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The first in a series on the split between philanthropy and charity, Jeremy Beer considers the perennial and particular value of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

"What is the difference between philanthropy and charity? If we consider that question from a historical point of view, we find that in the Western world, at least, the concept, practices, and institutions of charity arise out of the Jewish and Christian traditions. Historically, charity has been justified as a way of witnessing to or making certain theological truth claims (see, especially, Gary Anderson’s Charity: The Place of the Poor in the Biblical Tradition).

"Modern philanthropy, on the other hand, is just that: modern. First coming to conceptual prominence in the late eighteenth century, its advocates were driven by a desire to reform or transcend biblical charity. It is not quite right to call philanthropy “secular”—it has always come and could only come with its own theological presuppositions, although these are often implicit—but it would be right to say that philanthropy’s goal is to use voluntary giving as a tool for asserting mastery over the social world, not to witness to any kind of theological or metaphysical 'truth.'

"In short, charity seeks to witness; philanthropy seeks to fix."--Jeremy Beer, HistPhil

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