26 – Material charity toward the poor gives witness to the love of the Church more than the studies of theologians

The word ‘charity’ almost always brings to mind material aid offered to the needy. And this it is: almsgiving is a praiseworthy habit, which has always been promoted by Holy Mother Church. However, we should not forget that another type of charity, the spiritual works of mercy: to instruct, to give counsel, to console, to comfort, to pardon, and to bear wrongs patiently (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2447), are more important than the corporal works of mercy, namely to give food to the hungry, give shelter, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned, bury the dead.
Within the Church there flourished, as in a lush garden, varied religious orders dedicated to the material assistance of the poor. But have they ever considered themselves exempt from the obligation to instruct in the true doctrine the ignorant who were in the darkness of error?


Quote A
The search for truth, the study of catholic truth is another important dimension of the Church that theologians accomplish. Then, it is transformed into catechesis and arrives. Caritas is direct, it is the love of Mother Church that draws near, caresses, loves. In this sense, permit me to say that you are the first and institutionalized witnesses of the love of the Church. (Address to the Executive Committee of Caritas Internationalis, May 16, 2013)

Teachings of the Magisterium

Enter the various parts of our study


I — Primacy of the spiritual works of mercy over the material ones
II — The primacy of the study of theology
III — True charity emanates from the study of theology

I — Primacy of the spiritual works of mercy over the material ones

Benedict XVI

Care for the soul is more necessary than material support

The Church is one of those living forces: She is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something which often is even more necessary than material support. In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live ‘by bread alone’ (Mt 4:4; cf. Deut 8:3)—a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human. (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Deus caritas est, no. 28, December 25, 2005)

The true labor in God’s field is to set people free from the poverty of truth

It is the moment of mission: the Lord is sending you, dear friends, into his harvest. You must cooperate in this task of which the Prophet Isaiah speaks in the First Reading: ‘The Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted’ (Is 61:1). This is the labour for the harvest in the field of God, in the field of human history: to bring to men and women the light of truth, to set them free from the lack of truth, which is the true sorrow, the true impoverishment of man. It means bringing them the glad tidings that are not only words but an event: God himself has come among us. He takes us by the hand, he uplifts us toward himself and thus the broken heart is healed. Let us thank the Lord for sending out labourers into the harvest of the world’s history. (Benedict XVI. Homily in the Basilica of Saint Peter, February 5, 2011)


Do not forget those whose souls are sick!

 You endeavor to alleviate the physical sufferings, but, we well know, you do not forget that, unfortunately, marginal to your activity are the neediest and the most contagious sick, who are the obstinate and rebellious sinners. […] The confusion that reigns in some sectors on this point demands the effort of all Christian souls of good sense to be inexorable and resolute in a patient and difficult exercise of true charity, and to not neglect an occasion to enlighten, call upon, correct and lift up. To play with fire is always harmful: et qui amat periculum in illo peribit (Sir 3:26). (John XXIII. Speech to the delegates of the ‘Works of Mercy’ in Rome, February 21, 1960)

Pius XI

Instructing our neighbors in the true faith is the greatest mark of love

Since Jesus Christ has proclaimed that the special sign of discipleship with Him is that we ‘have love one for another’ (Jn 13:35; 15:12), can we give a mark of greater love for our neighbors than to assist them in putting behind themselves the darkness of error by instructing them in the true faith of Christ? As a matter of fact, this type of charity surpasses all other kinds of good works inspired by love just as the mind surpasses the body, heaven surpasses earth, eternity surpasses time. (Pius XI. Encyclical Rerum Ecclesiae, no. 6, February 28, 1926)

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Corporal alms-deeds are not superior to spiritual ones

There are two ways of comparing these alms-deeds. First, simply; and in this respect, spiritual alms-deeds hold the first place, for three reasons. First, because the offering is more excellent, since it is a spiritual gift, which surpasses a corporal gift, according to Proverbs 4:2 – ‘I will give you a good gift, forsake not My Law.’ Secondly, on account of the object succored, because the spirit is more excellent than the body, wherefore, even as a man in looking after himself, ought to look to his soul more than to his body, so ought he in looking after his neighbor, whom he ought to love as himself. Thirdly, as regards the acts themselves by which our neighbor is succored, because spiritual acts are more excellent than corporal acts, which are, in a fashion, servile. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, II-II, q. 32, a.3)

