And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: the spirit of wisdom, and of understanding, the spirit of counsel, and of fortitude, the spirit of knowledge, and of godliness. And he shall be filled with the spirit of the fear of the Lord.Isaiah 11:2-3a DRA
The Church often cites these verses from the eleventh chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah as the source of its traditional list of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. These verses are the English translation of the Latin Vulgate which in turn draws upon the Greek Septuagint Old Testament favored by the inspired authors of the New Testament. The gifts are classically listed as: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord.
The Church owes quite a bit to St. Thomas Aquinas’ reflections on the gifts in his Summa Theologiae. There he says, “the gifts of the Holy Ghost are dispositions whereby the soul is rendered amenable to the motion of the Holy Ghost.” (ST II-II, q. 52, a. 1, ad 3)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that they make us “docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit” and that they “complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them.” [CCC 1830-1831] In this context, “docile” means “teachable” and “obedient.”
Some teachers compare the gifts to seven sails on a yacht, allowing the yacht to be directed by the wind.
In preparation for writing this post, I took three old books off of my bookshelf. The first of these is a 1958 high school religion textbook entitled, The Triumph of the Faith; the second is an introduction to the Catholic Faith first published in 1951 entitled, This is the Faith, by Canon Francis Ripley; and the third is a book by Dr. Ludwig Ott, originally published in 1952 and entitled, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma.
You might notice that several of the gifts share their name with a virtue. Ludwig Ott, a twentieth century Catholic theologian from Bavaria, drew upon St. Thomas Aquinas when he said,
While the virtues enable one to perform the ordinary acts of Christian life of virtue, the gifts of the Holy Ghost enable one to perform extraordinary and heroic acts.(Ott, 1952, 261)
From the Triumph of the Faith we read:
God has placed the Gifts of the Holy Ghost in our souls so that we may be equipped to respond readily to actual graces – impulses of Divine Energy – given to enlighten the intellect and strengthen the choice of the will.(Flynn, S.T.L. et al., 1958, 33)
At this point, I should backtrack a bit and talk about the intellect and will. St Thomas identifies these as two faculties of the soul, or categories of activities of the soul. The chief operation of the intellect is to know, and the chief operation of the will is to desire. The chief object of the soul’s knowing is truth, and the chief object of the will’s desiring is the good. And the ultimate truth is God, and the ultimate good is God.
Of the seven gifts, wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel enlighten the intellect, while the other three gifts, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord, strengthen the will.
The Seven Gifts
St. Thomas tells us: “it belongs to the gift of Wisdom to judge according to the Divine truth.” (ST II-II, q. 45, a. 1, ad 2)
Canon Ripley explains:
Wisdom enables us to consider the eternal truths, to judge all things by them, to set a right value on salvation and the means to it and to relish the things of God. It illuminates the intellect, moderates the passions, rectifies the affections and directs the will. To the soul it brings vigor and energy, facility in well-doing, contempt of earthly riches and, most precious of all, union with God.(Ripley, 2002, 243)
Canon Ripley says this of the gift of Understanding:
Understanding is the power of penetrating the hidden meaning of the great spiritual truths. On those who possess it, the Gospels make a deeper impression than on others; they appreciate more deeply the Sacraments and ceremonies of the Church; they love more deeply the lives of the Saints; they show the world due contempt; and they are better able to guide and advise others.(Ripley, 2002, 243)
In the gift of Counsel, St. Thomas says: “the reason is instructed by the Holy Ghost about what we have to do.” (ST II-II, q. 52, a. 1, ad 3) and “Counsel considered as a gift of the Holy Ghost guides us in all matters that are directed to the end of eternal life whether they be necessary for salvation or not.” (ST II-II, q. 52, a. 4, ad 2)
Canon Ripley explains, “Counsel is the power of deciding prudently about the concerns of God and salvation, a certain readiness of will to do the better thing.” (Ripley, 2002, 243)
Of the gift of Fortitude, Canon Ripley says,
Fortitude brings firmness of soul in bearing difficulties for God, courage to profess the Faith and to do penance, and the energy necessary for perseverance. It makes us patient and steadfast in our trials and temptations.(Ripley, 2002, 243)
In the Triumph of the Faith, we read:
The gift of fortitude is a permanent power communicated to our wills by the Holy Ghost to help us overcome the difficulties which might stand in the way of doing what is right.(Flynn, S.T.L. et al., 1958, 35)
Canon Ripley says this about the gift of Knowledge: “Knowledge enables us to see and use temporal things in such a way as to help us toward our eternal salvation.” (Ripley, 2002, 243)
In the Triumph of the Faith, we read:
The gift of knowledge…influence[s] the mind and will to judge and choose from among created things those which are most conducive to our salvation….knowledge shows us that God is the Creator of all things and that created things are a reflection of Him and can lead us to Him.(Flynn, S.T.L. et al., 1958, 33-34)
Of the gift of Piety, the Triumph of the Faith tells us, “The gift of piety awakens in our souls an inclination and readiness to honor God as our Father and to place our confidence in Him as our Father.” (Flynn, S.T.L. et al., 1958, 35)
Fear of the Lord
Fear of the Lord is the gift upon which all of the others depend. The Triumph of the Faith explains:
The gift of holy fear of the Lord is the foundation of all other gifts. It drives sin from the soul because it fills us with reverence for the justice and majesty of God…It is the fear of being separated from God, as a child fears to be separated from his father.(Flynn, S.T.L. et al., 1958, 35)
Of the gift of Fear of the Lord, Canon Ripley says:
The Fear of the Lord is filial and reverential fear of the majesty, power and justice of God and of the ease with which one can offend Him by sin; this gift of the Holy Ghost is always united with the love of God.(Ripley, 2002, 244)
Filial, as in a child relating to his father.
Wisdom and Knowledge: What’s the difference?
Wisdom and Knowledge, because of the way we use the words today, may seem to be the same to us. Msgr. Charles Pope, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, explains the difference between these two gifts:
“Wisdom and knowledge are distinguished according to their objects. Wisdom pertains to God and the things of God. Knowledge pertains to created things and how they relate to our final end.”(Pope, 2010)
These gifts enable us to be sensitive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and to respond courageously. If you share my belief that this exactly what we need in this time and place, pray with me the ancient prayer of invocation:
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.
Aquinas, S. T. (n.d.). SUMMA THEOLOGIAE: Secunda Secundae Partis. New Advent. Retrieved May 27, 2022, from https://www.newadvent.org/summa/3.htm
Flynn, S.T.L., R. A. J., Loretto, S.C., S. V., Simcon, S.H.C.G., M. M., & Reedy, W. J. (1958). The Triumph of Faith (Revised Edition ed., Vol. Book 2). William H. Sadlier, Inc.
Mirus, J. (2010, February 19). Knowledge, Understanding and Wisdom: Broken! Catholic Culture. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/knowledge-understanding-and-wisdom-broken/
Ott, L. (1974). Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (J. Bastible, D.D., Ed.; P. Lynch, Trans.). Tan Books and Publishers.
Pope, C. (2010, July 19). Distinguishing Knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding – Community in Mission. Community in Mission. Retrieved May 27, 2022, from http://blog.adw.org/2010/07/distinguishing-knowledge-wisdom-and-understanding/
Ripley, F. J. (2002). This is the Faith (Third ed.). Tan Books.