Charity is the kindly or sympathetic disposition to aid the needy as a result of deep feeling or understanding. Charity exists in many different forms. It can be seen in the forms of helping the poor, those who have disabilities, and efforts for a cure to disease. People often neglect charity from their daily lives, but there is always someone in need. There is no financial gain; instead, a feeling of self-worth and respect is produced. Timothy 5:8 states, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”.
This verse argues that charity begins within the home and neighborhood. Charity within one’s neighborhood is seen as a major theme in Les Miserables and The Holy Bible. If everyone were to be involved in charitable works, the world would become a united and virtuous place filled with endless compassion.
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Les Miserables, although it is fiction, is one of the best sources to use when defining what is and isn’t charity. Not only that, Hugo also defines what a person and society in need of charity is.
For example, Hugo describes the Thenardiers, “Undoubtedly seemed very depraved, very corrupt, very vile, very hateful even, but people rarely fall without becoming degraded. Besides, there is a point when the unfortunate and the infamous are associated and confused in a word, a mortal word, les miserables; whose fault is it? And then, when the fall is furthest, is that not when charity should be greatest? ” (Hugo 744). When Hugo says this, he declares that rarely is anyone very vile, depraved or hateful for no reason.
People who are vile, depraved, or hateful are usually so because someone else was vile to them in the past. Hugo asks society whose fault misery really is. Perhaps, the evil seen in society is a consequence of their actions, of their lack of charity or love, or of their “vileness” towards people. In order to demolish “vileness” towards people, society needs to give back to their community, help the less fortunate, and show the unloved compassion. Hugo explains how the absence of charity is a major benefactor to a corrupt community.
One of the characters in Les Miserables stands out from all others due to his charity and compassion. Monseigneur Bienvenue, being the compassionate man he is, gave Jean Valjean shelter and food, but in return was robbed by Valjean. Upon the arrival of guards with the arrested Valjean, Bienvenue responded, “ So here you are! I’m delighted to see you. Had you forgotten that I gave you the candlesticks as well? They’re silver like the rest, and worth a good two hundred francs. Did you forget to take them? ” (Hugo 110).
Monseigneur Bienvenue is a charitable man with a deep compassion for Jean Valjean as he gives him, the thief, the finest of his possessions. Monseigneur saves Valjean from imprisonment. This passage demonstrates the lack of interest the bishop holds for materialistic items, such as money, for he had given up all of his possessions. The Bible explains Bienvenue’s stance towards money in the passage, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
Prior to this event, Valjean was cold hearted and infuriated with everyone, but the bishop changed his heart. Valjean discovered that he needed to change his ways, become and honest man, and begin a new life. Without Monseigneur’s generous act, Valjean wouldn’t have transformed into the charitable man who showed deep compassion for Fantine and Cosette. As seen here, charity has a domino effect. If society would learn this lesson of compassion, the unfortunate wouldn’t be outcast and the cold hearted would develop warm hearts.
Through setting an example of charitable acts, Monseigneur Bienvenue manages to teach Valjean involuntarily how to treat others. Valjean continues on through life performing charitable acts similar to his elder. Following in the footsteps of Bienvenue, Valjean becomes a leader to serve others as well. He begins his charitable acts by becoming an employer and the mayor of a town. Through his position in society Valjean holds the ability to employ hundreds of peoples and create a system of justice for many citizens.
The Holy Bible discusses the manner in which Valjean carries out his life. It exemplifies the benefits of such a life in the verse, “The practice of the moral life animated by charity gives to the Christian the spiritual freedom of the children of God. He no longer stands before God as a slave, in servile fear, or as a mercenary looking for wages, but as a son responding to the love of him who “first loved us” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1828). This passage gives an explanation towards the life Valjean leads.
Through charitable acts, Valjean believes he clears his conscience of the mistakes he has made in the past, and no longer needs to live in fear. Valjean especially exists as a primary example of charity when he approaches a frightened little girl named Cosette for the first time. He takes her under his wing in the excerpt: “‘my child, that’s very heavy for you, what you’re carrying there. ’ Cosette raised her head and answered, ‘Yes it is, monsieur. ’ ‘Give it to me,’ the man continued, ‘I’ll carry it for you’”(Hugo 395).
