The Virtue of Charity

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"Charity" - by Adolphe-William Bouguereau


sheen.gif (6584 bytes) "The great Greek Historian, Lecky, said that the surest sign of Utter Degradation is when Men speak of Virtues as if they were Vices, and of Vices as if they were Virtues. "They altered", he says, "the customary meaning of words in reference to actions. Men looked on Deeds of Infamy and were not shocked. The Sin of the World and its Moral Corruption infected the air. Men were Naked and not Ashamed, not because they were Innocent, but because no Sense of Guilt assailed them".

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen


Charity is Patient, is Kind, . . . is not Self Seeking . . .

by Father Paul A. Duffner, O.P.

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This Love of which Saint Paul speaks in the above Title is not just any kind of Love. It is Love that comes from God, and is not something that originates from within ourselves. If every Love involves an Attachment to the Object Loved, this Love of Charity involves Attachment to God, to His Will; and it is Impeded by any Excessive Attachment to Creatures or to our own Will. Consequently we must be careful of identifying in our Mind this Supernatural Love of Charity with Human Love. Human Love can be Supernaturalized, and is meant to be; but in itself it is not the Love Saint Paul refers to. In fact, because of the Inclinations of Fallen Human Nature, these Two (2) Loves usually tend in Opposite Directions, One seeking its own, and One seeking not its own. “If you love those who love you, what merit have you? For even sinners love those who love them” (Luke 6:32).

Infused Gifts/Virtues
of the Holy Spirit
(7 Virtues)
(7 Gifts)
* Faith
* Charity
Fear of the Lord

Infused Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit reside within the Essence of Man's Natural Soul, giving its Facilities/Powers of Intellect and Will the Capacity for Supernatural Acts. Divine (Sanctifying) Grace is infused within the Soul at Baptism also.

This Infused Virtue of Charity, then, Acts through Human Nature, Sanctifies it and Purifies Human Love; but it is not to be identified with Human Love, for it is Divine Love shared by Man. Human Love is Good and Noble (Love of Spouses, Love of Parents for children, etc.) for it has been planted in Human Nature by God; yet there is an Infinite (∞) distance between any Love that has its Source in Human Nature, and the Divine Love that is “poured into our Heart by the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). Human Love needs the Strengthening and Enlightening Help of the Infused Virtues of Faith and Charity to counteract the Selfish Tendencies of Fallen Nature and the Attractions of the World.


The Virtue of Charity

The new Catholic Catechism of the Catholic Church defines Charity as the “theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our Neighbor as our self for the Love of God” (#1822). It is a sharing in that Divine Love with which God Loves Himself and Loves us, and which is communicated to us along with Divine Grace, enabling us to Love Him and our Neighbor with same Love with which He Loves.

Infused Charity, then, is a Participation in that Divine Love which is the Holy Spirit, the Bond of Love between the Father and the Son, through which we are United with the Divine Trinity and with our Neighbor. This Divine Spirit is the Gift of the Father and the Son, enabling us to Love as He Loves, making us 'One' as He is 'One'.

"I have given them the glory You gave Me, that they may be One, as We are One - I living in them, You living in Me, that their unity may be complete” (John 17:20-23).


Friendship with God

Saint Thomas considers the Virtue of Charity under the aspect of Friendship with God, and with all the Children of God (II II, 23,1). “You are My friends”, Jesus told His Disciples, “if you do the things I command you . . . I have called you friends, because all the things I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14,15). To distinguish True Friendship, which Charity is, from False Notions of it, we will examine the Necessary Conditions of True Friendship, and therefore, of True Love of God.

Every Friendship depends on sharing something by Two (2) Persons who are Friends. But what can we share with God? We can Love God only because “He Loved us first” (1John 4:10); and in Loving us, He shared with us His Divine Life, giving us the 'Capacity' of Loving Him in return. Charity, then, is our Response to God's Love, our Love given-back in return for His Love. Saint Augustine, commenting on this text of Saint John says, “How could we have loved Him if He had not first loved us? By loving Him we become His Friends; but He loved us when we were His Enemies, in order to make us His Friends”. Sharing with us His Own Divine Life, He gave us the 'Capacity' of Loving Him with the same Divine Love with which He Loves us. In this way He created a Common-Ground between us, so that we have something to share, namely, the Gift-of-Ourself - in return for the Gift of Himself. For with the Gift of Divine Grace the Three (3) Divine Persons come to dwell Personally in the Soul. That Gift-of-Ourself we can:

or Give Partially,
or Give Totally.

This Last is the Goal we strive for in the Christian Life, the Perfection of which - for most people - will be attained only in Heaven. Loving God, then, is the Surrender of our Will to His Will, a Love that is patterned on that of His Divine Son, saying “Yes” to the Sacrifices He asks, and the Crosses He allows.


