Dear Father, my daughter asked me recently about the fruits of the Holy Spirit, but I was not exactly sure what they were. I get them confused with the gifts. Are they different?
The fruits of the Holy Spirit are very different from the gifts. The gifts, in the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, are “permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit” (CCC 1830).
They are received in the soul along with sanctifying grace and remain in us as permanent dispositions to help us follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit. We lose them only when we lose the state of grace through mortal sin. There are seven gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. I wrote about them in an earlier column (cf. J. Flader, Question Time 2, Connor Court 2012, q. 218).
The fruits, on the other hand, are the effects in us of living a life according to the spirit, according to the will of God, a life of holiness. The Catechism describes them as “perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory” (CCC 1832).
In order to understand them better it is helpful to go to the passage in the letter to the Galatians where St Paul lists them.
He contrasts the fruits, in this case the bitter fruits, of living according to the flesh with the fruits of living according to the spirit.
He begins: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would (Gal 5:16-17).”
We all understand how we are pulled in two directions: downwards by the pull of the flesh to seek bodily and earthly pleasures, and upwards by the Spirit to seek the things of God.
St Paul goes on to list the effects of living according to the flesh: “Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like (Gal 5:19-21).”
He goes on to warn about the possible loss of eternal life for those who indulge in them: “I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Gal 5:21).”
Immediately afterwards he lists the effects of living according to the spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law (Gal 5:22-23).”
It is from this passage that the Church derives the list of fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Although the Greek New Testament lists nine fruits, Christian tradition, following St Jerome’s Latin Vulgate edition, has given us 12, adding generosity, modesty, and chastity.
The complete list is thus charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity.
Even though St Paul uses the word “fruit” in the singular, the word should be understood as a genus which has many species, which he then lists.
So the fruits of the Holy Spirit are the good habits, the virtues, the good deeds that come from living as a child of God.
They are the fruits of a holy life. While we see in ourselves many of these fruits, we also see some of the works of the flesh.
Our spiritual life is always a struggle to live more in the spirit and less in the flesh, and to return to God through the sacrament of Penance when we have failed.
St Basil has a beautiful description of the effects of living according to the Spirit: “Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to paradise, led back to the Kingdom of heaven, and adopted as children, given confidence to call God ‘Father’ and to share in Christ’s grace, called children of light and given a share in eternal glory” (De Spiritu Sancto, 15, 36; CCC 736).
The Catechism adds: “By this power of the Spirit, God’s children can bear much fruit. He who has grafted us onto the true vine will make us bear ‘the fruit of the Spirit: … love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control’” (Gal 5:22-23; CCC 736).