Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Are the gifts of the Holy Spirit necessary for salvation?

As the Church prepares for the Solemnity of Pentecost, we are invited to pray the good Lord to send a new outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit into our souls. Thus, the novena to the Holy Spirit – from the Friday after Ascension Thursday through to the Saturday Vigil of Pentecost – enjoys a certain pride of place among the various novenas in the life of the Church.
But what exactly are the gifts of the Holy Spirit? And, are they necessary for our salvation?
You may find the Novena for the gifts of the Holy Spirit [here].
How the gifts differ from virtues
Like the virtues, gifts are stable realities in the soul. They are spiritual and immaterial things which are in the faculties of the soul, perfecting and guiding either the intellect or the will.
Some virtues are built up by human effort, these are called acquired virtues. Others are placed into the soul by God without human co-operation, these are called infused virtues.

Some virtues deal with the moral life (moral virtues), while others deal with the intellectual life (intellectual virtues). Finally, some deal with God in a supernatural way (theological virtues).
Now, the moral and intellectual virtues include both acquired and infused virtues. So, for example, there is the acquired intellectual virtue of prudence, but there is also the infused intellectual virtue of prudence – and this is truly another virtue, for it is supernatural in nature.
Further, all of the theological virtues (faith, hope, and love) are infused, they cannot be built up by human effort.
However, every virtue, whether acquired or infused, is under the control and power of man. For example: While no one can gain faith through human effort, once a man has received the virtue of faith (infused into his intellect by God), he has it within his power to make an act of faith.
And this is the real difference between a virtue and a gift: The gifts of the Holy Spirit truly are infused into a man’s soul (either into his intellect or his will), but they cannot be activated by man’s willing it. I can make an act of faith, hope, or love whenever I choose (so long as I am in the state of grace), but I cannot make an act of the gift of wisdom or of understanding at my willing it.
When I have the theological virtue of faith, I will to make the act of faith, and I move myself to that action. However, when I have the gift of understanding, it is only the Holy Spirit who can move me to make an act of that gift.
The easiest analogy is to think of a boat: The virtues are like the oars (men in the boat row forward by their own effort), while the gifts are like the sails (by which the wind propels the boat forward, and the men in the boat have no control over when the wind will blow).
See our earlier article on this analogy between the human soul and a boat [here].
 The gifts allow for a divine mode of acting
Now, because heaven is supernatural, it is beyond the human powers to attain to it. Though we certainly recognize that man merits his salvation by the grace of God, we must admit that a man cannot get to heaven through human effort.
And so, there is a tension in our theology: On the one hand, we want to emphasize that salvation is God’s work; but, on the other hand, we do not want to deny man’s co-operation. How can it be that God saves me, but that I also participate in this work?
St. Thomas, and the catholic moral tradition generally, answers this problem with an emphasis on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The gifts are truly within man, in his soul (both in his intellect and in his will). And yet, by them, man is moved to action by the special prompting of God. So, on one level, the gifts are human, insofar as they are within man; but, on another level, they are divine, insofar as they are infused by God and are activated by God alone.
Let us return to the analogy of the boat, with the gifts being compared to sails. If the wind blows in the sails and pushes the boat forward, do we not admit that the sails (which are truly a part of the boat) are causing the boat to go forward? And yet, is it not also true that the wind (which is not part of the boat) is pushing the boat toward its destination?
By the gifts of the Holy Spirit, man acts in a divine mode which is far beyond his nature – and this is why these acts can only be initiated by God himself. And yet, though these actions are divine, they are also human because the gifts are truly within man’s soul.
What makes the gifts necessary for salvation
Now, the gifts are necessary for salvation (together with the theological virtues) because heaven is a supernatural goal which is beyond man’s power to attain. Since salvation is beyond human nature of itself, even the theological virtues are not alone sufficient – for the theological virtues operate still according to the human mode, and are under human control (after they have been infused).
Thus, man must be moved toward heaven according to a higher divine mode – and this is effected through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Now, there is nothing lacking in the theological virtues: They do everything that they are supposed to do. The theological virtues are certainly the foundation of the life of grace. But we say, then, that the gifts are the crowning of the spiritual life.
Without the gifts, a man will not be docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Further, the gifts are infused into the soul together with the theological virtue of charity – hence, whosoever is in the state of grace possesses the gifts, and if a man falls to mortal sin he loses the gifts.
A diagram of the virtues and the gifts
Theological and Cardinal Virtues
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Fear of the Lord

