The Gifts of Knowledge and Piety in the Contemplative Life

goat and boy

We normally say that four Gifts of the Holy Spirit pertain to action, and three pertain to contemplation. Depending on whom you ask, the three contemplative Gifts of the Holy Spirit are Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge or Wisdom, Understanding, and Piety. It just depends on how we look at these permanent dispositions to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Do we say they’re contemplative because they regard God? If so, we’d choose Piety, which regards God as Father (in other words, it’s a gift very present in Thérèse and Marcel Văn, for example). On the other hand, do we say that the Gifts are contemplative because they direct our interior life? In that case, we’d choose Knowledge, because it affects our view of created things: created by God, but not God – and infinitely less than God.

The divergences in choice have a meaning. But no matter how we slice it, Knowledge and Piety sit sort of on the edge between action and contemplation. A contemplative in the cloister is going to, in all likelihood, have a vocation in which Understanding and Wisdom come to the forefront. A very active personality and vocation will perhaps rely strongly on Fortitude, Counsel, and Fear, depending on the tasks to be done. But a contemplative on the road – what about such a one? If it is characteristic of contemplative vocations on the road to see – really see in the obscure light of faith – Jesus in our neighbours, then Knowledge and Piety have a great importance, though the balance of the two will vary from person to person, from situation to situation.

Knowledge tells us that created things are created – and only that – permitting us to set aright our interior dispositions as regards created things in our lives.

Piety tells us God is Father.

Together, Knowledge and Piety say, God is Father of all that you see. All. Absolutely all. Each created thing is your brother or sister. Saint Francis sang about his Brother Sun and Sister Moon, and Saint John of the Cross said that all things are his through Christ who is his. Well, that’s the crux of it. All things do belong to the one who is Christ’s, for he is ours and our brother; and our Father is Father of all.

Together with this realization comes, to greater and lesser extents depending on the person and situation, the realization of God’s All-Embracing Providence and the divinely initiated act seeing Jesus in others – as Jesus promised us we would do (Mt 25:40).

Without using the traditional concept of the seven Gifts as dispositions to receive inspirations from the Spirit, Jean-Pierre de Caussade touches on most of this:

All creatures that exist are in the hands of God… There is not a moment in which God does not present Himself under the cover of some pain to be endured, of some consolation to be enjoyed, or of some duty to be performed. All that takes place within us, around us, or through us, contains and conceals His divine action… If only we had faith we should show good-will to all creatures; we should cherish them and be interiorly grateful to them as serving, by God’s will, for our perfection. If we lived the life of faith without intermission we should have an uninterrupted commerce with God and a constant familiar intercourse with Him…

With faith, we should see God in and behind all things, either actively willing or permitting it to happen. We can swim in his will. And swimming in his will, we can love all our fellow creatures – which is to say, our brothers and sisters in whom God is.

He adds a few pages later:

It is faith that teaches us the hollowness of created things; by it God reveals and manifests Himself in all things.

Exactly. For love-in-faith enjoys the sevenfold Gift of the Spirit, and in the divine use of that sevenfold Gift, inspirations as regards Knowledge teach us to set right our interior attitude and love of created things, especially in their infinite distance from God; but inspirations as regards Piety teach us that God is Father of all, and thus not absent from anything in which there is good.


One thought on “The Gifts of Knowledge and Piety in the Contemplative Life

  1. Pingback: “Contemplative in the Mud” | SOUL FOOD MINISTRIES

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