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Tuesday, 21 May 2013

On the misunderstanding of the term discernment of spirits

Discernment is a gift which comes with the purification of the imagination and conscience. One must be orthodox for keen discernment.

Many charismatics think that the term "discernment of spirits" has to do with figuring out which demons may be in a situation. NOT SO.

The term "discernment of spirits" is defined by the Church as something more profound and more applicable to daily life than some sort of gift given to exorcists.

Here is the Catholic Encyclopedia, to begin this examination of a definition and my comments are in blue:

"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. 

Pay attention here, readers.

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, a grace gratis data, vouchsafed mainly for the benefit of our neighbour (1 Corinthians 12:10). This charisma or gift was granted in the early Church and in the course of the lives of the saints as, for example, St. Philip Neri

This is a gift which has been given to many saints, such as St. Bernard of Clarirvaux and most of the Doctors of the Church. Clearly, St. Catherine of Siena had this gift, to give one example in addition to the one above. 

Second, discernment of spirits may be obtained through study and reflection. It is then an acquired human knowledge, more or less perfect, but very useful in the direction of souls. It is procured, always, of course, with the assistance of grace, by the reading of the

Holy Bible, of works on theology and asceticism, of autobiographies, and the correspondence of the most distinguished ascetics

Many leaders in the Church have such a gift, acquired through these means. One thinks of the Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, or Father Pavone, or Cardinal Burke. As all of us are called to perfection, this discernment comes in that process.

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 that has always flourished in the Church

Mother General of Tyburn exhibits this gift, as do other persons who have responsibility for souls, who have allowed God to purify them.

I suggest that one stops listening to those who want to look for demons under every rock, instead of studying, praying, and permitting God to purify their imaginations and destroy all their desires which are not of Him.

Detachment brings discernment of spirits-and it is our own spirit where this discernment starts.

Again, the Catholic Encyclopedia:

An excellent lesson is that given by St. Ignatius Loyola in his "Spiritual Exercises". Here we find rules for the discernment of spirits and, being clearly and briefly formulated, these rules indicate a secure course, containing in embryo all that is included in the more extensive treatises of later date. For a complete explanation of them the best commentaries on the "Exercises" of St. Ignatius may be consulted. Of the rules transmitted to us by a saint inspired by Divine light and a learned psychologist taught by personal experience, it will suffice to recall the principal ones.

The world, the flesh and the devil must be discerned.

Ignatius gives two kinds and we must call attention to the fact that in the second category, according to some opinions, he sometimes considers a more delicate discernment of spirits adapted to the extraordinary course of mysticism. Be that as it may, he begins by enunciating this clear principle, that both the good and the evil spirit act upon a soul according to the attitude it assumes toward them. If it pose as their friend, they flatter it; if to resist them, they torment it. 

The devil can be part of the spiritual battle of the soul, obviously. But, the loci of good and evil also dwell within ourselves. If we allow God to completely destroy our self-will, then we can begin to discern good from bad, impulse from grace, virtue from vice.

But the evil spirit speaks only to the imagination and the senses, whereas the good spirit acts upon reason and conscience. The evil labours to excite concupiscence, the good to intensify love for God. Of course it may happen that a perfectly well-disposed soul suffers from the attacks of the devil deprived of the sustaining consolations of the good angel; but this is only a temporary trial the passing of which must be awaited in patience and humilitySt. Ignatius also teaches us to distinguish the spirits by their mode of action and by the end they seek. Without any preceding cause, that is to say, suddenly, without previous knowledge or sentiment, God alone, by virtue of His sovereign dominion, can flood the soul with light and joy. But if there has been a preceding cause, either the good or the bad angel may be the author of the consolation; this remains to be judged from the consequences. As the good angel's object is the welfare of the soul and the bad angel's its defects or unhappiness, if, in the progress of our thoughts all is well and tends to good there is no occasion for uneasiness; on the contrary, if we perceive any deviation whatsoever towards evil or even a slight unpleasant agitation, there is reason to fear. Such, then, is the substance of these brief rules which are nevertheless so greatly admired by the masters of the spiritual life. Although requiring an authorized explanation, when well understood, they act as a preservative against many illusions

To be continued...