A description of the soul's journey to full union with God

The sources of the interior life and its end (cont)


Ch 3: The Spiritual Organism (cont)



The holy doctor shows us three things in particular: that the gifts are habitual permanent dispositions (habitus) specifically distinct from the virtues; that the gifts are necessary to salvation; and that they are connected with charity and grow with it. St. Thomas says:

"To differentiate the gifts from the virtues, we must be guided by the way Scripture expresses itself, for we find there that the term employed is spirit rather than gift. For thus it is written (Isa. 11:2 f.): "The spirit . . . of wisdom and of understanding. . . shall rest upon Him," and so on: from which words we are clearly given to understand that these seven are there set down as being in us by divine inspiration. Now inspiration denotes motion from without. For it must be noted that in man there is a twofold principle of movement, one within him, namely, the reason; the other extrinsic to him, namely, God, as stated above (Ia IIae, q. 9, a. 4. 6), and also by the Philosopher in the chapter on Good Fortune (Ethic. Eudem.,vii).

Now it is evident that whatever is moved must be proportionate to its mover: and the perfection of the thing moved as such consists in a disposition whereby the thing moved is made proportionate to its mover. Hence the more exalted the mover, the more perfect must be the disposition whereby the movable object is made proportionate to its mover: thus we see that a disciple needs a more perfect disposition in order to receive a higher teaching from his teacher. Now it is manifest that human virtues perfect man according as it is natural for him to be moved by his reason (18) in his interior and exterior actions. Consequently man needs yet higher perfections, whereby to be disposed to be moved by God. These perfections are called gifts, not only because they are infused by God, but also because by them man is disposed to become amenable to the divine inspiration,(19) according to Isa. I: 5: "The Lord . . . hath opened my ear, and I do not resist; I have not gone back." Even the Philosopher says in the chapter on Good Fortune (Ethic. Eudem., loco cit.) that for those who are moved by divine instinct, there is no need to take counsel according to human reason, but only to follow their inner promptings, since they are moved by a principle higher than human reason. This, then, is what some say, that the gifts perfect man for acts which are higher than acts of virtue.(20)"

Thus we see that the gifts of the Holy Ghost are not acts, or actual motions, or passing helps of grace, but rather qualities or permanent infused dispositions (habitus), (21) which render a man promptly docile to divine inspirations. Leo XIII, in the encyclical Divinum illud munus, which we quoted at length a few pages back, placed his approval on this manner of conceiving of the gifts. They dispose man to obey the Holy Ghost promptly, as sails prepare a ship to follow the impulse of a favorable wind. By this passive docility, the gifts help us to produce those excellent works known as the beatitudes.(22) From this point of view, the saints are like great sailing vessels which, under full sail, properly catch the impelling force of the wind. The art of navigation teaches a mariner how and when he may most opportunely spread his sails to profit by a favorable breeze.

This figure is used by our Lord Himself when He says: "The Spirit breatheth where He will; and thou hearest His voice, but thou knowest not whence He cometh and whither He goeth. So is everyone that is born of the Spirit" (23) and is docile to His inspiration. St. Thomas says (24) we do not really know where precisely the wind that blows was formed, or how far it will make itself felt. In the same way, we, do not know where precisely a divine inspiration begins, or to what degree of perfection it would lead us if we were wholly faithful to it. Let us not be like sailing vessels which, because of neglect in noting a favorable wind, have their sails furled when they should be spread.

According to these principles, the great majority of theologians hold with St. Thomas that the gifts are really and specifically distinct from the infused virtues, just as the principles which direct them are distinct: that is, the Holy Ghost and reason illumined by faith. We have here two regulating motions, two different rules that constitute different formal motives. It is a fundamental principle that habits are specified by their object and their formal motive, as sight by color and light, and hearing by sound. The human mode of acting results from the human rule; the superhuman mode results from the superhuman or divine rule, from the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, "modus a mensura causatur." (25) Thus even infused prudence proceeds by discursive deliberation, in which it differs from the gift of counsel, which disposes us to receive a special inspiration of a superdiscursive order.(26) Even infused prudence hesitates, for example, about what answer to give to an indiscreet question so as to avoid a lie and keep a secret; while a special inspiration of the Holy Ghost will enable us to find a proper reply, as Christ told His disciples.(27)

Likewise, while faith adheres simply to revealed truths, the gift of understanding makes us scrutinize their depths, and that of wisdom makes us taste them. The gifts are thus specifically distinct from the virtues.(28)

St. Thomas adds in his Summa (29) a statement that he had not made in his Commentary on the Sentences, namely, that the gifts of the Holy Ghost are necessary to salvation. The Book of Wisdom (7: 28) tells us in fact that: "God loveth none but him that dwelleth with wisdom"; and we read in Ecclesiasticus (I: 28): "He that is without fear (of God), cannot be justified." Wisdom is the highest of the gifts, and fear the lowest.

