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The fruits of the Holy Spirit according to St. Thomas Aquinas

Chrzest Jezusa w Jordanie

Renata Sedmakova | Shutterstock

Daniel Esparza - published on 05/12/24

The fruits are not simply our good deeds, but rather the virtuous character traits that blossom in us as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts.

Catholic life is supposed to be an adventurous journey of growth in holiness – a journey aided by the Holy Spirit. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his monumental Summa Theologica, sheds light on a crucial aspect of this growth: the fruits of the Holy Spirit.

These fruits, as listed by St. Paul in Galatians 5:22-23, are nine: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Now, a first question rises here. The biblical text says “the fruit” of the Holy Spirit, not “the fruits.” Indeed, the Greek reads karpòs ­– in the singular; don’t let that final “s” fool you into thinking that’s plural.

Augustine’s commentary on the matter explains that the Apostle “had no intention of teaching us how many there are; but to show how the works of the flesh should be avoided, and those of the Spirit sought after.”

But what exactly are they – or it?

Aquinas clarifies that the fruits are not simply our good deeds, but rather the virtuous character traits that blossom in us as the Holy Spirit works in our hearts.

Not actions, but signs

Imagine a fruit tree. Obviously enough, the fruit itself is not the whole tree. But it’s the product of the tree’s growth. In the same way, our actions are not the fruit itself, but the outward signs of the inner transformation taking place by God’s grace. This transformation produces a harvest of virtuous habits that bring us (and those around us) true joy.

How, then, does this fruit develop?

Aquinas explains that they come from our collaboration with the Holy Spirit. Just as a plant needs fertile soil and sunlight to flourish, our souls need to be open to God’s work in us. Prayer, attending Mass, and participating in the sacraments are crucial. As we remain rooted in Christ, the Holy Spirit empowers us to develop these beautiful fruits.

One might wonder, as Aquinas does, if these fruits are then different from the virtues.

Aquinas acknowledges that some of the fruits, such as charity (love) and faith, share names with the virtues. And yet, they are not quite the same thing. The Summa explains that the fruits refer more to the pleasant and effortless actions that flow from these virtues. For example, a person with the virtue of patience might find himself calmly dealing with a difficult situation, thus experiencing and sharing a fruit of that virtue. It is, if you will, like riding a bike. The fruit would be the capacity to ride the bike. The virtue is the very act of riding it effortlessly.

This understanding of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is a beautiful reminder that our Christian life is not just about following rules, but about becoming more like Christ ­– that is, free.

As we cultivate these fruits through prayer, the sacraments, and good works, we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into the people God invites us to be.

Holy SpiritSaintsSpiritualityThomas Aquinas
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