The Craftsman of Souls: The Holy Ghost and His Gifts

Dr. Peter Chojnowski
Reproduced by permission

Instinct. Normally this term is used to express a nonrational, unlearned condition which facilitates behavior which is both in accord with nature and which is beneficial and, even, necessary to the creature who possesses these inclinations. In the world of nature, it is the nonrational animal kingdom which is most characterized by it reliance on instinct. Man, as a rational animal, possesses a modicum of instinctual responses which all relate to the preservation of his bodily integrity, e.g., the repulsion which expecting mothers experience when in the presence of a certain type of food which could be, potentially, toxic for her unborn child. In a previous article, I have written of St. Thomas Aquinas' consideration of the most basic inclinations of our human nature, which constitute the very matter of the Natural Law.1 For St. Thomas, inclinations are a law revealing the inner ratio and purpose of man's nature as that nature has been eternally understood by the Divine Intellect. This essential (because originating in a thing's essence) "lawfulness" of natural desire is complemented by a intellectual recognition that the goods towards which we are inclined as men, health, self-preservation, knowledge, children, community, and the activities in which these goods are attained and cultivated, are fundamentally fitting and positive manifestations of "what men ought to do," and, hence, what men ought to be; being is developed through acting, just as acting depends upon being.

This natural symbiosis, this interplay of thinking, feeling, and acting is the Natural Law as it is written into the heart of every man. No man can avoid it since it is part of his very being as an intellectual, rational soul.

The natural recognition that "good is to be done and evil avoided," the First Principle of Practical Reason, and that certain primary goods are worthy of human pursuit and, indeed, obligatory (e.g., procreation and education of children, bodily self-preservation, the search after knowledge of the Creator, living amicably within the context of a community), is an intuition which St. Thomas Aquinas insists that all men have. The fact that the men of our Liberal era have ceased to recognize, seemingly, these things as obvious objects of pursuit is another problem which we have considered in previous articles.2 This first level of connaturality, the most basic and most fundamental (fundamental because we cannot be human and not rely on these basic intuitions), is at the level of what St. Thomas calls "first nature," the nature and orientation we have by the very fact that we are human. In the ethical teaching of St. Thomas, this connaturality of thought, feeling, and natural orientation, is complemented by a connaturality relating to "second nature." Second nature is the character which a man receives after performing, habitually, a certain type of voluntary action. Since this type of action and the habits which result from it are voluntary, originating in our intention and choice and not merely in our nature, they are properly speaking moral acts. The habits which result from these moral acts are either vices or virtues. What is interesting about the Aristotelian-Thomistic teaching on virtue is that a certain moral connaturality is mentioned as being the proper manifestation of the good human life. According to both Aristotle and St. Thomas, the taking of pleasure in virtuous actions is the sign of the possession of true and perfect virtue. To do what is right and not to take pleasure in it, is to do right but not to be right. The connaturality involved in the life of moral virtue would entail an "instinctive" attraction to good and fitting actions on account of the pleasure which one derived from those actions. One would "know," without having to go through an extended process of logical reasoning, that the actions which you perform, and the actions which you approve of others performing, are fitting augmentations of the order, tranquillity, and efficacy of the created whole. When you think right, act right, and feel right, you are right. Those with such a developed or, even, nascent experience of the good, will have a moral vision which will correctly judge others actions, while, also, fully appreciating the fittingness of such action. Good and morally healthy action and truthful speech will resonate with the man whose "second nature" is marked by the moral virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance.

With the two forms of connaturality in mind, we pose the question of this essay: Is it the case that a form of connaturality exists on the level of supernature? Is there a divine connaturality which man can share in and which would enable him to think, feel, and act with God, but not as God. Is this type of thinking, feeling, and acting precisely what the Christian life is about?

