• Michael Martin

Ubi Caritas: Where Is Charity?


Maybe you noticed it. In the transition from life in the world to a more-or-less (even liturgically) online existence, from a life of faces, of smiles, grimaces, and laughter to a life of masks, suspicion, and muffled speech, we ourselves have changed. Technology, as Heidegger so emphatically asserted, is never neutral. Social media, always threatening in its ability to divide and the temptation to demonize, has reached its apotheosis in this regard, even to the point of laying down the new dogmas by which we should live. And, don’t kid yourself, they are the new dogmas. Those who reject them are ostracized as heretics.

We were warned long ago about this by Goethe, by Mary Shelley and the Romantic poets, later by Rudolf Steiner and Nikolai Berdyaev, by Martin Heidegger and Jacques Ellul. I even tried to warn about the dangers of this technological world absorbing us in my book, Transfiguration. But all of us, in our warnings, were doomed to the fate of Cassandra. And it now it is too late. Or so it seems

Ellul, a philosopher with whom I feel equal parts attraction (due to his prescience regarding Christianity’s role in the face of the totalizing demands of the technological) and repulsion (due to his dogged iconoclasm), analyzes our predicament in terms of the rise of secular theology, which for him is characterized by two things in particular: 1) the myth of history, in which “the truth of Christianity” is taken to be “dependent upon history” (i.e., the “historical” Jesus); and 2) the myth of science, an “entire theology of the death of God...based...on the popular beliefs and passions of modern man,” which, among other things, ultimately dismisses the reality of Christ as “a human construct.” As Ellul explains, “Christian intellectuals are so imbued with the modern myths, they live so much in today’s sacred, they participate so much in all the rites, all the beliefs, especially those of political religion, that they fail to realize that, there too, it is a matter of religion. That is the fate of all those who live in myth. They are incapable of assessing it as myth” [1]. Writing in the early 1970s (before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs broke out of their parents’ respective garages), Ellul implored, “We have to come out of it.” We haven’t. On the contrary: we’ve become more deeply enmeshed in its invisible web. Somnambulistically, we have started worshiping at new shrines, with new gods, new dogmas. But dogmas create heretics, even secular dogmas. Perhaps therein lies the blessing.

The primary casualty, at least at this point, has been the virtue of charity (caritas in Latin or agape in Greek). We’ve lost the capacity for lovingkindness, or so it seems. The internet and its progeny social media have made sure of it. There is only one truth and science is its name. Unbelievers will be punished, shunned, and shamed.

The ancient hymn “Ubi Caritas” works as an instruction manual for how we should treat each other:

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.

Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.

Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.

Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.


Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:

Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.

Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.

Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.


Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,

Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:

Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,

Saecula per infinita saeculorum. Amen.

(I put this in so you can sing along with the clip below).


Translation:

Where charity and love are, there is God.

The love of Christ has gathered us into one.

Let us exult, and in Him be joyful.

Let us fear and let us love the living God.

And from a sincere heart let us love each other.


Where charity and love are, there is God.

The same whensoever we are gathered as one:

Lest in mind we be divided, let us beware.

Let cease malicious quarrels, let strife give way.

And in the midst of us be Christ our God.

Where charity and love are, there is God.

Together also with the blessed may we see,

Gloriously, Thy countenance, O Christ our God:

A joy which is immense, and also approved:

Through the infinity of ages. Amen.

It has been difficult for me to hold to this vision during whatever this is we are living through. But I’m still holding.

Sophiology holds to the goodness in Creation, to goodness of a loving God, and to the goodness of His Wisdom that shines through all. St. Edith Stein, one of my patrons, wrote about being under God’s protection as similar to being in the arms of our own mothers (the maternal image of God is, I think, significant). As we read in Stein’s magnum opus, Finite and Eternal Being:

In the knowledge that being holds me, I rest securely. This security, however, is not the self-assurance of one who under her own power stands on firm ground, but rather the sweet and blissful security of a child that is lifted up and carried by a strong arm…. For if a child were living in constant fear that its mother might let it fall, we should hardly call this a ‘rational’ attitude.” [2]

I don’t see how we’ll be able to regain the spirit of caritas in this simultaneously technological and technocratic coldness we have come to inhabit. I’m not sure it’s possible in such environments. But I know it can be found in the Real. Let’s look there.


Connie Dover's extraordinary version of Ubi Caritas”

Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at director@thecenterforsophiologicalstudies.com See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses. Also check out the latest volume of Jesus the Imagination: The Garden.

1. Jacques Ellul, The New Demons, trans. C. Edward Hopkin (The Seaberry Press, 1975), 210.

2. Edith Stein, Finite and Eternal Being: An Attempt at an Ascent to the Meaning of Being, trans. Kurt F. Reinhardt (ICE Publications, 2002), 58.

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