The Father William Most Collection
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
Grace is any gift from God to us. There are two great categories or groups of graces: sanctifying, and charismatic.
Sanctifying graces are those that are aimed at making the recipient holy. They include: actual grace, a grace He sent me at this moment, to lead me and to enable me to do a particular good thing here and now, and habitual grace (also called sanctifying) which actually does make the recipient holy. It gives the soul the radical ability to take in the face to face vision of God in the next life. Increase in sanctifying grace means an increase in that capacity - for since the vision is infinite, our capacity can never reach the limit of growth.
The other category is called charismatic. These graces are not aimed directly an making the recipient holy. They are for some other sort of benefit to the individual or the community. There are two kinds again: ordinary and extraordinary.
Where do the Gifts of the Holy Spirit fit in? There are two groups of them, one in the sanctifying, one in the charismatic category.
In the sanctifying category we find the seven gifts, which are given along with sanctifying (habitual) grace.
In the charismatic category we find both the ordinary gifts -e.g., the gift to be a good parent or a good teacher - and the extraordinary gifts, those which are or seem miraculous, such as the gifts of healing, of tongues, or miracles.
The ordinary charismatic gifts are widely given. The extraordinary are given when and to whom the Spirit wills, as St. Paul tells us in 1 Cor 12. 11. They are not routine today, though they were in the first generation Church, as we see from 1 Cor 12-14.
Some have claimed that these extraordinary graces are ordinary and were ordinary for the first centuries. But the Patristic texts cited for this view are few. Fairly clear are those of Tertullian, St. Hilary, St. Cyril of Jerusalem. But in the booklet, Fanning the Flame by Kilian McDonnell (Liturgical Press, 1991), McDonnell admits on p. 18 that: "Both Basil of Caesarea... and Gregory Nazianzus... situate the prophetic charisms within the Christian initiation, though they are more reserved in their regard than Paul." No quotes are given. Then we see a remarkable admission on St. John Chrysostom, quoted on the same page: "Chrysostom complained, however 'the charisms are long gone.'" St. Augustine, in City of God (21.5), has to argue strongly that miracles are possible, against those in his day who denied the possibility. He says that if they want to say the Apostles converted the world without any miracles - that would be a great miracle. If there were miraculous gifts commonly around, Augustine would have merely pointed to them. But he did not.
Those who make such an unsupported claim seem to mean that all Catholics must be charismatic. But their evidence is lacking. as we just saw. Further these persons seem to think that the special phenomena of charismatics are simply actualizations - putting to work - of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that all Catholics have. - So again they claim all Catholics must be charismatic. -- They forget that the special charismatic things belong to one category, the seven Gifts to another . One cannot suppose graces from one side of the great divide will actualize those from the other side.
They also ignore or deny the principle of diversity of spiritual attractions: not all are attracted by the same sort of things, e.g., the fullest form of Marian devotion, while objectively the best in its category, and the most complete imitation of the ways of the Father who put her everywhere in His approach to us -- this is not to be demanded of just all Catholics. Or again, St. Francis de Sales, was a very refined gentleman; St. Benedict Joseph Labre was more like a filthy tramp, almost certainly with body lice. Both followed the same basic principles of the spiritual life-- but what a difference in the secondary, in their approach! In fact Pope Pius XII, in his great liturgical Encyclical, Mediator Dei said in #108 (Vatican Library translation):"Many of the faithful are unable to use the 'Roman Missal' even though it is written in the vernacular... nor are all capable of understanding correctly the liturgical rites and formulas... . They can adopt some other method which proves easier for certain people". Cf. also #179.
Vatican II, Lumen gentium 12 said of the extraordinary gifts: "... they are not to be rashly sought, nor should one presumptuously expect of them the fruits of the apostolic works; but the judgment as to whether or not they are genuine, and as to their ordered use pertains to those who are in charge in the Church... ."
Still further, the possession of extraordinary charismatic favors does not even prove those who have them are in the state of grace. We think of the frightening words of Our Lord Himself in Mt 7. 22-23: "Many will say to me on that day [at the end]: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name cast out devils, and have done many marvels in your name? And then I will admit to them: I never knew you: depart from me you workers of iniquity."