Valjean shows care and affection for a little girl whom he previously never had met or interacted with. Upon performing this act, he follows the example of a strong bible verse, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2). He announces the loving relationship he holds with the young girl from the very beginning of knowing Cosette. A chief example of Valjean providing excessive care for Cosette is when he offers her a doll.
He recognizes the poor manner in which Cosette’s caretakers treat her, and sees the neglect she deals with on a daily basis. He believes he must stop this act of injustice, and prove to Cosette that she deserves love and affection. This act of charity is shown in the line, “‘Is it true, is it true, monsieur? ’ said Cosette. ‘Is the lady for me? ’ The stranger’s eyes seemed to be brimming with tears. He seemed to be at that stage of emotion in which one does not speak for fear of weeping. He nodded to Cosette and put the hand of ‘the lady’ in her little hand” (Hugo 409).
Through the manner in which Valjean carries himself in this situation, he makes clear of the adoration and love he already possesses for Cosette. Hugo nails the true meaning of charity through this relationship; as a young child Cosette needed love, and Valjean provided a strong source of this. Throughout her childhood, Cosette came to develop a misconception of how one should be treated. Cosette’s childhood caretakers treated her with vicious acts of cruelty. Known as the Thernardiers, Cosette’s guardians show malice when speaking to Cosette, “‘Little Miss Nameless, go get some water for the horse.
’ ‘But, Madame,’ said Cosette faintly, ‘there isn’t any water. ’ ‘Well go fetch some! … She’s the worst girl there ever was’” (Hugo 384). Hugo manages to portray the opposite of charity through the Thernardiers; providing a clear pathway to recognizing what charity truly is. A common known synonym for charity is love, a key component in the overall meaning of charity. Hugo clarifies the importance of love in the line, “And remember, the truth that once was spoken: to love another person is to see the face of God” (Hugo 345).
Through the practice of charity, otherwise known as love, one can accomplish the goal of creating a strong and solid relationship with God. By loving others, one will see the goodness a person holds. This goodness exists as God living inside a person, thus loving not only the person, but also God. Along with love, charity presents the factors of hope and faith as well. These three components stand as the theological virtues. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states this in the line, “There are three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity.
They inform all the moral virtues and give life to them” (1841). Although charity, or love, holds the strongest position, hope and faith possess importance as well. Through charity, the virtues of hope and faith are truly achieved. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in the line, “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” (1827). Through the practice of charity, the virtues of hope and faith develop naturally. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains the purpose of hope in the line, “By hope we desire, and with steadfast trust await from God, eternal life and the graces to merit it” (1843). The character of Jean Valjean presents an impeccable example of a life full of hope. Through his charitable acts, Valjean announces his hope that one day he will be in God’s kingdom and be fully accepted by Him.
Additionally, Valjean provides a source of hope for Cosette. Throughout her childhood, Cosette believed that her life would result in failure, creating a hopeless mindset. Upon meeting and being taken under by Valjean, Cosette acquires hope that her life can result in happiness and her own acts of charity. Furthermore, Cosette offers a source of hope for Valjean. She stands as an example of a character pure of heart, leading Valjean to believe that there are truly charitable people in the world, creating a source of hope throughout the world.
Through the numerous acts of charity in Les Miserables, Hugo integrates the remaining theological virtues naturally into his story. However, by focusing on charity, Hugo highlights the superiority of this virtue over the other ones. The Catechism of the Catholic Church illustrates the dominance of charity in the line, “‘If I . . . have not charity,’ says the Apostle, ‘I am nothing. Whatever my privilege, service, or even virtue, ‘if I . . . have not charity, I gain nothing. ’ Charity is superior to all the virtues.
It is the first of the theological virtues: ‘So faith, hope, charity abide, these three. But the greatest of these is charity” (1826). The excerpt provides a succinct explanation of why Hugo chose charity as the main theme for Les Miserables. The Bible similarly elucidates the importance of charity in the line, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians, 13:13). By practicing charity, Valjean and the other characters in Les Miserables enables themselves to include the other virtues into their daily lives as well.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church supports this theory in the statement, “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” (1827). Throughout Les Miserables there is a constant battle between Javert and Jean Valjean.
