What is the Gift of Knowledge?

Having reflected on the gifts of fear of the Lord and of piety, we move onto the gift of knowledge. Remember the foundation: The gift of fear of the Lord moves a person to have a profound reverence for God; to remember his creatureliness and dependency upon God; to have a vibrant sense of adoration and reverence for God; and to have a sense of horror for sin. The gift of fear of the Lord gives rise to the gift of piety, whereby a person has a filial relationship with God, as expressed so beautifully in the Lord’s Prayer. Such a relationship enables us to look upon others as children of God. Now we move onto the gift of knowledge.

Knowledge here is not simply knowledge that is acquired by reason (e.g., through science) or by faith (e.g., revealed truths). However, such knowledge, especially knowledge of our faith, is important for the actualization of this gift of the Holy Spirit.

Several definitions are helpful. Father Jordan Aumann defined the gift of knowledge as the gift that enables a person “to judge rightly concerning the truths of faith in accordance with their proper causes and the principles of revealed truth.” The Baltimore Catechism defined it as “a gift of the Holy Ghost which enables us to see God reflected in all creatures and to praise Him in them, but yet to see the nothingness of creatures in themselves so that we will desire God alone.” Lastly, Father Adolphe Tanquerey defined it as “a gift which, by the illuminating action of the Holy Ghost, perfects the virtue of faith, and thereby gives us a knowledge of created things in their relations to God.”

Given these definitions, one could say that the gift of knowledge helps a person to embrace the truths of faith. Then, formed by these truths and guided by the Holy Spirit, the person makes correct judgments regarding earthly things and how they are related to eternal life and Christian perfection. As such, the knowledge of these created things leads one to the Creator. The created things are not seen as ends in themselves and held onto tightly, so that they become idols or obstacles to union with God; rather, they are instruments that help us appreciate the majesty of God and over which we must be good stewards. Also, while things of this world perish, God is eternal. As Pope Francis stated (May 21, 2014), “When our eyes are illumined by the Spirit, they open to contemplate God, in the beauty of nature and in the grandeur of the cosmos, and they lead us to discover how everything speaks to us about Him and His love. All of this arouses in us great wonder and a profound sense of gratitude.”

Considering our society today, the gift of knowledge provides the following direction: While a person may be intrigued with the pursuit of science and technology, that pursuit must not be an end in itself but one that leads to God. Albert Einstein said, “There are two ways to live your life, one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle,” and like him, we know the latter is the correct position. For example, while a person may love an animal, the beloved family pet, we know that respect for the human person supercedes that given to animals; we know only man is made in God’s image and likeness, and human life is sacred from conception until natural death. Or, while we may use the resources of the earth wisely, we know to avoid wasting, polluting or wantonly destroying the environment. While we may accumulate many material things, e.g., wealth and possessions, we know these things deteriorate, perish, or are simply left behind at death. Therefore, we know they are blessings to be used wisely for the glory of God and the good of others.

Moreover, this gift gives to the person spiritual knowledge. First, a person knows that God loves us and will never abandon us. Only He is worthy of all of our love. He must be the first priority of our lives.

Second, the gift of knowledge assists in the sanctification of the soul in three ways: first, a knowledge of introspection, enabling the person to see the state of his soul; second, a knowledge of detachment from material things; and a knowledge of repentance for sins from the misuse of material things or when they have become obstacles to God.

Third, a person has a sense of faith, sensus fidei, meaning that the person has a divine instinct about whether or not something, like a devotion, is in accord with the faith. A person knows whether something is of God or not. St. John speaks of a “discernment of spirits”: “Do not trust every spirit, but put the spirits to a test to see if they belong to God,” but “anyone who has knowledge of God gives us a hearing,” (1 Jn 4:1-6).

Finally, it gives us “knowledge” of how to help others, particularly in spiritual ways. For example, the Holy Spirit guides a priest to know what to say to a penitent in the confessional or to know what to preach to his congregation. Moreover, some of the saints, like St. Padre Pio, could even read souls, knowing the true spiritual disposition of a penitent.

For good reason, St. Thomas Aquinas taught that the gift of knowledge brings to perfection the supernatural virtue of faith, but it is also linked to the perfection of the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, and temperance. The way to cultivate the gift of knowledge is to continue to study our faith: Take time to read sacred Scripture, perhaps one chapter of the New Testament each day. In this manner, one would cover the whole New Testament in less than a year. Read a section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, just a section. Besides praying each day, 15 minutes devoted to such spiritual reading fuels the soul so that the Holy Spirit can set afire the great gift of knowledge; thereby, we can know the Lord and know His ways. Saint Paul well captured this gift: “I have come to rate all as loss in the light of the surpassing knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ. For His sake, I have forfeited everything; I have accounted all else rubbish so that Christ may be my wealth,” (Phil 3:8-9).