Conditions of Friendship

Unselfish Love, which is Seeking the True Good of the one Loved. Yet, because of Original Sin, we have come into this World with a tendency to Selfishness. Hence Charity does not come Naturally. It is a Gift from God, and Facility in the exercise of that Virtue comes only with the Conquest of our Selfish Inclinations. Much of what the World calls Love is Selfish Love, or Self-Seeking; for example, seeking someone’s Companionship and Affection because of the 'Pleasure' he or she receives from that Relationship, which may even be Sinful. Such-a-one is not concerned about the True Good of the one Loved. One who Loves with the Supernatural Love of Charity is concerned primarily about Respecting and Safeguarding the Divine Life of Grace of the Beloved, or about seeking to be Instrumental in bringing about the Presence of that Divine Life in the Soul where it is 'Wanting', or its increase where the Practice of one's Faith is Half-Hearted. Along with this, and subordinate to it, such a one is concerned about the True Good and Happiness of the Friend on the Natural Level.

This Love is not mere 'Well-Wishing', but an Efficacious Love that is more concerned about Giving, than Receiving, a Giving that is expressed in Willingness to Sacrifice for the Good of the Friend.

Simon of Cyrene suffers in Compassion of Jesus,
his 'hidden' Savior

Mutual Love: The Unselfish Love described above must be 'Mutual' in any True Friendship, each one being concerned about the True Good of the other, each one Willing to Sacrifice self for the other. That is to say, each one identifies himself with the other, so that the Friend's Good is his Good, the Friend’s Happiness his Happiness, the Friend’s Sorrow his Sorrow. In a word, the True Friend becomes 'another-self'. Applying this to Supernatural Charity, our Love for God depends in no small measure on our Compassion with all that Christ Suffered on our behalf, if it is to give rise in us to a Willingness to Sacrifice on behalf of our Neighbor - His Children. Those Sacrifices bring Joy in the awareness that they please the Heart of our Divine Savior. The more we return God's Love in that way, the more He increases our Capacity to Love, so that our Thoughts become more-akin to His, and our Will more-identified with His.


Supernatural Order
(Resides within the Essence of the Soul)

Human Being/Person
(A Unity (1) of Body and Soul)



Natural Body/
Lower Powers

Natural Soul/
Natural Virtues
(Dominant Partner)

Sanctifying Grace/Infused Virtues and Gifts of the Holy Spirit


Communication: Friendship demands a Common-Ground or a Common-Good where there can be an 'Exchange', a Common-Sharing with each other. As regards Friendship with God, we come into this World with a Common-Ground on the Natural Level, for He Created us to His Own Likeness and Image, with a Spiritual Soul capable of Knowing and Loving, but only within the limits of our Puny Human Intellect. As wonderful as are the achievements of the Human Mind in the field of Modern Technology, by his/her Natural Powers alone Man is Blind and Deaf as regards the more-important Supernatural Order of God's Creation. Too, we come into this World not as a Friend of God, but in a sense as an Enemy, for the Rebellion of our First Parents caused us to come into this World sharing the Consequences of their Sin. On the Supernatural Level, however, the Level that is essential for any Communication between Man and God, we come into this World with no Common-Ground. Yet, by His Passion and Death Christ paid-the-price for Adam's Sin and the Sins of all his descendants, Meriting for them the Divine Life that was Lost, Restoring for them that Common-Ground essential for Communication with God. That Sanctifying Grace is Infused into the Soul at Baptism, Freeing those who receive it from the Dominion of Satan, and Restoring them to God’s Friendship.


The Object of Charity

Every True Friendship extends beyond one's Friend to all his/her close Associates, who are Loved not for their own sake, but for the sake of the Friend. For this reason Charity, which is Friendship with God, must embrace all the Children of God, that is, the Whole Human Race. It was for them all that Christ offered His Redeeming Sacrifice. Not that our Charity can embrace all of them individually, but no one can be Expressly Excluded without impeding the Love of Charity from directing his/her Action.

If anyone says ‘I love God’ and hates his brother, he is a liar. For how can he who does not love his brother, whom he sees, love God Whom he does not see? And this Commandment we have from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also” (1John 4:20,21).

Christ singled-out this Characteristic of Charity as a Special Identifying Mark of His Followers. “By this shall all men know that you are My Disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). There is but One (1) Virtue of Charity which embraces Love of God, of Self, and of Neighbor. Therefore, one is Deceived if he/she thinks he/she Loves God much, while much is Lacking in his/her Love toward his/her Neighbor. God is Loved in Himself and for Himself, and all others are Loved for His sake, because they are His Friends or are called-to-be His Friends.

Since God's Commandment is that we must Love our Neighbor as Ourself, we might ask how are we to Love Ourself? True Love, as we saw, seeks the True Good for the one Loved. That means that True Love of Self must be concerned First of all about our Greatest Good, the Supernatural Life of the Soul; and subordinate to that, about our True Good in the Natural Order. And the Virtue of Charity will incline one to have the same order-of-concern about his/her Neighbor.

