What is the theological virtue of charity?

Mission Lab

Charity is the supernatural virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves as part of our love of God.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

Because charity is infused into the soul at Baptism, along with sanctifying grace, it is often identified with the state of grace. A person who has lost the supernatural virtue of charity has lost the state of grace, although he may still possess the virtues of hope and faith.

An act of charity is a supernatural act, based on faith, in which God is loved for Himself and not for any hope of reward. This act requires divine grace, either sanctifying or actual, or both. It is also the normal way of growing in the virtue or habit of charity.

A simple act of charity can be made in these words, “My God, because You are so good, I love You with all my heart. As part of my love for You, I love my neighbor as myself, since You have so loved us as to create us, redeem us, reconcile us to Yourself, and adopt us as your own children destined for your heavenly Kingdom.”

Supernatural love resides primarily in the will, not in the emotions. To love God means that we are willing to give up anything rather than offend God by mortal sin.

We may have a genuine, supernatural love for our neighbor even though on the natural level we feel a strong distaste for him. Thus, we forgive for God’s sake the wrong he has done. We pray for him and stand ready to help him if he should be in need. We then have a supernatural love for our neighbor.

The virtue of charity is the permanent capacity to receive the power of Jesus’ love and self-giving. It is the capacity to use this power to develop habits of supernatural charity based on the reality of our identity with and in Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit, and with Mary, St. Joseph, the angels, the saints, and each other in Jesus. These habits of charity cause our hearts to say “yes” to Jesus and to all He wants to give us and ask of us. This “yes” allows Jesus to begin living and growing in us individually and collectively, and us to live and grow in Him.