Come Holy Spirit fill the hearts of thy faithful, and enkindle within them the fire of thy love!


Anonymous said...

Great thinking points, something that I will use for sure in my catechism class next year. Keep it coming. :-)

mdepie said...

This discussion is similar to the problem re grace and human free will, so Lets cut to the chase, and make it simple.

Does God offer everyone the grace necessary to avoid hell?

If so it seems the only way to go to hell is for man to refuse the grace and the way to get to heaven is to accept it, ie heaven or hell is a decision made via the will of man. ( The man wills to accept or refuse the graces given by God)
Or do you hold that God offers efficacious grace only to some that he chooses, he withholds it from others, and as such actively creates humans who he wills to withhold the means, that is the grace to avoid unimaginable eternal suffering ( Hell)?

It seems pretty clear to me that the Catholic tradition is essentially consistent with the first idea and John Calvin would argue for the second. In the desire to adhere to everything St. Thomas said I think you verge on Calvinism at times. Perhaps I misunderstand. If so I am sure I am not alone. I would be interested in your response. I also admire ST Thomas a great deal, but just like he got the time of ensoulment of the unborn child wrong ( he held out for some time after conception) I think he is for all practical purposes a Calivinist in terms of salvation, he essentially leaves no practical room for human free choice.

Alan R said...

Dear Father Ryan,
Thank you for teaching. I have several questions. Are the Gifts accidents in the soul but part of the essence of the operation pertaining to salvation? Is it ok to say that the evidence of the Gifts are the Fruits of the Holy Spiri in that they are manifested in ones living? I hope your retreat went well.
Peace be with you,
Alan R

ColdStanding said...

Darren asks:

So, we may participate in our salvation in that we may raise our sails/prayers/virtues into the Holy Spirit as Divine wind, and though we set out in faith, we are essentially blind and incapable of navigating by our human means? It is the gifts of the Holy Spirit that direct us on our course? We are neither the means by which we are saved nor can we naturally discern the salvic way, but we are formed as a lively vessel that, should we choose, will respond to the movements of the Holy Spirit? Sin is a hole in our vessel that must be repaired else we will sink into the abyss?

I'm not sure how far the metaphor should be applied.

Allen Choong said...

I have a question about the last table. Is it the virtues and the gifts in the table related? May I know this table is based on which reference? Because it is a little different from Summa Theologica, about the faith, hope, and temperance.

Transcend said...


St. Thomas, so I was told, held that ensoulment occurred once the embryo was safely affixed to the womb, a few hours/day(s) after conception per se, for the reason that a high percentage of fertilized eggs do not attach for numerous reasons regarding body chemistry, temperature, etc.

Can anyone else help out here?

David said...

mdepie: I presume to dare an answer to your comment. First of all, it is a thing wholly improper to start labeling people with the name of a heresiarch, even going so far as to basically call a Doctor of the Church a Calvinist. To say such a thing in such a lighthearted manner is disconcerting to say the least.

Second of all, the Catholic Church does in fact teach that all men are given sufficient grace for salvation. The Church does not teach that all men are given efficacious grace for salvation. If it was indeed the case that God gives every man efficacious grace for salvation, then every man would be saved. Now, not every man is saved, therefore not every man receives efficacious grace for salvation. Indeed, in some cases the amount of grace necessary for salvation is also efficacious for salvation, which means that such a person does in fact cooperate with God's grace completely - such as Our Lady or piously thought also St. Joseph and St. John the Baptist.

