Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit

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Stained glass representation of the Holy Spirit as a dove, c. 1660.

The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is an enumeration of seven spiritual gifts originating with patristic authors,[1] later elaborated by five intellectual virtues[2] and four other groups of ethical characteristics.[3][4] They are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

Book of Isaiah[edit]

Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Folio from Walters manuscript W.171 (15th century)

The "seven" gifts are found in the Book of Isaiah[5] 11:1-2, where the Biblical passage refers to the characteristics of a Messianic figure understood by Christians to be Jesus Christ empowered by the "Spirit of the Lord".[6]

In the Hebrew Masoretic text the "Spirit of the Lord" is described with six characteristics (wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear of the Lord), and then the last characteristic (fear of the Lord) is mentioned a second time.[7]

In the Greek Septuagint the first mention of the fear of the Lord is translated as "spirit of [...] godliness" (πνεῦμα [...] εὐσεβείας).[8]

Verse Hebrew
New International Version[10]
11.1 א וְיָצָא חֹטֶר, מִגֵּזַע יִשָׁי; וְנֵצֶר, מִשָּׁרָשָׁיו יִפְרֶה. A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
και εξελευσεται ραβδος εκ της ριζης ιεσσαι
και ανθος εκ της ριζης αναβησεται
et egredietur virga de radice Iesse
et flos de radice eius ascendet
11.2 ב וְנָחָה עָלָיו, רוּחַ יְהוָה--רוּחַ חָכְמָה וּבִינָה,
רוּחַ עֵצָה וּגְבוּרָה, רוּחַ דַּעַת, וְיִרְאַת יְהוָה.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
και αναπαυσεται επ' αυτον πνευμα του θεου
πνευμα σοφιας και συνεσεως
πνευμα βουλης και ισχυος
πνευμα γνωσεως και ευσεβειας
et requiescet super eum spiritus Domini
spiritus sapientiae et intellectus
spiritus consilii et fortitudinis
spiritus scientiae et pietatis
11.3 ג וַהֲרִיחוֹ, בְּיִרְאַת יְהוָה; and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. εμπλησει αυτον πνευμα φοβου θεου et replebit eum spiritus timoris Domini

The seven Latin terms are then:

  1. sapientia
  2. intellectus
  3. consilium
  4. fortitudo
  5. scientia
  6. pietas
  7. timor Domini.

In Christianity[edit]

The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit is one of several works in Christian devotional literature which follow a scheme of seven.[13] Others include the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer, the beatitudes, the seven last words from the cross, the seven deadly sins, and the seven virtues.[14]

The seven gifts were often represented as doves in medieval texts and especially figure in depictions of the Tree of Jesse which shows the Genealogy of Jesus. For Saint Thomas Aquinas, the dove signifies by its properties each gift of the Holy Spirit.[15]

Roman Catholicism[edit]

Although the New Testament does not refer to Isaiah 11:1-2 regarding these gifts,[16][17] Roman Catholicism teaches that initiates receive them at Baptism, and that they are strengthened at Confirmation, so that one can proclaim the truths of the faith:

"The reception of the sacrament of Confirmation is necessary for the completion of baptismal grace."[88] For "by the sacrament of Confirmation, [the baptized] are more perfectly bound to the Church and are enriched with a special strength of the Holy Spirit. Hence they are, as true witnesses of Christ, more strictly obliged to spread and defend the faith by word and deed."[89][18]

The seven gifts of Holy Spirit[edit]

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, these gifts "...complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them."[19]

