In his teaching on the discernment of spirits, St. Ignatius Loyola lays out specific rules for how to identify the voice that is speaking in your soul. In particular, Loyola explains how to tell if Satan is speaking to you.
He notes, “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.”
While in most cases this is true, there is also an added dimension of discernment in regards to the state of a person’s soul. If the soul is moving from “good to better” the good Angel touches “sweetly” and the bad Angel touches, “sharply and with noise and disquiet.” If the soul is moving from “bad to worse” than the opposite is true and the good spirit can seem sharp and try to kick us back in the right direction, while the bad Angel will try to lure us into even worse sin, “sweetly.”
Therefore, it is important to understand the state of our own soul before determining whose voice is talking to us.
Loyola’s observation came from years of discernment in his own life and has found confirmation in other sources. For example a 16th-century priest named Dom Lorenzo Scupoli wrote, “The devil does his utmost to banish peace from one’s heart, because he knows that God abides in peace and it is in peace that He accomplishes great things.”
The next time you hear a voice in your heart influencing your feelings and emotions, take a step back and use Loyola’s guide to discernment. It may just be the devil trying to tear you away from God, leading you into the depths of despair.