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)


We shall recall what divine revelation, the traditional teaching of the Church, and the explanation of this teaching given by theologians, especially St. Thomas, teach us about the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.


The revealed doctrine on the gifts of the Holy Ghost is contained principally in the classic text of Isaias (II: 2) which the fathers have often commented upon, saying that it is applied first of all to the Messias, and then by participation to all the just, to whom Christ promised to send the Holy Ghost. In this text, Isaias says in reference to the Messias: "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." (1)

In the Book of Wisdom we read also: "Wherefore I wished, and understanding was given me; and I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came upon me. And I preferred her before kingdoms and thrones. . . . Silver in respect to her shall be counted as clay. I loved her above health and beauty. . . . Now all good things came to me together with her. . . . I knew not that she was the mother of them all. Which I have learned without guile, and communicate without envy. . . . For she is an infinite treasure to men, which they that use, become the friends of God. . . . She reneweth all things, and through nations conveyeth herself into holy souls, she maketh the friends of God and prophets. For God loveth none but him that dwelleth with wisdom." (2) This passage in itself shows that wisdom is the highest of the gifts of the Holy Ghost enumerated by Isaias.

This Old Testament revelation takes on its full meaning in the light of our Savior's words: "If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He shall give you another Paraclete, that He may abide with you forever. The spirit of truth . . . shall be in you. . . . The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you." (3) To fortify the faithful against the promoters of heresy, St. John adds: "But you have the unction from the Holy One. . . . Let the unction, which you have received from Him, abide in you. And you have no need that any man teach you; but as His unction teacheth you of all things and is truth, and is no lie." (4) Moreover, Scripture contains texts commonly quoted as relating to each gift in particular.(5)


In the course of time, the fathers of the Church often commented on these words of Scripture, and, beginning with the third century, tradition explicitly affirms that the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost are in all the just.(6) Pope St. Damasus, in 382, speaks of the seven­fold Spirit which rested on the Messias, and he enumerates the gifts.(7)

St. Augustine, especially, explains this doctrine in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount.(8) He shows the correspondence between the evangelical beatitudes and the seven gifts. Fear represents the first degree of the spiritual life; wisdom is its crown. Between these two extremes, St. Augustine distinguishes a double period of purifying preparation for wisdom: a remote preparation, by the active practice of the moral virtues corresponding to the gifts of piety, fortitude, knowledge, and counsel; then an immediate preparation, in which the soul is purified as a result of a more enlightened faith by the gift of understanding, of a firmer hope sustained by the gift of fortitude, and of a more ardent charity. The first preparation is called the active life; the second, the contemplative life,(9) because moral activity is here entirely subordinated to a faith rendered luminous by contemplation, which, in pacified and docile souls, will one day culminate in perfect wisdom.(10)

To know the teaching of the Church on this subject we shall re­call what the Council of Trent says: "The efficient cause [of our justification] is the merciful God who washes and sanctifies gratuitously (I Cor. 6: II), signing and anointing with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the pledge of our inheritance (Eph. I: 13 f.)." (11)

The Catechism of the Council of Trent fixes this point exactly by enumerating the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost according to Isaias (11: 2 f.), and by adding: "These gifts of the Holy Ghost are for us, as it were, a divine source whence we draw the living knowledge of the precepts of Christian life. Moreover, by them we can know whether the Holy Ghost dwells in us." (12) St. Paul says, in fact: "For the Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God." (13) He gives us this testimony by the filial love which He inspires in us, and by which He makes Himself, so to speak, felt by us.(14)

One of the most beautiful testimonies that tradition offers us on the seven gifts is found in the liturgy for Pentecost. We read in the sequence for the Mass of that day:

Veni sancte Spiritus,
Et entitle coelitus
Lucis tuae radium.

"Come, 0 Holy Ghost, and send from heaven a ray of Thy light. Come, Father of the poor. Come, Giver of graces. Come, Light of hearts, excellent Counselor, sweet Guest of our soul, sweet Refresh ment, Rest in labor, Coolness in heat, Comfort in tears."

0 lux beatissima,
Reple cordis intima
Tuorum fidelium.

"0 blessed Light, inundate the very depths of the hearts of Thy faithful. . . . Warm what is cold, straighten what is crooked."

