A Brief Treatise on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit

Dove of Peace

There was a wonderful excursus on the Church as the Body of Christ in the Sunday readings. Would that we might better appreciate the diversity of gifts in the Church today instead of being fearful or dismissive of gifts that we appreciate less. As a pastor, I have come to appreciate that people find their way to God in many and diverse ways and that when the Church permits diversity we ought respectfully rejoice in even in the ways we do not personally prefer.

I want to comment on the St. Paul’s analogy of the Body, but I thought, as a prelude, to reflect on the fruits of the Holy Spirit as a necessary foundation and background to St. Paul’s reflection hence this post and another to follow this week on the analogy of the Body.

The Fruits of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Catechism and Tradition are drawn largely from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians where he writes:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. (Gal 5:22-26)

We can now look at each fruit and ponder its meaning, both ancient and new. Many of these insights are drawn from William Barclay and also from Strong’s Concordance and Greek Lexicon:

I. Love –  ἀγάπη (agape) – to love with a God-like love, unconditionally, and vigorously, not counting the cost, not being based on mere reciprocity. It is wanting only what is good for the other. This sort of love is distinct from other forms of love in Greek such as eros (passionate love), philia (warm love most common in the family or among close friends,  brotherly love), and storge (the love of affection  usually for family members. Agape love is far above these and is, of necessity, a work of  God so as to come to its fullest expression. Hence it is rightly called a fruit of the Holy Spirit. While some scholars argue that “agape” is a word that pagan Greek knew little of, this is just the point. The Early Christians took this little used or distinguished word from the Greek language and sanctified it with special meaning in the First Century. It has had the special meaning we described ever since.

II. Joy – χαρά (Chara) – The joy referred to here is more than a passing worldly joy. It is deeper than an emotional experience. It is rooted in God and comes from him. Since it does not have the world for its origin but, rather, comes from God, it is more serene and stable than worldly joy, which is merely emotional and lasts only for a time. For example, note the following uses elsewhere in Scripture and note how it is always connected, not to the world, but to the faith and to God:

  • Ps 30:11 – You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy,
  • Romans 14:17 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit
  • Romans  15:13 – May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit
  • Phil  1:25 – Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith.

III. Peace – εἰρήνη (eirene) – This is normally used in the Greek Bible to translate the Hebrew word shalom. This sort of peace is more than an absence of conflict. Rather it is the presence in the human person and their relationships of everything that should be there. It is a kind of equilibrium that comes from trusting in God  and the experience that everything is alright, that everything is in the hands of God. It is the tranquil state of a soul fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of what so ever sort that is. On account of this experience, the human person does not obsessively seek to control people and things and is more content to allow things to unfold, rather than to control and manipulate the outcomes of life. In this sense, they become more peaceful toward others.

IV. Patience – μακροθυμία (makrothumia) – Generally the Greek world applied this word to a man who could avenge himself but did not. This word is often used in the Greek Scriptures in reference to God and his attitude to us. In the human person, this fruit of the Spirit causes us to be more willing to suffer the difficulties of life and of other people. We are less needful to avenge wrongs and slights and are more able to endure the imperfections of people and this world. In English we once had the concept of  ‘long-tempered’ as a counterpart to ‘short-tempered,’ then makrothumia could be called the quality of being ‘long-tempered’. . . . which is also a quality of God (Ex 34:6). By this fruit we can forebear the crosses, miseries and difficulties of life in this world.

V. Kindness – χρηστότης (Chrestotos) – In Greek, old wine was called “chrestos” which meant that it was mellow or smooth. Christ used this word in referring to his yoke that which was easy (Matt 11:30). That is to say, it did not chafe, it was well fitting and accommodated to the wearer. So kindness here refers to an attitude that goes beyond mere justice or what is required to a something wider and more accommodating. Here is a Spirit-produced goodness which meets the needs of others and avoids harshness.

VI. Generosity – Catholic Catechetical tradition usually adds Generosity here. To be generous is similar to kindness in that it is to give beyond what is required by justice. It is distinct from kindness in that it tends to refer to money and things whereas kindness is a little broader and includes matters of attitude and behavior as well as things.

