Laudatur Iesus Christus – semper laudatur!
May Jesus Christ be praised – both now and forever!
The first reading from Isaiah (11:1-2) lists the seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1831). The last, “fear of the Lord,” is easy to misunderstand. For example, how do we reconcile fear of the Lord as a Gift with 1 John 4:18 (perfect love drives out fear)?
In his Summa Theologiae (ST), St. Thomas Aquinas considers “fear” in several ways. Recognizing that we’re prone to choose lesser goods instead of God, we can fear and avoid evil pleasures and so prepare our hearts for God (ST II-II q.19 a.7). In this case, the evil is feared, not God. What about fear of God?
What, Aquinas asks, are we afraid of? It depends. If we’re afraid of God’s punishment, he calls this “servile fear.” It is the necessary first step in the Christian life (ST II-II q.68 a.7 ad.1.), because before doing what is right, we don’t do what is wrong. If we’re afraid of committing a fault, this is “filial” or “chaste fear.” Here, we recognize God as the summum bonum, the Greatest Good. We want to live in accord with his law and fear separation from him (ST I-II q.19 a.10 ad.3).
As our love of God grows, filial fear – not servile fear – remains in us (ST I-II q.19 a.8 ad.2), because our focus is on God: “the faster he clings, the more confident he is of his reward, and, consequently the less fearful of punishment” (ST I-II q.19 a.10). Writing to a young seminarian, St. Thérèse of Lisieux explains it beautifully: two disobedient children are about to be punished by their father. The first cowers in [servile] fear, withdrawing from his father, knowing he deserves to be punished. “His brother, on the contrary, throws himself into his father’s arms, protesting that he is sorry for hurting him, that he loves him, and that to prove it he will be good from now on.”
Br. Thomas More