Moral Philosophy

Chapter IV. Of Charity.

1. IT is the difference between sensible apprehension and intellectual knowledge, that the former seizes upon a particular object and it only, as this sweet: the latter takes its object as the type of a class of similars, this and the like of this, this sweet as one of the class of sweet things. In like manner the love of passion, which is the love of sense, regards one sole object. Titius is in love with Bertha alone, not with woman in general. But an intellectual love is the love of a type of beauty or goodness, of this object and of others as they approach in likeness to it. Whoever loves William from an intellectual appreciation of his patriotism, in loving him loves all patriots. Every animal loves itself with a brute, sensible love, not a love to find fault with, nor yet a noble and exalted sentiment -- a love purely self-regarding, quite apart from the good that is in self, but embracing self simply as self, and self alone. This is the first love of self even in man. But over and above this animal and sensible love, which no man lacks, there is in all men worthy of the name a second self-regarding affection of an intellectual cast, whereby a man loves himself as discerning with the eye of his soul the excellence of his own nature -- "how noble in reason, how infinite in faculty, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god, the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals." Intellectual self-complacence overflows from self to similars. It is not self-love, it is love of the race, "the milk of human kindness," philanthropy.

2. But man is a disappointing creature, after all, a mere "quintessence of dust," unless he can rise above himself by relation with some superhuman being, and make his final fortune in some better region than this world. Reason requires that we love ourselves, and love our fellow-men, for and in order to the development of the highest gifts and capacities that are in us. These are gifts and capacities divine, preparing us to find our everlasting happiness in God. (Ethics, c. ii., s. iv., n. 2, p. 22.) The love that we bear to ourselves and our neighbour, in view of our coming from God and going to God, is called the love of charity. Charity differs from philanthropy in looking beyond the present life, and above creatures. A materialist and atheist may possess philanthropy, but not charity.

3. Beside the twofold love, animal and intellectual, which we bear ourselves, we may also and should love ourselves with the love of charity, seeing God's gifts in us, and desiring the perfection of those gifts in a happy eternity occupied with God. The charity which we should thus bear to ourselves is the model of that which we owe to our neighbour, whom we are to love as ourselves, not with the same intensity, but with the same quality of love, wishing him the good, human and divine, temporal and eternal, which we wish for ourselves, though not so earnestly as we wish it for ourselves. Our love for ourselves is stronger than for our neighbour: for, if love comes of likeness, much more does it come of identity. But by reason of the vast preponderance of the good that is rational and eternal over that which is material and temporal; and also by reason of the principle laid down by St. Thomas, that "as to the sharing together of (eternal) happiness, greater is the union of our neighbour's soul with our soul than even of our own body with our soul" (2a 2ae, q. 26, art. 5, ad 2), -- we are bound to love our neighbour's eternal good better than our own temporal good, and in certain special conjunctures to sacrifice the latter to the former. We have no duty and obligation of loving his temporal good above our own temporal good. But it is often matter of commendation and counsel to sacrifice our temporal interest to our neighbour's. This sacrifice is no breach of the order of charity, beginning at home: since what is resigned of material and perishable profit is gained in moral perfection. Especially commendable is the surrender of private good for the good of the community. Charity, or philanthropy, taking this form, bears the name of patriotism and public spirit.

4. Charity, like material forces, acts in a certain inverse ratio to the distance of the object. Other considerations being equal, the nearer, the dearer. Nay, nearness and likeness to ourselves goes further than goodness in winning our love. This is natural, and charity presupposes nature, and follows its order. As we have more charity for ourselves than for others whom we acknowledge to be better men, so likewise for our kinsmen and intimate friends. We may put the matter thus. Charity consists in wishing and seeking to procure for a person the good that leads to God. One element is the intensity and eagerness of this wish and search; another is the greatness of the good wished. Now we wish those who are better than ourselves to be rewarded according to their deserts with a greater good than ourselves: but this wish is but lukewarm compared to the intensity of our desire that we and our friends with us may attain to all the good that we are capable of.

