First Corinthians 13:13 says, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Love, translated as charity, is more than the feeling you have for your spouse or child. Thomas Aquinas understood love as that “which unites us to God.” It’s love for God and love for man.
Charity is considered a theological virtue. Theological virtues are understood through a faith in God. Paul, the author of the letter to the Corinthians, holds charity and love to be the greatest of all virtues. Aquinas believed that charity was critical to man’s happiness.
Jesus gave a new commandment to his believers, “Love one another; as I have loved you.” This edict appears 13 times in the New Testament. The Gospel of John references this commandment as Jesus gives his disciples instruction at the Last Supper in chapter 13. In John 15, Jesus makes similar statements two separate times, in verses 12 and 17.
The commandment appears in other writings in the New Testament. The Epistles of John have five separate references to the “new commandment.” Paul refers to this love in Romans 13:8 and 1 Thessalonians 4:9, as well as in the Corinthians reference. Peter also includes a similar statement about charity in 1 Peter 1:22.
The Catholic Encyclopedia defines charity as divine and related to grace. Love is a specific act of your will. Love for God is reciprocal. Love is not motivated by anything besides goodness. Charity is imitating Christ.
Symbols of Love in Art and History
Artists have depicted love in many different ways through the years. The heart is probably the most common symbol of love, used on Valentine’s Day to represent romantic love. Roses are another recognized symbol of love. These flowers are associated with Aphrodite and Venus, the Greek and Roman goddesses of love. Red roses depict passionate love. White roses represent innocence and purity. Yellow roses are joyful love. Pink roses suggest true love.
Doves are representative of peace and love. The birds mate for life, representing fidelity. In Jewish tradition, doves can be a sacrifice. In some cultures, doves are sacred animals. Many artists represented goddesses of love by having doves fluttering around their bodies.
Couples in ancient times would often share apples at their weddings as a representation of the relationship. Apples have come to depict love in many different cultures. Apples are thought to ward of disease and help people retain their youth in Norse mythology.
The harp, a gentle instrument, is often used in love songs due to its musicality. The Celts believe that the harp connects heaven and earth, making it a bridge of love. The strings of the harp look like a ladder, which represents stages of love.
Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” uses a shell as part of the painting that depicts the creation of Venus. Shells are often thought to be symbols of love, not only in Greek and Roman mythology, but also by Native Americans and Hindus. The shell symbolizes protection. The hard casing protects the valuable pearl inside the shell.
In Chinese and Japanese cultures, the maple leaf represents love. The maple tree produces maple syrup, which is sweet. The leaf symbolizes the sweetness of love. Today, the maple leaf is typically associated with Canada, due to its presence throughout the country.
Knowing these symbols can help give you a better understanding of art. Charity fulfills life. Artists have tried to represent the act of love for generations and can only brush the surface of emotions that embody love and charity.
It’s said that all the virtues hinge on the inspiration of charity. Love should be a daily goal because there is rest in love.