On Discerning Spirits, Fr. James Martin Offers the Counsel of the Diabolical

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Temptation on the Mount

By John Zmirak Published on October 24, 2017

Last week, I mentioned Fr. Martin’s bizarre account of the Martin Scorcese movie, Silence. (Rev. Martin was the theological advisor on the film.) Martin explained in the pages of the official U.S. Jesuit magazine, America, that Jesus Christ told the Jesuit priest in the film to renounce Him. To spit on His image. To break his vows by marrying, and to join the Japanese government in its fierce persecution of Christians.

Really. Fr. Martin said all of this. I’ll quote his remarks below in context, but go read the whole thing yourself.

High-Minded Sophistry on Both Sides of the Tiber

Every Christian should be deeply interested in the high-minded sophistry Martin uses. It pervades not just liberal Catholic but Mainline Protestant discourse. It also flips on its head the careful rules that Jesuit founder St. Ignatius Loyola laid out for “discerning spirits.” That is, for determining the origin of religious inspirations that we receive. Do they come from:

  1. Ourselves, that is our passions, ego, and scruples?
  2. Almighty God, offering us guidance as the “still, small voice”?
  3. One of the fallen angels, trying to trick us into turning onto the path that leads to hell?

Clearly, this is an important question. It’s the kind of thing a person needs to know. It’s the subject matter of countless “Ignatian retreats” that Rev. Martin had to undergo in his Jesuit training. He may well have led them for others. In other words, he knows this stuff. If he’s getting it deeply, profoundly wrong, the cause isn’t ignorance. It’s something (or someone) else. Screwtape call your office.

Now, “the Jesuits” as an institution became bogeymen in the Protestant world for their fierce effectiveness at countering the Reformation. And for their loyalty to the pope. Ignatius is something else. His theology and methods are profoundly scriptural. They grow from the same “devotio moderna” that formed both Erasmus and Luther. His spirituality is practical: It helps ordinary believers make inexorable progress toward greater closeness to Christ.

Does every woman who “agonizes” before having an abortion also mirror Jesus?

So Protestant writers “borrowed” it, adapting his spiritual techniques to their own theological systems. Some 17th-century Protestant spirituality manuals clearly show Ignatius’ uncredited influence. Literary scholars have demonstrated how Anglican John Donne’s poetry follows the Jesuit method of “composition of place.” Our first president, George Washington, carried with him all through his youth a book of moral maxims, translated from Spanish Jesuits by an Anglican.

Intellectual Flim-Flam

So Ignatius’ rules aren’t some “Catholic thing.” They’re a part of the common Christian heritage. What’s more, they make eminent practical sense. And Rev. Martin flouts them in a shocking display of intellectual flim-flam, which brings to mind the old, pejorative use of the word “Jesuit.” That is, an adjective describing legalistic, sophisticated methods of deception.

Now to what Rev. Martin actually wrote. I will contrast it to what St. Ignatius taught.

In a piece he crafted for America, Rev. Martin asks and answers questions about the movie Silence, and its heroic apostate priests. Here are the key excerpts:

  1. Why does Father Rodrigues apostatize?

Once captured, Fathers Rodrigues and Garupe are confronted with a terrible dilemma: recant their faith and set the Japanese Christians free [from promised torture and execution], or hold onto their faith and let others suffer. It is an almost impossible choice. Thus, both Jesuits are forced to “discern” in a complicated situation where there are no easy answers. Fathers Rodrigues and Garupe come from a world of black-and-white and are both forced to make painful decisions in a world of gray.

Only in the end, after several searing experiences that include his own physical suffering and witnessing the torture and execution of others, after long periods of agonizing prayer and, in particular, after hearing the voice of Christ in his prayer, does Father Rodrigues apostatize.

He apostatized not simply because he wished to save the lives of the Japanese Christians, but because this is what Christ asked him to do in prayer. Contrary to what some Christian critics have concluded, it is hardly a glorification of apostasy.