  • Wisdom is considered the first and the greatest of the gifts. It acts upon both the intellect and the will. According to St. Bernard, it both illumines the mind and instills an attraction to the divine. Adolphe Tanquerey OP explained the difference between the gift of wisdom and that of understanding, "...the latter is a view taken by the mind, while the former is an experience undergone by the heart; one is light, the other love, and so they unite and complete one another."[20] Wisdom is the perfection of the theological virtue of charity;
  • Understanding is a perceptive intuition which illuminates the mind to grasp the truths of faith. It does not involve a comprehensive understanding of the mysteries of faith, but helps a person understand that these mysteries are credible; compatible with and related to each other; and not unreasonable. The gift of understanding perfects the theological virtue of faith.[21]
  • Counsel functions as a sort of supernatural intuition, to enable a person to judge promptly and rightly, especially in difficult situations. It perfects the cardinal virtue of prudence. While prudence operates in accord with reason as enlightened by faith, the gift of counsel operates under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to illuminate the will of God.[22]
  • Fortitude is often identified with courage, but Aquinas takes its meaning to also encompass endurance. Joseph J. Rickaby describes it as a willingness to stand up for what is right in the sight of God, even if it means accepting rejection, verbal abuse, or physical harm. The gift of fortitude allows people the firmness of mind that is required both in doing good and in enduring evil.[23] It is the perfection of the cardinal virtue of the same name.
  • Knowledge: The gift of knowledge allows one, as far as is humanly possible, to see things from God's perspective. It “allows us to perceive the greatness of God and his love for his creatures” through creation.[24]
  • Piety accords with reverence. A person with reverence recognizes his total reliance on God and comes before God with humility, trust, and love. Thomas Aquinas says that piety perfects the virtue of religion, which is an aspect of the virtue of justice, in that it accords to God that which is due him.[25] In a series of talks on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis said that piety is a recognition of "...our belonging to God, our deep bond with him, a relationship that gives meaning to our whole life and keeps us resolute, in communion with him, even during the most difficult and troubled moments”.[26] "Piety is not mere outward religiosity; it is that genuine religious spirit which makes us turn to the Father as his children and to grow in our love for others, seeing them as our brothers and sisters,..."[27]
  • Fear of the Lord is akin to wonder (or awe): With the gift of fear of the Lord, one is made aware of the glory and majesty of God. At a June 2014 general audience Pope Francis said that it “is no servile fear, but rather a joyful awareness of God’s grandeur and a grateful realization that only in him do our hearts find true peace”.[28] A person with wonder and awe knows that God is the perfection of all one desires. 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. Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is the perfection of the theological virtue of hope.

Relation to the Virtues[edit]

Saint Thomas Aquinas says that four of these gifts (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and counsel) direct the intellect, while the other three gifts (fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) direct the will toward God.[29]

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. In the case of Fortitude, the gift has, in Latin and English, the same name as a virtue, which it is related to but from which it must be distinguished.

In Summa Theologica II.II, Thomas Aquinas asserts the following correspondences between the seven Capital Virtues and the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit:[30]

  • The gift of wisdom corresponds to the virtue of charity.
  • The gifts of understanding and knowledge correspond to the virtue of faith.
  • The gift of counsel (right judgment) corresponds to the virtue of prudence.
  • The gift of fortitude corresponds to the virtue of courage.
  • The gift of fear of the Lord corresponds to the virtue of hope.
  • The gift of Reverence corresponds to the virtue of justice.

To the virtue of temperance, no Gift is directly assigned; but the gift of fear can be taken as such, since fear drives somebody to restrict himself from forbidden pleasures.

The Rev. Brian Shanley contrasts the gifts to the virtues this way: "What the gifts do over and above the theological virtues (which they presuppose) is dispose the agent to the special promptings of the Holy Spirit in actively exercising the life of the virtues; the gifts are necessary for the perfect operations of the virtues, especially in the face of our human weakness and in difficult situations."[31]


St. Augustine drew a connection between the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Beatitudes (Matt.5:3-12).

