The Gifts of the Holy Spirit in Christ
As we study Christology and strive to know Christ more perfectly, let’s take it from a different angle—the Holy Spirit and His seven gifts.
One Gift and Seven Gifts
When giving the sacrament of confirmation, the Bishop says to the person being confirmed, “Be sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” We could also translate this as “Be sealed with the Gift that is the Holy Spirit.” The person is being strengthened, or “confirmed,” in the Gift of the Holy Spirit by receiving the Holy Spirit. With the Gift of the Holy Spirit comes another set of gifts, which we call the “gifts of the Holy Spirit.” There are seven: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. So when we are confirmed, we are strengthened by the Gift that is the Holy Spirit, with the result that we receive His sevenfold gifts.
These seven gifts are mentioned in the Greek version of Isaiah 11:1-3, which reads:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of piety, and his delight will be in the fear of the Lord.Isaiah 11:1-3
This passage prophesies one who is to come, one upon whom the Spirit will rest. That “one who is to come” has arrived. He is Jesus the Christ. So the rest of the passage describes the type of Spirit that rests upon Christ.
Jesus Christ possesses the gifts of the Holy Spirit most fully, to the highest degree that a human can. The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms:
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David.(CCC 1831)
All of this raises a few questions: What exactly are the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Why did Jesus need the gifts of the Holy Spirit? What is their role in the life of the average Catholic?
The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
It can be tough to pin down just what sort of thing these seven gifts are. For example, we know that wisdom is a virtue, but fear is not a virtue, even though both are gifts of the Holy Spirit. To know why Jesus had the gifts of the Holy Spirit and why we need them, we have to narrow down just what they are in the first place.
The term “gift” is itself a helpful hint. Where there is a gift, there must be a giver. The giver is, of course, God the Holy Spirit.
The next helpful hint comes in the verses from Isaiah mentioned above, in which the gifts are described as spirits. When we receive the gifts, we receive the “spirit of wisdom” and the “spirit of fortitude.” Use of the word “spirit” suggests that the gifts are a form of inspiration.
When someone is inspired by God, like the Biblical writers were inspired, that means God is moving them to know something or do something. God is working in them to move them toward knowledge and love.
So this is where we end up in our brief study of what the gifts are: the gifts of the Holy Spirit are dispositions that God gives us by which he can move us to greater acts of the intellect and the will, even beyond what we could do all by ourselves. If that’s too technical, think of it in terms of a ship sailing on the sea. You are the ship. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are the sails. And Holy Spirit is the wind blowing the sails. God gives us these sails so that he can move us in the direction he wants us to go.
Jesus and the Gifts
Since Jesus is both God and man, it would seem like he doesn’t need any extra help to go where God wants him to go. The gifts of the Holy Spirit would be unnecessary and superfluous since Jesus can do everything he wants to do already.
And yet, Jesus himself possessed the gifts of the Holy Spirit more than any of us. Luke 4:1 tells us “And Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert.” Jesus was filled with the Gift that is the Holy Spirit, so Jesus possessed the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit to the full.
While Jesus, as God, has the power to do all he wills, Jesus’ divinity does not subsume his humanity. That means that Jesus isn’t any less human because he is God. Rather, Jesus’ humanity is perfected. Every human being can be perfected by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, including Jesus. Those gifts like wisdom, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord don’t make us less human. They make us more human, more perfectly what God wants us to be. They make us docile to God by perfecting us as humans.
Jesus, then, filled with the Holy Spirit, had sails on his ship, the gifts of the Holy Spirit. As God, Jesus can do all he wills. As man, Jesus is moved by Holy Spirit like wind blowing on the sails of a ship. With all that, Jesus’ human knowledge and love are perfected, he definitely does all that he wills.
What about Me?
Throughout Jesus’ life on earth, he was moved the Holy Spirit through the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit that he had. We who are baptized, and especially we who are confirmed, have the same gifts of the Holy Spirit. We have been given the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord. With these gifts, the Holy Spirit can move us to do his will.
At the same time, this may not always be totally obvious. The Holy Spirit, like the wind, is invisible, and also like the wind, his effects are usually subtle and only sometimes dramatic. While we shouldn’t pretend to see dramatic movements of the Holy Spirit frequently, we can nevertheless have confidence that the Holy Spirit will guide us through the gifts we have received from him, if we are in a state of grace, pray and receive the sacraments often, believe the teachings of the Church, and strive to follow the law of God.
That is a great formula for imitating Jesus and doing God’s will. Be sure to remain in a state of grace, pray and receive the sacraments often, believe the teachings of the Church, and strive to follow the law of God. When we are doing all these things and asking the Holy Spirit to move us by his seven gifts, we can go confidently toward the throne of grace.