Pius X

A great number of those condemned to Hell are those who ignore the mysteries of the faith

And so Our Predecessor, Benedict XIV, had just cause to write: ‘We declare that a great number of those who are condemned to eternal punishment suffer that everlasting calamity because of ignorance of those mysteries of faith which must be known and believed in order to be numbered among the elect.’ (Pius X. Encyclical Acerbo nimis, no. 2, April 15, 1905)

Saint Bede the Venerable

Alms are not only given in satisfying hunger

For not he alone gives alms who gives food to the hungry and things of that kind, but he also who gives pardon to the sinner, and prays for him, and reproves him, visiting him with some correcting punishment. (Saint Bede the Venerable quoted by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Catena Aurea in Lk 11:37-41)

Gregory I, the Great

It is worth more to encourage the soul, which is to live forever, with the food of the word than to satiate with earthly bread the body which is to die

‘For the lips of the priest are to keep knowledge, and instruction is to be sought from his mouth, because he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts’ (Mal 2:7). But such an elevated name you can also deserve if you desire; for each one of you in as much as you are able, according to the divine grace you have received, if you distance your neighbor from sin, if you seek to exhort him to act well, if you remind the one at fault about the Kingdom or about the eternal punishment, you are certainly an angel when you use words of admonition. And may no one say: ‘I am no good to admonish, I am not ideal to exhort’. Do what you can, so that that, in the torments, what you received and kept badly may not be demanded of you. He had not received more than one talent, the one who preferred to bury it than to use it for his profit. We know that for the tabernacle of the Lord, there were made at his command, not only vessels, but also cups (cf. Ex 37:16). By vessels is designated the abundant doctrine, and by cups, little and scarce knowledge. Once one is full of the doctrine of the truth, he fills the minds of those who hear him, and by what he says, he offers as a full vessel; another cannot say all that he feels, but as long as he teaches it as he can, it is as if he gives a cup to taste. Therefore, placed in the tabernacle of the Lord, that is, in the Church, if you cannot administer the sound doctrine in vessels, then as much as you are able, helped by divine grace, give to your neighbors goblets of sound doctrine. […] Perhaps you may not have bread to help the needy; but whoever has a tongue has a greater good to distribute: for it is worth more to encourage the soul, which is to live forever, with the food of the word, than to satiate with earthly bread the body which is to die. Therefore, brothers, do not deny your brethren the alms of your words. (Gregory I, the Great. Homilies on the Gospels, Homily VI: Mt 11:2-10, no. 6 Spanish)

Saint Jerome

The wealth of doctrine: the more it is given away, the more it abounds

But it may be understood of the wealth of doctrine: wealth which never fails but the more of it is given away, the more it abounds. (Saint Jerome quoted by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Catena Aurea in Mt 5:38-42)

II — The primacy of the study of theology

Saint Thomas Aquinas

Theology is the most important science

Since this science [theology] is partly speculative and partly practical, it transcends all others speculative and practical. Now one speculative science is said to be nobler than another, either by reason of its greater certitude, or by reason of the higher worth of its subject-matter. In both these respects this science surpasses other speculative sciences; in point of greater certitude, because other sciences derive their certitude from the natural light of human reason, which can err; whereas this derives its certitude from the light of divine knowledge, which cannot be misled: in point of the higher worth of its subject-matter because this science treats chiefly of those things which by their sublimity transcend human reason; while other sciences consider only those things which are within reason’s grasp. Of the practical sciences, that one is nobler which is ordained to a further purpose, as political science is nobler than military science; for the good of the army is directed to the good of the State. But the purpose of this science, in so far as it is practical, is eternal bliss; to which as to an ultimate end the purposes of every practical science are directed. Hence it is clear that from every standpoint, it is nobler than other sciences. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I, q. 1, a.5)

Benedict XVI

Without the light of truth, charity degenerates into sentimentalism

Truth is the light that gives meaning and value to charity. That light is both the light of reason and the light of faith, through which the intellect attains to the natural and supernatural truth of charity: it grasps its meaning as gift, acceptance, and communion. Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Caritas in veritate, no. 3, June 29, 2009)

The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures in the same way as she venerates the Body of the Lord

