What is “Discernment of Spirits”?

In our journey toward God, we experience inner spiritual fluctuations – alternations of joy and fear, peace and anxiety, hope and discouragement.

  • St. Ignatius gives us (1) practical language to explain these movements, (2) identify their sources, and (3) effective ways to respond… in a process known as “the discernment of spirits”

Understanding the phrase: “Discernment of spirits”

Discernment” = from the Latin discernere – the process of separating things according to their qualities, distinguishing between one thing and another.

  • To discern” = is to identify one spiritual reality as different from another.

of spirits” = describes what is to be discerned, that is, which spiritual realities are to be distinguished, one from the other.

  • spirits” = the affective stirrings in the heart—joy, sadness, hope, fear, peace, anxiety, and similar feelings—with their related thoughts, that influence our life of faith and our progress toward God.
  • “At this point, therefore, we may say that, for Ignatius, discernment of spirits describes the process by which we seek to distinguish between different kinds of spiritual stirrings in our hearts, identifying those that are of God and those that are not, in order to accept the former and to reject the latter” (Gallagher, DS, 3).

“Discernment of spirits” is both (1) a gift of the Spirit and (2) practice to be learned.

  • St. Ignatius teaches us the practice.
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