What Charity is
It is believed by many that love to the neighbour consists in giving to the poor, in assisting the needy, and in doing good to every one; but charity consists in acting prudently, and to the end that good may result. He who assists a poor or needy villain does evil to his neighbour through him; for through the assistance which he renders he confirms him in evil, and supplies him with the means of doing evil to others. It is otherwise with him who gives support to the good.
But charity extends itself much more widely than to the poor and needy; for charity consists in doing what is right in every work, and our duty in every office. If a judge administers justice for the sake of justice he exercises charity; if he punishes the guilty and absolves the innocent he exercises charity; for thus he consults the welfare of his fellow-citizens and of his country. The priest who teaches truth and leads to good, for the sake of truth and good, exercises charity. But he who does such things for the sake of self and the world does not exercise charity; because he does not love his neighbour, but himself.
It is the same in other things, whether men are in any office or not; as with children toward their parents, and parents toward their children; with servants toward their masters, and with masters toward their servants; with subjects toward their king, and with a king toward his subjects. Whoever of these does his duty from a sense of duty, and what is just from a sense of justice, exercises charity.
That these things are of love to the neighbour or charity is because as was said above every man is a neighbour, but in a different manner. A smaller and a larger society is more the neighbour; our country is still more the neighbour; the Lord’s kingdom yet more; and the Lord above all. And in the universal sense good, which proceeds from the Lord, is the neighbour; consequently sincerity and justice too are so. He therefore who does any good for the sake of good, and who acts sincerely and justly for the sake of sincerity and justice, loves his neighbour and exercises charity; for he does so from the love of what is good, sincere, and just, and consequently from the love of those in whom good, sincerity, and justice are.
Charity is therefore an internal affection from which man wills to do good, and this without remuneration. The delight of his life consists in doing it. With those who do good from an internal affection there is charity in everything that they think and say, and that they will and do. It may be said that a man or an angel as to his interiors is charity, when good is his neighbour. So widely does charity extend itself.
They who have the love of self and of the world for an end can in nowise be in charity. They do not even know what charity is, and cannot at all comprehend that to will and do good to the neighbour without reward, as an end, is heaven in man; and that there is in that affection a happiness as great as that Of the angels. of heaven, which is ineffable. For they believe that if they are deprived of the joy from the glory of honour and riches, there can be nothing of joy any longer; and yet it is then that heavenly joy, which infinitely transcends the other, first begins. (HD n. 100-105)