The Church does not live on herself but on the Gospel, and in the Gospel always and ever anew finds the directions for her journey. This is a point that every Christian must understand and apply to himself or herself: only those who first listen to the Word can become preachers of it. Indeed, they must not teach their own wisdom but the wisdom of God, which often appears to be foolishness in the eyes of the world (cf. 1Cor 1:23).The Church knows well that Christ lives in the Sacred Scriptures. For this very reason – as the Constitution stresses – she has always venerated the divine Scriptures in the same way as she venerates the Body of the Lord (cf. Dei Verbum, n. 21). (Benedict XVI. Address to the International Congress for the 40th anniversary of the Dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum, September 16, 2005)

John Paul II

The formation of the future priest is based on the study of sacred doctrine and theology

The intellectual formation of the future priest is based and built above all on the study of sacred doctrine, of theology. The value and genuineness of this theological formation depend on maintaining a scrupulous respect for the nature of theology. The synod fathers summarized this as follows: ‘True theology proceeds from the faith and aims at leading to the faith’. This is the conception of theology which has always been put forward by the Church and, specifically, by her magisterium. This is the line followed by the great theologians who have enriched the Church’s thinking down the ages. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, no. 53, March 25, 1992)

The commitment to theological study is not an external or secondary dimension

Intellectual formation has its own characteristics, but it is also deeply connected with, and indeed can be seen as a necessary expression of, both human and spiritual formation: It is a fundamental demand of the human intelligence by which one ‘participates in the light of God’s mind’ and seeks to acquire a wisdom which in turn opens to and is directed toward knowing and adhering to God (Gaudium et spes, 15). […] The present situation […] It strongly demands a high level of intellectual formation, such as will enable priests to proclaim, in a context like this, the changeless Gospel of Christ and to make it credible to the legitimate demands of human reason. […] The commitment to study, which takes up no small part of the time of those preparing for the priesthood, is not in fact an external and secondary dimension of their human, Christian, spiritual and vocational growth. In reality, through study, especially the study of theology, the future priest assents to the word of God, grows in his spiritual life and prepares himself to fulfill his pastoral ministry. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, no. 51, March 25, 1992)

The whole of Theology is ordered to nourishing the faith

Saint Thomas is extremely clear when he affirms that the faith is as it were the habitus of theology, that is, its permanent principle of operation, and that the whole of theology is ordered to nourishing the faith. The theologian is therefore, first and foremost, a believer, a person of faith. But the theologian is a believer who asks himself questions about his own faith (fides quaerens intellectum), with the aim of reaching a deeper understanding of the faith itself. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Pastores dabo vobis, no. 53, March 25, 1992)

Theology: a study to communicate to others the Christian faith and outlook

In reflecting maturely upon the faith, theology moves in two directions. The first is that of the study of the word of God: the word set down in holy writ, celebrated and lived in the living tradition of the Church, and authoritatively interpreted by the Church’s magisterium. Hence the importance of studying sacred Scripture ‘which should be the soul, as it were, of all theological the Fathers of the Church, the liturgy, the history of the Church and the teachings of the magisterium. The second direction is that of the human person, who converses with God: the person who is called ‘to believe’, ‘to live’, ‘to communicate’ to others the Christian faith and outlook. Hence the study of dogmatic and moral theology, of spiritual theology, of canon law and of pastoral theology. (John Paul II. Apostolic exhortation Pastor dabo vobis, no. 54, March 25, 1992)

Pius X

Sacred theology has the first place

No one is unaware that among the many and varied subject matters offered to a spirit avid for the truth, Sacred theology has the first place. […] Work with intrepidity in the study of natural things, for, just as the ingenious inventions and the undertakings full of efficacy of today cause admiration, later on they will be objects of permanent approval and praise. But all this without any detriment to the sacred studies. (Pius X. Sacrorum antistitum, no. 1, September 1, 1910)

There are large numbers of Christians today who are entirely ignorant of those truths necessary for salvation

