Knowledge: the Fifth Gift of the Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit Stained Glass Window
A stained-glass window of the Holy Spirit overlooking the high altar of Saint Peter's Basilica. Franco Origlia/Getty Images

An Old Testament passage from the book of Isaiah (11:2-3) enumerates seven gifts believed to have been bestowed on Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, fear. For Christians, these gifts thought to be theirs as believers and followers of the example of Christ. 

 The context of this passage is as follows:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
--the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord--
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

You might notice that the seven gifts include the repetition of the last gift--fear. Scholars suggest that the repetition reflects the preference for using the number seven symbolically in Christian literature, such as we see in the seven petitions of the Lord's Prayer, the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Seven Virtues. To distinguish between two gifts that are both called fear, the sixth gift is sometimes described as "piety" or "reverence," while the seventh is described as "wonder and awe." 

Knowledge: the Fifth Gift of the Holy Spirit and the Perfection of Faith

Like wisdom  (the first gift) knowledge (the fifth gift) perfects the theological virtue of faith. The aims of knowledge and wisdom are different, however. Whereas wisdom helps us to penetrate divine truth and prepares us to judge all things according to that truth, knowledge gives us that ability to judge. As Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J., writes in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, "The object of this gift is the whole spectrum of created things insofar as they lead one to God."

Another way to articulate this distinction is to think of wisdom as the desire to know God's will, while knowledge is the actual faculty by which these things are known. In the Christian sense, however, knowledge is not just the mere collection of facts, but also the ability to choose the correct path.

The Application of Knowledge

From the Christian perspective, knowledge allows us to see the circumstances of our life as God sees them, albeit in a more limited way, since we are constricted by our human nature. Through the exercise of knowledge, we can ascertain God's purpose in our lives and His reason for placing us in our particular circumstances. As Father Hardon notes, knowledge is sometimes called "the science of the saints," because "it enables those who have the gift to discern easily and effectively between the impulses of temptation and the inspirations of grace." Judging all things in the light of divine truth, we can more easily distinguish between the promptings of God and the subtle wiles of the devil. Knowledge is what makes it possible to distinguish between good and evil and choose our actions accordingly. 

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ThoughtCo. "Knowledge: the Fifth Gift of the Holy Spirit." Learn Religions, Aug. 25, 2020, ThoughtCo. (2020, August 25). Knowledge: the Fifth Gift of the Holy Spirit. Retrieved from ThoughtCo. "Knowledge: the Fifth Gift of the Holy Spirit." Learn Religions. (accessed June 5, 2023).