Da tuis fidelibus,
In te confidentibus,
Sacrum septenarium.

"Give to Thy faithful who trust in Thee, the sacred sevenfold gift. Give them the merit of virtue. Give them a happy end. Give them eternal joy."

In the Veni Creator Spiritus, we read likewise:

Tu septiformis munere. . . .
Accende lumen sensibus,
lnfunde amorem cordibus.

"The sevenfold gift is Thine. . . . Kindle our senses with fire from above and pour Thy love into our hearts." (15)

Finally, the testimony of tradition is admirably expressed by the encyclical of Leo XIII on the Holy Ghost, in which the Pope declares that to complete our supernatural life we need the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. He says:

"The just man, that is to say, he who lives the life of divine grace and acts by the fitting virtues as by means of faculties, has need of those seven gifts, which are properly attributed to the Holy Ghost. By means of them the soul is furnished and strengthened so as to be able to obey more easily and promptly His voice and impulse. Wherefore these gifts are of such efficacy that they lead the just man to the highest degree of sanctity; and of such excellence that they continue to exist even in heaven, though in a more perfect way. By means of these gifts the soul is excited and encouraged to seek after and attain the evangelical beatitudes which, like the flowers that come forth in the springtime, are the signs and harbingers of eternal beatitude. . . .

These sublime truths, which so clearly show forth the infinite goodness of the Holy Ghost towards us, certainly demand that we should direct towards Him the highest homage of our love and devotion. Christians may do this most effectually if they will daily strive to know Him, to love Him, and to implore Him more earnestly. . . . What should be chiefly dwelt upon and clearly explained is the multitude and greatness of the benefits which have been bestowed, and are constantly bestowed, upon us by this divine Giver. . . . We owe to the Holy Ghost love, because He is God. . . . He is also to be loved because He is the substantial, eternal, primal Love, and nothing is more lovable than love. . . . In the second place it will obtain for us a still more abundant supply of heavenly gifts; for whilst a narrow heart contracts the hand of the giver, a grateful and mindful heart causes it to expand. . . . Lastly, we ought confidently and continually to beg of Him to illuminate us daily more and more with His light and inflame us with His charity: for, thus inspired with faith and love, we may press onward earnestly towards our eternal reward, since "He is the pledge of our inheritance." (16)

Such are the principal testimonies of tradition regarding the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost. We shall recall briefly the exact statements brought to bear on this point by theology, especially in the doctrine of St. Thomas. His teaching has been approved in substance by Leo XIII, who often quoted the Angelic Doctor in the encyclical, the principal parts of which we have just cited.



1. The Hebrew text does not mention the gift of piety, but the Septuagint and the Vulgate do. Since the third century, tradition affirms this sevenfold number. Moreover, in the Hebrew text of Isaias, fear is named a second time in verse 3, and in the Old Testament the terms "fear of God" and "piety" have almost the same meaning.

2 Wisd. 7:7-28.

3. John 14: 15-26. .

4. See I John 2:20, 27.

5. St. Thomas quotes these texts when he treats of each of the seven gifts.

6. A. Gardeil, D.P., "Dons du Saint-Esprit," Dictionnaire de theologie catholique, IV, 1728-81.

7. Denzinger, Enchiridion, no. 83.

8. De sermone Domini, I, 1-4; De doctrina christiana, II, 7; Sermo 347.

9. Cf. De Trinitate, I, 12-14.

10. Cf. Fulbert Cayre, A.A., La contemplation augustinienne, chaps. 2 f. He shows here that contemplation, according to St. Augustine, is a supernatural wisdom. It has for its principle, together with faith, a superior action of the Holy Ghost, which makes the soul, so to speak, touch and taste God.

11. Council of Trent, Sess. VI, chap. 7.

12. Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part I, chap. 9, § 3: "I believe in the Holy Ghost."

13. Rom. 8: 16.

14. Cf. St. Thomas, In Ep. ad Rom., 8: 1

15. The composer of this beautiful prayer, which will be said until the end of the world, must have been a great contemplative. It is useless to know his name; he was a voice of God.

16. Encyclical Divinum illud munus (May 9, 1897), circa finem. This text shows: (I) the necessity of the gifts ("has need of"); (2) their nature: they make us docile to the Holy Ghost; (3) their effects: they can lead us to the summit of sanctity.