The simple answer to the above question is, yes there is. The Church speaks of this life of divine connaturality when, through the teaching of the Angelic Doctor, She considers the theological virtues, the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and fruits of the Holy Ghost. In our post-Protestant and individualistic, humanistic age we tend to consider all the perfections which are ours as a result of our baptism as so many perfections and, indeed, an elevation of our own being. And so they are. What we forget, however, is that not only are they qualitative perfections of our own soul, not only do they give man capacities which he would not have solely on account of his nature, but they also give us a share in the Divine Life itself. What is "life," but thinking, feeling, and acting? With this said, we must remember that a "share" is only a share. To participate in God's life is not to be God. However, one need not be God to think "with" Him, feel "with" Him, and act "with" Him. It is exactly such intimacy with the Three Divine Persons, to commiserate in Their very actions, which makes the life extended to us from the arms of the Cross more fantastic than any which could be conceived by the natural mind of man. All the baptized free from grave sin possess a share in this Life. My question is simply, how many men appreciate this pearl of inestimable price. Of course, how can we appreciate something, when we don't know what that something precisely is?

The conditions by which we can achieve this intimation of the fullness of the Divine Life are known as the Gifts of the Holy Ghost. It shall be the purpose of this essay and the one to follow, to identify the specific nature of these Gifts, indicating how these perfections, provided to the soul first in Baptism and, then, brought to completion in Confirmation, enable the soul to achieve a "divine connaturality," an empathy with the very being of the Triune God.

Just as we may legitimately wonder what has happened in our own day to the natural empathy with the good human life, so too we have to wonder why it is that even those who receive sanctifying grace from the hands of Holy Mother Church do not appear to manifest any empathy with the life and adventure of holiness. Why is it that the spiritual vision of holiness no longer attracts or seems to even interest those who are "officially" committed to seeing the life of holiness concretized in their own lives? Why do we find our own being, not merely "trying to be," just like everyone else? For most Catholics in this technological and capitalist age, the participation in the Divine Life, the supernatural state of grace, appears to have lost its savor. The holy no longer resonates with even faithful souls. Why? Why not now?

A) The Gifts: What are they?

The fact that there are exactly 7 gifts of the Holy Ghost is not with out significant. In fact, it helps ups to better understand that these gifts, even though bestowed directly by the action of the Holy Ghost, are, yet, dispositions of a man's own soul. That man is the recipient and reason for the Gifts is indicated in the fact that the number 7 has since ancient Christian times been take as the symbolic number for man. Since man is composed of spiritual soul made in the image of the Holy Trinity (the number 3 traditionally standing for spiritual reality) and a material body (the number 4 traditionally standing for material reality on account of the teaching that this material reality was ultimately composed of the 4 elements of earth, air, fire, and water), it is fitting that the number 7 signify that which relates to and which perfects man. Thus the 7 Sacraments, the 7 virtues, the 7 Gifts, the 7 liberal arts, and the 7 ages of man.3

So even though St. Thomas himself refers to the 7 Gifts as the "divine instinct" (divinum instinctum), they are still dispositions of man.4 "Disposition"5 is, probably, the best word to use in this case, on account of the fact that the passivity entailed by the operation of these qualities is most clearly emphasized. With this concept of the Gifts being "dispositions," we can more readily understand their distinction from the virtues, specifically the intellectual and moral virtues. By indicating what the Gifts are not, we more perfectly can understand what they are. Even though, just like the virtues, intellectual and moral, the Gifts are perfections of the various powers and faculties of the human soul (i.e., the speculative intellect, the practical intellect, the passions, and the appetites), along with being ordered hierarchically as the virtues are according to the dignity of the human faculty which they are perfections of, nevertheless, there is a critical distinction between the Gifts and the virtues. Whereas, "human virtues perfect man as it is natural for him to be moved by his reason in his interior and exterior actions,"6 by means of the Gifts "man is disposed to become amenable to the Divine inspiration."7 So, whereas, the moral virtues dispose the faculties of the human soul to be moved towards their proper good, ultimately the good of the whole man, by being amenable to the direction of right reason, the Gifts dispose the soul to "follow well the promptings of God."8 The difference between the Gifts and the virtues is one of agency. Who is the primary "mover" in the actions which are the fruit of these perfections of the soul? Who initiates the movement of soul which will produced the act? In this context, the answer is clear. In the case of the virtues, it is man himself who initiates the virtuous action, in the case of the Gifts, it is the Holy Ghost Himself who is the initiator of the meritorious actions.