Now, we do merit our salvation through our free-will cooperation with God's grace. However, the gift of grace itself is entirely God's prerogative, therefore the grace of graces, ie. the grace of final repentance and predestination, can not be merited by our cooperation with grace, although it is not unconnected with it. The same thing goes for justification for a person in mortal sin. We can never merit repentance for mortal sin, we can only plead for that grace from God and His overabundant Mercy.

Regarding this I would direct you to the venerable Council of Trent:

"So also as regards the gift of perseverance, of which it is written, He that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved:-which gift cannot be derived from any other but Him, who is able to establish him who standeth that he stand perseveringly, and to restore him who falleth:-let no one herein promise himself any thing as certain with an absolute certainty; though all ought to place and repose a most firm hope in God's help." (Sixth Session)

"CANON XXII.-If any one saith, that the justified, either is able to persevere, without the special help of God, in the justice received; or that, with that help, he is not able; let him be anathema." (Ibidem)

In Christ the Savior,

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Allen C,
Well, Faith can correspond to both understanding and knowledge ... but temperance is very clearly linked with temperance (and St Thomas says this in ST I-II, q.141, a.1, ad3), though it is also connected with Hope.

In order to try and make it fit a bit more easily, I simplified that a bit ... but, yes, really, understanding should be with faith and fear of the Lord should be with both hope and temperance.

It is funny though, because the vice opposed to understanding is blindness of intellect which results from sins of lust which is opposed to temperance ... hence, understanding is linked (by the opposing vices) with temperance too!

mdepie said...

Just a word about St Thomas and his beliefs about ensoulment. First this is not really a criticism of St Thomas, I mention it only to show even the Great Doctor has his limits. St Thomas has no understanding of the modern physiology of reproduction and the details of implantation etc where unknown to him. Moreover we do not have any real knowledge at the percentage of normally concieved human embryo's that "fail" to implant, many of these however have severe chromosomal abnormalities which may make implantation impossible and result in the death of the embryo. In any case St Thomas's opinion was more based on when the embryo appeared developed enough to recieve a human soul based on how it appeared to the naked eye. We know now much more about physiology than St Thomas who knew nothing of DNA, and the process of human development, so that Catholic theologians would hold that ensoulment takes place at conception. Again this was not central to my main question which has to do with grace and the nature of salvation. It is peripherally related in that I think St Thomas was not quite right about ensoulment and appears to have been a little Calivin like in his understanding of the nature of salvation, at least in the way in articulates it, and thus in the way that our esteemed host Fr. Erhlenbush follows suit.

Anonymous said...

Is it possible for a baptized and confirmed Catholic not to have any gifts or fruits of the Holy Ghost? I ask this because I seem to have been passed by when it came to distributing either.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Well, yes, it is an analogy after all ... which means that it corresponds on some levels and not on others.

My point is that the sails really are part of the ship, but that the wind (which is not part of the ship) pushes the boat forward by means of the sails.
So, the sails make the ship go, and the wind makes the ship go ... wholly the sails, and wholly the wind (i.e. it is not a 50-50 thing).

Likewise with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
I don't know why you would think I am claiming that "we are not the means by which we are saved" ... of course we are, just as the sails are the means by which the ship goes forward (with the wind)!

However, you are correct to say that we cannot "naturally discern the salvific way" ... that is a dogma of the faith ... salvation is beyond our natural powers and we can only find the path to heaven by God's grace.

Hope it is a bit clearer now!
Peace! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I'm sorry, but you really are in way over your head here ... and the issue of sufficient and efficacious grace is far beyond what I am discussing in this post which is about the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

As far as your claim that St. Thomas is heretical (i.e. a Calvinist) ... you shouldn't have written that.
It is one thing to say that the Thomists are wrong, but to say they are heretics!? That is too much.
Personally, I say that the Jesuits are wrong, but I would never say they are semi-Pelagian heretics ... in fact, I would reject any argument which claimed that they were.

