The importance of discernment

by Andrea Elizabeth

It is apparent in these patristics quotes on the discernment of thoughts that taking thoughts captive is of the highest importance. For example:

It is discernment which in Scripture is described as they eye and the lamp of the body. This is what the Saviour says, ‘our eye is the light of your body, and if your eye is sound then there is light in your whole body. But if your eye is diseased then your entire body will be in darkness’ (Matthew 6:22-23). This eye sees through all the thoughts and actions of a man, examining and illuminating everything which we must do. And if it is not sound in a man, that is, if it is not fortified by good judgment and by well-founded knowledge, if it is deluded by error and by presumption, this makes for darkness in our entire body. The clear thrust of the mind as well as everything we do will be shadowed and we shall be wrapped in the blindness of sin and the blackness of passion. ‘If the light within you is darkness,’ says the Saviour, ‘what a darkness that will be’ (Matthew 6:23). For let no one doubt that our thoughts and our works, which originate from the deliberative processes of discernment, will be caught up in the shadows of sin if ever the good judgment of our heart goes astray or is taken over by the night of ignorance.” St John Cassian, “Conferences,” (New York: Paulist Press, 1985), pp. 61-63, (a conversation between Abba Moses and John Cassian)

So, then, the four kinds of discernment to which I have been referring will be necessary to us. First, as to material, is it true gold or spurious? Second, we must reject as fake and counterfeit coinage those thoughts which have the deceptive appearance of piety. They bear a false and not the genuine image of the king. Then we must be able to detect and to abhor those which impose a viciously heretical stamp on the precious gold of Scripture. This is not the effigy of the true king but of a tyrant. Finally, we must drive away thoughts which are like underweight coins, dangerous and inadequate, thoughts which have lost weight and value because of the rust of vanity, thoughts which do not measure up to the standard of the ancients. St. John Cassian, The Conferences

Most times we consider our own judgment trustworthy. We must trust it somewhat or we would be paralyzed. Since discernment is listed as spiritual gift, I suppose it must be asked for with the view that improvement is always needed.

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