What are the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit?


Today, we rarely talk about the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, infused in us at Baptism. They’re hard to remember and even harder to describe.

Yet, the Holy Spirit is vital to our holiness and mission. The gifts of the Holy Spirit help us on our journey to salvation. Jesus had the gifts in their fullness, as prophesied by Isaiah. If we want to imitate Christ, we should keeping asking God to cultivate these gifts in our hearts.

What are these seven gifts and how do we grow in receiving them?

1. Wisdom

Wisdom is the highest of the gifts. It is both the “knowledge of and and judgement of divine things.

In short, wisdom helps us recognize who God is, who we are, and where we should be going. To become more wise is to become more Christlike, because Jesus is Wisdom, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

A wise person will keep heaven in mind as our final end and prepare for it. We can see this with the five wise bridesmaids who had oil in their lamps for the coming of the Bridegroom.

When King Solomon asked God for wisdom, God decided to give him all others gifts to go with it. Despite his wealth and power, King Solomon’s greatest asset was his wisdom from God.

The Judgement of Solomon by Nicolas Poussin (1649)
The Judgement of Solomon by Nicolas Poussin (1649)

Both Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas agree. If you have wisdom, everything in your life gets placed in their proper order of importance.

What should we do to receive more wisdom?

  • Try to keep a supernatural outlook. Recognize God’s presence both in your life and in the world.
  • Ask God for humility, which makes growth in wisdom possible.
  • Associate with people wiser than yourself and learn from them.
  • Learn and study more about who God is and how to live our lives.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit for wisdom in all things.

2. Understanding

Understanding allows the intellect to “see God” and understand the things of God on a deeper level. St. Thomas Aquinas explains that we need God’s help to understand Him. He writes that to understand things above our nature, we need help from above our nature.

For example, Christ’s Crucifixion seems foolish to those who don’t understand it. The Holy Spirit taught us to understand it better (even though we don’t fully understand it).

The gift of understanding is like a light in a dark room that illumines the objects inside. We begin to see their form, their color, and relate it to objects we already understand.

Jesus speaks in John 8:12:

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.'”

Many things in life and in our faith do not make sense outside of Christ. Not only is Christ the Truth, He allows us to better understanding the Truth as well.

What should we do to receive more understanding?

  • Become childlike and live in your identity as a son or daughter of the Father. The Father reveals truths to the childlike.
  • Cultivate a habit of meditative prayer. With God’s help, ponder the Scriptures or spiritual reading.
  • Like wisdom, study different topics about God and the faith.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit for understanding, so that you can love God and neighbor more.

3. Counsel

Counsel allows God to direct the soul through their reason. This is like seeking guidance from someone wiser than you. God specifically provides this gift in matters related to our personal salvation. The gift of counsel can sometimes be gratuitous. This means that God gives counsel to someone so they can counsel someone else.

The Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas by Francisco de Zurbarán (1631)
The Apotheosis of St. Thomas Aquinas by Francisco de Zurbarán (1631)

Although God guides us through counsel, we still have to use our will and choose the right action. Knowing what to do is the first step.

What should we do to receive more counsel?

  • When a difficult situation arises, ask the Holy Spirit for guidance on what to do.
  • Ask a wise person for advice in difficult situations. They can use their own gift of counsel to guide you.
  • Bring the Holy Spirit into your decisions, even if they don’t seem serious at first. The Holy Spirit will reveal more ways we can better love God and neighbor where we least expect it.

4. Fortitude

Through human nature, we have fortitude as a virtue: “a firmness of mind . . . both in doing good and in enduring evil, especially with regard to goods or evils that are difficult.

The Holy Spirit’s gift of fortitude takes this farther by surpassing our human nature. It provides strength “in order that he may attain the end of each work begun, and avoid whatever perils may threaten.”

Like counsel, the gift of fortitude deals in matters related to our salvation. With the Holy Spirit, we can complete all of our good deeds and endure any evil, all according to God’s will.

Fortitude helps especially when the situation is difficult or dangerous. It also brings a special confidence in the soul:I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

What should we do to receive more fortitude?

  • Begin with the tasks to do or the evils to endure that are not very difficult. Invite God to give you fortitude even in the little things. Then work your way up.
  • Create a habit of beginning your day and each task in prayer to God. Ask for the strength to do it with great love and according to His will.
  • Practice the realization that God is present in your life, in every situation. Remember that He is in your life to help bring you to heaven.
  • Ask God if there are any tasks or sufferings that He is calling you to, especially ones you may have been ignoring.

5. Knowledge

While the gift of understanding helps us have an intellectual grasp on things, the gift of knowledge is different. It gives us “a sure and right judgment on them, so as to discern what is to be believed, from what is not to be believed.

In short, knowledge helps us to differentiate what is worth believing or not. According to St. Augustine, this is different from the gift of wisdom because wisdom is about “divine things” whereas knowledge is about “human affairs.” This means that knowledge pertains to “created things.”

Like the gift of counsel, the gift of knowledge can come in a gratuitous form. It helps others learn “how to make the faith known, how to induce others to believe, and confute those who deny the faith.

What should we do to receive more knowledge?

  • There are many different movements fighting to get our support and attention. Ask God for the grace to know what is truly of Him.
  • Continue learning more about the faith. Learn especially how to bring God into the duties of your vocation and in your professional work.
  • Track what type of entertainment you consume. Are you losing your knowledge of what’s right and wrong?

6. Piety

Piety refers primarily to “having a filial affection towards God.” We see this described in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans:

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'”

John the Baptist Baptizing Christ by Francesco Trevisani (1723)
John the Baptist Baptizing Christ by Francesco Trevisani (1723)

The virtue of piety helps us to pay duty and worship to our natural fathers. The gift of piety helps us to pay duty and worship to God as our Father.

The extension of our duty and worship of God the Father includes honoring the saints and not contradicting Scripture.

What should we do to receive more piety?

  • Meditate on what it means to have God as your true Father. Meditate on what it means to have the dignity of being a son or daughter of God.
  • Cultivate a habit of intimate dialogue in prayer.
  • Remember that the source of our love for God and others is the recognition that God loves us first. Allow Him to love you.

7. Fear of God

There are many kinds of fear, but the gift of fear refers to a “filial fear.” It is not a fear of punishment (servile fear). It is instead a fear of offending God as our Father and/or separating ourselves from Him.

Hope and filial fear perfect each other. We have hope that we will receive God’s help. The fear of God helps us to not withdraw from God’s help.

While hope tends us toward a possible good, fear helps us avoid a possible evil.

What should we do to receive more fear of God?

  • Remember how good God our Father is, along with the many blessings He has given you. Then meditate on the possibility of losing God in your life and how awful it would be in comparison.
  • Ponder God in wonder and awe at how great He is.
  • On earth, we often have a fear of offending or being separated from loved ones. Cultivate an intimacy with God that would tend toward a similar fear of offending or being separated from Him.

Even though we receive the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit at Baptism, we still need to ask the Holy Spirit to manifest them more in our lives. They help us to finish our difficult journey to heaven. Christ sent the Holy Spirit as our Helper on our spiritual journey. Do not be afraid to ask for divine help!

What are the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit?
Trevor Jin
Trevor creates content for the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) in Denver, CO. Before that he served as a FOCUS missionary.