Msgr. Luigi Civardi
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1961
Published on the World Wide Web with Permission of the Publisher.


Preliminary Notions

  1. Justice and Charity are the two foremost social virtues, inasmuch as they dispose our minds to the fulfillment of our duties toward society, so that, after having considered the teachings of Christianity with regard to justice, we are now to treat of charity, called the queen of virtues.

  Charity is the theological virtue that inclines us to love God for Himself and our neighbor for the love of God. Charity must not only be affective [prompted by feeling and sentiment], but also effective [productive of effects and of works]. Works are the test of charity. 

It is not enough to wish good to our neighbor; it is also necessary to do good to him, according to his needs. Charity has to be converted into kindness and mercy.

It was this that Our Lord taught by the parable of the Good Samaritan, who "seeing him, was moved with compassion" [affective charity], and forthwith "he went up to him and bound up his wounds." etc. [effective charity). And the parable ends with an admonition to imitate the Good Samaritan who "showed mercy to him." [Lk. 10:25-37].

  2. Pity, therefore, is charity itself, insofar as it inclines us to help our neighbor in his spiritual and material needs. It is beneficent charity.

  In fact, man, being composed of body and soul, has material, or corporal, and spiritual needs. Charity bids us take care of both; hence, the corporal and the spiritual works of mercy.

  Pius XII, in Sertum Laetitiae, writes these striking words: "The fundamental point of the social question is this, that the goods created by God for all men should in the same way reach all, justice guiding and charity helping."

  The communists say: "Relief may be necessary today because we are living under a regime of injustice and of exploitation; but when the regime of perfect justice will be restored, as we hope, then it will no longer be necessary to speak of charity and of relief, because there will be no needy persons."

  A pretty Utopia! We have seen, in fact, that in virtue of justice we give to others what is due them. Now, even in the best of social regimes, in which the principles of justice would not only be professed but practiced by everyone [and such a regime is not possible on earth on account of Original Sin], there will always be individuals who, with or without fault on their part [like the poor and the sick], will have needs without rights. So that charity will at times have to fulfill its supplemental role.

  God grant [and this should be our wish since it is both feasible and a duty] that the field of this supplemental role of charity may become more and more restricted as the consciousness and the practice of justice become more widespread. However, there will always be people in need and in distress who will have to be helped by charity.

   Charity, therefore, fills up the gaps left behind by justice; its arms are longer, its sight keener, and it reaches out to places where justice cannot reach. Charity goes beyond the narrow limits of justice and brings relief where there is no real right, but where there is real need.

The Duty of Charity

  Charity is the essence of Christianity and the sum of all the virtues.

  Jesus taught the duty of beneficent charity both by His example and by His teaching.

a) By His example.

  The life of Christ was one continuous act of kindness: in fact, St. Peter sums it up in this manner: 

"Jesus went about [upon earth] doing good." [Acts 10: 38].

To the disciples of St. John who ask Him if He is the Messias, Jesus, as proof of the fact that He is, points to His good works: "Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear . . ." [Matt. 11: 4-5].

Twice He performs the miracle of the multiplication of loaves by pronouncing these touching words: "I have compassion on the multitudes, because they continue with me now three days and have nothing to eat and I will not send them away fasting lest they faint on the way." [Matt. 15: 32-39].

       b) By His teachings.

Jesus often spoke of the duty of beneficent charity. Suffice it here to recall that at the Last Judgment the sentence that will be pronounced by Him against the reprobates will be this: "Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire . . . for I was hungry, and you gave me not to eat: I was thirsty, and you gave me not to drink:" etc., and upon being asked for an explanation, He replies: "Amen I say to you, as long as you did not do it to one of these least, neither did you do it to me." [Matt. 25:41-45].

What better proof that corporal works of charity constitute a duty when Jesus condemns to eternal suffering those who neglect them? The Apostles were no less explicit. These quotations will suffice:

St. Paul commands the Christians of Rome to share their goods with their needy brothers: "Loving one another with the charity of brotherhood . . . communicating to the necessities of the saints." [Rom. 12:10-13]. And writing to the Hebrews, he reminds them of the duty of helping others: "And do not forget to do good, and to impart; for by such sacrifices God's favor is obtained" [namely, His grace]. [Heb. 13:16].

St. John, on his part, writes these precise words for the hard-hearted: "He that hath the substance of this world, and sees his brother in need, and shall shut up his bowels from him: how does the charity of God abide in him?" [1 Jn. 3: 17]. And shortly before, the same Apostle had taught that: "He that loveth not, abideth in death." [1 Jn. 3: 14] ----- and, of course, what he meant is supernatural death.

   Comprehension and Extension of Charity

 1. The charity commanded by Christ has the greatest possible comprehension, because there are no limitations to the sacrifices called for by it, including even the sacrifice of life itself.