Confusing as it seems to some Christian viewers, Christ requests this contradictory act from his priest. It makes little sense to anyone, least of all to Father Rodrigues, who has assiduously resisted it for himself. Yet he does it. Because Jesus has asked him to.

Not Compassion But Corruption

Let’s be brutally clear here. Rev. Martin is not saying any of the following (sensible) things:

  • That we can understand how Father Rodrigues makes a terrible mistake out of compassion.
  • That he is so overwhelmed by pain, fear, and empathy, that he’s not fully culpable for his sin. God will judge him kindly.
  • That we might fold under the same kind of pressure, so we shouldn’t be harsh toward this priest’s sin of unfaithfulness. We might do no better.

Nope. Rev. Martin is saying that Father Rodrigues made the right decision when he renounced Christianity. And when he stepped on an image of Christ in public, at the behest of pagan inquisitors. And again when he became a pagan inquisitor, helping to ferret out Christian books and icons that missionaries tried to smuggle into Japan. These were the right things to do. Jesus asked him to do them. Have you got that? Rev. Martin could not be more emphatic about this point, so it’s only fair to take him at his word.

As An Angel of Light

At the heart of Rev. Martin’s argument is the claim that “Christ asked him to [apostasize] in prayer.” That’s a problem. Just because you’re praying for answers, that doesn’t mean all the answers you get come from God. Jesus prayed in the desert, but the angel that appeared to Him wasn’t from God. In fact, the whole reason St. Ignatius wrote “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits” is that some spirits are evil! And yes, they will come to us. They will come to us “in prayer.” They weren’t afraid to urge Jesus Himself to bow down and worship Satan. Do we think they’re too shy to visit us? Disguised as “angels of light” or even as Jesus Himself?

If a spirit urges you for high-minded reasons to do something that you know is evil, the spirit is evil. Like the spirit that quoted scripture to Jesus in the desert. Rev. Martin learned that in his first few months of Jesuit training.

St. Ignatius laid out clear, precise, detailed rules for determining a spirit’s origin. Go read them. But the crucial, sure-fire test of whether a spirit is really from God, or else a devil or even a projection of our own unconscious desires, is simple. What is it urging you to do? Is the action in itself good, evil, or indifferent? If it’s objectively evil, you have your answer. And it is indeed, black and white. It’s as clear as the divide between heaven and hell. Here that is in the saint’s own words:

We ought to note well the course of the thoughts, and if the beginning, middle and end is all good, inclined to all good, it is a sign of the good Angel; but if in the course of the thoughts which he brings it ends in something bad, of a distracting tendency, or less good than what the soul had previously proposed to do, or if it weakens it or disquiets or disturbs the soul, taking away its peace, tranquillity and quiet, which it had before, it is a clear sign that it proceeds from the evil spirit, enemy of our profit and eternal salvation.

Not Every Passion is the Passion of the Christ

Rev. Martin blows lots of inspirational smoke by conflating Father Rodrigues’ decision to commit apostasy and persecute Christians with Jesus’ choice to die on the Cross to save Christians.

How can we understand that theologically? Perhaps by looking at the experience of Jesus on the cross, as recorded in the Gospels. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus struggles mightily to understand God’s will, and says, “Father if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” He does not wish to die. But then he says, “Yet not my will, but yours be done” (Lk 22:42). Jesus does something that everyone in his circle opposes and misunderstands. Even Peter doesn’t want Jesus to suffer: “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you!” (Mt. 16:22).The apostles do not want Jesus to suffer, much less to embrace the cross. It makes no sense to them.

Yet Jesus accepts his fate because this is what the Father asks. His actions make no sense outside of his relationship to the Father. Likewise, Father Rodrigues’s actions make no sense outside of his relationship to Christ. In a sense, there is nothing subtle here: He apostatizes, finally, because Christ asks him to. And for those who say that Christ would never ask something like that, ask yourself how the disciples felt when Jesus told them he would have to suffer and die.

This is just the kind of empty, seemingly high-minded talk that corrupts Christian circles today.

Does Anguishing Make it Right?