VII. Goodness – ἀγαθωσύνη (agathosune) – This word is more difficult to define, in that it rarely occurs in secular Greek.  Its biblical use seems to generally mean doing what is right and best for others in every circumstance. This might at times include rebuking  or disciplining. At other times it would include encouraging or reassuring. The key point in the word seems to be what is good or best for the person.  Here are some other instances where the word is used in the New Testament and one will notice that it places goodness in the context of instruction, truth and faith. Hence, goodness here can have different applications than just being a “nice guy.”As Scripture says,

Rom 15:14 – I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Eph 5:9 – For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

2 Thess 1:11 – To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.

VIII. Fidelity – πίστις (pistis) – This is the common Greek word for being trustworthy, being faithful and reliable. In the Bible the word is more commonly used in a nominative form simply to mean “faith,” that is, the act of believing in God. By extension it can mean the quality of being faithful. The connection between the two concepts can include the fact that if one believes in God they will tend to be more trustworthy and reliable since their faith imbues them with a sense that God is watching and they are accountable. Further, they are trustworthy because true faith makes them more inclined to respect others and the commitments they make to them. As fruit of the Spirit fidelity comes as a result of the Spirit’s promptings that we live up to our commitments.

IX. Gentleness – πραΰτης (praotes) – There are different ways that this word is used in the New Testament.  Basically, it means to be submissive to God and to be humble enough to be taught by God. Toward others, it means to be considerate.  Another common way of translating this word in English is “meekness.” Aristotle defined meekness (πραΰτης ) as the mean between being too angry and not being angry enough. There is a place and a need for anger. Not all anger is sinful. It is right to be angry over injustice, for example. The meek person has authority over their anger. They are able to summon its energy but control its extremes.  The Greek word here was also used to describe an animal that had been tamed. Hence meekness refers to us having tamed our anger.

X. Self control – ἐγκράτεια (egkrateia) – This fruit or virtue was understood in Greek of one who had mastered their love and desire of pleasure. There is a place in life for pleasures and desires. Without them we would perish. Since the fall of man however, our desires are often inordinate and excessive. There is need for the virtue of self mastery that moderates and regulates them.

Regarding Self-control, Catholic catechetical tradition elaborates it into three distinct areas:

  1. (X). Modesty – refers to observing a proper reverence for mystery in terms of the body. The word Modesty comes form “mode” or middle” and hence avoids excessive and harsh rejection of the beauty of the body, but neither does it flaunt it. As reverence for the body, more private areas of the body are clothed in such a way as to keep hidden what is appropriately unveiled only in certain places or before certain people: e.g.: a spouse or sometimes a doctor, people of the same sex and so forth. Modesty may include not only covering certain parts of the body but also covering the shape of the body to some degree. Finally, modesty would also include things such as posture, behaviors related to the comportment of the body and language. The word modesty is related to the word “mode.” Hence, by modesty one observe a middle position between inappropriate disclosure and excessive prudishness. Standards of modesty allow for some variance between cultures and even within cultures. Hence the context of beach may call for different standard than the workplace and so forth.
  2. (XI). Continency – refers to general self control as stated above.
  3. (XII). Chastity – Refers to the virtue wherein we exhibit proper sexual expression based on our state in life. For the single person, the member of a religious order and the Priest it involves total abstinence. For the married person it involves total fidelity to one’s spouse in one’s actions and thoughts.

Thus, altogether we have 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit in Catholic Tradition. As we can see many  of them speak to zeal, while others in a way that seeks to set forth a virtue rooted in moderateness.

One of the great gifts the Spirit seeks to give us is not a rejection of passion or other human gifts, but a moderation and proper appropriation of them. For God the Holy Spirit has given all the gifts of the World, including beauty, and human passions for a reason and for a good end. But the Fruits of the Spirit are gifts to both to inspire zeal and to regulate and appreciate what God has given for a reason and a purpose. By these gifts we steer a middle ground between rejection and indulgence, excess and defect, enjoyment and hedonism. Modus omnibus in rebus (All things in moderation (including moderation)). The Sequence Hymn for Pentecost says of the Holy Spirit:

Flecte quod est rigidum (Bend what is rigid),
fove quod est frigidum (warm what is cold),
rege quod est devium. (rule what deviates).

And thus we see both zeal and moderation in these gifts and in all things a ruling over anything that deviates. Come Holy Holy Spirit, rule our hearts and inflame them with your love.

9 Replies to “A Brief Treatise on the Fruits of the Holy Spirit”

  1. “Modesty – refers to observing a proper reverence for mystery in terms of the body.”–that helps.

