instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

To know this is to love Him

I concluded an earlier post on St. Thomas's conception of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit with the question, "... but how does knowing this help anyone to love God and neighbor any better?"

Leave it to Dominicans to answer the question by pointing out the inherent link between knowledge and love.

There's no chance I'll deny the value of knowing God better in order to love Him better, but what I was aiming for with my question was more specific: How, precisely, might my knowing what St. Thomas taught about the relationship between the Seven Gifts and the virtues affect my love of God and neighbor? Is this particular fruit of contemplation only good for contemplation, or is it useful for action as well?

Since (as I wrote before) not everything St. Thomas taught on this topic is Church doctrine to the exclusion of all contrary opinions I'll start with what the Catechism says (as I quoted before), with particular focus on the last sentence:
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. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.
In the ordinary use of the word, a gift is something (usually a material thing) that, once given to us, becomes entirely ours. We can use it, shelve it, waste it, throw it away, but whatever we do with it, it is our property and our choice.

The Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit aren't exactly like that. They do become ours to use or not, but in a sense they also remain the Holy Spirit's. It's sort of like someone giving you a present of a pager whose number only they know, or a two-way wrist radio that only communicates with the one they have.

The Gift of Wisdom, then, doesn't make me wise in the same way the gift of a good singing voice makes (okay, would have made) me a good singer -- or, for that matter, in the same way the grace of the intellectual virtue of wisdom would make me wise. I am not wise in myself through this gift; rather, the Holy Spirit directly moves me to wisdom. (St. Thomas also distinguishes the gift from the intellectual virtue by saying that "the latter is attained by human effort, whereas the former is 'descending from above.'")

By thinking of the Gifts as things that make us "docile in readily obeying divine inspirations," then, we can reach two important conclusions:
  • The Gifts of the Holy Spirit produce in us an immediate and ongoing connection with God. The two-way wrist radio is an unspeakably hokey analogy, but it does suggest that, in being given the Gifts, we are able to receive and respond to Divine inspiration in an exceptional way.
  • The Gifts enable the Holy Spirit to complete and perfect us through our daily lives. In themselves, they don't perfect us; they only enable the relationship with God that does. It is a relationship that we must and can live out each day. With the Gifts, we are never far from God or from His action in our lives.
Can these conclusions help us to love God and neighbor better? Yes, by making us more conscious of the closeness of God, both in being (the Trinity dwells with those who are sanctified) and in doing (the Gifts tell us that God intends to act through us as a matter of course). In this way, we love God the more for better understanding His great love for us; no distant uncle mailing us a $20 bill He. We also love neighbor the more for being quicker to think of and to depend on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit rather than our own imperfect virtues.