The Rosary Light & Life - Vol 46, No 3, May-June 1993

Theology for the Laity


By Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.

We have seen, in our consideration of sanctifying grace (vol. 46, n. 1 ) how that divine gift is always accompanied with the infused virtues and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. We saw, too, that while sanctifying grace resides in and perfects the essence of the soul bringing a share in the very life of God, the infused virtues (theological and moral) and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit reside in and perfect the faculties of the soul (intellect and will), giving those faculties the capacity of supernatural acts. We will take a brief look at those infused virtues and Gifts to see a little more of their role and need in the Christian life. Yet, this involves subject matter so extensive that we can give only the barest summary in these reflections.


The supernatural virtues that come with sanctifying grace are called infused, to distinguish them from the natural virtues that are acquired. ACQUIRED virtues are good habits that we acquire through repeated effort on our part to do what is right, such as the habit of telling the truth (veracity), the habit of putting up with trying situations (patience), the habit of moderation in the taking of food and drink (temperance), etc.

The building up of the acquired habits does not come without persevering effort, for they require a going against the selfish inclinations of our fallen nature. But as one progresses in the acquiring of these good habits, they bring a certain readiness and facility in the performance of those individual virtues.

We can better understand the supernatural infused virtues by way of contrast with the natural acquired virtues:

  1. While, as we saw, the NATURAL VIRTUES are acquired and strengthened by repeated acts, the SUPERNATURAL VIRTUES are infused into the soul by God along with sanctifying grace and grow with sanctifying grace.
  2. NATURAL VIRTUES dispose the faculties to follow the dictates or commands of reason, while SUPERNATURAL VIRTUES dispose the faculties to follow reason illuminated by faith.
  3. NATURAL VIRTUES are lost by non-use, or by repeated acts contrary to the virtue; SUPERNATURAL VIRTUES, on the contrary, are lost (along with sanctifying grace) through mortal sin.
  4. NATURAL VIRTUES increase the ease with which good actions are performed, whereas SUPERNATURAL VIRTUES do not increase the facility of action, but give the supernatural capacity to perform actions that are meritorious of heaven. No matter how much we have advanced in natural acquired virtues, they bring no supernatural benefit without the infused virtues to make their acts meritorious.

The mature Christian, therefore, has two sets of moral virtues, specifically different from each other, one natural and acquired, the other supernatural and infused. For example, the acquired virtue of temperance causes us to use moderation directed by reason in the avoidance of all excesses calculated to harm the health of the body and the exercise of our mental faculties; while the infused virtue of temperance rises higher and disposes us, under the direction of faith, to discipline our bodies by fasting and abstinence for a closer union with Christ in His redemptive sacrifice.


In the work of salvation, the Father willed that the Son become man, and by His passion and death redeem mankind. This work accomplished, the Father and the Son willed that the Holy Spirit continue the work of salvation by the sanctification of individual souls. As the second Vatican Council states: “Christ, to whom all power in heaven and on earth has been given, is still at work in the hearts of men through the power of His Spirit.” (Gaudium et Spes, n:38)

Christ, the head of the Church and the source of the supernatural life that comes to us through the Church, is constantly aiding us with actual graces to assist us along the way. But He does this through the Holy Spirit Whom, with the Father, He is always sending in all that pertains to our sanctification. (Jn. 14:26) This divine Spirit, then, has been entrusted by the Father and the Son to bring us to everlasting life.


God has not only created us to share in His own infinite happiness, but He willed (for those who reach the use of reason) that we cooperate with Him in attaining that goal. By granting us the divine gift of sanctifying grace, He made us sharers in his own divine nature and life, making us His adopted children and heirs of heaven. Along with that He gave us the power to act in a divine way through the infused virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit, enabling us to become cooperators with Him and secondary instruments of our own salvation. God, of course, is the primary cause of the salvation of both angels and men. In the light of this, we will consider the two ways in which the Holy Spirit leads us in the Christian life.

  1. By the Infused Virtues: At times the Holy Spirit leaves us to ourselves to make acts of the theological virtues (Faith, Hope and Love), and of the moral virtues (Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance). We set these acts in motion under the impulse of actual grace. We are master of these actions in that we rule the direction of our lives. However, we are aided every step of the way by the Holy Spirit, who is the first cause of our supernatural acts by means of the infused virtues and actual graces. Yet, our free-will is not infringed on. Under the inspiration of actual graces we freely choose to exercise these virtues. Not that we think of these virtues individually, but they are all at work in our decisions made with supernatural motives.

