The nature of 'Charity'

Words can alter their meaning and 'feel' over time. There are many words we use in the Lodge that have altered their meaning over the years. 'Charity' is an old word that has changed its meaning and feel with the years.


Charity is one of the most widely use words in the New Testament. Of course you will not find the word 'charity' in the New Testament - for the simple reason that the New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek word translated as charity is ‘agape’ (Ancient Greek ἀγάπη, agapē) or love.


The other words in Greek for love are philia (dutiful or affectionate), from which we get philosopher, bibliophile and eros (passionate emotion). Neither of these words is adequate to the Christian conception of love, which the New Testament expresses as agape. 


The originality of the NT teaching is shown by its use of the word 'agape'. In contrast with eros, which is the love that is elicited by the attractive qualities of the loved one, Agape is the love which loves despite even the repulsiveness of its object. Agape or Love is the essential characteristic of the Divine Nature, from which all love is derivative. 


In order to distinguish the love to which agape refers the translators of the Authorised Version of the Bible used the word ‘Charity’. However the word charity, can sometimes have an unpleasant ring about it., there are sometimes unhappy patronising tones about the word - ‘Cold as charity’ - not accepting 'Charity'. 


The modern translators tried to move away from the Victorian ring of charity and in the new translations use the word ‘love’ in its place. However the word 'love' is also inadequate in its current usage and 'feel'. Love belongs in the emotions, the feelings; it is also associated with the romantic, the sentimental and with attractiveness and sexuality.


The word 'care', in the sense of solicitude for others, is often a useful modern replacement for the hackneyed and ambiguous 'love': .. to care for the aged, the afflicted, the hungry, etc. 

but it is a care that also carries with it a passion and an imperative for action. It is not an 'ah, what a shame’…attitude, and do nothing. It is an 'action word' - to care by doing something


So agape (charity) as defined for us throughout the VSL is not about giving money.  It defines the nature of the divine, God is love (agape, charity) and he that knows God will find that same agape (charity) in himself. Our calling, as Masons is to seek out the divine, the Great Architect, the Grand Geometrician to learn his designs and, allowing his creative spirit to work in us, to become ever more like him - we too become love (agape, charity).  


With this understanding, giving away money is not an aim or objective of Freemasonry, not its purpose… or the reason for its continuing existence. Philanthropic, charitable purposes are the sole aim of many splendid and well regarded institutions - Rotary, Ancient Order of Buffaloes, Help the Aged. They exist to raise money to give to worthy causes. They focus attention on need, very real needs, and raise money to meet those needs. 


If raising money for good causes is paramount why have all the effort required in freemasonry; all the time, concentration, emotional energy spent in learning, practising and carrying out ritual? Why not join the Buffaloes and raise more for charity,  do more for charity with all the time you would save by not learning and doing ritual? If charitable giving is what it is all about then masonry doesn't make sense.


‘Charity,' in its currently accepted sense is coins on a plate, a covenant with Gift Aid, Children in Need, Red Nose Day. Charity in this sense comes from the wallet. It is the Festival, the lifeboats, the defibrillators, the hospices - we could produce an extensive list - we could exhaust ourselves in charitable activity and yet, in the words of St Paul - 


“I may do everything; give all my goods to feed the poor, even give up my body to be  burnt and have not charity (agape) and I am a a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.”  IICor 13v1


If we look to money-raising for what we are about we will wander from our purpose and dedication. Masonry is a quest - to find 'that which is lost' -  to find the key to our humanity which, somewhere in creation, has been lost. Charity (agape) is the spring of generosity, kindness and forgiveness. It is the truly inspirational love of the Grand Design, the divine nature. 

Charity (agape) is the very nature of the divine and masonry is the science of making charity our nature; giving, from everything I am and have; my time, my attention, my affection, my friendship, my forgiveness, kindness, patience and gentleness.


John Winstanley

Lodge of Friendship No44 Chaplain 2019