In any case ... if we want to know about the doctrine of grace, we should look to the theologian the Church puts forward as the "Doctor of Grace", namely St. Augustine.
And St. Thomas looks pretty moderate compared to him!

[regarding your discussion of ensoulment ... again, it has nothing to do with this post ... but I will say that, if St Thomas had modern science, he would most certainly hold that the soul is created at conception (and he did hold this for Christ's soul) ... further, his theology and philosophy about procreation was extremely influential in helping the Church come to her current teaching -- so it is very wrong of you to make that attack against him]

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Whosoever is in the state of grace has the gifts of the Holy Spirit ... the trouble is that they are not always operative on account of our negligence!

The little things are most important here! To die to self in small things, to sacrifice our will out of love for God and neighbor. This is the key to unlocking the gifts in our lives!

Also, remember that the gifts are not necessarily "flashy" ... they can work in very subtle ways too ... in fact, most of the time, the gifts work in hidden and humble ways to bring about our salvation! :-)

mdepie said...

Father Erlenbush:

I would make a couple of quick points. Although I realize that it is not the specific topic you were discussing it is similar enough to the topic of Grace and salvation that I asked the question.Second since you really do not know me or how familiar I am with these issues, it is a little presumptuous ( if not rude) to say something like you are in way over over your head". This kind of comment is unwise. As someone who is doing you the compliment of reading your blog and indeed asking your opinion that kind of response is uncalled for. Some people reading your blog for the first time my find it off putting to potential readers. That would be a shame as you appear to be someone who has much to offer. As someone who also teaches, If someone asked me a question I would hesitate to tell the student they are "in over their head" In any case it does not really address the question I asked, and if what you are trying to do is spread the Gospel, as it will limit your potential audience, which I think would be a loss.

Second as I hope I made clear I am not "attacking" St Thomas. He is one of my favorite saints, if not the favorite. I am pretty well aquainted with his writings. I am making the point that although a Saint he was wrong about a matter ( ensoulment), indeed as you acknowledge, because he lacked modern scientific information that is available to you and I but not him. Obviously his teachings shaped the Church, although the idea that abortion is wrong predates him, and stretches back to the Didache. I do not think It shows any disrespect to him to point out that he may also be incorrect about his understanding of grace and salvation, or to be more precise he articulates it in a fashion that makes it sound a lot like something Calvin could agree with. It is absurd to distort this by calling St Thomas a "heretic" as that implies he would have obstinantly held to a theory that the Church had rejected. My point is more that the way he ( and those who quote him) makes him sound Calvin like. If not, then the reasonable thing is to make clear the distinction, as again I would invite you sincerely to do, I would like to understand it better. I am not sure what mentioning Augustine has to do with this, but would agree St. Augustine is even worse! ( it is obvious Augustine believed some people were created and predestined to be damned. In fact the late Father William Most who was a highly regarded moral theologian said of Augustine the following about St Augustine's theory "He thought God picked those to rescue blindly, without any consideration of how they lived. He picked them not that He had any love for them, but merely to make a point. Augustine did not see it, but that was a denial of God's love. For to love is to will good to another for the other's sake. If I will good to another not for that other's sake, but for some outside purpose of mine, I am not loving that person, but using him." Again showing even a great Saint does not get it right every time. Ultimately St Augustine's views on this subject were challenged by other great Saints like St Anslem and his views did not prevail, although indeed like St Thomas he greatly influenced the Church.

In any case although the original post was about the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and since you raised the issues of whether they are necessary for salvation, as well as if they are activated by the will of man, the connection with the fundamental question of whether God wills all men to be saved and thus offers all men the necessary means which they are free to reject, or whether he offers only some men the means, remains. The issues that you raised in your post are very similar. I am interested in your thoughts as opposed to merely a rebuke, and perhaps some of your other readers are as well. To hold a Saint in even the highest regard does not mean that we do not critically grapple with his thought.

