Oct 12 2009
Caritas: Selfless Love
In Christian theology charity, or love (agape), is the greatest of the three theological virtues:
Deus caritas est. – “God is love”.
Love, in this sense of an unlimited loving-kindness towards all others, is held to be the ultimate perfection of the human spirit, because it is said to both glorify and reflect the nature of God. In its most extreme form such love can be self-sacrificial. Confusion can arise from the multiple meanings of the English word “love.” The love that is caritas is distinguished by its origin, being Divinely infused into the soul, and by its residing in the will rather than emotions, regardless of what emotions it stirs up. This love is necessary for salvation, and with it no one can be lost.
Charity by William-Adolphe BouguereauIt comprised two parts, love of God, and love of man, which includes both love of one’s neighbor and one’s self.
Paul describes it in the Letter to the Corinthians (chapter 13 (KJV)):
Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
Note that the King James Version uses both the words charity and love to translate the idea of caritas. Sometimes it uses one, sometimes the other, for the same concept. Most other English translations, both before and since, do not; instead throughout they use the same more direct English word love, so that there should be no doubt as to the unity of the teaching. Love can have other meanings in English, but as used in the Bible it almost always refers to the virtue of caritas.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refers to the word charity as the “pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever.” The Book of Mormon prophet Mormon urges the followers of Christ to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ;” (Moroni 7:47,48) thus it is the most sought after of virtues. Joseph Smith taught, “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men…” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:45) The three-fold meaning of charity encompasses the unconditional love Christ has for all men, the motivating love all men should have for Christ as the Savior, Redeemer, and Light of the world, and the compassionate love we should seek to have for all of our fellow men on earth presently and throughout time. The Book of
Mormon prophet Nephi taught that such love is “the most joyous to the soul.” (1 Nephi 11:23) It is evident from the scriptures and experience that serving others with this selfless feeling of caritas offers a renewing, invigorating, joyous taste to the soul that is lasting and memorable, and is a foundation for happiness.
Giving Alms, Almsgiving, the act of giving money, goods or time to the unfortunate, either directly or by means of a charitable trust or other worthy cause, is described as charity or charitable giving. The poor, particularly widows and orphans, and the sick and handicapped, are generally regarded as the proper objects of almsgiving. Some groups regard almsgiving as being properly directed toward other members of their group.
Donations to causes that would benefit the unfortunate indirectly, as donations to cancer research hope to benefit cancer victims, are also charity.
The name stems from the most obvious expression of the virtue of charity is giving the objects of it the means they need to survive.
Most forms of charity are concerned with providing food, water, clothing, and shelter, and tending the ill, but other actions may be performed as charity: visiting the imprisoned or the homebound, providing dowries for poor women, ransoming captives, and educating orphans.
Although giving to those nearly connected to oneself is sometimes called charity — as in the saying “Charity begins at home” — normally charity denotes giving to those not related, with filial piety and like terms for supporting one’s family and friends. Indeed, treating those related to the giver as if they were strangers in need of charity has led to the figure of speech “as cold as charity” — providing for one’s relatives as if they were strangers, without affection.
Missionaries of Charity, a religious order dedicated to caring for the poor. The recipient of charity may offer to pray for the benefactor; indeed, in medieval Europe, it was customary to feast the poor at the funeral in return for their prayers for the deceased. Institutions may commemorate benefactors by displaying their names, up to naming buildings or even the institution itself after the benefactors. If the recipient makes material return of more than a token value, the transaction is normally not called charity.
Originally almsgiving entailed the benefactor directly giving the goods to the receiver. People who could not support themselves — or who feigned such inability — would become beggars.
Institutions evolved to carry out the labor of assisting the poor, and these institutions are called charities. These include orphanages, food banks, religious orders dedicated to care of the poor, hospitals, organizations that visit the homebound and imprisoned, and many others. Such institutions allow those whose talents do not lend themselves to caring for the poor to enable others to do so, both by providing money for the work and supporting them while they do the work. Institutions can also attempt to more effectively sort out the actually needy from those who fraudulently claim charity. Early Christians particularly recommended the care of the unfortunate to the charge of the local bishop.
In Sunni Islam this is called Zakat, and is one of the five pillars upon which the Muslim religion is based. Charity is also used as a forename, intended to evoke the idea that one so named is a giving person.
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