It is a common complaint, unfortunately too well founded, that there are large numbers of Christians in our own time who are entirely ignorant of those truths necessary for salvation. And when we mention Christians, We refer not only to the masses or to those in the lower walks of life – for these find some excuse for their ignorance in the fact that the demands of their harsh employers hardly leave them time to take care of themselves or of their dear ones – but We refer to those especially who do not lack culture or talents and, indeed, are possessed of abundant knowledge regarding things of the world but live rashly and imprudently with regard to religion. It is hard to find words to describe how profound is the darkness in which they are engulfed and, what is most deplorable of all, how tranquilly they repose there. They rarely give thought to God, the Supreme Author and Ruler of all things, or to the teachings of the faith of Christ. They know nothing of the Incarnation of the Word of God, nothing of the perfect restoration of the human race which He accomplished. Grace, the greatest of the helps for attaining eternal things, the Holy Sacrifice and the Sacraments by which we obtain grace, are entirely unknown to them. They have no conception of the malice and baseness of sin; hence they show no anxiety to avoid sin or to renounce it. And so they arrive at life’s end in such a condition that, lest all hope of salvation be lost, the priest is obliged to give in the last few moments of life a summary teaching of religion, a time which should be devoted to stimulating the soul to greater love for God. And even this as too often happens only when the dying man is not so sinfully ignorant as to look upon the ministration of the priest as useless, and then calmly faces the fearful passage to eternity without making his peace with God. (Pius X. Encyclical Acerbo nimis, no. 2-3, April 15, 1905)

Christian teaching reveals God, and the truly remarkable dignity of man also

All this becomes evident on a little reflection. Christian teaching reveals God and His infinite perfection with far greater clarity than is possible by the human faculties alone. Nor is that all. This same Christian teaching also commands us to honor God by faith, which is of the mind, by hope, which is of the will, by love, which is of the heart; and thus the whole man is subjected to the supreme Maker and Ruler of all things. The truly remarkable dignity of man as the son of the heavenly Father, in Whose image he is formed, and with Whom he is destined to live in eternal happiness, is also revealed only by the doctrine of Jesus Christ. From this very dignity, and from man’s knowledge of it, Christ showed that men should love one another as brothers, and should live here as become children of light, ‘not of revelry and drunkenness, not in debauchery and wantonness, not in strife and jealousy’ (Rom 13:13). He also bids us to place all our anxiety and care in the hands of God, for He will provide for us; He tells us to help the poor, to do good to those who hate us, and to prefer the eternal welfare of the soul to the temporal goods of this life. (Pius X. Encyclical Acerbo nimis, no. 4, April 15, 1905)

Sixtus V

The knowledge of theology is of the greatest assistance to the Church in exposing and refuting errors and heresies

And, indeed, the knowledge and use of so salutary a science, which flows from the fertilizing founts of the sacred writings, the sovereign Pontiffs, the holy Fathers and the councils, must always be of the greatest assistance to the Church, whether with the view of really and soundly understanding and interpreting the Scriptures, or more safely and to better purpose reading and explaining the Fathers, or for exposing and refuting the various errors and heresies; and in these late days, when those dangerous times described by the Apostle are already upon us, when the blasphemers, the proud, and the seducers go from bad to worse, erring themselves and causing others to err, there is surely a very great need of confirming the dogmas of Catholic faith and confuting heresies. (Sixtus V. Bulla Triumphantis, 1588, quoted by Leo XIII, Encyclical Aeterni Patris, no. 15, August 4, 1879)

III — True charity emanates from the study of theology

Benedict XVI

In order to offer love to our brothers and sisters, we must be afire with it from the furnace of divine charity

In Sacred Scripture, the summons to love of neighbour is tied to the commandment to love God with all our heart, all our soul and all our strength (cf. Mk 12:29-31). Thus, love of neighbour – if based on a true love for God – corresponds to the commandment and the example of Christ. It is possible, then, for the Christian, through his or her dedication, to bring others to experience the bountiful tenderness of our heavenly Father, through an ever deeper conformation to Christ. In order to offer love to our brothers and sisters, we must be afire with it from the furnace of divine charity: through prayer, constant listening to the word of God, and a life centred on the Eucharist. (Benedict XVI. Address to the members of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, February 9, 2013)

