By Fr Joseph Thondiparambil, VC –
One of the very positive results of the charismatic movement in the Catholic Church is the greater awareness about the presence and working of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers. The Holy Spirit was not spoken of much in the pre-councillor days. But a deeper understanding of the Sacred Scriptures and the early traditions has shown that the spiritual life is in fact life according to the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit. The call to discipleship itself is a gift of the Spirit and it is the Spirit of God who brings us to Christian perfection. Among the many aspects of the working of the Holy Spirit in the life of believers as individuals and as a community (the Church) the gifts of the Holy Spirit occupies an important place. Here in this brief study we make only a few remarks about each of these gifts.
The Scriptural Datum
The gifts of the Holy Spirit are traditionally seven. It has its Biblical basis in the Book of Isaiah (11:2-3). While speaking about the promised Messiah; Isaiah speaks about His being endowed with wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude and fear of the Lord. In the Hebrew original of the text of Isaiah, there are only six gifts mentioned. But in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) they added a seventh one, namely, the gift of piety. The Biblical number seven had a connotation of plenitude, and the Septuagint showed that the Messiah had the fullness of the gifts. St Paul would develop these points at length in the New Testament.
While speaking about old Israel, Paul observes that God had bestowed irrevocable gifts on the members of God’s community (the kahal Yahweh). Likewise God bestows His gifts on the Christians, the new Israel. The Christians of Corinth lacked no spiritual gifts (I Cor 1:7). The letter to the Corinthians says that though there are many gifts, there is only one Spirit (I Cor 12:4). The Holy Spirit bestows these gifts for the building up of the Church. Sometimes the gifts and charisms are spoken of as if they are one and the same. The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts (charisms) as a result of which the recipients can perform specific functions for the building up of the Church.
St Paul developed the theology of the gifts of the Spirit while dealing with the question of justification. Justification comes through faith in Jesus Christ, which has its external expression in baptism with water. For Paul “being in Christ” and “living in the Spirit” is almost the same. The Holy Spirit is the free gift of the Father and the Son and He makes present and extends the reality of Christ in the believer. The spiritual person is the one who has the mind of Christ (I Cor 2:15,16). Only those who are led by the Holy Spirit can be God’s children (Rom 8:14). In the writing of the Fathers of the Church too no clear cut distinction is made between the gifts of the Spirit and graces, charisms, virtues and beatitudes.
With the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the limits of human liberty and love are broadened. Under the activities of the Holy Spirit, the believer is not merely passive but active in such way that one’s responses to the gifts of the Spirit are at once God’s work and the work of the human person.
Gifts of the Holy Spirit and Fruits of the Holy Spirit
According to the Bible there is a distinction between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the fruits of the Holy Spirit. We have a list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit in the letter to the Galatians (5:23-24). These fruits are visible in the life of a Christian when it thrives under the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. These fruits are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness (generosity), faith (faithfulness), gentleness and self control. The vulgate expands this list to include also modesty, continence and chastity and traditionally on this basis one speaks about the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. The letter to the Corinthians (I Cor 13:4-6) offers also a similar list. Other concise description of the effects of the Spirit’s power in the human character are found in the letter to the Romans (14:7); Colossians (3:12-15); Ephesians (4:2-5; 4:32; 5:9). The fruits of the Holy Spirit flow from one’s graced acceptance of the Spirit’s infused gift of God’s own love. One who is open to the Spirit would experience in one’s life these fruits and they are more personal.
In classical theology the spiritual faculties of intellect and will are considered to be the spheres of actions of the Holy Spirit. The spiritual writers ascribe certain gifts of the Spirit to the realm of the intellect and some to the realm of the will. Four gifts of the Spirit are related to intellect. They are the gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge and counsel. The other three have to do with will. They are piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord. A small description is given below about each of these gifts.
Gifts related to the Intellect
It is the gift to see and evaluate life in all its vicissitudes always in relation to God and God’s kingdom. One approaches life from the point of view of faith. Though there is the use of reason here, one moves beyond the use of reason. Then one sees the deeper meaning and hidden treasures in persons and events.
Like wisdom understanding is a gift for comprehending the things of life in relation to God. More specifically this gift gives deeper insight into the truths held by faith. With gift of understanding religious truths are grasped with promptness.
The gift of knowledge aids a person to grasp the divine truths even when they are unsearchable by human mind. One acknowledges the limitedness of the world and consequently there is the greater appreciation for the surpassing greatness of God.
It is related to the practical intellect and is manifested in prudence. It helps one to be open to the Spirit’s inspiration in the activities of reflecting, discerning, consulting and advising on matters of teaching and acting.
Gifts related to the Will
The believer orients his life in a filial attitude to God in devotion. In this attitude one is also united to one’s brothers and sisters. There is the worship of God in prayer and a life of charity towards the neighbours. The vertical and horizontal dimensions of human existence are properly maintained.
It is the courage to bear sufferings with tranquillity. Fear is overcome and temptations are resisted by the help of this gift. One is led to undertake and carry out difficult tasks for the glory of God and the good of one’s fellow beings.
Fear of the Lord
With the help of this gift, one becomes sensitive to the activities of God and reverence is shown to the Majesty of God. This fear does not block union with God. In a healthy spiritual life one fears God out of love instead of loving God out of fear.
The neat division of human actions into those of intellect and will does not find much favour today among psychologists and spiritual writers. The contemporary theology of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, therefore, tends to look at the actions of the Spirit upon man as an existential unity and sees the whole person being affected by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Hence one may have reservations about the gifts of the Holy Spirit exclusively on the Intellect or on the will. Each age has its way of understanding the human person and so about the working of the Spirit upon human life. But the basic scriptural teaching about the working of the Holy Spirit upon a believer has to be upheld. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are meant to make us all sons and daughters of God in the Son and to bring to perfection the divine filiation. Though manifested primarily in the life of a believer, these gifts are for the building up of the body of Christ, which is the church. This is the ecclesial dimension of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Dr Joseph Thondiparambil is a diocesan priest of the Mananthavady Diocese, Kerala and teaches Sacred Scripture at the St Joseph’s Pontifical Seminary, Mangalapuzha, Kerala
(We thank Divine Voice Magazine for allowing us to use this article from their January2018 issue)