Most of us will remember the three (Christian) virtues mentioned in the JW lecture during our initiation: Faith, Hope, and Charity. And Masons are eager to refer to the “charity” and the “charitable work” and similar expressions. Even worse, if the mentoring and teaching in their lodge is mostly neglected, some Masons would think that our main reason for existence (and our only goal) is charity. As they think what the word means.

Unfortunately, they use the term in reference to the act of almsgiving (like in the expression “doing charity”) and in reference to any form of volunteering – in the community, as they like to say.

As wonderful(?) as it sounds… it is a complete misconception and misunderstanding. At the source of this misconception stands the the above-mentioned distorted interpretation of the word, referring to the almsgiving. (Yes, there are jurisdictions and obediences that, actually, have an Almoner Brother among their officers – but that’s not the main scope of Freemasonry!)
Our Masonic forefathers, even if we tend to forget this, were mainly Christians and educated about the classical theological terminology. So for them, the religious virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity bore different meaning. Especially, for the last one: charity.

Here is a reminder of the usual symbology of the three terms: FaithCross, Hand pointing upwards, Candle; HopeAnchor, Harp, Palm; CharityHeart, Burning Heart, Children, Harvest.

The word originates from the Latin caritas – meaning benevolence, affection… conf.: carus – dear, loved. This, on its turn, comes from the Greek Χάρις (chàris = grace, kindness, and life). As you can see, there is absolutely NOTHING that would refer to our (mis)conception of “charity” as donating, which is more related to the almsgiving than to the universal love, kindness and grace

Faith, Hope, Love
Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872): Glaube, Liebe und Hoffnung – Faith, Love, Hope

When our forefathers included this theological (more exactly: Christian) term into one of our lectures in one of the inherited rituals, they actually thought about the more general meaning of charity – love towards all mankind. (In some texts we can even find the version Faith, Hope, Love. It is also used like that in my mother tongue…)

It has never been and wasn’t meant to be a simple gesture of giving of 2, 3, 100 or X amount of money to a “good cause”. Make no mistake: supporting a good cause and donating (when you can afford it) from your own personal income – it is a very noble act of giving. Nobody should be discouraged from doing it. The problem is when (Masonically) under-educated Masons consider this act of giving as the equivalent of Freemasonry!

For those that like to rely on their Bible: the reference to it in 1 Corinthians 13:13 is translated in modern English as “Faith, Hope and Love”

Faith, Hope, and Love – Fides, Spes & Caritas

(While the good old KJV is still using “charity” but those translators in Shakespeare’s time knew Latin…)

I’ve said many times and I am going to repeat it again: the aim, the principal goal of Freemasonry is NOT to give alms and donations. Period. Initiate good men into Masonry, raise and educate better men… and the “almsgiving” will come as a natural side product, so to speak.

Sadly, we do not discuss and analyze simple sentences from our lectures. In the Emulation-based rituals, there is the NE Angle Lecture, which is also often referred to as the “charity lecture”. Actually, it does not equate charity with ‘giving’, rather it considers the act of giving a manifestation of that universal kindness and grace and love that we discussed earlier. The (Canadian) text says: we make “a claim upon his charity” on behalf of our misfortunate brothers. Meaning: if there is charity (love, grace, kindness) in his heart… he’d give as his circumstances permit.

Allegorical personification of Charity as a mother with three infants by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

Let’s not degrade Freemasonry to simple almsgiving. Instead initiate and educate outstanding men who will have the universal love, kindness and grace in their heart… and as excellent Masons they will act exemplary in their own community. Education, moral values, intellectual and spiritual excellence – those are real issues to be kept in focus in our lodges!
Comment below if you disagree!

Charity – when the language deceives us…

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