By this term is meant attributing especially to one Divine Person perfections and exterior works which seem to us more clearly or more immediately to be connected with Him, when we consider His personal characteristics, but which in reality are common to the Three Persons. It is in this sense that we attribute to the Father the perfection of omnipotence, with its most striking manifestations, e.g. the Creation, because He is the principle of the two other Persons; to the Son we attribute wisdom and the works of wisdom, because He proceeds from the Father by the Intellect; to the Holy Ghost we attribute the operations of grace and the sanctification of souls, and in particular spiritual gifts and fruits, because He proceeds from the Father and the Son as Their mutual love and is called in Holy Writ the goodness and the charity of God.
The gifts of the Holy Ghost are of two kinds: the first are specially intended for the sanctification of the person who receives them; the second, more properly called charismata, are extraordinary favours granted for the help of another, favours, too, which do not sanctify by themselves, and may even be separated from sanctifying grace. Those of the first class are accounted seven in number, as enumerated by Isaias (11:2-3), where the prophet sees and describes them in the Messias. They are the gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety (godliness), and fear of the Lord.
- The gift of wisdom, by detaching us from the world, makes us relish and love only the things of heaven.
- The gift of understanding helps us to grasp the truths of religion as far as is necessary.
- The gift of counsel springs from supernatural prudence, and enables us to see and choose correctly what will help most to the glory of God and our own salvation.
- By the gift of fortitude we receive courage to overcome the obstacles and difficulties that arise in the practice of our religious duties.
- The gift of knowledge points out to us the path to follow and the dangers to avoid in order to reach heaven.
- The gift of piety, by inspiring us with a tender and filial confidence in God, makes us joyfully embrace all that pertains to His service.
- Lastly, the gift of fear fills us with a sovereign respect for God, and makes us dread, above all things, to offend Him.
As to the inner nature of these gifts, theologians consider them to be supernatural and permanent qualities, which make us attentive to the voice of God, which render us susceptible to the workings of actual grace, which make us love the things of God, and, consequently, render us more obedient and docile to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost.
But how do they differ from the virtues? Some writers think they are not really distinct from them, that they are the virtues inasmuch as the latter are free gifts of God, and that they are identified essentially with grace, charity, and the virtues. That opinion has the particular merit of avoiding a multiplication of the entities infused into the soul. Other writers look upon the gifts as perfections of a higher order than the virtues; the latter, they say, dispose us to follow the impulse and guidance of reason; the former are functionally intended to render the will obedient and docile to the inspirations of the Holy Ghost. For the former opinion, see Bellevüe, “L’uvre du Saint-Esprit” (Paris, 1902), 99 sq.; and for the latter, see St. Thomas, I-II, Q. lxviii, a. 1, and Froget, “De l’habitation du Saint-Esprit dans les âmes justes” (Paris, 1900), 378 sq.
The gifts of the second class, or charismata, are known to us partly from St. Paul, and partly from the history of the primitive Church, in the bosom of which God plentifully bestowed them. Of these “manifestations of the Spirit”, “all these things [that] one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will”, the Apostle speaks to us, particularly in I Corinthians 12:6-11; I Corinthians 12:28-31; and Romans 12:6-8.
In the first of these three passages we find nine charismata mentioned: the gift of speaking with wisdom, the gift of speaking with knowledge, faith, the grace of healing, the gift of miracles, the gift of prophecy, the gift of discerning spirits, the gift of tongues, the gift of interpreting speeches. To this list we must at least add, as being found in the other two passages indicated, the gift of government, the gift of helps, and perhaps what Paul calls distributio and misericordia. However, exegetes are not all agreed as to the number of the charismata, or the nature of each one of them; long ago, St. Chrysostom and St. Augustine had pointed out the obscurity of the question. Adhering to the most probable views on the subject, we may at once classify the charismata and explain the meaning of most of them as follows. They form four natural groups:
- Two charismata which regard the teaching of Divine things: sermo sapientiæ, sermo scientiæ, the former relating to the exposition of the higher mysteries, the latter to the body of Christian truths.
- Three charismata that lend support to this teaching: fides, gratia sanitatum, operatio virtutum. The faith here spoken of is faith in the sense used by Matthew 17:19: that which works wonders; so it is, as it were, a condition and a part of the two gifts mentioned with it.
- Four charismata that served to edify, exhort, and encourage the faithful, and to confound the unbelievers: prophetia, discretio spirituum, genera linguarum, interpretatio sermonum. These four seem to fall logically into two groups; for prophecy, which is essentially inspired pronouncement on different religious subjects, the declaration of the future being only of secondary import, finds its complement and, as it were, its check in the gift of discerning spirits; and what, as a rule, would be the use of — the gift of speaking with tongues — if the gift of interpreting them were wanting?
- Lastly there remain the charismata that seem to have as object the administration of temporal affairs, amid works of charity: gubernationes, opitulationes, distributiones. Judging by the context, these gifts, though conferred and useful for the direction and comfort of one’s neighbour, were in no way necessarily found in all ecclesiastical superiors.
The charismata, being extraordinary favours and not requisite for the sanctification of the individual, were not bestowed indiscriminately on all Christians. However, in the Apostolic Age, they were comparatively common, especially in the communities of Jerusalem, Rome, and Corinth. The reason of this is apparent: in the infant Churches the charismata were extremely useful, and even morally necessary, to strengthen the faith of believers, to confound the infidels, to make them reflect, and to counterbalance the false miracles with which they sometimes prevailed. St. Paul was careful (I Corinthians 12, 13, 14) to restrict authoritatively the use of these charismata within the ends for which they were bestowed, and thus insist upon their subordination to the power of the hierarchy. Cf. Batiffol, “L’Eglise naissante et le catholicisme” (Paris, 1909), 36. (See .)