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Those who call Almsgiving by the name “Charity” are very mistaken

3 min • Digitized on January 5, 2022

From The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales, page 116
By His friend, Jean Pierre Camus, Bishop of Belley


Our Blessed Father had, as we know, so high an idea of the virtue of charity, which, indeed, he said was only christian perfection under another name, that he disliked to hear almsgiving called charity. It was, he said, like putting a royal crown on the head of a village maiden.

In answer to my objection that this was actually the case with Esther, who, though only a slave, was chosen by Assuerus to be his queen, and crowned by his royal hand, he replied:

You only strengthen my argument, for Esther would have remained in her state of servitude had she not become the spouse of Assuerus, and, queen though she was, she only wore her crown dependently on his will and pleasure.

So almsgiving is only pleasing to God, and worthy of its reward, the heavenly crown of justice, in as far as it proceeds from charity, and is animated by that royal gift which converts it into an infused and supernatural virtue, which may be called either almsgiving in charity or charitable almsgiving.

But, just as the two natures, the divine and the human, were not merged in one another in the mystery of the Incarnation, although joined in the unity of the hypostasis of the Word, so this conjunction of charity with almsgiving, or this subordination of almsgiving to charity, does not change the one into the other, the object of each being as different as is the Creator from the creature.

For the object of almsgiving is the misery of the needy which it tries as far as possible to relieve, and that of charity is God, Who is the sovereign Good, worthy to be loved above all things for His own sake.

“But,” I said, “when almsgiving is practised for the love of God, can we not then call it charity?”

He replied:

No, not any more than you can call Esther Assuerus, and Assuerus Esther. But you can, as I have said above, call it alms given in charity, or charitable almsgiving.

Almsgiving and charity are quite different, for not only may alms be given without charity, but even against charity, as when they are given knowing they will lead to sin.

In a remarkable passage in Theotimus the Saint asks:

Were there not heretics, who, to exalt charity towards the poor, deprecated charity towards God, ascribing man’s whole salvation to almsdeeds, as St. Augustine witnesses?

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