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One fruit, many flavors: The work of the Holy Spirit



Daniel Esparza - published on 05/17/24

Are they truly a singular “fruit” with various aspects, or is it more accurate to view them as a collection of distinct “fruits”?

The concept of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is a cornerstone of Christian doctrine. In more ways than one, it refers to the positive, graceful character traits cultivated within those guided by the Holy Spirit. Traditionally, and according to Scripture, these traits are listed as nine; other lists, including the Catechism, have 12: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (modesty, generosity, and chastity are the three extras).

However, a subtle debate exists regarding the nature of these traits. Are they actually a singular “fruit” with various aspects, or is it more accurate to view them as a collection of distinct “fruits”?

The source of this discussion lies in the original Greek term used in the Bible, karpos, which translates to “fruit” in the singular form. This grammatical detail suggests that these characteristics aren’t separate fruits, but rather facets of a single, unified fruit produced by the Holy Spirit’s action.

Some Early Christian scholars echoed this understanding. St. Augustine, for example, definedvirtue, which somewhat aligns with the fruit of the Spirit, as a singular, positive quality. He argued that the Apostle Paul, who described the fruit in his Letter to the Galatians, was not concerned with enumerating these traits but with emphasizing the transformation brought about by the Holy Spirit. In fact, even within traditions that recognize nine attributes, there is a sense of unity.

It is important to remark that the Catholic Church acknowledges 12 traits, yet emphasizes them as variations within the singular fruit. St. Thomas Aquinas, arguably the most influential scholastic theologian, compared this to a tree bearing different fruits that still share a common origin.

Power that transforms

Understanding the fruit as singular offers a powerful perspective. It signifies a holistic transformation of the person, where various positive characteristics emerge as a unified expression of the Holy Spirit’s work within a person. The Holy Spirit is not really interested in keeping a checklist of virtues. What we go through is a single, profound inner transformation that manifests in a multitude of ways.

Nevertheless, focusing on the nine or 12 individual traits also has merit. These specific qualities provide a practical roadmap for living a Christian life. By meditating on these aspects, we can all identify areas for growth and actively cultivate the fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Ultimately, whether viewed as singular or multifaceted, the notion of the fruit of the Holy Spirit refers to the transformative power of the third Person of the Trinity acting in the believer’s life. This idea alone is a potent reminder that by letting God be God, we can live a life characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Holy SpiritPentecostThomas Aquinas
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