facing the challenge. Those who follow the 1599 Directory admit the
sensory quality of the exercise, and are therefore forced to present it as trivial; those who
argue for a more elevated understanding end up ignoring the text‟s clear requirement that the
imagination is engaged with concrete events.

If one takes seriously the Christian axiom that divine and human agency are complementary
rather than somehow mutually exclusive, if we recognise that the only God who really exists
has taken our humanity into the divine being itself, then we might allow ourselves to think
differently. We do not—despite the punctuation adopted in the Roothaan translation, and the
important early texts of Favre and Codure—taste and smell simply divinity, but rather the
divinity of the soul and its virtues; and it is a divinity that can be found in others as well
besides Christ (segun fuere la persona que se contempla—could that last verb be also a true
reflexive as well as a passive?). The discursive, imaginative activity of the senses, leading to
our „drawing profit‟, to our „reflecting‟, and to our making colloquies, gives us raw material
for discriminating between desires that constitutes the second „time‟ of Election and can
nourish and inform the third. Ignatius himself „reflected‟ (reflexionó tanto como reflejó)
sobre San Francisco y San Domingo in ways that led to a new sense of purpose, a new sense
of what desires were deepest within him. Though the full Exercises may presuppose a more
developed attitude of indifference than that of Ignatius on his Loyola sick bed, the dynamic of
desire, reflection and choice may still perhaps be traced back this far.

Practically we may well suppose that Ignatius simply never articulated what he meant in a
way that could be fully intelligible to later generations, especially since, in any case, the
process of the Exercises normally engages both retreat-giver and exercitant at levels deeper
than that of their fully reflective awareness. It is quite possible that Ignatius‟ notes on
„drawing the senses‟ reflects but a sketchy, paper understanding of the reality in question,
standing in sore need of expansion and reformulation in the light of actual practice. And
perhaps the point could be made more radically. Ignatian truth is interactive. With the
retrieval of the individually guided retreat in our own time, we may be—in a sense that of
course has to be handled cautiously—to discover the meaning of this text in the experience of
those who are now making the Exercises in something like an authentic form. There is the
meaning that historical exegesis can (or in this case cannot) give us; there is also the meaning
which occurs as the spirits work through the sacred text in the ongoing experience of God‟s
people. The text is only a fundamento, a modo y orden; the true meaning is what happens
when people hallan „alguno cosa que haga un poco más declarar o sentir la historia‟, and
come to know the story as participants „from inside‟ (one entirely possible meaning of
internamente in Ej 2 or of interno in 104)

Towards Resolution

The Ignatian drawing of the senses must remain opaque. The interpretations that have been
offered are vulnerable to theological or exegetical objection, and in most cases to both.
Theologians can and may read an interpretation into it. So Schiavone, following Brou, links
the teaching about smelling and tasting to the sentir y gustar de las cosas internamente (this
time interpreted in a more conventional sense) mentioned in Ej 2: odorando e inebriandosi,

assaporando y gustando tutto quanto (“y de todo”) concerne la persona di Gesù, si
interiorizzaz e si assimila sempre di più; si verifica il sentire nel senso più forte del termine.3
More concerned to account for the references to drawing profit and to the colloquy, Endean
speculates that the prayer of traer los sentidos might be interpreted in terms how the Gospel,
as we internalize it ever more deeply can change the way we perceive the world—just as our
perception of any external reality can be transformed by new information. As you appreciate
the Gospel, you imagine its scenes less as simple facts and more in terms of their significance
as moments in God‟s self-giving love (which is not to say that you move beyond the mere
sensory details to the inner divine reality): you gradually cease to resemble the imperceptive
readers of John‟s passion narrative who can see only a judicial murder leading to a giving up
of the ghost,4 and become instead like those who can see what the real significance is: the
hour of the Son, his enthronement on the Cross, his consummating the Father‟s will by
breathing the Spirit. Such transformed perception affects the desires which emerge from the
prayer, and hence feeds the Election. Interpretations of this kind have their place, though they
can never claim unambiguously to be Ignatian, because they are ignoring some features of the
text (in these two cases its relatively elaborate structure) and importing a theology from
outside the text. In practice, such accounts are likely to be as good or bad as the theology
informing them.

