Scriptural Basis of Discernment

The scriptural basis for the discernment of spirits can be found in Galatians 5:16-24. Following the will of the spirit leads to holiness and following the will of the flesh leads to sin. This also opens the door to Satan. The will of the flesh is easy to be fooled and leads to rationalizations of conduct and makes idols of the things of this world. This gift allows a person to see into the spiritual realm, with the naked eye to "discern" what activity is taking place. Either it is right or wrong. "Discernment of spirits" is the term given to the judgment whereby to determine from what spirit the impulses of the soul emanate, and it is easy to understand the importance of this judgment both for self-direction and the direction of others. Now this judgment may be formed in two ways. In the first case the discernment is made by means of an intuitive light which infallibly discovers the quality of the movement; it is then a gift of God. Second, discernment of spirits may be obtained through studying of the Bible, dependence on God, and being sensitive to Godís leading. It is then not just an acquired human knowledge; it is a spiritual gift. It is procured, always, of course, through a right walking with God. The necessity of self-direction and of directing others, when one had charge of souls, produced documents, preserved in spiritual libraries, from the perusal of which one may see that the discernment of spirits is a science of the Church.

Ignatian View

For St. Ignatius of Loyola, the discernment of spirits is part of everyone's spiritual journey. No one who is trying to make spiritual progress should attempt to do so alone - a spiritual director is required. A director assists a Christian in examining the motives, desires, consolations, and desolations in one's life. Objectively, one can know what is right from looking at the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins in a thorough examination of conscience. But the broader picture of one's life is often not so clear. A Christian should, according to St. Ignatius, share everything with a director who can see things objectively, without being swayed by the emotions or passion. Discerning whether the good spirit (the influence of God, the Church, one's soul) or the bad spirit (the influence of Satan, the world, the flesh) is at work requires calm, rational reflection. The good spirit brings us to peaceful, joyful decisions. The bad spirit often brings us to make quick, emotional, conflicted decisions. A spiritual director can assist both by personal experience, listening with care, and giving an objective analysis.

Charismatic View

Charismatics consider it to be a charism or spiritual gift that supernaturally enables a Christian believer to distinguish between holy and unholy spirits through the power of the Holy Spirit. This gift is thought to be especially necessary in instances when individuals may need to be delivered or healed of Demonic possession. In today's world, people are led astray by complacency and temptation to live only for and in this world (see Gospel of Matthew 25:29). Again, most do not realize the spiritual warfare going on all around and within them. Ephesians 6: For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.(NIV) The truth here seems to say we fight against spiritual evil not against each other although the evil spirits love to confuse us to war against each other.

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This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.