We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God

It often happens that Christians are more concerned for the social, cultural and political consequences of their commitment, continuing to think of the faith as a self-evident presupposition for life in society. In reality, not only can this presupposition no longer be taken for granted, but it is often openly denied. Whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, because of a profound crisis of faith that has affected many people. We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden (cf. Mt 5:13-16). The people of today can still experience the need to go to the well, like the Samaritan woman, in order to hear Jesus, who invites us to believe in him and to draw upon the source of living water welling up within him (cf. Jn 4:14). We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God, faithfully handed down by the Church, and on the bread of life, offered as sustenance for his disciples (cf. Jn 6:51). (Benedict XVI. Motu proprio Porta fidei no. 2-3, October 11, 2011)

It is important for the People of God to be properly taught and trained to approach the Sacred Scriptures

We see clearly, then, how important it is for the People of God to be properly taught and trained to approach the sacred Scriptures in relation to the Church’s living Tradition, and to recognize in them the very word of God. Fostering such an approach in the faithful is very important from the standpoint of the spiritual life. Here it might be helpful to recall the analogy drawn by the Fathers of the Church between the word of God which became ‘flesh’ and the word which became a ‘book’. (Benedict XVI. Apostolic exhortation Verbum Domini, no. 18, September 30, 2010)

The necessity of intellectual charity: as the great mendicant saints and theologians

New issues enlivened the discussion in the universities that came into being at the end of the 12th century. Minors and Preachers did not hesitate to take on this commitment. As students and professors they entered the most famous universities of the time, set up study centres, produced texts of great value, gave life to true and proper schools of thought, were protagonists of scholastic theology in its best period and had an important effect on the development of thought. The greatest thinkers, St Thomas Aquinas and St Bonaventure, were Mendicants who worked precisely with this dynamism of the new evangelization which also renewed the courage of thought, of the dialogue between reason and faith. Today too a ‘charity of and in the truth’ exists, an ‘intellectual charity’ that must be exercised to enlighten minds and to combine faith with culture. The dedication of the Franciscans and Dominicans in the medieval universities is an invitation, dear faithful, how important it is for the People of God to be properly taught and trained to approach the sacred Scriptures, with respect and conviction, on the fundamental questions that concern Man, his dignity and his eternal destiny. Thinking of the role of the Franciscans and the Dominicans in the Middle Ages, of the spiritual renewal they inspired and of the breath of new life they communicated in the world, a monk said: ‘At that time the world was ageing. Two Orders were born in the Church whose youth they renewed like that of an eagle’ (Burchard of Ursperg, Chronicon). (Benedict XVI. General audience, January 13, 2010)

John Paul II

The lack of adequate formation causes many obstacles for the message of salvation

First of all, the greatest challenge of our age comes from a growing separation between faith and reason, between the Gospel and culture. The studies dedicated to this immense area are increasing day by day in the context of the new evangelization. Indeed, the message of salvation encounters many obstacles stemming from erroneous concepts and a serious lack of adequate formation. (John Paul II. Apostolic letter Inter munera academiarum, no. 2, January 28, 1999)


The solemn duty and truest function of the Church: to propagate the truth of Jesus Christ to the peoples

To propagate the truth of Jesus Christ is the truest function of the Church. Indeed, ‘it is the solemn duty of the Church to impart to… peoples, so far as possible, the outstanding blessings of her life and her teaching, from which a new social order should be derived, based on Christian principles’ (Encyclical letter Fidei donum). Therefore, in mission territories, the Church takes the most generous measures to encourage social welfare projects, to support welfare work for the poor, and to assist Christian communities and the peoples concerned. Care must be taken, however, not to clutter and obstruct the apostolic work of the missions with an excessive quantity of secular projects. Economic assistance must be limited to necessary undertakings which can be easily maintained and utilized, and to projects whose organization and administration can be easily transferred to the lay men and women of the particular nation, thus allowing the missionaries to devote themselves to their task of propagating the faith, and to other pursuits aimed directly at personal sanctification and eternal salvation. (John XXIII. Encyclical Princeps pastorum, no. 22, November 28, 1959)

Pius XII

To enkindle men’s souls with the charity of Christ, you must be first illumined with truth. Devote yourselves to sacred studies

If you wish to be the light of truth, which comes from Christ, you must yourselves be first illumined with that truth. It is for this that you are devoting yourselves to sacred studies. If you would enkindle men’s souls with the charity of Christ, you must first glow with that same charity yourselves; this is the purpose of your religious and ascetical training. (Pius XII. Address to the Ecclesiastic Institutes of Rome, June 24, 1939)

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