B) Mover and Moved

In Thomistic philosophy and theology there are several different "levels" of causality. There are, therefore, several fundamentally different ways in which in which a thing can be "moved" by a mover. Even though St. Thomas makes this distinction between the different types of causality, he, nevertheless, insists that God is the ultimate cause of all motion. Motion, here, being equated with all change, not merely with change of place or "local" motion. All such change involves the "reduction" of potency to act. Change as such is the reduction of potency to act. Whereas, something has the potential to be another way, "change" is when something becomes "in another way." Brown hair has the "potential" to become blond, change is when it becomes not only potentially blond but "actually" blond.

The most basic kind of change which both Aristotle and St. Thomas considered was physical change. Physical change can be of two types. What is called "substantial change," or the changing of one thing into another type of thing (e.g., generation and death as the two examples of substantial change among living beings), and "accidental change," which involves the changing of the characteristics of a substance but does not involve the changing of the substance (e.g., like a man's hair going from brown to blond). Local motion, or the movement of something from place to place is an example of accidental change. A thing is potentially there, now, because of the action of the mover, it is actually there. To this type of natural change, we might add psychological changes in men. These types of change, even though it does not involve the movement from one place to another, are, nevertheless, true movements from potency to act. Little Joey has the potential to learn algebra. Little Joey actually learns algebra.

There is a difference, of course, between the way in which snow is moved down a mountain in an avalanche and the way in which Little Joey learns algebra with the encouragement of his parents and the help of his teacher. The snow cannot help but move down the mountain. It is "moved" by other physical agents which become the causes of the avalanche. The snow does not move itself. According to both Aristotle and St. Thomas, only living things can move themselves. Whether physically or mentally. Thus, whereas the snow is not the cause of its own movement, Little Joey is the cause of his own "movement." With, of course, the helping hand of the parent.

With this said, we must still insist, as do Aristotle and St. Thomas, that Little Joey cannot "move" himself, without being in some way "moved" by an ultimate and first cause of the motion, the movement from potency to act. Even with regard to this kind of motion, St.Thomas identifies two types of series of "caused causes." The first is a per accidens causal series. Grandpa Jeremiah causes Dad who caused Little Joey who learned algebra. This type of causal connection is extended in time and is not absolute. It is not absolute because Little Joey can learn algebra even though Old Jeremiah is long gone. Even in this looser type of causal connection, God is still the first cause of the whole chain, having created the heavens and the earth.9 The necessary or strict causal series which enables Little Joey to learn algebra is called a per se series of caused causes. This answers the question, what is moving Joey to cognize algebraic formulas right now. God is, also, the first mover in this motion, most apparently in so far as God made Joey's mind in such as way as to be directed, by its very nature, to the understanding of abstract truths. In this way, God's causal activity is enabling Joey to understand algebra right now. It is Joey who learns. It is Joey who decides to study. It is God Who provides the conditions for Little Joey to act at all. Of course Joey cannot act if Joey does not exist. Here is another level of causality, the metaphysical one, which also requires the cooperation of the Divine Intellect and Will. For anyone or anything to "move," God, the Master of all being, must sustain the person or thing in being. This is referred to as concurrent causality. Philosophically, this form of causality becomes very challenging when God is recognized as upholding men when they perform moral actions, including evil actions. Here, God is upholding in being those who are performing good or evil actions. God does not perform the good actions or, especially, the evil actions Himself. He simply, by means of His Intellect, Power, and Will, deigns to uphold in being, therefore provides the metaphysical condition for the charity of the saint and the viciousness of the sinner. God does this without, in any way, performing the evil act of the sinner.10

