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

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine #121

The New Jerusalem and its Heavenly Doctrine (Whitehead translation)

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121. Faith separate from love or charity is like the light of winter, in which all things on earth are torpid, and no harvests, fruits, or flowers, are produced; but faith with love or charity is like the light of spring and summer, in which all things flourish and are produced (n. 2231, 3146, 3412, 3413). The wintry light of faith separate from charity is changed into dense darkness when light from heaven flows in; and they who are in that faith then come into blindness and stupidity (n. 3412, 3413).

They who separate faith from charity, in doctrine and life, are in darkness, thus in ignorance of truth, and in falsities, for these are darkness (n. 9186). They cast themselves into falsities, and into evils thence (n. 3325, 8094). The errors and falsities into which they cast themselves (n. 4721, 4730, 4776, 4783, 4925, 7779, 8313, 8765, 9224). The Word is shut to them (n. 3773, 4783, 8780). They do not see or attend to all those things which the Lord so often spoke concerning love and charity, and concerning their fruits, or goods in act, concerning which (n. 1017, 3416). Neither do they know what good is, nor thus what celestial love is, nor what charity is (n. 2517, 3603, 4136, 9995).

Faith separate from charity is no faith (n. 654, 724, 1162, 1176, 2049, 2116, 2343, 2349, 2417, 3849, 3868, 6348, 7039, 7342, 9783). Such a faith perishes in the other life (n. 2228, 5820). When faith alone is assumed as a principle, truths are contaminated by the falsity of the principle (n. 2335). Such persons do not suffer themselves to be persuaded, because it is against their principle (n. 2385). Doctrinals concerning faith alone destroy charity (n. 6353, 8094). They who separate faith from charity were represented by Cain, by Ham, by Reuben, by the firstborn of the Egyptians, and by the Philistines (n. 3325, 7097, 7317, 8093).

They who make faith alone saving, excuse a life of evil, and they who are in a life of evil have no faith, because they have no charity (n. 3865, 7766, 7778, 7790, 7950, 8094). They are inwardly in the falsities of their own evil, although they do not know it (n. 7790, 7950). Therefore good cannot be conjoined with them (n. 8981, 8983). In the other life they are against good, and against those who are in good (n. 7097, 7127, 7317, 7502, 7545, 8096, 8313). Those who are simple in heart and yet wise, know what the good of life is, thus what charity is, but not what faith separate is (n. 4741, 47 4754).

All things of the church have relation to good and truth, consequently to charity and faith (n. 7752-7754). The church is not with man before truths are implanted in his life, and thus become the good of charity (n. 3310). Charity constitutes the church, and not faith separate from charity (n. 809, 916, 1798, 1799, 1834, 1844). The internal of the church is charity (n. 1799, 7755). Hence there is no church where there is no charity (n. 4766, 5826). The church would be one if all were regarded from charity, although men might differ as to the doctrinals of faith and the rituals of worship (n. 1285[1-3], 1316, 1798, 1799, 1834, 1844, 2385, 2982, 3267, 3451). How much of good would be in the church if charity were regarded in the first place, and faith in the second (n. 6269, 6272). Every church begins from charity, but in process of time turns aside to faith, and at length to faith alone (n. 1834, 1835, 2231, 4683, 8094). There is no faith at the last time of the church, because there is no charity (n. 1843). The worship of the Lord consists in a life of charity (n. 8254, 8256) The quality of the worship is according to the quality of the charity (n. 2190). The men of the external church have an internal if they are in charity (n. 1100, 1102, 1151, 1153). The doctrine of the ancient churches was the doctrine of life, which is the doctrine of charity, and not the doctrine of faith separate (n. 2385, 2417, 3419, 3420, 4844, 6628, 7259-7262).

The Lord inseminates and implants truth in the good of charity when he regenerates man (n. 2063, 2189, 3310). Otherwise the seed, which is the truth of faith, cannot take root (n. 880). Then goods and truths increase, according to the quality and quantity of the charity received (n. 1016). The light of a regenerate person is not from faith, but from charity by faith (n. 854). The truths of faith, when man is regenerated, enter with the delight of affection, because he loves to do them, and they are reproduced with the same affection, because they cohere (n. 2484, 2487, 3040, 3066, 3074, 3336, 4018, 5893).

They who live in love to the Lord, and in charity towards the neighbor, lose nothing to eternity, because they are conjoined to the Lord; but it is otherwise with those who are in separate faith (n. 7506, 7507). Man remains such as is his life of charity, not such as his faith separate (n. 8256). All the states of delight of those who have lived in charity, return in the other life, and are increased immensely (n. 823). Heavenly blessedness flows from the Lord into charity, because into the very life of man; but not into faith without charity (n. 2363). In heaven all are regarded from charity, and none from faith separate (n. 1258, 1394). All are associated in the heavens according to their loves (n. 7085). No one is admitted into heaven by thinking, but by willing good (n. 2401, 3459). Unless doing good is conjoined with willing good and with thinking good, there is no salvation, neither any conjunction of the internal man with the external (n. 3987). The Lord, and faith in Him, are received by no others in the other life, than those who are in charity (n. 2343).