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, reflects Fear of the Lord as the "poor in spirit" are the humble and God-fearing.
  • Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted, corresponds to the Gift of Knowledge, as for Augustine the knowledge of God brings both an increased awareness of personal sin, and to some extent grieving at the abandonment of practices and activities that separate one from God.
  • Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land, relates to Piety.
  • Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied, pertains to Fortitude.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy demonstrates the Gift of Counsel.
  • Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God, the Gift of Understanding.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God, Wisdom.
  • Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For example, see Victorinus, Commentarii in Apocalypsim Iohannis 1, 4: Septiformem spiritum in Esaia legimus '(Esa., XI, 2), spiritum' videlicet 'sapientiae et intellectus, consilii et fortitudinis, scientiae et pietatis, spiritum timoris Domini.' Authors such Augustine, Hilary of Poitiers, and John Cassian all speak of the gifts with familiarity.
  2. ^ Macfarlane, Bruce (2008). Researching with Integrity. The Ethics of Academic Enquiry. London: Routledge. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-203-88696-0. ISBN 0-20388696-8. The theoretical, intellectual virtues consist of philosophical wisdom (sophia), scientific or empirical knowledge (episteme), and intuitive understanding (nous). In addition to these three is the virtue of practical wisdom or prudence (phronesis) and the productive virtues of art, skill, and craft knowledge (techne). 
  3. ^ Stump, Eleonore (1998). Kretzmann, Norman; MacDonald, Scott Charles; Stump, Eleonore, eds. Aquinas's Moral Theory. Essays in Honor of Norman Kretzmann. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-801-43436-5. ISBN 0-80143436-X. Wisdom in Its Context - Besides the five intellectual virtues and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, Aquinas recognizes four other groups of ethical characteristics which are important for his discussion of wisdom. 
  4. ^ Walters, Barbara R.; Corrigan, Vincent Justus; Ricketts, Peter T., eds. (2006). The Feast of Corpus Christi. University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State Press. p. 451. ISBN 978-0-271-04831-4. ISBN 0-27104831-X. 10. set grasces: The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are, which, in the Middle Ages, were probably codified by Thomas [...] Isaias 11: 2–3: spiritus sapientiae et intellectus spiritus consilii et fortitudinis spiritus scientiae et pietatis. 
  5. ^ Robin Lane Fox (3 November 2015). Augustine: Conversions to Confessions. Basic Books. pp. 345–. ISBN 978-0-465-06157-0. 
  6. ^ John MacArthur (21 February 2011). Luke 1-17 MacArthur New Testament Commentary Set. Moody Publishers. pp. 347–. ISBN 978-0-8024-8263-1. 
  7. ^ Cantalamessa, Raniero (2003). Come, Creator Spirit. Meditations on the Veni Creator. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press. p. 175 . ISBN 978-0-814-62871-3. ISBN 0-81462871-0. In the extant Hebrew text (Isaiah 11:1-3) six gifts are listed, and the last, fear, is mentioned twice; wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, and fear of the Lord. 
  8. ^ "katapi New Study Bible: Parallel Greek English Old Testament". Septuagint Compiled from the Translation by Sir Lancelot C. L. Brenton, 1851. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  9. ^ Isaiah 11:1-3 (Hebrew - English Bible / Mechon-Mamre)
  10. ^ Isaiah 11:1-3 (New International Version).
  11. ^ "Online Greek OT (Septuagint/LXX) UTF8". Retrieved 17 February 2014. 
  12. ^ Isaias 11:1-3 (Biblia Sacra Vulgata).
  13. ^ Anlezark, Daniel (2010). Godden, Malcolm; Keynes, Simon; Blackburn, Mark, eds. Anglo-Saxon England (Volume 38). Cambridge University Press. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-521-19406-8. ISBN 0-52119406-7. 
  14. ^ Rolle, Richard (1988). Jeffrey, David Lyle, ed. English Spirituality in the Age of Wyclif. Vancouver: Regent College Publishing. p. 174. ISBN 978-1-573-83185-7. ISBN 1-57383185-9. 
  15. ^ Aquinas, Thomas (2006). Parsons, Samuel; Pinheiro, Albert, eds. Summa Theologiae. Volume 53, The Life of Christ: 3a. 38-45. Cambridge University Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-521-02961-2. ISBN 0-52102961-9. 
  16. ^ Erickson, Millard J. (1992). Introducing Christian Doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-801-03215-8. ISBN 0-80103215-6.  2nd ed. 2001. Chapter Thirty - "The work of the Holy Spirit" (pp. 275ff.). ISBN 978-0-801-02250-0. ISBN 0-80102250-9.
  17. ^ Shaw, Russell; Stravinskas, Peter M. J. (1998). Our Sunday Visitor's Catholic Encyclopedia. Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. p. 457. ISBN 978-0-879-73669-9. ISBN 0-87973669-0. 
  18. ^ CCC no. 1285.
  19. ^ CCC §1831
  20. ^ Tanquerey, Adolphe. The Spiritual Life, §§ 1348 & 1349
  21. ^ Pope, Charles. "Distinguishing Knowledge, Wisdom and Understanding", Community in Mission, July 19, 2010
  22. ^ Harris, Elise. "Pope Francis: gift of counsel illuminates the will of God", Catholic News Agency, May 7, 2014
  23. ^ Rickaby, John. "Fortitude." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 3 September 2017
  24. ^ Harris, Elise. "Gift of knowledge attunes us to vision of God, Pope says", Catholic News Agency, May 21, 2014
  25. ^ Delany, Joseph. "Virtue of Religion." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 1 September 2017]
  26. ^ Glatz, Carol. "Piety is embracing God and others with real love, not fake devotion, says Pope", Catholic Herald, June 4, 2014
  27. ^ "Pope Francis on the gift of piety", News.VA, June 4, 2014
  28. ^ Harris, Elise. "Pope: Fear of the Lord an alarm reminding us of what's right", Catholic News Agency, June 11, 2014
  29. ^ Edward D. O'Connor (26 October 2006). Summa Theologiae: Volume 24, The Gifts of the Spirit: 1a2ae. 68-70. Cambridge University Press. pp. 4–. ISBN 978-0-521-02932-2. 
  30. ^ "Summa Theologia: Secunda Secundae Partis",, 2010, webpage: NA3.
  31. ^ Shanley, Brian. Review of Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas by John I. Jenkins. The Thomist 63 (1999), p. 318.
  32. ^ Augustine. "On the Sermon on the Mount, Book I", Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 6. (William Findlay, trans.), (Philip Schaff, ed.) (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1888

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Fortitude". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton. 

External links[edit]