Yes, both Jesus and Father Rodrigues were distressed by the choices that faced them. Both suffered, and acted in ways that surprised their friends. So I guess they were both the same then, right? Does every woman who “agonizes” before having an abortion also mirror Jesus? How about men who “agonize” before deciding, finally, to murder someone in an act of vengeance? Or to leave their wives for a younger lover? Does the anguish that wraps a decision make it justified, even Christ-like?Temptation

Rev. Martin’s comparison is deeply, even diabolically false. God the Father asked Jesus to offer His life for sinners. Is that intrinsically evil, to offer your life for others? No. In fact, it’s the highest good we can imagine.

The Japanese pagan inquisitors asked Father Rodrigues to renounce Jesus, violate his vows, and persecute fellow Christians. That is objectively evil.

If a spirit urges you for high-minded reasons to do something that you know is evil, the spirit is evil. Like the spirit that quoted scripture to Jesus in the desert. Rev. Martin learned that in his first few months of Jesuit training. The fact that he has chosen to mislead Christians by pretending he doesn’t know this is an appalling public scandal.

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  • Howard Rosenbaum

    Discerning the motives of a mans heart can be a very complicated proposition. Discerning the origin of influencing spirits , not so much. Almost all I know about the current intrigue & doctrinal challenges promoted by some in the Catholic church has been gleaned from reading Mr Zmriak’s columns. I must admit my interest in this authors take on the issues important to the catholic community is predicated as much if not more upon his ability to turn a phrase , illustrate a point w/scholarly researched particulars & his reasonably good command of the American dictionary of contemporary satire & wit. Alright, enough patronizing. I would agree w/the premise that the Spirit of God is not the one inspiring choices that embrace heresy. Though one mans heresy may be another mans doctrinal purity. The word & the Spirit agree on all things pertinent to the revealed will of God. The peace that affirms those considerations we make will be witnessed by the believers capacity to faithfully support them. Yes, in word and in deed. I don’t challenge the conclusions drawn from the authors critique of a popular Jesuit priest. Just reminding myself & anyone else that commits a moment or two to reading a sampling of reader comments ,that a fine line can sometimes be drawn between distinguishing ones actions from the more profound consecrations of ones heart . Only God can truly judge a heart. He has however provided us w/the witness of the Spirit w/in our spirit, the rationality of a sound mind & above all ( though not mutually exclusive ) His word of truth.
    In that way the scripture is fulfilled in the saying, ” By their fruit you will know them ” …

    • Dean Bruckner

      We are responsible for our own faithfulness. God is responsible for the consequences. For us to be unfaithful to God so that short-term consequences for people come out the way we think they should, or the way we want them to, is the mark of us playing God. That is self-idolatry, and is a root of all the evils. God forgive James Martin for denying the truth (which helps no one) and for playing God (which hurts everyone).

      • Howard Rosenbaum

        Perhaps you may want to reread my comments. Nothing was implied suggesting that compromising Gods commandments, precepts or moral code is ether good , acceptable & certainly not the perfect will of God. As for Mr Martin. He’s not “playing God “. Rather he seems to be affirming the hardness of his heart in what is probably a sincere though mistaken view of things. Thats what makes these kind of theologians so detrimental to the furtherance of the gospel. These “scholars” as Mr Zmirak seems to suggest are not intellectually dishonest but rather intellectually deluded. There is a difference. It’s usually pretty easy to see through the intellectual duplicity of those whose agendas precede them. One need only look to the recent Hollywood & Uranium One scandals to understand that. Though I suppose I can’t rule out the possibility that this Martin character is pressing for an agenda that may be contradicting his own convictions, but not likely & even less reasonable a conclusion to draw. Certainly in matters of faith it is not the end that justifies the means , when the means is a contradiction of what should be clearly understood principles upon which the very foundation of that faith is built. When the means however is simply a “compromise of cultural or religious ideology w/no concrete relationship to Scripture, that then is a horse of a different color …

        • Dean Bruckner

          I was agreeing with you, and extending what I understood your argument to be.

          • Howard Rosenbaum

            Appreciate the clarification. I took my own advice & reread your reply.
            The “playing God ” line seemed possibly a bit ambiguous & thus my mistaking the tone of your sentiment. Thank you.