With regards Father,

JamesB said...

I had a comment about mdepie's question and your response. First, I agree that we cannot associate St. Thomas too closely with Calvin. Certainly St. Thomas is a Doctor of the Church and Calvin is a heretic and their opinions are different. Secondly, I would say that St. Augustine, although the Doctor of Grace, is not the only opinion that the Church allows. I think that the most important contribution of Augustine was not his ideas about predestination but rather his contribution which has been officially accepted by the Church because of his defense against the Pelagian attacks. St. Thomas is moderate compared to St. Augustine. Personally, I think Fr. Most's view on predestination is the best, but that is besides the point. Third, you should not accuse mdepie of attacking St. Thomas, this was not the intention, it was to prove that although he is a great theologian, of course he is human and not infallible. Finally, to mdepie, I think that the issue is a little more complicated than you have stated. According to most Fathers and even early Augustine, God wills all men to be saved. This seems necessary. The question is how to reconcile this fact with the fact that not all men are saved. Who is the cause of this contradiction. There is a lot more too it because of what kind of involvement does God have and what exactly is the influence of grace on the soul. I believe St. Thomas did not find a perfect solution because from reading his various writings he is not entirely consistent. He is not completely Augustinian but at the same time his theology is different than the Jesuits.

James B.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Pentecost was more about the New Testament gifts as spelled out in 1Cor. 12,Romans and Ephesians. I'm 72 a cradle catholic and I have never heard a homily about the use of these gifts. Why?

Anonymous said...

Father, as far as praying the traditional novena to the Holy Spirit is concerned, is there anything wrong with putting the emphasis on other-oriented persons and intentions? Of course, I am asking for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit for myself, but also for the entire world, for the resolution of the crisis of leadership in the Catholic Church, and especially for radical conversion of the enemies of our holy Catholic faith, esp. the LGBTQ community, who seem to have a mind to take over the entire Church.
Every year, it seems, that particular community insists on entering Catholic churches, esp. cathedrals, and committing public Eucharistic sacrileges. Very little if anything ever seems to get done about this, and about the only thing I have within my personal ability to do is to pray & offer for the conversion of said community. Do you have any thoughts or insights on this situation?

Anonymous said...

This list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit does not mention the gifts listed in Corinthians( prophecy, healing, tongues, etc.). Can you address these gifts please?


Unknown said...


I have a question...

"whosoever is in the state of grace possesses the gifts, and if a man falls to mortal sin he loses the gifts."

I have read that the call and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are irrevocable. Which explains why when Lucifer fell, his powers were not stripped from him. And why people who are endowed with the gifts sometimes use it not to build the Church but to further their own selfish ends. I have encountered such people who are not driven by love but are very gifted. I donot however know if they are in mortal sin or not so maybe there is the fine line.

What is the truth? Are the gifts 'lost' when it is used for ill-means or does it remain with the individual

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

There are 7 Gifts of the Holy Spirit (according to the Fathers of the Church and the tradition generally) ... then there are the many other "gifts" or "charisms".
Further, there are the "fruits" of the Spirit -- which are 12.

The difference between the Gifts and the charisms is that the 7 Gifts are primarily for the salvation of the individual who receives them, while the charisms are primarily for the benefit of the Church in general.
And the 12 Fruits are the acts which proceed from the 7 Gifts.

Hope that helps! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I think we must pray, pray, pray!
And, yes, I do think it is good to ask for the Gifts to be given in a new abundance to leaders in our Church, our Society, and also to members of our families.

Peace! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Apologies for coming on so strong before ... I did not intend to offend or belittle you ... thank you for continuing the discussion.

The similarities between Thomas and Calvin are only superficial ... on a far more profound level, the Jesuit Molinists and Calvin are united in their approach to the question (even though, superficially, they are total opposites).
I have written about this here: http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2012/05/without-me-you-can-do-nothing-what.html

St. Thomas is most certainly NOT "practically a Calvinist" ... first: He is not even dealing with the same question as Calvin. The Scholastic debate centered around the First Grace, rather than the Last Grace and predestination.
Second: St Thomas absolutely refuses any notion of being saved without merit or cooperation or virtue, etc ... indeed, even more does he reject the idea of being damned without reference to sin.

