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

True Christian Religion #377

True Christian Religion (Chadwick translation)

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377. (iii) Charity alone does not produce good deeds, much less does faith alone, but charity and faith together do.

This is because charity without faith is not charity, neither is faith without charity faith, as was shown above (355-361). Therefore charity by itself does not exist, neither does faith by itself; hence it cannot be said either that charity produces some good deeds by itself, nor that faith does by itself. This is similar to the case of the will and the understanding. The will does not exist by itself, so neither does it produce anything; nor does the understanding exist by itself, or produce anything. Everything that is produced comes from both acting together, and is the product of the understanding activated by the will. The reason why this is similar is that the will is the dwellingplace of charity, and the understanding is that of faith. Faith alone is said to be much less productive, because faith is truth, and its function is to create truths, and these enlighten charity and its exercise. The Lord teaches about this enlightenment when He said:

He who does the truth comes to the light, so that his deeds may be made apparent, since they are done in God, John 3:21.

When therefore a person does good deeds in accordance with truths, he does them in light, that is to say, intelligently and wisely.

(References: True Christian Religion 356-361)

[2] The linking of charity and faith is like a marriage between husband and wife. All natural offspring are born of the husband as father and the wife as mother. Likewise all spiritual offspring are born of charity as father and faith as mother; and these are items of knowledge about good and truth. These enable us to recognise the parentage of spiritual families. In the Word too husband and father mean in the spiritual sense the good of charity, wife and mother mean the truth of faith. From this it is plain too that neither charity alone nor faith alone can produce good deeds, just as neither a husband alone nor a wife alone can produce any offspring. The truths of faith not only throw light on charity, they also give it its quality and, moreover, nourish it. Therefore a person who possesses charity and not the truths of faith is like one walking in a garden by night, and snatching fruit from the trees without knowing whether they are good or bad to use. Since the truths of faith not only throw light on charity, but also give it its quality, as said above, it follows that charity without the truths of faith is like a fruit with no juice in it, such as a dried fig or a grape after the wine has been pressed out of it. Since truths nourish faith, as was also said above, it follows that if charity is deprived of the truths of faith, it gets no more nourishment than a person does from eating toasted bread and drinking dirty water from a pool.

(References: John 7:37-38)

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From Swedenborg's Works

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True Christian Religion 392, 442, 643

Other New Christian Commentary

Charity 1

Resources for parents and teachers

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 Offspring in Heaven
Everyone in the afterlife once lived on earth. Angelic couples do not give birth but may raise children who have died. Couples may also produce spiritual offspring.
Sunday School Lesson | Ages 11 - 17

Thanks to the Swedenborg Society for the permission to use this translation.