C) The Holy Ghost as Mover

When we consider the causality which the Gifts of the Holy Ghost make possible, we realize that this "motion" is in some ways similar to the natural motions mentioned above. Here too God is the primary and ultimate case of the action. What makes the disposition conferred by the Gifts distinctive, and the actions which are the fruits of those Gifts unique, are two things. First, the actions which the Gifts make possible are of a different order than are the actions which result from the natural inclinations of man or even the virtuous habits which are gradually acquired by the good man. The actions, which are the fruits of the Gifts, are of the supernatural order and meritorious for salvation on account of the fact that they are directed towards the honor and glory of God and the eternal salvation of the soul directly. They are not, primarily or essentially, directed towards the satisfaction of mundane desire or, even, the maintenance of right social relations.11 Here we find the Church's perennial teaching that the baptized soul operates on two essentially different planes of existence, one natural and one supernatural. Yet, contrary to the opinion of those who would trivialize or deny the distinction, the justified man has a unified being and maintains coherence of action since traditional Catholic theology does not speak of a schizophrenia, but rather, the elevation of natural actions to the supernatural order and their redirection toward supernatural ends.

The second distinction between actions which are the fruits of the Gifts and actions which are the result of natural desire or, even, virtuous habituation is that the character of the act performed is provided by the Holy Ghost Himself and not by the man acting. Thus, the Holy Ghost is the originator of the act in all of its specificity. The Gifts, which are always present when sanctifying grace is present and never present without it, facilitate the action of the Holy Ghost in our souls which are manifested in our own acts both internal and external.12

D) Artist of Soul -- Soul of the Body

What a true artist understands about a work of art is that, in order for the work to be beautiful, it must possess a quality which the ancients referred to as integrity. Integrity in a work of art involves all the various "parts" of the work being unified, both thematically and stylistically, into a coherent whole. That which is beautiful, must be one. That which is living, must be one. To be both one and living, all that is operative must have a single aim, the life and the flourishing of the whole. If the Holy Ghost is the artist of the soul,13 as St. Thomas himself teaches, then it is the Holy Ghost as artist Whose purpose for intervention in the lives of men is to fashion the whole man into the image and likeness of the Triune God. Only the artist can execute the strokes. Only the artist has the exemplar in mind which will stand before him and guide each stroke. If the artist is to make a master work, if he is to imprint the spiritual exemplar on the material canvas, he must have the entire canvas to work with. He must be master of the whole, in the beginning and throughout the entire course of the production.

For the Holy Ghost to craft, by His various inspirations, the entire supernatural life of a man, His work must apply to all the different faculties of man. Just as there is a virtue to apply to each faculty or power of the human soul, thereby making the faculty amenable to the direction of right reason, so too is there a Gift for all the various faculties of man.14 The 7 Gifts, unlike the 3 theological virtues, can only be possessed in their entirety or they are not possessed at all.15 The speculative intellect is perfected by the Gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge. The practical intellect by Counsel. The appetitive power of the will, "in matters touching a man's relations to another, is perfected by piety; in matters touching himself, it is perfected by fortitude against the fear of dangers; and against inordinate lust for pleasure by fear."16

The metaphor of the artist and the other which St. Thomas uses when discussing man's relationship to the Holy Ghost through His Gifts, man as an "organ" of the a spiritual body, are in some way adequate and, in some way, necessarily inadequate. When an artist uses a paint brush, paints, and canvas, the tools and media of his trade are inert, purely instrumental causes. They are manipulated, rather than being efficacious. Likewise, the organ in the body.17 Useful to the whole, but not in control of its own destiny. The paint brush is moved by the artist, just as the organ is moved by the soul of the animated body. They in no way are efficient causes of their own motions. "But man is not an instrument of this kind, for he is so acted upon by the Holy Ghost that he also acts himself, in so far as he has a free will."18 To be acted upon, yet to act oneself. To be an organ of the Mystical Body, and yet to freely will each action which contributes to the life of the whole. To be aware of one's own work, yet to fail to appreciate its necessity and wide-spread effect. To know what I am doing and, yet, to trust that the Holy Ghost is using what I am doing to accomplish more good than I can imagine. Only He knows how I will affect the farthest part.