Now, you are right to say that there is room for debate about many points ... and, although I am a Thomist, not everyone has to be (though, I AM very glad to hear that you also love the Angelic Doctor).
HOWEVER, we must look to those Doctors whom the Church has specifically put forward as lights and guides on various issues -- and, in the matter of Grace and Free Will, the Church gives St Augustine as our "Doctor of Grace". So we must take what he says very seriously -- of course, St Thomas is the "Common Doctor", meaning that he is recognized by the Church as a guide for every theological question.

St Robert Bellarmine (who follows the Jesuit camp), however, is the "Ecclesial Doctor" -- so, in matters relating to the theology of the Church and the hierarchy/laity, etc. we ought to look to him. But, he is not the "Doctor of Grace" ... St Augustine is ... and that should tell us something.
It doesn't solve the whole debate ... there is room for diverse opinion ... but it should still tell us something.

In any case, what we cannot do is make straw men of these great saints ... and that is precisely what Fr Most does in that quote you gave about St Augustine.
The worst line from Most is: "He [God] picked them [the elect] not that He had any love for them, but merely to make a point."
That is pathetic theology, it is lazy, it is dishonest. I am really sad to read it ... I would love the reference, because I can scarcely believe that Fr Most would be so sloppy.

To claim that Augustine did not see predestination as an expression of God's love ... and that he predestined people without loving them ... well, it shows absolutely no understanding for Augustine's doctrine of grace.
[I don't say this as an attack on you, by the way ... I am referring to Fr Most, if indeed he really did write what you quoted]

I would never treat the Jesuit Fr. Molina with the disrespect that some people treat the two greatest theologians of the Church, Sts Augustine and Thomas.
I don't know how these "theologians" can get away with it and still be taken seriously as "scholars".

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

To answer the question you raised in your first comment ...

A Catholic is not required to hold that God gives efficacious grace to all. We must hold, however, that he gives at least sufficient grace to all. And one could hold that he gives efficacious grace to all.

Calvin, it seems to me, did not think that God gave even sufficient grace to all.

And, yes, God does will the salvation of all ... but this is in his "antecedent will", taken before the consideration of their actions ... in his "consequent will", taking their actions into account, God wills the damnation of some who are sent to hell on account of their sins and not merely because God blindly chose against them.
This, at least, is the doctrine of St Thomas and also of St Augustine (though the Doctor of Grace is a bit unclear in certain places).

The Jesuit Molinists blend the distinction between efficacious grace and sufficient grace.
The Thomists on the other hand struggle at times to explain what makes sufficient grace to be truly sufficient.

But all of this is far too complex to get into in the comment box.
Still, I hope that this helps a little bit. +

Anonymous said...

To Father Ryan,

Why is it that in the second reading this sunday from 1st Cor. 12 verse 8-11 are left out. The reading says there are gifts why not mention them. Why is the modern church so reluctant to teach about the charisms. Don't the people need to use them to benefit the church?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Sorry that your comment didn't get posted till just now ... it was lost in the "spam" file for some reason.

In any case, thank you for the good points! +

David Orrino said...

I am a bit late to this discussion, but here goes my question.
This past Lent I consecrated myself to Jesus through Mary according to the method given on this blog by St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort! Thank you so much for offering that to your readers. By consecrating myself I offer Our Blessed Mother ALL that I have had, will have or ever will have in the order of grace and the material world for her to use for the greater glory of the Blessed Trinity. That thought gives me great peace. However, I get confused when I come upon prayers and novenas, like the one you have linked here, that have words of Consecration in them. Now that I am consecrated to Our Lord through Mary, should I avoid other prayers/novenas that use words of consecrations?

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