Can a non-Christian possess the virtue of charity?

I’ve been reading about the greatest of the virtues, Charity, lately. I see that this virtue is not something we earn, that it is a sign of Christ working through us, that it’s a gift we receive through grace at baptism. But I personally know many non-Christians who possess courageous love, willing to lay down their own interests for the good of others. How can this just be natural love and not divine love, too? Is it possible for the virtue of charity to be active in a person if they are not a baptized Christian?

Of course. God is love. He is active within the Church, and certainly outside the Church. He loves everyone He created and is always moving us towards being more loving. What parent is there who doesn’t love their own child, apart from any merit on the part of the child. Such sacrificial love is proof positive that God is active in their hearts. As St Paul teaches, “there is one God, who is Father of all, over all, through all and within all.” Eph 4:6 God is not God only of believers; He is Father of us all!

If non-Christians did not possess virtues, then it would not be possible for them to ever convert.

In other words does God give sanctifying grace to non-Christians. Yes.

Did God give such grace to the Jews before Christ. Yes.
Did God give such grace to non-Jews before Christ. Yes.

Did Jewish Circumcision remit original sin and give sanctifying grace … Yes.
Does Jewish Circumcision still remit OS today? If the parents are sincere, Yes, probably.

Thank you, I appreciate your insights. I guess I’m wondering, then, what happens to a Christian at baptism. I read that at baptism we receive the grace to practice divine love – caritas – the great virtue. If non-Christians can practice caritas, what is it that becomes active at baptism that wasn’t there before? What strength or resource do we gain?

No, they cannot, at least not ordinarily.

Charity is a supernatural virtue infused at baptism. There is such a thing as natural virtue which can be acquired with practice, but the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity cannot be acquired without sanctifying grace.

Does God infuse sanctifying grace and charity apart from the order he set up? He certainly can if he wants to, but there is no guarantee that he will do so, and we should never presume that he has or will. Otherwise the Church would not require us to receive the sacraments.

Regarding circumcision, the old ceremonial law became void when Christ fulfilled it and introduced the New Law. Sincerity has nothing to do with it. The Old Law is void. Period.

The sacraments provide mental certainty that grace is communicated and a community where God is known to dwell and guide.

That does not mean God cannot give his graces outside of the Church - its just more isolated, less clear and uncertain for the receivers.

As Aquinas says, “Its the Church that is limited to the Sacraments, not God.”

AO I do not believe that sentiment is consistent with mainstream Church tradition.
I believe it is well and rightly presumed that God does widely give His Grace to whosoever he wills outside of Church evangelisation - as Aquinas’s statement below makes clear (Cf Summa II. 68.2.c)

God may bestow graces outside the Church but nobody that is outside the Church can be saved.

I had trouble finding the passage given the unfamiliar format of your citation. Is it the Summa Theologica or the Summa Contra Gentiles? If the former, is it the first part of the second part or the second part? Question 68, objection 2? What does the “c” signify?

Side note: God gives *actual *grace to everyone.

Hence your second use of the word “Church” is significantly wider in meaning from the narrow first use of the word - and thank God for that :thumbsup:.

Sorry about that, I am relying on memory and quickly grabbed that ref off the Internet to point you in the right direction. I am sure a bit of Google sleuthing will get it for you.
I believe it is also quoted in the CCC but a quick search there couldn’t immediately find it either.

Good point about Actual Grace (many Catholics implicitly have this point of view), that was my view also until a few years ago when I came across incontrovertible references that sanctifying grace was given before Christ’s salvific death.

The difference that jesus’s saving death made is not that sanctifying grace cameto the world (it was already being given), rather the doors of heaven were finally opened to all the deceased Just (ie sanctified) who had gone before Christ. They had remained at the highest level of Sheol (“Hell”) also known as the Bosom of Abraham or the Limbo of the Just until that day.

Of course another argument against only Actual grace is that Actual Grace cannot effect habitual Caritas in the soul.

When I use the word Church it can only mean the Catholic Church. That is the only Church founded by Christ.
Nobody outside the CATHOLIC CHURCH can be saved.

So that means there must be a lot of unbaptised Catholics.

Agreed. What I deny is that the former ceremonial means of obtaining it is still efficacious. (cf. S.T. IIa, Q. 103).

You may well be right but I find Aquinas fairly weak in this area. Do you have any better magisterial refs?

As I’ve told you many times before.
Baptism is necessary for salvation and there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church.

How is a person baptised and within the Catholic Church?

  • Sacramentally baptised as a Catholic.
  • Baptism of blood (non-Catholic dying for the Catholic faith)
  • Baptism of desire - explicit (e.g. a catechumen)
  • Baptism of desire - implicit (invincible ignorance)

Outside the above nobody is saved (no matter how “good” a life that person may have lived).

I don’t offhand, but I may do some digging.

Edit: I found this:

“… we profess that the legalities of the Old Testament, the ceremonies of the Mosaic Law, the rites, sacrifices, and sacraments have ceased at the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ; they cannot be observed without sin after the promulgation of the Gospel. …”
– Pope Urban VIII, Profession of Orthodox Faith, 1642; qtd. in Benedict XIV, Ex Quo (1756)

A straight reading of your post seems to imply that Jewish people won’t be saved if they know the Church and reject it for the religion of their culture (same for Muslims, Hindus, etc). Unless they are considered to be invincibly ignorant, I don’t buy it.

And there we have it.
Sincere and just Jews, Muslims, Buddhist and Atheists are in fact hidden/anonymous Catholics by baptism of desire.

Yours is a very rationalised and tortured way of saying what others already know - namely that God gives his sanctifying grace outside the Church to whosoever he wills.
So we are all at last happy-chappys because in fact we all agree the end result.

…though I wonder if sincere and just Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists would accept the condescension that they, through invincible ignorance, are really Catholics in disguise! Mind you, maybe Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists think we sincere and just Catholics are really invincibly ignorant Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists also!

Ah, what tangled webs we wind to keep consistancy with authoritative statements of the past that have been taken out of historical context and whose literal meanings with the passage of time are no longer supportable :shrug:.

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