Javert shows no compassion toward Valjean’s small crime of stealing a loaf of bread and only sees Valjean as a forever criminal. Javert is not charitable or understanding of the implications of being unfortunate. Javert stops at nothing to arrest Valjean and do the “lawful” justice. Aquinas stated, “ an unjust law is no law at all” (Aquinas 217), which means that although lawful it is not morally correct to imprison a starving man for stealing bread for such an extended period of time. Javert sees Valjean is a changed man with a good heart, especially when Valjean saves his life,
but persists to arrest him. This constant battle between good and evil is similar to the battle of society and outcasts. Helping those in need is one of the major themes of the Bible and of Jesus’s ministry. The early Hebrews were very devoted to providing assistance to the poor as seen, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the LORD your God (Leviticus 19:9-10).
In this passage, God calls for his children to give the possessions that are unnecessary for survival to the poor. Through service, we give others the things they lack, and we find meaning and fulfillment to our own lives. Both the Old and New Testament writings give many examples of the importance of service and charity. When Isaiah says, “Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day.
And the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy you with all good things, and keep you healthy too; and you will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring (Isaiah 58:10-11), he means that when one gives to charity they are not only bettering the life of the person in need, but also bettering themselves. When one is charitable, there is no self-gain, except for happiness and pride in knowing they did something to better a life or society. The Bible says to share generously with those in need, and good things will come to us in turn. People are not meant to live hard-hearted or self-centered lives.
A greedy, miserly life leaves one devoid of anything but an empty craving for more possessions, more power or more status. To be charitable, one doesn’t need to be wealthy philanthropist or a full-time volunteer to make a meaningful contribution. Rather, one should give generously of whatever wealth and abilities they have, no matter how small the amount. The Catechism states, “ Charity is the ‘bond of perfection’ (Colossians 3:14) and the foundation of the other virtues to which it gives life, inspiration, and order. Without charity ‘I am nothing’ and ‘I gain nothing’ (1 Corinthians 13:2-3)” (Compendium Catechism 1822).
In Colossians, the writer is declaring that the relationship between the impoverished and the volunteer or donor is the “bond of perfection”. It is the bond in which God’s children recognize the significance of helping and giving to the impoverished children. The bond is one of compassion and love, because charity is the strongest example of love and compassion active in the world. In Corinthians, the writer describes that an absence of charity, causes one to be living a worthless life because they aren’t gaining the love and happiness received from giving and tithing.
The Bible gives a guideline for charity, also known as the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy. The Seven Corporal Works of Mercy include, “feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead” (Matthew 25:34-40). These Seven Corporal Works of Mercy present different forms of charity in which Catholics and Christians should practice and live by. One should perform these tasks not out of obligation, but out of love. The parable of the “Good Samaritan” is a parable told by Jesus.
According to the Gospel of Luke (10 27:37), a traveller is beaten, robbed, and left half dead along the road. First a priest and then a Levite come by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan comes by. Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured man. This story shows that people shouldn’t aid only those in their neighborhood or social circle. Instead, they should help everyone in need out of the compassion and love in their hearts. People can be narrow minded to think that their enemies avoid charitable works, but as Jesus shows this is untrue.
Charity is the pure love of Christ or everlasting love. Jesus Christ is the perfect example of charity. In His mortal ministry, He always went about doing good, teaching the gospel and showing tender compassion for the poor, afflicted, and distressed. His crowning expression of charity was His infinite love and compassion for others. He said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). This was the greatest act of long-suffering, kindness, and selflessness that will ever be known. The Savior wants all people to receive His love and to share it with others.
He declared to His disciples: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34-35). In relationships with family members and others, followers of Christ look to the Savior as their example and strive to love as He loves, with unfailing compassion, patience, and mercy. Bienvenue and Valjean mirror Jesus with their ability to validate the virtue of faith and its correlation to charity.
Jesus demonstrates the faith he puts in his Father, and in turn produces the same faith in his apostles. By being looked to as a higher power, Valjean and Christ both use their charitable acts to teach others important factors needed to live a charitable life. Each person has something to give. Some have wealth, some have talents, some have time. Whatever gifts they have been given, large of small, they should share generously. When they do, they make the world better for someone else and find true meaning and satisfaction in their own lives.
Charity is seen as a major theme throughout The Holy Bible and Les Miserables. Charity is the selfless donation of wealth, talents, time, food, etc. in which creates a perfect bond between God’s children. Charity is not however, giving to impress or improve their self-image. By analyzing the charitable act of Christ, Jean Valjean, Monseigneur Bienvenue, and the Good Samaritan, one can better accomplish charity in its true meaning. Charity is the strongest love that can be formed between two children of God.