Moreover, St. Thomas notes that even the infused virtues, both theological and moral, which are adapted to the human mode of our faculties, leave us in a state of inferiority in regard to our supernatural end which should be known in a more lively, more penetrating, more delightful manner, and toward which we ought to advance with greater ardor. (30)

Even when faith is elevated, it remains essentially, imperfect for three reasons: (I) because of the obscurity of its object, which it does not attain immediately, but "through a glass in a dark manner" (I Cor. 13: I2); (2) it attains its object only by multiple dogmatic formulas, whereas God is supremely simple; (3) it attains its object in an abstract manner, by affirmative and negative propositions (componendo et dividendo), whereas, on the contrary, the living God is the light of life, whom we ought to be able to know, not in an abstract manner but in a quasi-experimental manner.(31) Hope shares the imperfection of faith, and so does charity as long as its object is proposed by faith.

With even greater reason, prudence, though infused, is imperfect from the fact that it must have recourse to reasoning, to the search for reasons for acting in order to direct the moral virtues. It frequently hesitates, for example, about a suitable answer to give to an indiscreet question so as to keep a secret and avoid a lie. In certain cases, only a good inspiration would be necessary to do so. The same thing is true when it is a case of efficaciously resisting certain temptations, either subtle, or violent and prolonged.

"Human reason," says St. Thomas, "even when perfected by the theological virtues, does not know all things, or all possible things. Consequently it is unable to avoid folly (stultitia) and other like things. . . . God, however, to whose knowledge and power all things are subject, by His motion safeguards us from all folly, ignorance, dullness of mind, hardness of heart, and the rest. Consequently the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which make us docile to His promptings, are said to be given as remedies for these defects." (32)

In this sense they are necessary to salvation, as sails are on a vessel that it may be responsive to a favorable wind, although it may advance also by means of oars. These two ways of advancing are quite distinct, although they may be united or simultaneous.

"By the theological and moral virtues," says St. Thomas, "man is not so perfected in respect of his last end as not to stand in continual need of being moved by the yet higher promptings of the Holy Ghost." (33) This need is permanent in man; for this reason the gifts are in us a permanent, infused disposition.(34)

We make use of the gifts somewhat as we do of the virtue of obedience in order to receive a superior direction with docility and to act according to this direction; but we do not have this superior inspiration whenever we wish.(35) In this sense by means of the gifts we are passive in regard to the Holy Ghost that we may act under His influence. This will explain more clearly why, like obedience, the gifts are a permanent disposition in the just man.(36)

This great fitness, and even this necessity of the gifts, is better seen if we consider the perfection which each of them gives either to the intellect, or to the will and to the sensible part of the soul, as St. Thomas points out.(37)

The following synopsis explains the statement just made:

We see that those gifts which direct the others are superior; among them the gift of wisdom is the highest because it gives us a quasi experimental knowledge of God, and thereby, a judgment about divine things which is superior even to the penetration of the gift of understanding (which belongs rather to first apprehension than to judgment).

The gift of knowledge corresponds to hope in this sense, that it makes us see the emptiness of created things and of human help, and consequently the necessity of placing our confidence in God in order to attain to the possession of Him. The gift of fear also perfects hope by preserving us from presumption; but it corresponds also to temperance to aid us against temptations.(38) To these seven gifts correspond the beatitudes which are their acts, as St. Thomas so well shows.(39)

Finally, from the necessity of the gifts for salvation it follows that they are connected with charity, according to St. Paul's words to the Romans (5: 5): "The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us." The Holy Ghost does not come to us without His seven gifts, which thus accompany charity and which, consequently, are lost with it by mortal sin.

They thus belong to the spiritual organism of sanctifying grace, which is therefore called "the grace of the virtues and the gifts."(40) Since all the infused virtues grow together like the five fingers of the hand,(41) the same must be said of the seven gifts. Hence we cannot conceive of a Christian having that high degree of charity which is proper to perfection, without at the same time having the gifts of the Holy Ghost in a proportionate degree, although perhaps in him the gifts of understanding and of wisdom may be exercised under a less contemplative and more practical form than in others. This was the case with St. Vincent de Paul and many other saints who were called to devote themselves to their neighbor in the works of the active life.(42)

We shall treat later of docility to the Holy Ghost and of the conditions it demands,(43) but we see even now the value of this spiritual organism, which is eternal life begun in us. This life is more precious than sight, than physical life, than the use of reason, in this sense, that the loss of the use of reason does not deprive the just man of this treasure, which death itself cannot snatch from us. This grace of the virtues and gifts is also more precious than the gift of miracles or of tongues or of prophecy; for these charismata are, so to speak, only exterior, supernatural signs, which can point out the way that leads to God, but cannot unite us to Him as sanctifying grace and charity can.(44)

