A Look at the Fruits of the Holy Spirit

On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was given unto our mission to the ends of the earth. Among His gifts are the fruits of the Spirit which deserve our attention today.

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, but some come from Strong’s Concordance.

I. Love (agape) – This is a God-like love, unconditional and vigorous, one that does not count the cost, one that is not 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 among close friends, brotherly love), and storge (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 Greeks knew little of, that is precisely the point. The Christians of the first century took this little-used word and sanctified it with special meaning that we have associated with it ever since.

II. Joy (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. Because it comes from God rather than the world, it is more serene and stable than worldly joy, which is merely emotional and lasts only for a time. For example, the following uses in Scripture show how it is always connected to the faith and to God, not to the world:

  • You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy (Ps 30:11).
  • For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).
  • 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 (Romans 15:13).
  • 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. (Phil 1:25).

III. Peace (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; it is the presence in the human person and in his relationships of everything that should be there. It is a kind of equilibrium that comes from trusting in God and from the experience that everything is all right, that everything is in His hands. It is the tranquil state of a soul fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot. Because of this experience, the peaceful human person does not obsessively seek to control people and things and is more content to allow things to unfold rather than needing to control and manipulate the outcomes of life. In this sense, he becomes more peaceful toward others.

IV. Patience (makrothumia) – The Greeks used this word to describe what a man is exhibiting when he is in a position to avenge himself but does not do so. It is often used in the Greek Scriptures in reference to God and His attitude toward 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 feel less driven 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 the opposite of “short-tempered.” 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 (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, 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 something wider and more accommodating. This is a Spirit-produced goodness that meets the needs of others and avoids harshness.

VI. Generosity – Generosity is like kindness in that involves giving 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.

VII. Goodness  (agathosune) – This word is more difficult to define because it rarely occurs in secular Greek.  Its biblical use seems to refer to 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 other person.  Following are some other instances in which the word is used in the New Testament. Notice that goodness is placed in the context of instruction, truth, and faith. Hence, goodness here can have different applications than just being a “nice guy.”

  • I myself am convinced, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another (Rom 15:14).
  • For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. (Eph 5:9).

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 (2 Thess 1:11).

VIII. Fidelity  (pistis) – This is the common Greek word for trustworthiness, faithfulness and reliability. 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 he will tend to be more trustworthy and reliable. This is because his faith imbues him with a sense that God is watching and will hold him accountable. Further, a man is trustworthy because true faith makes him more inclined to respect others and the commitments made to them. As a fruit of the Spirit, fidelity comes as a result of the Spirit’s promptings that we live up to our commitments.

IX. Gentleness  (praotes) – This word is used in the New Testament.  Basically, it is the quality of being submissive to God, being humble enough to be taught by God. It also means being considerate of others.  Another common way of translating this word in English is “meekness.” Aristotle defined meekness  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 his anger. He can 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. Modesty – This refers to observing a proper reverence for mystery in terms of the body. The word modesty comes from “mode” and hence avoids both the excessive rejection of the beauty of the body and the flaunting of it. 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., one’s spouse, a physician, or people of the same sex). 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, comportment, and language. By modesty one observes a middle position between inappropriate disclosure and excessive prudishness. Standards of modesty allow for some variance between cultures and even within cultures. For example, there may be different standards in the workplace than on the beach.

XI. Self-control  (egkrateia) – This fruit or virtue was understood in Greek as the quality of one who had mastered his love of and desire for 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.

XII. Chastity – This is the virtue in which we exhibit proper sexual expression based on our state in life. For a single person, a member of a religious order, or a priest it involves total abstinence. For a married person, it involves total fidelity to one’s spouse in both thought and action.

These are the 12 fruits of the Holy Spirit in Catholic Tradition. Many of them speak to zeal, but others are rooted in moderation.

One of the great gifts that the Holy Spirit seeks to give us is not a rejection of passion or other human gifts, but a moderation and proper appropriation of them. 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. The fruits of the Spirit are gifts to both 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. Modus omnibus in rebus (All things in moderation (including moderation). The Sequence Hymn for Pentecost says this 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).

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


This post was originally published on Community in Mission and is reprinted here with permission.

Image: Unsplash.

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