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V The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
According to St. Thomas Aquinas
Father Peter John Cameron, O.P.
The Knights of Columbus presents
The Veritas Series
“Proclaiming the Faith in the Third Millennium”
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
According to Saint Thomas Aquinas
Father Peter John Cameron, O.P.
Father John A. Farren, O.P.
Director of the Catholic Information Service
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Copyright © 2002 by Knights of Columbus Supreme Council. All rights reserved.
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Scriptural quotations are taken from The New Oxford Annotated Bible With the Apocrypha (Expanded Edition), Revised Standard Version copyright © 1973, 1977, Oxford University Press. Some citations have been adapted.
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What are the Gifts, exactly?
Who needs the Gifts?
How do we obtain the Gifts?
The Gifts make us like Christ
THE SEVEN GIFTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The Gift of Fear of the Lord
The Gift of Piety
The Gift of Knowledge
The Gift of Fortitude
The Gift of Counsel
The Gift of Understanding
The Gift of Wisdom
All through history, God has revealed himself as the supreme GiftGiver.
Creation is a gift. Life is a gift. The Lord gave his convenants as gifts, and called Abraham, Moses, and the Jewish People to himself all out of sheer generosity. Moreover, God sent his Son to us as a gift, and Christ won for us all the gift of eternal life.
God wants nothing more than to share his own life with us. The Lord wants to make us, as Scripture says, “sharers in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). As creatures, however, and sinful ones at that, we need to be prepared and elevated by God before we can be perfectly united with him.
In a word, we must be changed.
Part of our transformation into the people God wants us to be happens because his grace makes us virtuous. To be virtuous means not only to do right, but to be the kind of person who does what is good readily, spontaneously, and with joy. The life of the virtues prevents evils from poisoning the love in our hearts, and frees us to advance in godliness.
But besides strengthening us in goodness, God also infuses into our souls the gifts of Faith, Hope and Charity—the “theological virtues,” which are nothing less than a sharing in God’s own divine knowledge and love.
Through Faith, Hope and Charity we are brought to live in union with the Holy Trinity even during our life on earth.
In giving us the theological virtues, the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling in us and enlivens us with rich blessings of every description, making us daily more like Christ and guiding us to the life of perfection in heaven.
Scripture emphasizes two groups of blessings that the Holy Spirit gives to those who receive him. First, there are the twelve “Fruits of the
Holy Spirit” that Saint Paul names for us in his letter to the Galatians:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity (Galatians 5:22–23). In
-5addition, the Spirit endows us with blessings we traditionally call the seven “Gifts of the Holy Spirit.” These particular gifts are lasting (but not indestructible) endowments that perfect the good habits and natural powers of the human soul and have the effect of making us supernaturally sensitive and supernaturally responsive to the guidance and inspirations of God.
The prophet Isaiah speaks of these seven Gifts when he writes,
prophesying about the coming of Christ (the “flower of Jesse”):
A branch will sprout from the root of Jesse, and from his root a flower will rise up: and the spirit of the Lord will rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of fortitude, a spirit of knowledge and of piety, and he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:1–3).
These seven Gifts—Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord—are spoken of throughout Scripture, and have been received and explained by saints throughout the ages. Of these, the 13th century Dominican theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas offers us what is perhaps the clearest and most thorough explanation of how the Gifts work in our life. In this booklet, our goal is to present Saint Thomas’s explanation, together with his description of how we can see the Gifts at work in the woman who was the most perfect dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
What are the Gifts, exactly?
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are blessings given to our souls, to enhance and refine the natural powers that our souls possess. “‘Soul’ refers to the innermost aspect of man, that which is of greatest value in him, that by which he is most especially in God’s image: ‘soul’ signifies the spiritual principle in man.” God the Holy Spirit is always at work prompting us and leading us to greater purity, greater love, and greater holiness. However, even with the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, our hearts can remain
-6insensitive to the Holy Spirit. The seven Gifts are the remedy for this dullness. They enhance the powers of the soul and make our hearts more sensitive to God, so that we can easily and consistently follow the movements and inspirations of the Holy Spirit. The Gifts are lasting, habitual dispositions that keep us keenly attuned and devotedly responsive to even the smallest promptings of God. They make us ready for His initiatives, and enable us to act in a holy, even God-like way.
