Sunday, May 31, 2009


More than a decade ago, I sang a piece by Maurice Duruflé called Ubi Caritas. How do you translate caritas? There's a challenge for you. Charity? Love? Friendship?

First of all, I have to refer to a letter in the Bible, the first from Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 13. Where it says "love", I have reason to believe that this was translated from the word caritas. What is love? Is it the love between man and wife, male and female? That is what we usually understand the word love to mean. Love, however, doesn't just cover the emotion that underpins a marital relationship. There is the love that a parent has towards a child. The love a child has towards its parent. More than that, love also exists outside family relations. There is friendship, a special branch of the tree of love, if you like.

Back to caritas. In some translations of the Bible (and don't start me off on that subject), it is translated as charity. Charity is usually understood to be the free gift of goods or money for the benefit of the less fortunate members of mankind. Particularly here in Stornoway, charity thrives. More than half a dozen charity shops, each working for a different organisation, e.g. the Red Cross, Blythswood, Breast Cancer support. the Lifeboat etc. But where does love come into that equation? The love of fellow man, I suppose. But a degree of doubt if not cynicism is creeping into my mind. Isn't it often the case that people give to charity to assuage their guilty conscience? Yes, I'm a cynic. Although it is a good thing to part with some of your worldly goods for the benefit of others, it is a distant member of the family of love. And often it is a case of seen to be doing good.

Ubi Caritas.
Love is everywhere.

I think it is eminently apt that we can't properly translate the word caritas. For it spans the whole spectrum of human emotion. I'll leave you with a performance I dug out of YouTube.


Beth said...

Perhaps it's more of a sense of empathy for those less fortunate than ourselves; and in the case of environmental charities, it's a matter of trying to make a difference in the world, no matter how slight.

DB said...


I don't think "love" is really undefinable. It's a universal concept that means different things. It can only be determined by its effects.



i think we ought to consider the biblical context in which the word was used..

Caritas is that kind of love true Christians ought to have towards their brethren and the rest of humanity, including their enemy. So i guess the nearest English word is still 'charity', which sounds like 'caritas' anyway.

Christ was the model for Caritas, and yes it is a difficult kind of love to practice.

Liz said...

Love is life.
Therefore it will be experienced in every aspect of living.
We love our parents, love our dreams, love our mates,love our dreams, love our children, love our dreams.
And every aspect of death follows us throughout life so we may mirror our dreams in life.