Commentary

Charity

You do so much for me, thank you

In New Christian thought, “charity” has a significantly different meaning than in the common modern English definition. In Swedenborg's works "charity" is usually the English rendering of the Latin word "caritas", which is also the root of the verb “to care.” If we think of “charity” as “a state of caring,” we can start seeing what Swedenborg was trying to convey.

“Caring” does not necessarily have to be emotional. You can take care of someone you don’t like, you can take care of business or errands or duties that have little or no emotional content. Swedenborg would call these “acts of charity,” things done from a desire to be a good person. But the idea of “caring” can elevate, too: When you care about someone it involves real affection, and to care about an idea or mission implies a deep commitment - it is a feeling, an emotional state. The ultimate state of “caring,” of course, would be caring about all of humanity, wanting what’s best for everyone on the planet. This is what Swedenborg would call “true charity,” and it is marked by love - the love of others. Importantly, though, it can't be left as an abstraction; it needs to be grounded out in action.

Or as Swedenborg puts it in Arcana Coelestia 8033: “Charity is an inward affection consisting in a desire which springs from a person's heart to do good to the neighbour, which is the delight of his life.”

At all these levels, though, charity cannot act on its own. It needs tools.

Imagine, for instance, a young mother falling and breaking her leg. Her four-year-old might love her desperately, but cannot take care of her. A paramedic, meanwhile, might see her as just a case number, but will get her stabilized and delivered to a hospital. The difference, obviously, is knowledge. The paramedic has a bunch of tested, true ideas in her head that give her the capacity to care for the mother; the four-year-old does not.

That knowledge is actually part of what Swedenborg would call “faith,” though he’s referring to spiritual things rather than medical ones. In general, “faith” in Swedenborg’s works refers to not just belief in the Lord but also the things we accept as true because they come to us from the Lord and the Lord’s teachings. If we take them and apply them to life, we can do works of charity - we can use knowledge to take care of people and things, to actually do something good. For this reason, faith and charity are often linked in Swedenborgian theology.

And just like the idea of caring, these items of faith can elevate. “Thou shalt not murder” is a good low-level matter of faith, and should certainly be applied if we want to be charitable people. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is a bit higher, a bit more internal, and will help us be charitable on a deeper level. The idea that by loving others we are loving the Lord will take us to a deeper place yet.

And perhaps most beautiful of all is what happens when we reach a state of true charity. If we work to be good because we want to serve the Lord, the Lord will eventually change our hearts, transforming us so that we delight in being good and delight in loving and helping others. At that stage the ideas of faith change from being the masters over our evil desires to being the servants of our good desires. From a loving desire to be good and serve others we will seek and use knowledge that lets us fulfill that mission.

(References: Arcana Coelestia 809, 916 [2], 1798 [2-5], 1799 [3-4], 1994, 8120; Charity 11, 40, 56, 90, 199; The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine 121; True Christian Religion 367, 377, 392, 425, 450, 453, 576)

From Swedenborg's Works

Charity #199

Charity (Coulson translation)

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199. CHARITY

The sections in their series.

I. THE "FIRST" OF CHARITY IS TO LOOK TO THE LORD AND SHUN EVILS AS SINS.

II. THE "SECOND" OF CHARITY IS TO DO GOOD TO THE NEIGHBOUR.

III. IN A NATURAL SENSE, THE NEIGHBOUR WHO IS TO BE LOVED IS A FELLOW CITIZEN, ALSO A SOCIETY, SMALL OR LARGE, ALSO ONE'S COUNTRY, ALSO THE HUMAN RACE.

IV. THE NEIGHBOUR IS TO BE LOVED IN ACCORDANCE WITH HIS SPIRITUAL GOOD, AND HIS MORAL, CIVIL, AND NATURAL GOOD THEREFROM; CONSEQUENTLY IT IS GOOD THAT, IN A SPIRITUAL SENSE, IS THE NEIGHBOUR TO BE LOVED.

V. EVERYONE LOVES THE NEIGHBOUR FROM THE GOOD OF CHARITY IN HIMSELF; CONSEQUENTLY THE QUALITY OF ANYONE'S CHARITY IS SUCH AS THE CHARITY HE HIMSELF IS.

VI. A MAN IS BORN TO THE END THAT HE MAY BECOME A CHARITY; BUT HE CANNOT BECOME A CHARITY UNLESS HE CONSTANTLY WILLS AND DOES THE GOOD OF CHARITY FROM AFFECTION AND ITS DELIGHT. 1

VII. EVERY MAN, WHO LOOKS TO THE LORD, AND SHUNS EVILS AS SINS, BECOMES A CHARITY, IF HE HONESTLY, JUSTLY, AND FAITHFULLY CARRIES OUT THE WORK OF HIS OCCUPATION OR EMPLOYMENT.

VIII. SIGNS OF CHARITY ARE ALL THE THINGS THAT ARE OF WORSHIP.

IX. BENEFACTIONS OF CHARITY ARE ALL THE GOODS THAT A MAN WHO IS A CHARITY DOES, IN FREEDOM, OUTSIDE THE SCOPE OF HIS OCCUPATION.

X. OBLIGATIONS OF CHARITY ARE ALL THOSE THINGS IT BEHOVES A MAN TO DO IN ADDITION TO THOSE SET FORTH ABOVE.

XI. THERE ARE DIVERSIONS OF CHARITY, WHICH ARE VARIOUS ENJOYMENTS AND PLEASURES OF THE BODILY SENSES USEFUL FOR RECREATING THE MIND.

XII. WHERE THERE IS NO TRUTH OF FAITH, THE CHURCH DOES NOT EXIST, AND WHERE THERE IS NO GOOD OF CHARITY, RELIGION DOES NOT EXIST. 2

I. THE "FIRST" OF CHARITY IS TO LOOK TO THE LORD AND SHUN EVILS AS SINS.

It is well known that charity, or love towards the neighbour, is doing good to others. But how one should do good, and to whom, so that the charity may be charity, will be described in what follows. Everyone knows that no one can do good that is in itself good, except from Him who is Good Itself, or Good in Himself, that is, except from God. Moreover, it is possible for everyone to know that, so long as a man is in evil, and thus, through that evil, in company with the devil, he can do no other good than impure good, which outwardly has the appearance of being good, but inwardly is evil; which good is either pharisaical or done for reward. It will be necessary, therefore, to say first what a man should be, so that the good proceeding from him may be in itself good, thus the good of charity. 3

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Footnotes:

1. In the left-hand margin of the MS. opposite sections vi.-x.: "Enumerate the sins of which a man is not in the least conscious if he does not search himself carefully, but which he either confirms with himself or does not reckon as sins, and which accordingly he does continually on account of the delights they yield from what is hereditary; from the Decalogue and from reason; up to 50 or a hundred of them can be enumerated, the civil as well as the spiritual ones, etc."

2. From an examination of the MS. it appears that Swedenborg, after writing out the contents of the draft that follows, altered the sections II, III, and IV to read as follows:

"II. The 'second' of charity is to do uses to the neighbour.

"III. In a natural sense, the neighbour to whom uses are to be done is a fellow citizen, also a society, small or large, also one's country, also the human race; and there are uses that are spiritual, and there are civil ones.

"IV. Uses are to be done to the neighbour in accordance with his spiritual good, and his moral, civil, and natural good therefrom."

He also crossed off section XII, and inserted the following over it: "Charity and faith make one."

3. Swedenborg wrote the following note in the left-hand margin of the MS. opposite this paragraph: "N.B. - From Paul respecting love towards the neighbour: If anyone asks which is first, to shun them as evils, or to love the neighbour."

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