Theological Virtues: Charity

Charity means ‘Love, in the Christian sense’.
-C.S. Lewis

Charity wanting the best for others

Charity from caritas the standard Latin translation for the Greek word Αγάπη, meaning an unconditional love for others. Charity in old english was defined as a Christian love of one’s fellows. Today charity has come to be thought of mostly in the sense of relief by giving money. But it is much more. Unconditional is such a powerful word when we stop to consider it. Not because of anything. Not in return for anything. Non-negotiable, always, no matter what.

Unconditional seems to be a matter of will instead of feeling. So many times we hear people say things like “[they] are in love”. Stephen Covey in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about his belief that love is a verb – that love the feeling is the fruit of love the verb. C.S. Lewis notes a lesson in charity revealing one of the great secrets in life: “When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love them”. He goes on to explain that this secret also works terribly the other way round. Cruel acts produce hatred and more cruelty and on and on. His point? “Good and evil both increase at compound interest.” This is why the little decisions we make day to day are of such importance. The things we do, the seeds we sow, will come to harvest.

Christians by charity are called to unconditionally want the best for others. This is different from liking people. I do not think Christians are called to like everyone by the virtue of charity. I do however think that wanting the best for people, unconditional of your preference to the way they did so and so or that thing they said or what they think about such and such, produces a genuine and authentic liking of them.

We by our very nature afford perfect charity to ourselves. No matter the condition of our preference for ourselves, we want the very best for us. No matter how we fall short of what we think we ought to have done, that is: the degree to which we like ourselves at the moment, the desire for good things for us never wavers. No matter what. Charity I have come to believe is turning this phenomenon outward toward others.  A Christian, unconditional, love for our fellows.  A Christian, unconditional, desire to see others well.

 

-A takeaway from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

-A takeaway from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

As always good books, takeaways, stories, and/or lessons learned on the subject are most appreciated.