Good is in the perpetual desire and consequent endeavor of conjoining itself with truths, and charity with faith (n. 9206, 9207, 9495). The good of charity acknowledges its own truth of faith, and the truth of faith its own good of charity (n. 2429, 3101, 3102, 3161, 3179, 3180, 4358, 5807, 5835, 9637). Hence there is a conjunction of the truth of faith and the good of charity, concerning which (n. 3834, 4096, 4097, 4301, 4345, 4353, 4364, 4368, 5365, 7623-7627, 7752-7762, 8530, 9258, 10555). Their conjunction is like a marriage (n. 1904, 2173, 2508). The law of marriage is that two be one, according to the Word of the Lord (n. 10130, 1 0168, 10169). So also faith and charity (n. 1094, 2173, 2503). Therefore faith which is faith, is, as to its essence, charity (n. 2228, 2839, 3180, 9783). As good is the esse of a thing, and truth the existere thence, so also is charity the esse of the church, and faith the existere thence (n. 3409, 3180, 4574, 5002, 9145). The truth of faith lives from the good of charity, thus a life according to the truths of faith is charity (n. 1589, 1947, 2571, 4070, 4096, 4097, 4736, 4757, 4884, 5147, 5928, 9154, 9667, 9841, 10729). Faith cannot be given but in charity, and if not in charity, there is not good in faith (n. 2261, 4368). Faith does not live with man when he only knows and thinks the things of faith, but when he wills them, and from will does them (n. 9224).

There is no salvation by faith, but by a life according to the truths of faith, which life is charity (n. 379, 389, 2228, 4663, 4721). They are saved who think from the doctrine of the church that faith alone saves, if they do what is just for the sake of justice, and good for the sake of good, for thus they are still in charity (n. 2442, 3242, 3459, 3463, 7506, 7507). If a mere cogitative faith could save, all would be saved (n. 2361, 10659). Charity constitutes heaven with man, and not faith without it (n. 351 3, 3584, 3815, 9832, 10 714, 10715, 10721, 10724). In heaven all are regarded from charity, and not from faith (n. 1258, 1394, 2361, 4802). The conjunction of the Lord with man is not by faith, but by a life according to the truths of faith (n. 9380, 10143, 10153, 103 10310, 10578, 10645, 10648). The Lord is the tree of life, the goods of charity the fruits, and faith the leaves (n. 3427, 9337). Faith is the "lesser luminary," and good the "larger luminary" (n. 30-38).

The angels of the Lord's celestial kingdom do not know what faith is, so that they do not even name it, but the angels of the Lord's spiritual kingdom speak of faith, because they reason concerning truths (n. 202, 203, 337, 2715, 3246, 4448, 9166, 10786). The angels of the Lord's celestial kingdom say only yea, yea or nay, nay, but the angels of the Lord's spiritual kingdom reason whether it be so or not so, when there is discourse concerning spiritual truths, which are of faith (n. 2715, 3246, 4448, 9166, 10786), where the Lord's words are explained:

Let your discourse be yea, yea, nay, nay; what is beyond these is from evil (Matt. 5:37).

The reason why the celestial angels are such, is, because they admit the truths of faith immediately into their lives, and do not deposit them first in the memory, as the spiritual angels do; and hence the celestial angels are in the perception of all things of faith (n. 202, 5 85, 597, 607, 784 1 121, 1387, 1398, 1442, 1919, 5113, 5897, 6367, 7680, 7877, 8521, 8780, 9936, 9995, 10124).

Trust or confidence, which in an eminent sense is called saving faith, is given with those only who are in good as to life, consequently with those who are in charity (n. 298 2982, 4352, 4683, 4689, 7762, 8240, 9239-9245). Few know what that confidence is (n. 3868, 4352).

What difference there is between believing those things which are from God, and believing in God (n. 9239, 9243). It is one thing to know, another to acknowledge, and another to have faith (n. 896, 4319, 5664). There are scientifics of faith, rationals of faith and spirituals of faith (n. 2504, 80 8078). The first thing is the acknowledgment of the Lord (n. 10083). All that flows in with man from the Lord is good (n. 1614, 2016, 2751, 2882, 2883, 2891, 2892,2904, 6193, 7643, 9128).

There is a persuasive faith, which nevertheless is not faith (n. 2343, 2682, 2689, 3427, 3865, 8148).

It appears from various reasonings as though faith were prior to charity, but this is a fallacy (n. 3324). It may be known from the light of reason, that good, consequently charity, is in the first place, and truth, consequently faith, in the second (n. 3324-6273). Good, or charity, is actually in the first place, or is the first of the church, and truth, or faith, is in the second place, or is the second of the church, although it appears otherwise (n. 3324, 3325, 3330, 3336, 3494, 3539, 3548, 3556, 3570, 3576, 3603, 3701, 3995, 4337, 4601, 4925, 4926, 4928, 4930, 5351, 6256, 6269, 6272, 6273, 8042, 8080, 10110). The ancients disputed concerning the first or primogeniture of the church, whether it be faith or whether it be charity (n. 367[1-2], 2435, 3324).

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From Swedenborg's Works

References from Swedenborg's unpublished works:

Apocalypse Explained 20, 84, 136, 142, 154, 155, 204, 210, 227, 250, 329

Other New Christian Commentary

Charity 1


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