A Staff Report from the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board

Followup: Are there only seven gifts of the Holy Spirit?

January 12, 1998

Dear Straight Dope:

In a recent column regarding the Seven Seas, SDStaff Songbird mentions seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Can you list them? I only ask because I thought there were more, and in I Corinthians 12, Paul seems to list at least nine in rapid succession (vv. 8-10). I'm also aware of literature that lists 12 or more Gifts of the Spirit. I don't write to bust yer chops, I'm genuinely curious about your stopping at seven and which seven you refer to. Keep up the great work! Your efforts go a long way toward eradicating ignorance.

Dear Straight Dope:

Songbird is certainly correct in saying that seven is considered a propitious number, but "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit"? According to 1 Corinthians 11:4-11 there are clearly nine different gifts listed.

SDStaff Songbird replies:

Turn back, O Bob.

Back to the Old Testament, that is.

The seven spiritual gifts given to Christians by the Holy Spirit are: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. The Book of Isaiah (which foretells a lot about the coming Messiah), chapter 11, verse 2, speaks of the Spirit and the promised gifts that will be given to the one who will "come forth from the stump of Jesse." There are six gifts listed in the Hebrew Scriptures, but the Greek translation, the Septuagint, duplicates "fear of the Lord" with the translation, "piety," thus bringing the list of qualities to seven (there's that number again) symbolizing plenitude and perfection.

Justin Martyr (2 A.D.)and St. Augustine spent quite a bit of time theorizing and writing about how these "seven gifts" work in the soul of the recipient. But it was St. Thomas Aquinas who developed the most complete theology surrounding the "seven gifts." He saw them as qualitatively different and superior to the moral and theological virtues. He also regarded the Holy Spirit, not the human person, as the actuator of these gifts in each individual.

Contemporary theology says little about the "seven gifts" of the Holy Spirit, preferring to discuss all the gifts of the Spirit. Vatican II's Lumen Gentium doesn't refer to the gifts listed in Isaiah, opting to speak of St. Paul's description of the gifts of the Spirit found in his First Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:4-11, you were only one chapter off, Bob). But many still remember being taught about the "seven gifts."

Hmmm … wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge. You could be endowed with gifts of the Holy Spirit right here on the Straight Dope!

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