“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” 1 Cor 13:13. Love and charity are the same supreme virtue. Our word “love” comes from its Greek name agape, while “charity” comes from its Latin name caritas.
Charity as the Greatest Theological Virtue
§ 1822 Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.
§ 1823 Jesus makes charity the new commandment. By loving his own to the end, he makes manifest the Father’s love which he receives. By loving one another, the disciples imitate the love of Jesus which they themselves receive. Whence Jesus says: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love.” and again: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”
§ 1824 Fruit of the Spirit and fullness of the Law, charity keeps the commandments of God and his Christ: “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”
§ 1825 Christ died out of love for us, while we were still enemies. The Lord asks us to love as he does, even our enemies, to make ourselves the neighbor of those farthest away, and to love children and the poor as Christ himself. The Apostle Paul has given an incomparable depiction of charity: “Charity is patient and kind, charity is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Charity does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Charity bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
§ 1826 “If I … have not charity,” says the Apostle, “I am nothing.” Whatever my privilege, service, or even virtue, “If I … have not charity, I gain nothing.” Charity is superior to all the virtues. It is the first of the theological virtues: “So faith, hope, charity abide, these three. But the greatest of these is charity.”
§ 1827 The practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. It is the form of the virtues; it articulates and orders them among themselves; it is the source and the goal of their Christian practice. Charity upholds and purifies our human ability to love, and raises it to the supernatural perfection of divine love.
§ 1828 The practice of the moral life animated by charity gives to the Christian the spiritual freedom of the children of God. He no longer stands before God as a slave, in servile fear, or as a mercenary looking for wages, but as a son responding to the love of him who first loved us. If we turn away from evil out of fear of punishment, we are in the position of slaves. If we pursue the enticement of wages, we resemble mercenaries. Finally if we obey for the sake of the good itself and out of love for him who commands we are in the position of children.
§ 1829 The fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy; charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communion: Love is itself the fulfillment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest.
Charity is our love for God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. Jesus told His apostles, “Love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” Jn 13:34. Charity is a gift to us from God, wrapped in sanctifying grace. Charity, like hope, resides in the will.
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” 1 Cor 13:4–13.
Charity as a Fruit of the Holy Spirit
Charity is also one of the twelve Fruits of the Holy Spirit.
Caritas in Veritate
Pope Benedict XVI speaks on Christian charity in Caritas in Veritate particularly in its relation to truth and love. § 1 “Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity.” § 5 “Charity is love received and given. It is “grace” (cháris). Its source is the wellspring of the Father’s love for the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Love comes down to us from the Son.”