Mere Christianity | Study Guide

C.S. Lewis

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Mere Christianity | Book 3, Chapter 9 : Christian Behavior (Charity) | Summary



The three theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity. Charity has now come to mean giving to the poor, but it originally referred to the configuration of the will known as "love." Charity, or love, does not depend on liking. Liking can aid in charity, but it can also act as a barrier. We can cultivate charity toward difficult persons by "acting as if" we loved them, even if the feeling of affection or approval is not there.

Charity, according to Lewis, highlights the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. The Christian knows charity begets charity while hatred begets more hatred. Because of the compounding nature of virtue and vice, our smallest actions assume the largest significance. Therefore, the Christian behaves charitably no matter how he feels toward the object of his charity, while the non-Christian reserves his charity for those he likes.

Acting "as if" we had charitable or loving feelings toward God is the way we can learn to genuinely love God. What matters to God is our will, not our feelings.


While it is translated as "charity" in the King James Bible, this virtue is translated as "love" in newer versions. The theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity—are the subject of a very famous passage from the First Book of Corinthians, Chapter 13, which identifies charity as the greatest of the virtues. The text supports Lewis's repeated insistence that God judges our will, not the outward appearance of our actions or emotions. "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing," the passage reads. If we perform charity in the world as a means of feeding our pride or resentment, our charity is not charity—it is a worthless charade.

It is not a worthless charade to act as if one feels charitable. Rather, this is a key to the practice of the virtue because since Christians aim for moral perfection they strive to behave charitably no matter what. "Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor; act as if you did," Lewis urges. Love is not a feeling, despite what popular culture tells us. It is a "state of the will." Acting "as if" only becomes problematic when we resent the act or use it to feel superior over others.

Corinthians continues with its description of charity. Charity "suffereth long, and is kind." Charity is without envy, without pride, without self-interest. Charity is calm; it is concerned not with evil but with the truth. Famously, charity "beareath all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." After all, "charity never faileth." It is indeed the greatest of the virtues.

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