  The code of Christian charity was written by the Blood of our Savior; it was sanctioned by His supreme sacrifice. Jesus, in fact, was not content to call us brothers and to teach us brotherly love. He, the first- born among many brothers [as St. Paul calls Him], gave His life for them. "I am the Good Shepherd," He said, "who gives His life for His sheep."

Thus He taught us that we must give not merely our affection to our brothers, not merely our goods [a sacrifice that can cost us little when the goods are plentiful] but ourselves as well; our strength, our efforts, and our very life when required by the supreme needs of the natural and supernatural life of our neighbors.

The Apostle of Charity, St. John, is very clear on this point, saying, "He hath laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." [1 Jn. 3: 16]. 

"To give one's "life for the brethren" is a miracle of the law of Christianity that overthrows the commandments of human selfishness, the supreme law of which is this: to sacrifice everything to one's self, even the life of the brethren.

Such a law of heroic altruism has found and still finds generous champions in our religion. How many missionaries, how many Sisters are dying today in their ministry of charity, in leper colonies, in hospitals, in fields of labor and danger, willing victims for the spiritual and physical welfare of their brethren?

Even soldiers who give their lives in the fields of battle in performance of their duty for the defense of their country, obey this law of altruism.

2. The charity commanded by Christ has also the greatest possible extension, because not a single person is excluded.

Here are some enlightening words of Christ: "Do good to them that hate you and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you, that you may be the children of your Father Who is in Heaven, Who maketh His sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans this?" [Matt. 5: 44-46].

The children, like the Father, must love all, do good to all. Universal charity, therefore, is a necessary attribute of universal brotherhood.

This universality of love is another wonderful novelty of the Gospel. The few who in ancient times knew what charity was limited its sphere of action. Cicero said: "Non nobis solum nati sumus." "We were not born for ourselves alone." [De Officiis, 1: 7].

These words are a condemnation of selfishness, but whom besides ourselves must we think about? The pagan philosopher replies: "Ortus nostri partem patria vindicat, partem parentes, partem amici." "We owe, therefore, a part of ourselves to our country, a part to our relatives, a part to our friends." And that is all. The vision of the philosopher extends no further.

Jesus Christ has broken these narrow and arbitrary boundaries. Our beneficent charity ----- He teaches ----- must embrace all men, precisely because they are all children of one and the same Father, made in the image of One only.

3. But to love our enemies, to love those who have nothing lovable but a great deal that is hateful, to do good to those who have done us harm, is that not an absurd commandment, an unreasonable demand?

That is what some think and say who do not understand, or pay no heed to the motives of Christian love toward one's neighbor. We have said it already: we must love God for Himself, but we must love our neighbor not for himself, but for the love of God: that is, because God commands it, because in every man there is the image of God, because every man is redeemed by the Blood of Christ, because every Christian is a son of God and our brother. These claims to our love are present in all men, even in those who in themselves are not at all deserving of our love.

Needless to say, our love and our kindness are all the more meritorious in the sight of God the less they are deserved and acknowledged by men.

      The Advantages of Beneficent Charity

Charity procures advantages for us both in this life and in the next. The following are the principle ones:


Jesus on the day of the Last Judgment will pronounce
these words: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom. ..I was hungry, and you gave me to eat . .  . " 
[Matt. 25: 34-36].


Tobias gives his son this advice: "Give alms out of thy substance, and turn not away thy face from any poor person; and it shall come to pass that the face of the Lord shall not be turned from thee." 
[Tob. 4: 7]. And here, by alms, is meant every work of mercy.


The Archangel Raphael said to Tobias: "For alms deliver from all sin, and from death, and will not suffer the soul to go into darkness." 
[Tob. 4: 11].

Our Lord said: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." [Matt. 5: 7].  Wherefore Manzoni is right when he puts these words in the mouth of Lucia: "God forgives many things for an act of mercy."
[The Betrothed, 21].

The works of mercy ----- both corporal and spiritual ----- should therefore hold a prominent place in our Christian life. Catholic Action is a sort of spiritual work of mercy and is, therefore, a dutiful and meritorious work.

Works of mercy are in themselves very effective means of the apostolate; Pope Pius XII said: "This restless and agitated mankind that is no longer willing to believe in truth, that no longer dares to believe in justice, cannot make up its mind to give up believing in charity." [Discourse of March 13, 1940]. Many times by taking care of men's bodies, we heal their souls.

Pius XII, in the discourse above referred to, also stated that: "The poor in their turn are in many ways benefactors." For charity always redounds to the benefit of the one that does it. In truth, the best way to do good to ourselves is to do good to others. The benefactor is always the first to benefit.

But for this purpose it is necessary that we avoid every kind of ostentation, mindful of the counsel of Christ: "Therefore, when thou dost an almsdeed sound not a trumpet before thee . . . let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doth. ..and thy Father, who seeth in secret, will repay thee." [Matt. 6:2-4].

In fine, let us see to it that our charity is patient and kind, as St. Paul wishes it. In doing charity, let us avoid any air of superiority and of condescension that might humiliate the beneficiary ----- in other words, let us do charity charitably.


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