          • Dean Bruckner

            No problem. I enjoy reading your comments!

    • DebraBrunsberg

      You are right about one thing. By their fruits we shall know them. We know Martin’s fruits.

  • Dean Bruckner

    Bishops’ skulls indeed.

  • m-nj

    Well the good new for the priests in the movie (who are now long dead), is that even their sin of “walking” on the image of Christ is covered if they were truly born of God… our salvation is 100% from God, we can’t undo it. The assumption here is that the priests were truly born-again in the first place. That is a decision best left to the Judge.

    That being said, Mr. Martin is indeed a false teacher and guide.

    • DebraBrunsberg

      I think you might not really understand salvation. We can lose it. If we deny Christ, He will deny us……..or so He told us. There is no such thing as once saved, always saved. That bunk comes from the same source as the voices that whispered to those priests in the movie.

      • Carolyn C

        You are correct. Jesus said: “If you deny Me before men, I will deny you before my Father.” God NEVER CHANGES. What was TRUE 2000 years ago, remains TRUE today. If it changed, it would not be the TRUTH.

  • Patmos

    When you start relying on things outside of scripture is when you start running into trouble. If a “voice” tells you to do something that goes against scripture that should be a pretty big red flag. No need to seek a word in the first place when we already have an entire book of them.

  • Carolyn C

    The person most loved by Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary, had to witness Her Son’s brutal torture and death. It is because of Her fiat, Her “Yes” lead to our ultimate salvation through Christ Jesus. She watched as Her innocent Son was brutally murdered. She agreed to suffer in spirit and witness the murder of Her Son for the salvation of souls. She so loved God, His Will and the Salvation of Souls that she was willing to suffer the painful agony of watching Her Son suffer and die for the very people crucifying Him. If She did not agree, not one of us would could enter Heaven. Fr. Martin claims that the apostate priest should do the exact opposite of Our Lady in order to save man. Sadly, Fr. Martin is only thinking in terms of the “world,” and not eternity. Jesus said His own are NOT of this world and they do not seek the world, rather they seek eternal life. Consider all the Saints who were tortured, and happily went to death for the love of Our Lord. We know that the highest law is to Love God with all your heart and mind and soul. God always come first, even if it means suffering for others. God ways are not man’s ways. It is not for us to question the Almighty. We should pray for Fr. Martin and that he does not scandalize the young whose angels stand in the presence of God.

  • Mark Sauser

    Please note that Jesus promised us that we would persecuted and put to death because Him. No student is greater than his teacher. Our Lord told us that he who attempts to save his life will lose it. A false dilemma was presented by Scorcese and Martin. Based on their logic, Jesus should have given in and never been crucified because it meant 11 apostles could have avoided a violent death. The movie is nothing more than an open temptation from the cross, a Catholic’s true destiny. The wounds we bear in this life are to bring ourselves and others to repentance and faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ.

  • James B

    Is it time for a new Pope yet?

    • Kathy

      It’s not at all wise to look to a mere man for guidance without first comparing what he teaches to Scripture itself. Clergy in many denominations have long proven that they are false prophets by straying from the Word of God by word or deed…no exceptions in any faith community.

  • ArthurMcGowan

    James Martin has been relentlessly promoting himself (daily email blasts to reporters, networks, etc.) and his prolefeed, lefty, eviscerated katholykism for about 20 years. None of the scandal he has caused in the past few years should surprise anyone.

  • j atkinson

    If what I have been taught is true, and I believe it is.. we all need to pray for the Pope and for all the priests who seem to be following him to perdition and trying to take as many souls as they can with them..Father Martin must have young man’s disease..he believes he is gonna live forever ..The Pope though is surprising..He must really not believe any of what has been taught, written and spoken for the last 2000 years as far as the Catholic faith goes, and he is old..his age is what tells me he really does not believe what the great saints and the fathers of the church and the tradition of the church have taught..that makes me fearful for his soul , and fearful for all those poor souls that are listening to this garbage and are gonna to follow him. I believe that the gates of hell shall not prevail…but it will be a good fight.. roll up your sleeves and show me your scars!!

