What is Discernment?

Greek Translation of this article

The word discernment comes from the verb discern = distinguish, see well, interpret, decide, judge correctly. According to the Church Fathers, it is “the greatest of all virtues”. Antonios the Great, with his great ascetic experience, said:

“Many melted their bodies in the exercise, but because they had no discernment, they found themselves far from God.”

There are two types of discernment. The physical and the spiritual.

Physical discernment: Few people have this discrimination. It is characterized as wisdom and prudence, knowledge and contemplation, the ability to perceive and judge. To study everything, to be able to compare things, ideas, positions correctly. Usually these abilities increase as adulthood progresses, without this being absolute.

Spiritual Discernment: It is all that characterizes the physical discernment and in addition the gift that the Holy Spirit gives to the person who fights humbly. The degrees of holiness are parallel to the degrees of distinction, since holiness without discernment is not guaranteed for a single minute.

Saint John of Klimakos says that discernment is:

“To be able at any time, in any place and in anything to distinguish what is the will of God. This is achieved by those who have a clean heart, a clean body and a clean mouth.”

It is essentially the gift that keeps the balance in the life of the Christian. That is, the distinction as a divine gift, dictates when you can do something, when you have to speak and when to be silent. Discernment distinguishes quality. It sees what is worth or what is not worth or how much it is worth. Discernment keeps man away from excesses that are dangerous for the spiritual life. Discernment distinguishes the right, chooses the good, judges the best, avoids extremes, walks the middle way. It looks for the best answer to a question that arises, the right solution. Discernment is necessary for everyone, but especially for those who teach, guide and advise. You do not need too much strictness or too much leniency.

Absence of discernment breeds exaggeration, fanaticism, guilty silence, unjust reproach, cowardice, slowness of spirit, obsession, sterile and non-fruitful life. In essence, it deprives human mind and human nature of wisdom.

It takes effort to acquire this gift. And this effort is the observance of the commandments of Christ along with practice, with a constant experience of repentance and above all humility. Distinction comes from knowledge, experience, spiritual cultivation and maturity. It is the result of self-control, self-criticism, study and divine enlightenment.

The great virtue of discernment is the greatest spiritual power. It gives simplicity, composure, plainness, kindness and a deep sense of moderation. Discreet man can comfort and rest souls.


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