Holy Spirit, Gifts of
HOLY SPIRIT, GIFTS OF
The source of the Church's teaching on the gifts of the Holy Spirit is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the OT and the NT, and in the life of the Church. The Spirit promised in Isaiah (11.1–3) manifested Himself at the Baptism of Jesus and communicated Himself to the Apostles at Pentecost. Thereafter He gave Himself to the Church, which lived under His continuing influence. The Church sees the gifts promised in Isaiah (six in the Hebrew, seven in the Septuagint) realized first in Christ and then, by a participation in His plenitude, in itself, His body. As Vatican Council II has declared, it is in the souls of the faithful who make up this body that the Spirit gives His gifts for the welfare of the Church (see Dogmatic Constitution on the Church 7).
Teaching of the Fathers. Educated in the apostolic tradition, the early Fathers wrote of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian (see god [holy spirit]). Most of them spoke of two stages, one the Christian life at its minimum, the other in which the Spirit dominates the soul under its constant motion. But the early Fathers did not speak clearly of seven special gifts distinct from the graces of the Holy Spirit in general and from the Pauline charisms.
The Greek Fathers, beginning with St. Clement, recalled Isaiah's list of gifts, but they did not confine themselves to precise numbers. It was enough for them that the Spirit poured out His riches on Christ, then on the Church in its members. The Latin Fathers, however, cited the number and allegorized about it. St. Victorinus of Pettau (In. Apoc. 1) related the seven gifts to the seven spirits of the Apocalypse; St. Hilary (In Mt. 15.10) connected them with the seven loaves in the miracle of the bread and fishes; St. Augustine (Serm. 347) traced a parallel between the seven gifts and the beatitudes, and he saw in Isaiah's words a complete description of the Holy Spirit's work in the soul. St. Gregory the Great drew on Augustine especially (Moralia 2); he saw the gifts as special aids to the Christian in his war against evil. His writings furnished a foundation for the theology on the gifts to be developed in the Middle Ages.
Middle Ages. From Gregory in the 7th century to the 11th century, nothing was added to the literature on the gifts. In the 12th century, there came a renascence of interest attributable principally to the reading of SS. Augustine and Gregory. Inquiry began into questions that the Fathers had not asked: Are the gifts a species of virtue, or are they quite distinct? What role do they play in the spiritual life? Why are there seven of them, and how are they classified? The answers to these questions were to have a profound effect on the theology of the spiritual life.
In the early 13th century, there was no precise terminology on the gifts, although much had been written on them. Some thought the gifts to be the source of the virtues; others saw them as effects. Most of the theologians, however, identified gifts and virtues. Then, in 1235, with the Summa of Philip the Chancellor (cf. Recherches de théologie ancienne et médiévale 1:76–82), a trend began toward viewing the gifts as distinct from and superior to the virtues. This became the classic teaching at the University of Paris, especially by the Franciscan and Dominican schools, and it was given its perfect expression by St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa theologiae 1a2ae 68.2).
Teaching of St. Thomas. Beginning, as was his way, with an existent reality, Aquinas reasoned to the soul's need for supernatural aids, superior to the virtues and by which the soul could become habitually pliable to the influence of the Holy Spirit. He saw that, despite the dignity given the soul by the theological virtues, because of the supernatural object (i.e., God Himself) to which they oriented it, the virtues do not give to the soul a perfection of action comparable to what it has in the natural order from the natural virtues. It became clear to him that a man with the supernatural virtues alone would be much less at home in the things of God than a man with the natural virtues was in the things of nature. For, as he said, "We know and love God imperfectly with the supernatural virtues" (Summa theologiae 1a2ae 68.2). In effect, if a man had only virtues, without the gifts, he would be less able to achieve supernatural perfection than to achieve natural perfection.
