Diadochus of Photice, a bishop of the early church, explains the role of recollection and discernment in Christian life. To discern thoughts originating in God from those planted by the enemy, we must cultivate peace of soul and mind and dispose ourselves for the light of the Holy Spirit.
he light that true knowledge gives out is the ability to distinguish unerringly what is right from what is wrong. This being so, the path of uprightness – which leads the mind towards God, the radiant sun of righteousness – takes that same mind into an unbounded light of knowledge and then leads it on to seek trustingly for love.
Those who are struggling in battle ought always to keep their souls free of the tumultuous waves of distraction. If they do this, the mind will be able to distinguish among the thoughts that come to it. The good thoughts, sent by God, they can store in the treasure-house of their memory. The evil thoughts, sent by the devil, they can throw out.
In just the same way, when the sea is calm, the fisherman can see to the bottom of it and practically no fish can escape his gaze; but if it is stirred up by wind and storm, it becomes opaque when in calm times it was transparent – and when that happens, even the wiliest fisherman is wasting his time.
Clearing and purifying the mind is the task of the Holy Spirit alone – just as when a house is being burgled, the spoils can only be recovered if a strong man bursts in and despoils the burglar. Therefore we ought to keep our souls at peace so that the Holy Spirit is welcome there, so that the lamp of knowledge will always be lit – for when it is, the dark and bitter impulses of the devil will be easy to see and they will be reduced to creeping helplessness as they are caught in that holy and glorious light.
This is why St. Paul says ‘Do not extinguish the Spirit’ – that is, do not sadden the Holy Spirit with evil acts and thoughts, or his light may cease to protect you. Of course the eternal and life-giving Spirit is not actually extinguished: rather, it is the sad turning away of the Spirit that leaves the mind wrapped in gloom and without the light of knowledge.
The mind has a perfect sense of taste that is able to discern and distinguish. When we are healthy, our body’s sense of taste can unerringly distinguish good from bad, so that we desire only what is good for us. The same applies to our mind, as long as it is in perfect health and not disturbed by too many cares: it can very well perceive and desire the consolations that God offers. Through the action of love, it has an unfading memory of their taste, and so it can always seek what is best. As St. Paul says: My prayer is that your love may increase and never stop improving your knowledge and deepening your perception, so that you can always recognize what is best.
An excerpt from the treaise On Spiritual Perfection by Diadochus of Photice, bishop that explains the importance of discernment, recollection and peace of soul and mind. It appears in the Roman Catholic Office of Readings on Wednesday of the Fourth (4th) Week in Ordinary Time with the accompanying biblical reading taken from I Thessalonians 5:1-28.