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Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit

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The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are gifts which Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Lutherans believe the Holy Spirit gives to people to further their sanctification and help "complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them."[1]

These should not be confused with the charismatic gifts of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12:8-13, nor with the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-23.

Some Christians take these lists be a definitive list of specific attributes, while other Christians take them to be merely examples of God's work through Christians by the Holy Spirit.

The seven gifts are enumerated (approximately) in Isaiah 11:2-3.

Here are the names of the seven gifts, as given[2] in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, along with a description of each gift, as defined[3] by St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica:

  • Wisdom - With the gift of wisdom, we see God at work in our lives and in the world. For the wise person, the wonders of nature, historical events, and the ups and downs of our lives take on deeper meaning. The matters of judgment about the truth, and being able to see the whole image of God. Lastly being able to see God in everyone and everything everywhere.
  • Understanding - With the gift of understanding, we comprehend how we need to live as a follower of Jesus Christ. A person with understanding is not confused by all the conflicting messages in our culture about the right way to live. The gift of understanding perfects a person's speculative reason in the apprehension of truth. It is the gift whereby self-evident principles are known, Aquinas writes.[4]
  • Counsel (right judgment) - With the gift of right judgment, we know the difference between right and wrong, and we choose to do what is right. A person with right judgment avoids sin and lives out the values taught by Jesus. The gift of truth that allows the person to respond prudently, and happily to believe our Christ the Lord
  • Fortitude (courage) - With the gift of courage, we overcome our fear and are willing to take risks as a follower of Jesus. A person with courage is willing to stand up for what is right in the sight of God, even if it means accepting rejection, verbal abuse, or even physical harm and death. The gift of courage allows people the firmness of mind that is required both in doing good and in enduring evil, especially with regard to goods or evils that are difficult.
  • Knowledge - With the gift of knowledge, we understand the meaning of God's Revelation, especially as expressed in the life and words of Jesus Christ. A person with knowledge is always learning more about the scriptures and tradition. The gift of knowledge is more than an accumulation of facts.
  • Piety (Reverence) - With the gift of reverence, sometimes called piety, we have a deep sense of respect for God and the church. A person with reverence recognizes our total reliance on God and comes before God with humility, trust, and love. Piety is the gift whereby, at the Holy Spirit's instigation, we pay worship and duty to God as our Father, Aquinas writes.
  • Fear of the Lord (awe of God) - With the gift of wonder and awe we are aware of the glory and majesty of God. A person with wonder and awe knows that God is the perfection of all we desire: perfect knowledge, perfect goodness, perfect power, and perfect love. This gift is described by Aquinas as a fear of separating oneself from God. He describes the gift as a "filial fear," like a child's fear of offending his father, rather than a "servile fear," that is, a fear of punishment. Also known as knowing God is all powerful. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 1:7) because it puts our mindset in its correct location with respect to God: we are the finite, dependent creatures, and He is the infinite, all-powerful Creator.

Aquinas says that four of these gifts (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel) direct the intellect, while the other three gifts (fortitude, reverence, and fear of the Lord or wonder and awe) direct the will toward God.

In some respects, the gifts are similar to the virtues but a key distinction is that the virtues operate under the impetus of human reason (prompted by grace), whereas the gifts operate under the impetus of the Holy Spirit; the former can be used when one wishes, but the latter operate only when the Holy Spirit wishes. The former are like the oars of a boat; the latter, the sails.

In Summa Theologica II.II, Thomas Aquinas asserts the following correspondences between the seven Capital Virtues and the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:[5]

  • The gift of wisdom corresponds to the virtue of charity.
  • The gift of understanding corresponds to the virtue of faith.
  • The gift of counsel (right judgement) corresponds to the virtue of prudence.
  • The gift of fortitude corresponds to the virtue of courage.
  • The gift of knowledge corresponds to the virtue of faith.
  • The gift of piety corresponds to the virtue of justice.
  • The gift of fear of the Lord corresponds to the virtue of hope.

The seven gifts were often represented as doves in medieval sext, and especially figure in depictions of the Tree of Jesse which shows the Genealogy of Jesus. In many such depictions the doves encircle a bust of Christ.

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