Origin of word charity

Most Masonic Degrees have a legend or story associated with them. And with many degrees beyond Ancient Craft Masonry, the Degree of St. Lawrence the Martyr is intended to extend the basic teaching about charity by adding a new dimension. In the first degree of Masonry, a candidate is taught the meaning of charity in a powerful way and personal way. He learns that no matter how destitute he may find himself, he will never lack as long as Masons remain alive to help him. And in a similar manner , he is now bound to extend the same help to any other Mason in need. The Degree of St. Lawrence the Martyr takes this one step further by telling us what charity really means.
A deacon at Rome by the name of Lawrence, was arrested, in the year 258. And according to a legend - the legend that became the Masonic Degree of St. Lawrence the Martyr - the Emperor ordered Lawrence to produce the treasures of the church. Although there were some wealthy Christians, the vast majority were poor. What was the source of this great charity? It was sacrificial giving on the part of all members, rich and poor, who gave and asked for nothing in return. Lawrence knew this but the Emperor did not.
The Emperor gave Lawrence 3 days to produce the treasures of the church. Three days later he did. Filling the streets of Rome with thousands and thousand of poor people who came out to demonstrate how many were helping one another through this primitive system of charity. The Emperor angered at being mocked, ordered Lawrence to be roasted alive. In subsequent centuries he became St. Lawrence, had churches named after him, and even a Masonic Degree using his story to teach a lesson in charity. The lesson is that true treasures are people not things. True charitable giving is giving without expecting anything in return. Thus we do not enrich ourselves by giving, we enrich others. We become the treasure, not because we have great wealth, but because we understand that giving to others makes us rich. The treasures were not the wealthy who gave to the poor, but the poor who shared what they had with others. It is the principle of caring. It is no surprise that the word charity comes from the Latin word for caring - caritas. Therefore, our Masonic trilogy can be translated as Faith, Hope, and Caring, because that is what charity is all about.

Nigel Gallimore


Shriners Hospitals