Overview of the Supernatural Organism: The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

Sanctifying grace and the infused virtues are supernatural realities that transform and elevate the human soul. They really belong to us; they are ‘ours’. We are the ones who perform acts of faith, hope, and love, and the other infused virtues that express the life of grace. They are ‘ours’ but they are at the same time ‘above’ us because they are divine realities. When we truly live from the life of grace we are living ‘above’ ourselves. Sometimes a person gets a clear glimpse of this reality in a difficult situation in which he does well. He might think to himself afterwards, “How did I ever do or say that? Where did that come from? It wasn’t me.”

Precisely because of this character of being ‘above’ us we are not sufficient of ourselves to live according to the supernatural virtues we may possess. Here the words of Jesus are most truly verified: Without me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:5) It is otherwise with the human virtues acquired through repeated practice and which have become ‘second nature’.

The human acquired virtues are directed by human prudence. On the purely human level, we might encounter a man who is upright and experienced, who is a master of himself and truly knows how to handle all sorts of difficult situations and does so with ease and grace. There is something like this also in a person who perhaps is not so upright but possesses a combination of experience and self-mastery that allows him to maneuver through all manner of situations, seeking his own private advantage.

The beginner at the Christian life, however, who is living in a state of grace, will truly possess the supernatural virtues, but will often exercise them in a rather awkward manner. If he speaks about the faith, there will be an evident disproportion between his words and his life; with the best of intentions, he might speak up and try to address a problem but make a mess of it; at one moment he is cowardly, at another bold; at one moment he speaks words of wisdom, at another he makes a fool of himself.

To live well the supernatural life, the Christian needs something in a way higher than the supernatural virtues; he needs the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are like little entry points in the soul for the Holy Spirit, rendering us docile to his direction, enabling us to exercise the virtues not according to our feeble human judgment and inconstancy, but in a truly divine manner.

Where acquired virtue of prudence directs the actions of the other acquired virtues, the supernatural virtue of prudence does not actually play the same role in regard to the infused virtues; in the last analysis, it should be the Holy Spirit himself, through his seven gifts, who directs the whole life of grace in the practice of the infused virtues.

The gifts of the Holy Spirit do not unite us to God the way faith, hope, and charity do, in that sense they are less, but they put the life of faith, hope, and charity under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Only then can we live the life of grace in a truly graceful manner.

Growth in the Christian life, then, involves a path whereby by our own efforts, aided by actual grace, we fight against sin and temptation, advance upon the path of the infused virtues, and so come ever more under the dominion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.