Saturday, June 13, 2015

Giotto: The Virtues and Vices ~ Charity

The third and greatest of the Divine virtues enumerated by St. Paul (1 Corinthians 13:13), usually called charity, defined: a divinely infused habit, inclining the human will to cherish God for his own sake above all things, and man for the sake of God....Its seat [is] in the human will. Although charity is at times intensely emotional, and frequently reacts on our sensory faculties, still it properly resides in the rational will a fact not to be forgotten by those who would make it an impossible virtue. Catholic Encyclopedia
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:13
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. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1827
For your good is charity, love of the brotherhood, being united, being bound together, living at peace, living in gentleness. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 26 on Romans.

Haec figura karitatis suae sic proprietatis gerti formam.
Cor quod latet, in secreto Christo dat, hanc pro decreto servat norman.
Sed terrenae facultatis et contemptrix vanitatis coloraret
Cuncta cunctis liberali offert manu spetiali caelo caret

The translation as best as I can figure out is this:

This figure wears her charity as her quality.
The heart which lies concealed, she gives in secret to Christ, by decree she serves???
But she has contempt for earthly means and the hue of vanity
She liberally gives to all ??? heaven ???

Charity stands on sacks of some sort of worldly goods. We can also see some coins beneath her feet. She has these possessions, but they seem to to interest her not at all. She wears the same garment as Hope, but where Hope flies heavenward her feet are planted firmly on the ground. In her right hand we see a bowl with the flower and fruit of her labors. She doesn't cling to these, however. She holds them lightly, seemingly only possessing them to give them away. She is crowned not only with an earthly crown of flowers, but with a crown of glory. Within her halo are three red rays of light which call to mind the Trinity.

Psalm 34:6 says, "Look to him and be radiant and your faces shall not blush for shame," and Isaiah 60:5, "Then you shall see and be radiant, your heart shall throb and overflow." The face of Charity is filled with joyful radiance with no shadow of shame. There is no room for shame when all your attention is turned away from yourself, and Charity's gaze is outward. (You can see this better if you look at the enlarged version of the picture at the Web Gallery.) Her eyes are firmly fixed on Christ to whom she offers her abundant fruit.

At first glance the object in her hand appears to be a pear, but closer examination reveals it to be a heart. Basil de Selincourt mentions that there is a disputed point about this image which is whether Charity is offering her heart to Christ or He is offering His heart to her. Whatever Giotto may have had in mind when he painted this image, and the inscription seems to indicate the former, the truth is that the answer to the question is both. It is an image of the perpetual exchange of hearts between the Lover and His beloved in which one becomes conformed to the Other. 

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque said, 
Jesus asked for my heart which I begged Him to take, as He did, and placed it in His adorable One, in which He showed it to me as a tiny speck consumed in this burning furnace. Then, taking it out as a burning flame shaped like a heart He replaced it in the place from which He had taken it. 
Charity unceasingly surrenders her heart to the burning abyss of Divine Love where all imperfections are purified, wounds are cauterized, and she herself is set afire. It is the burning bush, the fiery furnace, the furnace of great affliction and the flames of Pentecost. It costs everything, and it is all there is.



  1. A great conclusion to an excellent series.

  2. I agree with Mac. Excellent series, to be read again and again.