  2. Msgr.,

    You are a Master Theologian!!!!! Folks, this is how you use the Internet to glorify God!

  3. Dear Father,

    I love this post–It has such good information. The problem is, it seems so utterly unattainable to me (especially the part on Christian joy). I haven’t had the faith to go to communion in months (Not for any major sin, except continual grumbling). Any time my guardian angel throws into my path an impossibly heavy burden (Usually that I should believe something I just don’t believe, or give thanks for something I’m just not thankful for–such as missing by 5 seconds today my chance to get my ID card, all because I had obeyed my guardian angel several hours earlier), and asks me not only to have faith in his commands, but to REJOICE in it….It seems like a cruel trick, like angels are dancing on my heavily burdened back (Yes, the mental trauma physically knocks the wind out of me) . . . like their joy is my loss. . . . as if they are happy, either because (1) now they get to control me or (2) now they have perfected me to a state of Platonic dispassionate-ness that is supremely perfect, otherworldly, idle, and unproductive (as-it-were the sacrifice of my very lifeblood/productivity for some otherworldly high state-of-existence that I just don’t care about), so that I am now glibly, happily, naively accepting of absolutely anything. We are told that we are supposedly to “give thanks always and everywhere,” that it is our “duty and salvation” [which last line terrifies me]. Well, today I managed to just say nothing (but bought myself a small ice-cream cone that I thought they ‘owed’ me) and considered it a MASSIVE VICTORY. . . . I cannot give thanks for being inconvenienced by my guardian angel’s accidental (or deliberately malicious?) and chronic incompetence. I realize that this makes my guardian angel look supremely bad, and though I have utter confidence in him during discrete moment in the day, I always end the day feeling like I’ve been ‘had.’ The few times that I have been totally faithful to him, I received a crazy, otherworldly ‘high,’ which ultimately proved unsustainable. How do you give thanks for something that accrues absolutely no value to you, but just loss after loss? Am I complaining? . . . Am I grumbling? . . . YOU BET. Is it Christian? . . . Absolutely not. My prayer now, is just that God deliver me from this impossibly heavy burden, of having to write Him blank checks, with no definite end in sight to my giving (pant, pant). Where is the narrow path to true Christian Joy? (It’s pretty dark in here, and I can’t seem to find it). Is there even such a thing as ecstatic, active, supernatural (i.e. nature-contradicting), Christian joy, such as is described of the private-revelation-prophets who are permitted to prophesy, after mass, in the Didache? (You don’t have to respond to all of this, but just 1 or 2 points that particularly strike you). Thanks, Agapatos

    1. Dear Agapatos—18 months late. While I was thrilled with Fr. pope’s treatise on the FRUITS of the HOLY SPIRIT, your quandary has remained with me, leaving with me the disquietude of your spiritual predicament. What I seem to sense is a “dark night of the soul” event akin to what Mother Teresa and so many others have gone through.

      May I encourage you to obtain from PAULINE BOOKS, Boston, MA 02130-3491—OR—the local Daughters of St. Paul Catholic Bookstore on King St., Alexandria, VA the phenomenal HE AND I. Meant to be read at only a page or two at a time, it will positively melt you like a hot knife through cold butter. The conversations that our LORD had with a French woman, Gabrielle Bossis (who died in 1950) have the full approbation of the Catholic Church.

      Slowly, the mists you experienced will dissolve, as you come to allow yourself to enter into the intimacy of a relationship that our LORD seeks to have with each one of us. “Fall in love with ME over and over again…,” says the voice that she hears with her ears (but cannot see with her eyes).

      With that, I wish you the Blessings of this TRINITY SUNDAY and upcoming feasts of the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart.

      Dr. Marshall

  4. Goodness sakes Agapatos,do you have a good spiritual director? If you do not , get one .It sounds like you are suffering from scrupulosity .

    1. Thanks Andkaras–
      I’ve known lots of priests in my life. I tried and failed to get spiritual direction at the Franciscan Monastery in Washington, which is highly respected, but couldn’t. And I never could find a priest near me who seemed to understand direct spiritual influences. I do tell my priests these things in confession, but they mostly are just mildly skeptical, as you are, chalking it up to the power of suggestion.

  5. Thank you so much. This explains it so clearly, which is exactly what I needed.

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