From “Rooted in Charity,” The Causes of the Soul, 275-277 (1891)

The figure is a mixed one. The being rooted in charity suggests the tree, the being grounded in charity the building. What have the two similes in common? Simply this, the idea of fixity or permanence in connection with the starting point of growth. The tree springs from its root, and the house from its foundation. Unlike in very many respects, tree and house resemble each other in this — each is fastened to a definite spot on the earth’s surface, of each it can always be said that we know where to find it. St. Paul believes that character ought to have this same attribute of fixity, stability. He would like to be able to say of the disciple as well as of the oak or of the tower, I know where to find him. Nothing would have been more repugnant to his feelings than to hear the Christian likened to any thing that could be tossed about or blown away.

Character, to be worth the name, must be something against which winds beat and tempests rage in vain. No doubt of tree and of building it may be said that each has its own distinctive way of meeting the onset. The wall quivers but does not bend, the tree bends but does not quiver, and yet they are alike in this, both of them hold their place. When the storm has spent its force, there they are, the one rooted, the other grounded, as before. The party of the defense has proved itself stouter than the party of the attack. Foundation and root have conquered.

But we must go down further still. Important as are the root and the foundation, there is a certain some- thing without which they both of them are useless. This essential something is the soil. Unless the root has struck itself into the earth, the tree is as powerless to resist movement as if it were without root al- together. Unless into the earth the foundation has been sunk, we scarcely think of it as a foundation.

The text tells us that charity, or holy love, is the element in which Christian character must fix itself if we look to see it last. So to be rooted and grounded is the secret of stability. But it must be remembered that the ” charity ” of the New Testament is a wonderfully far-reaching word. To tie it down to almsgiving is the greatest possible mistake. Horizontally it stretches out in all directions as far as man’s fellow-man is found; vertically it strikes upward to the very heaven of heavens, and stays not till it has touched the throne itself. Such is the love or charity of which St. Paul says marvelous things.

The essence of it is unselfishness, and this, whether the love be manifested in the direction of God or in the direction of man. The phrase ‘unselfishness towards God’ may have a strange sound, but it stands for a real thing. Unselfishness towards God empties us of pride, makes us humble, submissive, willing to confess to him, to worship him, to give him thanks; unselfishness towards man makes us helpful, eager to be of service, ready to share burdens, and of whatever has been freely given us freely to give. Such, hinted at in few words, is charity or holy love. If we would have it faithfully and fully pictured to us, so far as language possibly can picture it, we must go to that unmatched and matchless portraiture given in the first of the Corinthian letters, where with an eloquence in which the tongues of men and the tongues of angels seem to blend their powers, this same Paul tells us what the greatest and the most abiding of the Christian graces is.

William Reed Huntington (1838-1909) was an American Episcopal priest, one of the most influential leaders of the church in the late nineteenth century. He was rector of Grace Church in New York for a quarter-century and played an influential role in the first major revision of the American prayer book. His essay “The Church Idea” outlined a vision for ecumenism which resulted in the development of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. The Causes of the Soul was published when he was at the height of his influence. He is commemorated on July 27 on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church.