What Are the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit?

Catholic tradition says that the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of God. In his Summa Theologiae, written in the 1300s, St. Thomas Aquinas came up with the most common way to look at it:

Wisdom is both the knowledge of and judgment about “divine things” and the ability to judge and direct human affairs based on divine truth (I/I.1.6; I/II.69.3; II/II.8.6; II/II.45.1–5).

Understanding is getting to the heart of things, especially the higher truths that are necessary for our eternal salvation. It is, in a sense, being able to “see” God (I/I.12.5, I/II.69.2, II/II.8.1–3).

Counsel lets God guide a man in things that are important for his salvation (II/II.52.1).

Fortitude is the firmness of mind to do good and avoid evil, especially when it is hard or dangerous to do so, and the confidence to overcome all obstacles, even deadly ones, because of the virtue of eternal life (I/II.61.3; II/II.123.2; II/II.139.1).

(II/II.9.3): Knowledge is the ability to make good decisions about matters of faith and right behavior, so that you never stray from the straight path of justice.

Piety is mostly about loving God like a father, worshiping God and doing what is right for God, doing what is right for all people because they are related to God, honoring the saints and not going against what the Bible says. Since God is the Father of all, worshiping God is also called piety (I/II.68.4; II/II.121.1).

In this case, fear of God is “filial” or “chaste” fear, which means that we respect God and try not to separate ourselves from him. This is different from “servile” fear, which means that we are afraid of punishment (I/II.67.4; II/II.19.9).

These are heroic traits that only Jesus Christ has in full, but he freely gives them to the people who are part of his mystical body (i.e., his Church). At baptism, these traits are given to every Christian as a permanent gift. They are strengthened by practicing the seven virtues, and the sacrament of confirmation cements them. They are also called the “sanctifying gifts of the Spirit” because they help the people who receive them be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading in their lives. This makes them more holy and ready for heaven.

Aquinas says that these gifts are “habits,” “instincts,” or “dispositions” that God gives to people as supernatural aids to their “perfection.” They allow people to go beyond the limits of human reason and nature and share in the life of God, just as Christ promised (John 14:23). Aquinas insisted that they are necessary for man’s salvation, which he cannot do on his own. They help the four cardinal or moral virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) and the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) become more complete (faith, hope, and charity). Charity is the key that unlocks the potential power of the seven gifts, which can (and will) lie dormant in the soul after baptism if they are not used.

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