    However, this way (aided only by the infused virtues) has its difficulties, for we do not have perfect possession of these virtues. In spite of our good intentions and efforts we fail many times to do what we propose to do. We share the same weakness as St. Paul: “I do not the good that I wish, but the evil that I do not wish, that I perform.” (Rom. 7:19). Because of this inherent weakness in our fallen nature, the infused virtues-indispensable as they are-will not be enough in every situation. For this reason the Holy Spirit Himself takes over the direction of our actions at crucial times by means of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

  2. By the Gifts of the Holy Spirit: The second way in which the Holy Spirit leads us is by means of the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit which perfect the seven infused virtues. They do this by rendering the faculties of the soul docile and disposed to react more promptly and easily to the actual graces continually offered by the Holy Spirit. The seven infused Gifts are: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord. At times, by means of these Gifts, the Divine Spirit takes over the direction of our actions, so that we become mere instruments in His hands. When this happens, we are no longer in the driver’s seat; we merely consent to His work. When the Holy Spirit leads by means of the Gifts, our human weaknesses are overcome the task is accomplished with greater ease, and the infused virtues are exercised more perfectly.

Spiritual writers compare these two ways of being led by the Holy Spirit to progress made by rowing a boat, and by being carried forward by means of a sail. The rowing (in which we retain mastery and direction of the boat) is much more laborious and slower; but with sails (given a favorable wind) the progress is with much less effort and greater speed. The parallel here is clear. When aided only by the infused virtues, we retain the direction of our actions, but much more effort is required, and we are subject to much inconstancy because of our many human weaknesses. This is usually the more common manner of following in the footsteps of Christ, for “the wind of the Holy Spirit” blows only when He wills. (Jn. 3:8). The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are compared to the sails that catch the Divine inspirations, and carry us along as the Holy Spirit leads us where and when He wills, we consenting to His action. As grace grows, these Gifts become more active, and the Holy Spirit takes a greater role in the direction of our lives. But it would be sheer presumption to expect or wait for the Holy Spirit to lead us in this manner, if we do not strive energetically to exercise the infused virtues.


The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are not to be confused with the inspirations of the Holy Spirit. Inspirations are actual graces, passing helps to enlighten the mind or inspire and strengthen the will. Whereas the Gifts are permanent endowments that remain as long as sanctifying grace remains. The Gifts render the intellect and will docile and receptive to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit.

In the activity of the infused virtues the natural powers of the soul (intellect and will) are in control. In each virtue the human mind deliberates and the will chooses the way one will go. Although these are supernatural virtues, the soul acts in a human way, laboriously treading along.

In the activity of the Gifts, on the other hand, the soul acts in a divine way, for it no longer moves itself, but is moved by a divine instinct. The soul’s activity is that of acceptance and assent. The deliberation of human reason gives way to divine intuition implanted in it by the Gifts. The human way of acting is transformed by the divine. Theologians describe the activity of the Gifts as follows:


We have considered in a general way the infused virtues in contrast with the acquired virtues, and in contrast with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. Here we will take a brief look at them individually, namely, the three theological virtues and the four moral or cardinal virtues.

  1. Theological Virtues: The virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity have God as their direct object. By faith we know God, by Hope we trust His goodness and promises, and by Charity we love Him.
  2. The Moral Virtues:We have seen that the theological virtues put us in contact with God, enabling us to know and love Him in a supernatural way. Yet, because of our fallen nature, those virtues are not sufficient of themselves to enable us to live a Christian life. There is needed, in addition, moral virtues which concern our self-control and our relationships with others, considered as means toward that ultimate end. There are many moral virtues, but there are four general (or Cardinal) virtues under which all other moral virtues may be classified: Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance.

    We might say, then, that as the theological virtues unite us with God, the moral virtues remove the obstacles to that union. But they do more than that, for when they are motivated by Charity, they become meritorious acts and the means of growing in that union.

Summing up: To reach life’s goal, the most important condition is that we are headed in the right direction. The theological virtues accomplish this, directing us Godward. But to reach our destination we must also have prudence to choose the best means of getting there, justice to fulfill our obligations to God and man on the way, fortitude to overcome the difficulties we encounter, and temperance not to be sidetracked on the way by passing pleasures and satisfactions.

These, then, are the supernatural powers or faculties infused into the soul along with sanctifying grace, elevating our natural powers with their natural acquired virtues to a supernatural plane, orienting them to our final end, and enabling us to cooperate with actual graces which the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier, is constantly bringing to us.

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