It was unthinkable to St. Thomas that God, who shared His inner life with man by grace, would provide for his needs less perfectly in the supernatural than in the natural order. Thus, he argued that with the life of grace God gives supplementary forces to the soul by which it can achieve the same level of performance supernaturally that it achieves naturally. Since our sanctification is appropriated to the Holy Spirit, St. Thomas concluded that the same Spirit meets this normal need of the soul by directing it supernaturally, much as human reason directs it in the purely natural order. This influence of the Holy Spirit intervenes in man's supernatural psychology, bestowing on it a capacity for action parallel to the perfect action achieved by the natural virtues. The modifications, or dispositions, or tendencies in the soul, that result from the action of the Holy Spirit are called His gifts: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, piety, fortitude, counsel, and fear of the Lord. Through these the Holy Spirit can direct the supernatural life of the soul much as human reason, through the virtues, directs the moral life of the soul.
Because the need of the soul was lasting, it was clear to St. Thomas that the entities by which the need was met were lasting too. Hence, though distinct from the virtues, the gifts were like the virtues in that they were habits. As habits, the gifts and the supernatural virtues have the same efficient cause, God, the author of the supernatural order. But the principal or motor cause is different: for the infused virtues, the immediate principle of action is human reason elevated by grace; for the gifts, the principle of action is the Holy Spirit. Through the gifts, He moves men as His immediate and direct instruments. Therein lies a pivotal distinction: the infused virtues can be used by their possessor at will, presuming the actual grace, which is never wanting; the gifts, however, are actuated not at the will of the possessor but only at the will of the Holy Spirit. Thus, although the practice of the virtues is said to prepare the soul for the activity of the gifts, this is only because virtuous actions remove the obstacles in men that impede the activity of the Holy Spirit. The gifts will not operate if there are obstacles, but they do not operate automatically when the obstacles are taken away. Their action depends on the Holy Spirit.
The gifts, then, differ from the virtues. In the use of the virtues, even the infused ones, the soul is fully active; it is capable of such fully supernatural action because it is supernaturalized in its being by habitual grace. Still, its actions are performed in a human mode. A person in sanctifying grace, for example, elicits an act of love of God at will; the soul is the motor cause. A soul under the motion of the gifts acts vitally, but seconding a divine motion. It is passive only to the divine agent; it executes what the Holy Spirit executes in it. The action of the gift is an activity received.
Moved by the direct and immediate action of the Holy Spirit, the gifts, as His instruments, are subordinate to the virtues, but only in that the purpose of the gifts is the perfection of the infused virtues. So the fruits of the Holy Spirit are actions of virtues that have been perfected by the gifts. More perfect than the fruits are the beati tudes, actions that flow from the gifts and the virtues working together; these are the highest actions of the soul on earth, an anticipation of eternal beatitude.
The teaching of St. Thomas on the gifts found favor because of its simplicity and its principles. But it has always met opposition, especially from the Scotists, who deny the distinction between the gifts and the virtues. Since the gifts are not distinct entities to these theologians, they make no attempt to fit them into the supernatural organism. Today St. Thomas's exposition is sometimes criticized as being dependent on an imperfect understanding of the famous text of Isaiah. However, although he, following the Fathers, took the exact number of the gifts from Isaiah, his teaching on the function of the gifts in the spiritual life flows from the principle, verified throughout the NT, that the souls of the just need the special help of the Holy Spirit. What he says about the gifts has been given much authority in modern times by the generous use of his concepts and language in the encyclical on the Holy Spirit, Divinum illud munus of leo xiii.
Bibliography: leo xiii, "Divinum illud munus" (encyclical, May 9, 1897) Acta Sanctae Sedis 29 (1896–97) 644–658, Eng. Catholic Mind 36 (May 8, 1938) 161–181. b. froget, The Indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the Souls of the Just, tr. s. a. raemers (Westminster, Md. 1950). john of st. thomas, The Gifts of the Holy Ghost, tr. w. d. hughes (New York 1951). j. de guibert, The Theology of the Spiritual Life, tr. p. barrett (New York 1953). a. gardeil, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 1903–50) 4.2:1728–81. r. cessario, Christian Faith and the Theological Life (Washington, D.C. 1996). s. pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, tr. m. t. noble (3d rev. ed.; Washington, D.C. 1995). thomas aquinas, Summa theologiae 1a2ae 68.2.
[p. f. mulhern]