A more pragmatic, informal approach prescinds from the unanswerable questions about what
Ignatius intended, and simply proceeds from the fact that contemporary exercitants are faced,
at the end of each day from the Second Week onwards, with some suggestive, elusive hints
towards some different quality of prayer. If people with some experience of Exx simply talk
about what the prayer of drawing the senses has meant for them, experience shows that they
begin to express themselves in quite different ways, sometimes close to the Ignatian words
and sometimes far from them, often inarticulately and incompletely (Exx 22), but
nevertheless in ways that suggest that they are growing, that they are being engaged by
mociones espirituales (Ej 6.1) of a kind that compel deep respect and attentive listening. The
enigmatic text gives a space in which deep things can happen.

It may seem strange that an academic article ends with a report of the author‟s own
pedagogical strategy (for I begin my courses for those who give the Exercises in precisely
this way), but perhaps it is also appropriate. Ignatius‟ method exists to lead us beyond
conventional constructions of the religious, to be exploring new frontiers in our
commitments, areas where the assured language of more academic discourse breaks down—a
point we can substantiate only by an appeal to experience, given that it is precisely the
assumptions shaping more developed idioms that are under question. Whatever the text
about drawing the senses might have meant for the Ignatius who wrote it, it now functions—
precisely in its reticence and suggestiveness, precisely in the uncertainties about its
meaning—to indicate whatever counts as a climactic growth-point, here and now, for those
who entrust themselves to Ignatius‟ process. This „experiential‟ reading may not be easy to
substantiate exegetically. But in its radical pluarlism, and in its sensitivity to the inarticulacy
of the Spirit‟s working, it may nevertheless be quite close to Ignatius‟ concern. And perhaps
too the effusive fervorini frequent in modern discussions of this form of prayer should be

 3 Cito de   la traducción italiana de los EJ que ha hecho Schiavone, 1995, s. 203.

 4 Modismo,    significa „muere‟—lo utilizo aquí porque refleja la amiguedad en Juan „edown to pneuma‟

read in such a light: not for the inadequacies in their expression, but for the intensity of
engagement to which they point.

                                                                       Philip Endean SJ, Oxford


José Calveras, „Los cinco sentidos de la imaginación en los Ejercicios de San Ignacio‟,
Manresa 20 (1948), 47-70, 125-136

Philip Endean, „The Ignatian Prayer of the Senses‟, Heythrop Journal, 31 (1990), 391-418

Achille Gagliardi, Commentarii seu Explanationes in Exercitia spiritualia Sancti Patris Ignatii
de Loyola, edited by Constantinus van Aken (Bruges: Desclée de Brouwer, 1882), 22-24.

Étienne Lepers, „L‟Application des sens: Exercices nos 121-126‟, Christus, 27 (1980), 83-94

Joseph Maréchal, „Un essai de méditation orientée vers la contemplation‟, in Études sur la
psychologie des mystiques, 2 vols. (Brussels: Édition universelle, 1937) vol.2, 365-382;

-------------------- „Application des sens‟, in DSp I, cols.810-828.

Hugo Rahner, ‚Die „Anwendung der Sinne“ in der Betrachtungsmethode des hl. Ignatius von
Loyola‟, in Ignatius von Loyola als Mensch und Theologe (Freiburg: Herder, 1964), 344-69;
in English, „The Application of the Senses‟, in Ignatius the Theologian (London: Geoffrey
Chapman, 1968), 181-213

Sergio Rendina, „La dottrina dei “sensi spirituali” negli Esercizii Spirituali‟, Servitium 29-30
(Sept-Oct 1983), pp.55-72


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