  • j atkinson

    just wanted to add.. Father Martin is just a dog on a leash.. its his master that is at fault, whoever that might be.. never has a priest been allowed to support the groups this man has and also attack any orthodox position he has the whim too.. I guess his “guy” is pretty high in the heirarchy… oh well..as we know,the truth always comes out in the wash..

    • Aliquantillus

      It is not necessary to mince words. No one other than that devil of a man, Pope Francis, is the puppet master behind Fr. Martin. As you said, Martin is just a tool, and the Pope uses him in order to discover what he can get away with in changing the teachings and discipline of the Church.

      • Jonathan Grant

        Absolute hogwash. Fr James Martin is a Jesuit, under the Secretary General of Jesuits, who is under the Holy Inquisition (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), which is of the Roman Curia, of which the Pope is the head. Hierarchy is a useful term to understand who is accountable for Fr James Martin’s heresies.

        If we were to blame the head for the heresy that every shrimp peon with a collar stated, then all Pope’s would be “devils of a man.” During every Pope’s reign, there have been heresies, big or small, and for all future papacies, there will exist heretics and heresies.

        The Inquisition is responsible for addressing the infidelity of the Jesuits, not the Papacy. It does not matter if the Pope is a Jesuit. What does matter is who is the secretary general of the order, and who is responsible for holding the order accountable to Church teaching.

        Hint: the pope is not directly or immediately responsible, although only God knows if and how much culpability the Pope has for heresies in the vast scope of the Church.

        2nd Hint: You are not God or one of his cardinals. You can not know the culpability of the papacy in these matters.

        • Aliquantillus

          If there is anything hogwash here, then it seems to be your comment. “Holy Inquisition”? There exists no Holy Inquisition today and the Jesuits have been throughly corrupted since the 1960s and general Arrupe.

          Although the Pope may not be directly responsible for the actions of the degenerate Fr. Martin, it is obvious that the Pope has the full and complete authority over the Church and is responsible for the public image of the Church. So when a Jesuit scroundel openly and brazenly falsifies and corrupts Church teaching and with an air of superiority claims to have papal backing, then the Pope has to do something in order to protect the Church. But no, Bergoglio doesn’t, neither immediately, nor through the hierarchical channels. For Fr. Martin goes on and on and can spew all his sexual filth unhampered by any superior, whether of his order or of the Vatican dicasteries.

          This is a clear sign that there is one thing true of all the anti-Catholic lies that come out Martin’s mouth, namely that he enjoys backing by the hierarchy, which wouldn’t be possible without the Pope’s permission.

          Please don’t fool yourself. The real devil here is Bergoglio and no one else.

          • Jonathan Grant

            The Holy Inquisition goes by the contemporary name, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Holy Inquisition survives as part of the Roman Curia, but its name changed twice in the twentieth century.

            I do not know what is obvious of the papacy’s authority, and I will not pretend to know the entirety of the Pope’s authority. One man is incapable of ruling one hundred people, let alone one billion. Authority requires advisers, enforcers, administrators, leaders, for one man to effectively rule anything more than his own family.

            There is plenty of blame to go around, but I am not convinced that the Pope grants permission to every shrimp peon with a bad book. I will not pretend to know the Pope’s culpability in the Church’s omission to correct Jame Martin and the many other heretics causing havoc from position of trust and power in the Church.

            What could you do if you were in Pope Francis’ shoes? I doubt much better.

  • Rclifton

    Jesuit = anti-Catholic…period!

  • Vincent J.

    I don’t have the scriptures in front of me, but ….

    A demon cannot / will not say Jesus is Lord.

    A demon cannot / will not say Jesus Christ has come in the flesh.

    A demon cannot / will not say Jesus is the Son of God.

    Any time I feel that creepy presence and my hairs start to stand up, I repeat these things to myself.

  • demathis

    It appears that the fur is showing through the sheep’s clothing on James Martin.

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