Tuesday 4 January 2011

Caritas and King James

"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels , and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. "

It is the 400th anniversary of the publication of the authorised version of the Bible, or the King James as we know it. This truly magnificent work was the result of a committee of scholars and churchmen meeting in Oxford, Cambridge and Westminster, and gives life to the jibe about camels as the production of committees!

Charlbury played its own small part as the Vicar of Charlbury, the Rev Ralph Hutchinson was one of the translators and there is a beautiful marble monument to him in our Parish Church.

There is a splendid BBC programme on this during the week. Well worth listening to.

In the passage I have quoted there is an interesting use of the word " charity". The translators choose to use the translation from the Latin Vulgate of " caritas" often translated as "love". But the worthy scholars knew what they were doing and wanted to endorse the notion of the rich giving to the poor. This was , after all, the same time as the new statute of Elizabeth on charitable uses.

The impulse to charity is core to the christian, and indeed muslim religion and my recent lecture discussed the role that the Church and charity played from early times in delivering public services.

It puts in context some rather unpleasant emails I have been receiving from "the Lords of the Universe" who object to my suggestion their massive bonuses might be taxed and put to charitable use! One calls for my head. Another says he will never donate to an ACEVO member charity. Somehow one feels they might not actually give that much as the aim of charity is to support the poor rather than make the donor feel good. But it is also good to receive emails from other bankers in more moderate tones , with helpful suggestions on how to increase giving.

The reality is we need strong action from Government to tackle the growing storm facing charities. A tax on bankers bonuses would be one good way of ensuring the new Big Society Bank is effectively capitalised. We need a bold initiative. I'm hoping Cameron and Osborne will find their way to doing that.

One of my correspondents argues, incorrectly,

"What people work for is their own - it is not for him to seek to steal or "redistribute" in the manner he has."

Quite apart from the chutzpah this displays when the British taxpayer bailed out the banks there is a strong historical precedent for redistributive calls, not least in the teachings of Christ.

So , as the King James Bible has it ,

" And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. "

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