These seven graces are called “Gifts” for two reasons. First, they are “Gifts” because God infuses them in us without expecting any payment.
Second, they are “Gifts” because they give us the privilege of responding to divine inspirations. The name “Gifts,” given in Scripture, seems most appropriate when we consider what supreme blessings and benefits God gives us through them.
Who needs the Gifts?
We all need the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, since without God’s help it is impossible for us to find our way to him. Besides needing for our sins to be forgiven, we need God to overcome our vices, foolishness, ignorance, mental dullness, and other defects of mind and soul. He does this in a magnificent way by giving the Gifts, since these more than compensate for the weaknesses of our fallen nature and remedy the spiritual sicknesses that keep us from full communion with God. The Gifts are more than a remedy, and they strengthen and confirm us in following the good inspirations and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Gifts bring us to hear and obey God readily, and they make doing his will our supreme delight.
How do we obtain the Gifts?
The seven Gifts, like the theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity, are given to us in Holy Baptism. Once given they enhance the soul and exist as new, supernatural faculties or powers. Unlike the natural faculties, however, the Gifts depend directly upon God for their exercise.
We have by nature the power to think and reason (for example), but when we are brought to life by God’s grace we are endowed with the Gifts as
-7supernatural faculties, senses (as it were) that make possible our life as new spiritual creatures. The real action or operation of the Gifts—and thus their benefits—depend upon the further working of God. In fact, the operation of the Gifts is often hidden to us. It is not unusual for them to be revealed only in retrospect, through an enlightened examination of our actions. This is not surprising since at the time of the Gifts’ activity our attention will be on God and on other objects as they relate to him.
The operation of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit depends primarily and essentially upon the grace of God. For our part, we can cultivate them by avoiding sin and by exercising the moral and intellectual virtues. Full of ready obedience, we must disown whatever could impede or offer resistance to the movement of the Holy Spirit. For instance, if we are stubborn, selfish, or self-indulgent, we are creating obstacles in our souls and are impeding the work of grace. We cannot enjoy the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in a stable or lasting way as long as we remain willing to sin, or unresolved in our determination never to offend God. “No one,” Christ reminds us in the Gospel, “can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24).
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit appear when we are living in true, divine Charity. When we love God above all things, and when we love all things for his sake, then that same spiritual fire of love makes us keenly sensitive to his direction. Thus the Gifts appear with Charity, and in turn they lead back to greater holiness and to greater love. The Gifts are always present all together, since in the life of divine love they form an organic, integral whole. (This is so even though, in particular cases, the operation of a particular Gift is needed and evident.) In Charity, the Gifts cannot be disconnected or parceled out separately, and they work in such a way that they reinforce, complement, and replenish each other inasmuch as they act together to keep us attuned to doing whatever God wants.
The Gifts make us like Christ Since the Gifts bring about exquisite sensitivity and responsiveness to God, we can say that they are, in a sense, the crowning dignity of our human nature. Even Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, as true man, was
-8endowed with the Gifts. In his infinite and loving wisdom, God has ordained that it is only through the Gifts of the Holy Spirit that souls should be made fully attentive, alert, and heedful to the Spirit’s urgings.
In receiving the Gifts, we are brought into a deeper conformity to Christ, who, in his perfect humanity, was supremely and perfectly sensitive and subject to the inspirations of God.
Our sharing in the glory of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit is not limited to the time of our short life on earth. It is true that, in this present life, the Gifts assist us in those areas that purify and perfect our relationship with God. They especially protect us against temptation and the trials brought about by evil. But in heaven, our entire life will be one of following the movements and life of the Holy Spirit. The Gifts will enable us to participate in the very life of the Holy Trinity, in a way that only God himself can teach us. In their essence, then, the Gifts of the Holy Spirit will continue to last and be active in heaven. There they will be fully permanent and perfect, enabling us to enjoy total communion with God and with all the angels and saints in him. Together we will exult in God’s own love and beauty, and will share in them together as his beloved children for ever.