The Theological Virtue of Charity – Part 3 of 5

Father Pegues continues his discussion of the effects of the virtue of charity by mentioning its external effects: kindliness and almsdeeds.

Kindliness consists in doing good to others. When one has a particular reason for doing good, the virtue of justice is implied. When one performs an act of kindness for the benefit of a person in need, the virtue of mercy is implied. An act of charity which one performs out of mercy is an almsdeed.

There two kinds of almsdeeds: corporal and spiritual. “Corporal almsdeeds are the following: to feed the hungry; to give drink to him that thirsts; to clothe the naked; to give hospitality to the stranger; to visit him who is ailing; to set at liberty those in captivity; and to bury the dead. Spiritual almsdeeds are prayer, teaching, counsel, consolation, correction, and the forgiving of an offence.”

These almsdeeds are of great worth, because “we see by the Gospels that at the day of judgment the sentence of eternal damnation or eternal reward will depend upon them.” There is always “a strict and grave obligation” of performing an almsdeed “when our neighbour is in pressing need, whether spiritual or corporal, and when we only are able to help him.” Even when there is no pressing need, there is a “strict and grave obligation to make use of the spiritual and temporal goods one has received in superabundance from God with the view of bettering our neighbour or society.” We are “duty bound to act in this way.”

The precept relating to charity is “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, with thy whole mind, with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength” (Dt 6:5). This means “that in all our actions our intention should be directed towards God; that all our thoughts should be subject to Him; and that all our affections should be regulated according to His will; and that all our external acts should be performed in fulfilment of His will. It is indeed the greatest of all the precepts, since it contains virtually all other precepts, for these are ordained to it. This precept taken in its fulness is both one and many; and this means that understood in its proper sense it alone is sufficient in the order of charity; for in very truth one cannot love God without loving one’s neighbour whom we must love for God’s sake.” Thus, “the precepts contained in the Decalogue were only given in order that the carrying out of the precepts of charity might be assured.”

Moreover, these precepts of charity manifest themselves without need of promulgation, for “as there is a law of nature inborn in all which commands that in the natural order God must be loved above all and all things else for His sake; so it is a law essential to the supernatural order that God, who is the fount of all in this order, must be loved with a supernatural love above all and all things else for His sake.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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