To see more clearly how the diverse functions of this spiritual organism should be exercised, we must speak of the actual grace necessary to the exercise of the virtues and the gifts.(45)




7. Cf. St. Thomas, In III Sent., dist. 34 f.; Ia IIae, q.68; IIa IIae, q.8, 9, 19, 45, 52, 121, 139; see his commentators, especially Cajetan and John of St. Thomas, on Ia IIae, q.68.
St. Bonaventure may also be consulted with profit. His doctrine differs on certain secondary points from that of St. Thomas; cf. Breviloquium, Part V, chaps. 5 f., and J. Fr. Bonnefoy, Le Saint-Esprit et ses dons selon saint Bonaventure (Paris: Vrin, 1929), and also art. "Bonaventure," Dict. de spiritualite.
See also Dionysius the Carthusian, De donis Spiritus Sancti (an excellent treatise); J. B. de Saint-Jure, S.J., L'homme spirituel, Part I, chap. 4, "Des sept dons"; L. Lallemant, S.J., La doctrine spirituelle, 4th principle, "La docilite a la conduite du Saint-Esprit." B. Froget, O.P., De l'habitation du Saint-Esprit dans les ames justes (Paris, 1900), pp. 378-424. A. Gardeil, O.P., "Dons du Saint-Esprit," Dict. de theol. cathol., IV, 1728-81; La structure de l'ame et l'experience mystique (Paris, 1927), II, 192-281; Les dons du Saint-Esprit dans les saint dominicains (the introduction particularly), 1903. See several other articles on various gifts in particular by the same theologian in La vie spirituelle, 1932, 1933.
D. Joret, O.P., La contemplation mystique d'apres saint Thomas d'Aquin, 1927, pp. 30-62.
We have also treated this important subject at length in Christian Perfection and Contemplation, chap 5, a.5 f., pp. 271-331. See also La vie spirituelle, November 19, 1932, suppl.: 'Les dons ont-ils un mode humain"; ibid., October, 1933, suppl.: "A propos du mode supra-humain des dons du Saint-Esprit," reproduced in this book, infra, pp. 78-88.

18. In the supernatural order, it is a question of reason enlightened by faith. It is thus, in particular, that infused prudence directs the infused moral virtues.

19. "Secundum ea homo disponitur, ut efficiatur prompte mobilis ab inspira tione divina."

20. See Ia IIae, q.68, a. 1.

21. Ibid., a. 3, and III Sent. D. XXXIV, q. I, a. I.

22. See la IIae, q.68, a. 3: "The gifts of the Holy Ghost are habits whereby man is perfected to obey readily the Holy Ghost." Cf. ibid., q.70, a.2: "The beatitudes are none but perfect works, which, by reason of their perfection, are assigned to the gifts rather than to the virtues."

28 John 3:8.

24. St. Thomas, In Joannem, 3:8.

25. This principle, contained in the commentary of St. Thomas on the Sentences and in his Summa, marks the continuity of these two works. Cf. III,D. XXXIV, q.2, a.1, qc.3; q.3, a.1, qc.1; and Ia IIae, q.68, a.1, a.2 ad rum. See
also Perfection chretienne et contemplation, 7th ed., II, [52]-[64J.

26. See IIa IIae, q.52, a. I ad 1um.

27. Matt. 10: 19.

28. Other serious difficulties would follow the negation of the specific distinction between the virtues and the gifts. We could not explain why certain gifts, such as fear, are not numbered among the virtues, or why Christ had the seven gifts, as Isaias teaches us (II: 2 f.), without having certain infused virtues, such as faith, hope, and penance, which suppose an imperfection.

29. See Ia IIae, q.68, a.2.

30. Ibid.

31. The gift of wisdom makes this possible.

32. Ibid., a.2 ad 3um.

33. Ibid., ad 2um. Some theologians, as Abbe Perriot (Ami du clerge, 1891, p. 391), basing their argument on the text of St. Thomas that we have just quoted, have thought that in his opinion the gifts intervene in every meritorious work. Father Froget, O.P. (De l'habitation du Saint-Esprit dans les ames justes, Part IV, chap. 6, pp. 4°7-14) and Father Gardeil, O.P. (Dict. theol. cath., art. "Dons," col. 1779) have shown that this is not at all the true thought of St. Thomas. To say that the gifts of the Holy Ghost must intervene in every meritorious act, even though it be imperfect (remissus et quantumvis remissus), would be to confound ordinary actual grace with the special inspiration to which the gifts render us docile. In the text which we have just quoted, St. Thomas means that man is not perfected to such a degree by the theological virtues that he does not always need to be inspired by the interior Master (semper not pro-semper), as we say: "I always need this hat," not however from morning until night, or from night until morning. Similarly a medical student not so well instructed that he does not always need the assistance of his master for certain operations. The need we experience is not transitory but permanent; all of which goes to show that the gifts should be not transitory inspirations, like the grace of prophecy, but permanent infused dispositions.