We turn now to the Seven Gifts of the sanctifying category. They are: wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord.
They each perfect certain basic virtues: Four of them perfect the intellectual virtues. Understanding gives an intuitive penetration into truth. In order to judge divine things, wisdom perfects charity; knowledge perfects the virtue of hope; the gift of counsel perfects prudence.
The other three perfect virtues of the will and appetite. The gift of piety perfects justice in giving to others that which is their due. This is especially true of giving God what is His due. Fortitude perfects the virtue of fortitude, in facing dangers. Fear of the Lord perfects temperance in controlling disordered appetites.
To illustrate the difference between things done with the Gifts and those done with the ordinary virtues, we will take up the gift of counsel.
There are three kinds of guides a person may follow in making his decisions. 1) the whim of the moment. Aristotle in his Ethics 1. 5 says that to act that way is a life fit for cattle. They do just what they happen to feel like doing. 2) Reason, which in which in practice is always aided by actual graces, which God gives so generously. -- we mean acting in a fully reasonable way, and not just following the grooves as it were. For example suppose I see three options open to me. Ideally I would make at least mentally a list of the good points and of the bad points of each. The I would look over the whole board, and pick what gives the best effect for me. Or if I come to think I need penance for my sins, I would ask: How much have I sinned, so I can know how much penance?; what kind of penance will fit with my health? with the obligations of my state in life? And after several steps, a decision is reached. This method is called discursive, since it moves from one step to another.
3) In this highest way a soul does not go from one step to another, in a discursive process, but the answer is, as it were, dropped fully made and complete into his mind by the Gifts.
This was the case of Our Lady, for example at the annunciation. If she had been operating in the ordinary mode, she might well have reasoned: Now my people have been waiting for centuries for the Messiah (as soon as Gabriel said He would reign over the house of Jacob forever, even any ordinary Jew would have known that He was the messiah). Now he is here. I should share this news with others, especially the authorities in Jerusalem. And what about my husband Joseph? In a short time he will not be able to avoid dark thoughts. - But the Gospel shows she did none of these things. God needed to send a special angel to tell Joseph. so the Gifts can lead souls to points not contrary to reason, but far more lofty than what reason would suggest.
Cf. the following from St. John of the Cross: (Ascent 3.2.10; cf. Living Flame 1.4; 1.9 and 2.34): "God alone moves the powers of these souls... to those deeds which are suitable, according to the will and plan of God, and they cannot be moved to others... . Such were the actions of the most glorious Virgin, our Lady, who, being elevated from the beginning [of her life] to this lofty state, had never the form of any creature impressed on her, nor was moved by such, but was always moved by the Holy Spirit."
But there is a danger: a soul could mistake its own desires for action of the Gifts, since the reasons are not clear to it. Reply: 1) The full and apparent action of these gifts does not appear until one is well advanced in the spiritual life (latent assistance by them can come earlier). 2) Ordinarily an inspiration via the Gifts leaves the soul not fully certain - a signal to consult a director or superior. Uncommonly they will give certitude, but only when a decision must be made on the spot, and there is no time to consult.
When a soul acts with usual actual graces (Ascent 3.2.10; cf. W. Most, "St. Thomas on Actual Grace") God is the most important actor, yet the faculties of the human do churn out the result - hence it is easy to suppose the work is done basically by that soul. But under the action of the Gifts, the soul is more passive, and its own faculties contribute even less.
There seems to be a process somewhat parallel to this in the natural order. For example, we could not take a young child, give him/her every possible training in music, and so turn out a Mozart or other great composer. No, something extra is needed. It seems that God, out of His kindness to us, to provide us with works of inspiration (in a natural sense) does take over some persons, and causes them to turn out something beyond the reach of an ordinary person, even one with much training. Thus also there is a report that Handel claimed inspiration in writing his Messiah. And indeed some parts of it are so lofty they could hardly have been composed by a person using the ordinary process. Thus Aristotle says that Hector fought in battle in a way that was beyond ordinary human powers.