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.
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.
Return to What do Christians Mean by Discernment? page.This article incorporates text from the public-domain Catholic Encyclopedia of 1913.