Moreover, it is certain that man can make a supernatural act of faith with a actual grace, without any assistance from the gifts of the Holy Ghost, without penetrating or tasting the mysteries to which he adheres. This is the case with the believer who is in the state of mortal sin, and who, on losing charity, has lost the seven gifts.

But, on the other hand, it is commonly admitted that the gifts of the Holy Ghost frequently influence us in a latent manner without our being aware of it, in order to give our meritorious acts a perfection which they would not have without this influence. In like manner, a favorable breeze facilitates the work of the rowers.

As S . Thomas teaches, Ia IIae, q.68, a.8, the gifts are in this way superior to the used moral virtues. Although the gifts are less elevated than the theological virtues, they bring them an added perfection, that, for example, of penetrating and delighting in the mysteries of faith.

34. See Ia IIae, q.68, a.3.

35. John of St. Thomas, De donis, Disp. 18, a.:z, no. 3 I.

36. St. Thomas (Ia IIae, q.68, a.3) and his commentators, in particular John of St. Thomas, show clearly that it is highly fitting that the gifts should be permanent dispositions in us (habitus) in order to render us habitually docile to the Holy Ghost, who always remains in the just soul, as the moral virtues are permanent dispositions to render the will and the sensible part of the soul habitually docile to the direction of right reason.
If it were otherwise, the organism of the life of grace, which is the greatest of the gifts of God, would remain imperfect. It is not fitting that, according to the plan of Providence, which disposes all things suaviter et fortiter, the organism of the supernatural life in the just soul should be in this respect less perfect than that of the acquired virtues directed by reason. Finally, according to tradition, habitual grace is called "the grace of the virtues and gifts." Cf. St. Thomas, IIIa, q.62, a.2.

37. See Ia IIae, q.68, a.4, and IIa IIae, q.8, a.6.

38. See lIa lIae, q. 141, a. 1 ad 3um.

39. See Ia IIae, q.69, a.3, c. and ad 3um; IIa IIae, q.8, a.7; q.9, a.4; q.45, a.6; q.19,a.12; q.121, a.2; q.139,a.2.
Following St. Augustine, St. Thomas shows that the gift of wisdom corresponds to the beatitude of the peacemakers, for it gives peace and allows the soul possessing it to give it to others, at times even to the most troubled. The gift of understanding corresponds to the beatitude of the clean of heart; for those who possess this cleanness of heart begin here on earth, in a certain way, to see God in all that happens to us. The gift of knowledge, which shows us the gravity of sin, corresponds to the beatitude of those who weep for their sins. The gift of counsel, which inclines the soul to mercy, corresponds to the beatitude of the merciful. The gift of piety, which makes us see in men not rivals, but children of God and our brothers, corresponds to the beatitude of the meek. The gift of fortitude corresponds to that of those who unger and thirst after justice and never become discouraged. Finally, the gift of fear corresponds to the beatitude of the poor in spirit; they possess the holy fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom.

40. See IIIa, q.62, a. 2: "Whether sacramental grace confers anything in addition to the grace of the virtues and gifts." St. Thomas says here that habitual grace is so called because from it proceed the infused virtues and the gifts, as so many functions of the same organism.

41 See Ia IIae, q.66, a.1.

42 Pursuing the comparison we have already used, we note that among sailing vessels equally responsive to the wind, the brig differs from the schooner; the form and arrangement of the sails vary; certain places one type of sail is better than another. Something similar is found in the order of spiritual navigation toward the port of salvation.

43. Cf. infra, Part III, chap. 23.

44. See Ia IIae, q. III, a.5: "Whether gratia gratum faciens is nobler than gratia gratis data." St. Thomas answers with St. Paul (I Cor. 13: 1) that sanctifying grace, which is inseparable from charity, is far more excellent than graces gratis datae.

45. The theological virtues, which unite us to the Holy Ghost, are superior to the seven gifts, although they receive a new perfection from the gifts; thus a tree is more perfect than its fruit. These virtues are the rule of the gifts, in the sense that the gifts make us penetrate more deeply and taste with greater delight the mysteries to which we adhere by faith; but the immediate rule of the act of the gifts is the special inspiration of the Holy Ghost.