Utter Magnificence: The Holy Spirit's Seven Gifts
by Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
©Catholic Online 2004
The often-used statement that “God cannot be outdone in generosity” is illustrated when considering the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are infused into the soul, along with Sanctifying Grace, and the Theological Virtues (Faith, Hope, Charity), at the moment of one’s Baptism. The Gifts are just another example—and reminder—of the Almighty’s overwhelming goodness to His needy children.
Based in part on the famous text from the book of the Prophet Isaiah (11:2ff.), the Church enumerates these Gifts thus: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord. In discussing the Gifts, the Catechism of the Catholic Church asserts: “The moral life of Christians is sustained by the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit” (1830). Furthermore, the Catechism states, the Gifts “belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations” (1831).
While there exist scores of helpful explanations of the seven Gifts, the one provided by Dom Gregory Manise, O.S.B., in the valuable Dictionary of Moral Theology (Westminister, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1962), edited by Francesco Cardinal Roberti, is particularly beneficial.
When God acts in man, we rightly assert that His activity is common to all three of the Divine Persons in the Most Blessed Trinity. “However, the divine operations having a special resemblance to the personal attributes of one of the other of the three Persons are attributed to that Person; hence, all of God’s operations in which God’s love for man shines forth in a particular manner, especially the special motion of grace, though they be not the exclusive action of the third Person of the Blessed Trinity, are attributed to the Holy Spirit, Who is God’s personal love.”
The infused “entities which dispose man’s intellect and will to receive special motions of grace and to elicit superhuman acts corresponding to such motions” are termed the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. They assist one who is in the state of grace to become “an apt instrument of the Holy Spirit.” Saint Gregory of Nazianzus (330-389/390), Bishop and Doctor, likened the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit to a cithara: “touched by the Divine Artist, these strings produce the most melodious sounds.” Another analogy is that of the sails on a sea vessel being puffed up by the wind. In a kind of similar way, the Gifts move the recipient forward in the spiritual life.
How may each of the gifts be described?
Wisdom is the Gift in which the Advocate “enables man to understand more deeply the truths of faith and to discover their intimate meaning, their hidden treasures and sublime harmonies.” With Wisdom, man can comprehend that there is no contradiction between rational truths and the divine mysteries.
By the Gift of Understanding, “the Holy Spirit enables man to understand created things in their relation to God.” Therefore, one appreciates that each human person is made in the Lord’s likeness, that even irrational creatures contain a “trace” of the Creator, that human events can purify us and lead us to a more perfect union with God and that sin—a terrible evil—mars the human person.
The Consoler, by virtue of the Gift of Counsel, “suggests that which is to be done or not to be done in a specific case.” Hence, uncertainties arising from a particular situation are dismissed.
Fortitude is the Gift by which “the Holy Spirit gives to man’s will the energy enabling him to undertake without hesitation, and to carry on their ultimate ends, the most arduous tasks for God’s glory and the good of souls, and also to bear gladly, even for many years, the most severe sufferings.” This Gift is especially evident in the lives of the martyrs.
The Spirit of Truth, through the Gift of Knowledge, “gives man a superior knowledge of God as a lovable Being, and a proper appreciation of all created things in God.” This “superior knowledge” is more lofty and excellent than that obtained through the use of faith and reason. By way of this Gift, God “causes in it (the soul) a sense of nearness to Him as a life-giving Principle and a Being Who is extremely amiable and infinitely superior to all other concepts.”
The Gift of Piety provides the occasion for the Counselor to cause “in man’s will a superhuman filial love toward God as our Father, and sentiments of fraternal love towards his neighbor, including those who may have wronged him.” This charity brings about in the soul a total dedication to God’s glory and the good of souls.
The Paraclete, through the Gift of Fear of the Lord, “produces in man’s soul a filial respect, that is, a reverent fear of Divine Majesty, a fear which does not interfere with an intimate union with God, our Father, but which deters man from anything which might offend God.” This Gift also inspires man to reject all inordinate affections and discipline his senses.
Dom Manise writes that while the Gifts do not remain dormant in one’s soul, “they are not equally active in every one. Man may dispose himself to receive with greater frequency the special motions of the Holy Spirit by thinking often of God, by mortifying the love of self and his inclination to pleasure, by never deliberately resisting divine inspirations, clearly perceived (discerning of spirits), even when the sacrifices required appear difficult, by asking with humility and confidence the special motions of the Holy Spirit.”
Now is a fitting time to ask the Holy Spirit for a deeper share in His seven Gifts. He, Who is never outdone in generosity, will not fail to respond in the affirmative.
Holy Spirit, Spirit of peace and meekness, have mercy on us!
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The Holy Spirit; The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit
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