One should ask himself/herself: Is my Love of Self in-line-with my Friendship with God? Is it Self-Seeking in ways that are not-pleasing to Him? It might seem contradictory, but True Love of Self is Self-Sacrificing, as it must be if one is to reach out to the Needs of others as God would have us do, if we are to Love God as He Loves us. In other words, if our Love of Self is mainly Self-Seeking, we will have little concern for the Needs of others; if it is Self-Sacrificing, we will have much concern for the Needs of others.

From what we have said, it is clear that the term “Neighbor” is not just the person living next door, but every Human Being - including the Souls in Purgatory, and even Sinners and Enemies. Only the Souls in Hell are excluded from our Charity, for they have Deliberately and Definitively Rejected Friendship with God, and there is nothing we can do to help them. But other than that, to Love Sinners is not to approve their Sinful Conduct, but Love them as Children of God who have Lost their way, doing what we can (especially by Prayer) to effect their return. Love of Enemies is not a matter of Feelings. It does not lose sight of the fact that they are Children of God, and brings one to Pray for them as Our Lord recommended. Whether or not one's Prayer brings about a noticeable change in the Enemy or the Offending One, it has a Healing Effect in the Heart of the one Praying, doing much to remove Ugly Feelings and Uncharitable Judgments towards the Offender.

Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and Pray for those who persecute and calumniate you, so that you may be children of your Father in Heaven . . . . For if you love those who love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the Publicans do that? . . . Be Perfect as your Heavenly Father is Perfect” (Matthew 5:44-48).

Charity Vitalizes and Unites all the other Virtues, directing them towards God. For example, aided by the Virtue of Meekness, Charity will stifle any thought or inclination to Revenge, and will try, as Saint Paul recommends, to overcome Evil with Good.

If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; by doing this you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good” (Romans 12:20; Proverbs 25:21).


Returning God's Love

We have seen that the Holy Spirit is God's Gift to us, bringing us a share in God's Own Love. But Divine Love not only makes one Good, but inclines one to-do Good. Yet, how can we do Good to God? We cannot Enrich Him, nor add to His Happiness or Glory. In return for the untold Good He shares with us, He asks us to do Good to our Neighbor - His Children - our Brothers and Sisters in Christ. And He assures us that He accepts all that we do for them as done for Him.

In the Truest Sense, then, Self-Sacrificing Love of Neighbor is not merely a Sign of our Love of God, it is Love of God. It is God living His Divine Life in and through us (Galatians 2:20). It is our Love for Him expressed in the way He wishes it expressed. “Beloved, if God has so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No man has ever seen God. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His Life is perfected in us ” (1John 4:11). That is, His Love is Perfected in us provided we Love one another. Saint John tells us that “God is Love” (1John 4:8). And we read in Isaiah the Prophet that Godis a hidden God ” (45:15). God, then, is Hidden Love. That Hidden Love was made Manifest in a most wonderful way through the Incarnation and Redeeming Death of His Only-Begotten Son, Who, through the Holy Spirit delivered Himself up for us. Yet, He intends that His Hidden Love be further Manifested through the Members of Christ's Body, by Loving their Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

It is mainly in this way that we are to give Witness of God's Love before the World. The Father and Son sent their own Spirit to dwell in the Soul, to Transform it into the Likeness of Christ. But since we are meant to have a part in our Spiritual Growth as well as God, that Transformation into the Likeness of Christ goes forward provided we Love one another.

Thus we see the Living Cycle or Circuit of Divine Love, which comes to us from the Father by the Son in Virtue of the Action of the Holy Spirit. It is meant to pass from us through our Neighbor - our Brothers and Sisters in Christ - and return to the Father. This Circuit of Divine Love is realized provided we Love one another as we ought, not letting our Selfishness place Obstacles in the way.

If we would seek to discover the concrete forms this Love of Neighbor might take, they are almost limitless for, as we said, Charity Vitalizes and Unifies all the other Virtues directing them towards God. No one expressed this better than Saint Paul:

Charity is Patient, is Kind; Charity does not Envy, is not Pretentious, is not Puffed up, is not Ambitious, is not Self-seeking, is not Provoked; thinks no Evil, does not rejoice over Wickedness, but rejoices with the Truth; bears with all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1Corinthians 13:4-7).


Audio Clip on the
Theological Virtues

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by Father Jordan Aumann, O.P.
Institute of Spirituality at the Pontifical University
of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome


Links to other Pages on Virtues and Vices

Three (3) Theological Virtues

Four (4) Main Moral Virtues








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Three (3) Theological Virtues

Wisdom Religion



Pride Avarice Envy Wrath Lust Gluttony Sloth Inordinate