5. The Christian precept to love our enemies is merely the enforcement of a natural obligation. The obligation stands almost self-evident as soon as it is cleared of misunderstanding. The love of enemies is not based on the ground of their being hostile and annoying us. It would be highly unnatural to love them on that score. Nor are we in duty bound to show to one who hates us special offices of friendship, except we find him in extreme need, e.g., dying in a ditch, as the Good Samaritan found the Jew: otherwise it is enough that we be animated towards him with that common charity, which we bear to other men who are not further off from us than he is. If Lucius offend Titius, there being no other tie between them than the tie of friendship, Titius may, where the offence is very outrageous, henceforth treat Lucius as a stranger. The question of scandal has sometimes to be regarded, but that is an extrinsic circumstance to our present subject. Nor are we concerned to say what is the better thing for Titius to do, but to say all that he is bound to do. He is bound to render himself as void of wilful malice, and as full of ordinary courtesy and good feeling towards Lucius, as he is in the case of Sempronius, a man whom he never heard of till this day. But if there be some other antecedent tie between them besides the tie of friendship, -- for instance, if Titius and Lucius are two monks of the same convent, two officers in the same regiment, two partners of one firm, -- Titius is no longer justified in treating Lucius as a stranger. He must regard him with ordinary charity; now ordinary charity between two brother-officers, or two fellow-monks, is not the same as between men who have no such tie one with another. This is why we laid it down that we must be animated towards him who has offended us "with that common charity, which we bear to other men who are not further off from us than he is."

6. This then being the exact obligation, the same is easily established. We must love our enemies, because the reasons given for loving all. mankind (nn. 1, 2) are not vitiated by this or that man having treated us shamefully. The human nature in him still remains good actually, and still more, potentially; and if good and hopeful, to that extent also lovable. Nor is this lovableness a mere separable accident. Rather, it is the offensive behaviour of the man that is the separable accident. At that we may well be disgusted and abominate it. But the underlying substance remains good, not incurably tainted with that vicious accident. We must attend to the substance, which is, rather than to the accident, which happens, and may be abolished. Let us endeavour to abolish the accident, still so that we respect and regard the substance. Let us seek for redress under the guidance of prudence according to the circumstances of the case, but not for the ruin of our enemy. Let us not render evil for evil, but even in exacting a just satisfaction, make it of the nature of that compensatory evil, which is by consequence good. Let us be angry with our enemy, but sin not by hating him. (Ethics, c. iv., s. iv., n. 3.) We may seek satisfaction for any wrong we have suffered: in grave cases we must have recourse to the State for that but the sin, if any, of our adversary is not our concern to punish or to seek vengeance for. (Ethics, c. ix., s. iii., n. 4.)

7. The same reasoning holds good even of public enemies, tyrants, persecutors, anarchists, assassins. We must include them in our prayers, wish for their conversion, and, though their case appear hopeless, we must not damn them before their time. If we found one of them dying by accident of cold or asphyxia, we should be bound by a grave obligation to use all ordinary efforts to bring him round and recover him. Still we may use our best efforts to bring them to justice, even to capital punishment, according to the procedure of public law established in the country, and not otherwise. We may also with an inefficacious desire, that is, a desire that finds no vent in action, desire their death under an alternative thus, that either living they may cease to do evil, or that God may call them away to where the wicked cease from troubling. But we must not desire, nor be glad of, their death by any unlawful means, for that were to sympathise with crime.

8. Real charity shows itself in action, succouring neighbour in need, which is sometimes a counsel, sometimes a duty. It is an axiom, that charity is not binding with grave inconvenience. The gravity of the inconvenience in prospect must be measured against the urgency of the need to be relieved. A neighbour is technically said to be in extreme need, when he is in imminent peril of deadly evil to soul or body, and is unable to help himself. We are under severe obligation of charity to succour any whom we find in this plight.

9. By charity we give of our own to another: by justice we render to another that which is his. Charity neglected calls for no restitution, when the need that required it is past away: justice violated cries for restitution, for what we have taken away from our neighbour remains still his. The obligations of justice are negative, except for the fulfilment of contracts: obligations in charity are largely positive. (Ethics, c. v., s. ix., n. 7, p. 108.)

Readings. -- C. Gent., III., 117; 2a 2ae, q. 26, art. 4; ib., art. 7; ib., art. 8; 2a 2ae, q. 25, art. 8; ib., art. 9: ib., art. 6; Ferrier, Greek Philosophy, Socrates, nn. 13, 26, 27, 29. (Remains, vol. 1., pp. 227, seq.)

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