E) Charity and the Gifts

"The mind of man is not moved by the Holy Ghost, unless in some way it be united to Him; even as the instrument is not moved by the craftsman, unless there be contact or some kind of union between them. Now the primal union of man with God is by faith, hope, and charity; and, consequently, these virtues are presupposed to the gifts, as being their roots. Therefore all the gifts correspond to these 3 virtues, as being derived therefrom."19 Just as the Gifts of the Holy Ghost must cohere together and perfect the whole man with all of his powers, so to must the Gifts cohere with the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity if the Gifts are to reside in the human soul at all. The only soul amenable to the promptings and inspirations of the Holy Ghost is the one possessed of all three theological virtues. Of course, there can exist souls with only Faith20 and Hope21, but such souls do not have the "living" faith and "living" hope which can only come with the burning Charity and the supernatural vivification of man made possible by the Gifts. Without Faith, there is no intellectual ground and no goal for the movements of the soul. Without Hope, there is no confidence and encouragement that the goal presented can be attained. The Holy Ghost can only work with those who have clear knowledge and incited love.

Charity, its development in the Christian soul and its perfection in the Beatific Vision when the fullness of the Beloved will be known, is the driving power and the end of all the action which the Holy Ghost provokes in the soul. Just as all of the organs of the body have, as their purpose, the growth and maturity of the entire organism, so too does the breath of the Holy Ghost in the life of an individual have as its one goal the fanning of the flames of Charity. If acts of Charity are the aim of the inspirations of the Holy Ghost, and Charity is a friendship love in which I love God, not on account of something which I receive from Him, but because of who He is in Himself, then what the flames of Charity must "burn" away is the very self-interest of the loving soul. As the flame of a candle burns away and transforms that which is wholesome, supple, and pure, so too must the flame of Charity, ignited by the Holy Ghost, take into itself what is of us and transform it into what is of God. Is not this the very essence of the Christian life? Is this not the only spiritual progress? This is why the Holy Ghost, Who is only present with His Gifts, must have the whole man to work with. The whole man must be immolated. To love the Infinitely Good God more than we love ourselves, can only mean all self-interest must be sacrificed, for who can stand before God? Those who will not submit to the flame of the Charity of the Holy Ghost, will never see God. Even those who would reserve only a little something for themselves alone, will find that they must also submit this to the flame of Charity if they are to be rendered acceptable. The Gifts of the Holy Ghost, by which we attain an empathy with the thought, feeling, and action of God, allow us to know ourselves as God knows us; the Holy Ghost is the flame, we are the chaff, we are burnt up so that God can be all in all.22


1 Cf. Dr. Peter Chojnowski, "What is the Natural Law?" in the Angelus, April, 1999, pp. 29-33. [Back]

2 Ibid. [Back]

3 Cf. Emile Mâle, The Gothic Image: Religious Art in France of the Thirteenth Century (New York: Harper and Row, 1938), p. 11. Also, St. Augustine, In Psalm., vi.; Patrol., vol. cho_09holyghost.htmlvi. -cho_09holyghost.htmlvii., col. 91. "Numerus ternarius ad animum pertinet, quaternarius ad corpus," and Hugh of St. Victor, Patrol., vol. clxxv., col. 22. [Back]

4 St. Thomas Aquinas, umma TheologicaS, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 1, ad 2. [Back]

5 ST, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 1. [Back]

6 Ibid. [Back]

7 ST, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 1 and 2. [Back]

8 ST, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 1, ad 3. [Back]

9 Cf. Martin Vaske, An Introduction to Metaphysics ( New York: McGraw-Hill, 1963), pp. 111-113. [Back]

10 ST, I, Q. 44, Art. 1, ad 1. [Back]

11 ST, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 1 and Art. 2, ad 1. [Back]

12 ST, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 1. [Back]

13 ST, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 4, ad 1. [Back]

14 ST, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 4. [Back]

15 ST, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 5. Cf. ad 3. [Back]

16 ST, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 4. [Back]

17 ST, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 4, ad 1. [Back]

18 ST, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 3, ad 2. [Back]

19 ST, I-II, Q. 68, Art. 4, ad 3. [Back]

20 ST, II-II, Q. 4, Art. 4, ad 4. [Back]

21 ST, II-II, Q. 17, Art. 8. [Back]

22 ST, II-II, Q. 68, Art. 6. [Back]