Online Encyclopedia


Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V05, Page 861 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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CHARITY AND CHARITIES. The word " charity," or love, represents the principle of the good life. It stands for a mood or habit of mind and an endeavour. From it, as a habit of mind, springs the social and personal endeavour which in the widest sense we may call charity. The two correspond. Where the habit of mind has not been gained, the endeavour fluctuates and is relatively purposeless. In so far as it has been gained, the endeavour is founded on an intelligent scrutiny of social conditions and guided by a definite purpose. In the one case it is realized that some social theory must be found by us, if our action is to be right and consistent; in the other case no need of such a theory is felt. This article is based on the assumption that there are principles in charity or charitable work, and that these can be ascertained by a study of the development of social conditions, and their relation to prevalent social aims and religious or philosophic conceptions. It is assumed also that the charity of the religious life, if rightly understood, cannot be inconsistent with that of the social life. Perhaps some closer definition of charity is necessary. The words that signify goodwill towards the community and its members are primarily words expressive of the affections of family life in the relations existing between parents, and between parent and child. As will be•seen, the analogies underlying such phrases as " God the Father," " children of God," " brethren," have played a great part in the development of charitable thought in pre-Christian as well as in Christian days. The germ, if we may say so, of the words 4 Xia, fiya7r,t, amor, love; amicitia, friendship, is the sexual or the parental relation. With the realization of the larger life in man the meaning of the word expands. Caritas, or charity, strikes another note—high price, and thus dearness. It is charity, indeed, expressed in mercantile metaphor; and it would seem that it was associated in thought with the word xapcs, which has also a commercial meaning, but signifies as well favour, gratitude, grace, kindness. Partly thus, perhaps, it assumed and suggested a nobler conception; and sometimes, as, for instance, in English ecclesiastical documents, it was spelt charitas. 'Ayawn, which in the Authorized Version of the Bible is translated charity, was used by St Paul as a translation of the Hebrew word hesed, which in the Old Testament is in the same version translated " mercy "--as in Hosea vi. 6, " I desired mercy, and not sacrifice." This word represents the charity of kindness and goodness, as distinguished from almsgiving. Almsgiving, .edagah, is translated by the word €Xenµoo(,v,7 in the Septuagint, and in the Authorized Version by the word " righteousness." It represents the deed or the gift which is due—done or made, not spontaneously, but under a sense of religious obligation. In the earlier Christian period the word almsgiving has this meaning, and was in that sense applied to a wide range of actions and contracts, from a gift to a beggar at a church door to a grant and a tenure of land. It also, in the word almoner, represented the fulfilment of the religious obligation with the aid of an agent or delegate. The words charity or love (caritas or arya,r,i), on the other hand, without losing the tone with which the thought of parental or family love inspires them, assume a higher meaning. In religious thought they imply an ideal life, as represented by such expressions as " love (agape) of God." This on the oae side; and on the other an ideal social relation, in such words as " love of man." Thus in the word " charity " religious and social associations meet; and thus regarded the word means a disciplined and habitual mood in which the mind is considerate of the welfare of others individually and generally, and devises what is for their real good, and in which the intelligence and the will strive to fulfil the mind's purpose. Charity thus has no necessary relation to relief or alms. To Five a lecture, or to nurse a sick man who is not in want or " poor, may be equally a deed of charity; though in fact charity concerns itself largely with the classes usually called " the poor," and with problems of distress and relief. Relief, however, is not an essential part of charity or charitable work. It is one of many means at its disposal. If the world were so poor that no one could make a gift, or so wealthy that no one needed it, charity—the charity of life and of deeds—would remain. The history of charity is a history of many social and religious theories, influences and endeavours, that have left their mark alike upon the popular and the cultivated thought of the present day. The inconsistencies of charitable effort and argument may thus in part be accounted for. To understand the problem of charity we have therefore (1) to consider the stages of charitable thought—the primitive, pagan, Greek and Roman, Jewish and Christian elements, that make up the modern consciousness in regard to charity, and also the growth of the habit of " charity " as representing a gradually educated social instinct. (2) We have also to consider in their relation to charity the results of recent investigations of the conditions of social life. (3) At each stage we have to note the corresponding stage of practical administration in public relief and private effort—for the division between. public or " poor-law " relief and charity which prevails in England is, comparatively speaking, a novelty, and, generally speaking, the work of charity can hardly be appreciated or understood if it be considered without reference to public relief. (4) As to the present day, we have to consider practical suggestions in regard to such subjects as charity and economic thought, charity organization, friendly visiting and almonership, co-operation with the poor-law, charity and thrift, parochial management, hospitals and medical relief, exceptional distress and the " unemployed," the utilization of endowments and their supervision, and their adaptation to new needs and emergencies. (5) We have also throughout to consider charitable help in relation to classes of dependants, wl o appear early in the history of the question—widows and orphans, the sick and the aged, vagrants and wayfarers. First in the series come the charities of the family and of hospitality; then the wider charities of religion, the charities of the community, and of individual donors and of mutual help. These gradually assumed importance in communities which consisted originally of self-supporting classes, within which widows and orphans, for instance, would be rather provided for, in accordance with recognized class obligations, than relieved. Then come habitual almsgiving, the charitable endowment, and the modern charitable institution and association. But through-out the test of progress or decadence appears to be the condition of the family. The family is the source, the home and the hearthstone of charity. It has been created but slowly, and there is naturally a constant tendency to break away from its obligations and to ignore and depreciate its utility. Yet the family, as we now have it, is itself the outcome of infinite thought working through social instinct, and has at each stage of its development indicated a general advance. To it, therefore, constant reference must be made.

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