Charis
Note to the The Currency Holders And Store Holders;The Disease Of Desire by John Ruskin

As Charis becomes Charitas [see later], the word "Cher" or "Dear", passes from Shylock's sense of it (to buy cheap and sell dear) into Antonio's sense of it: emphasized with the final i in tender "Chéri", and hushed to English calmness in our noble "Cherish".

The derivation of words is like that of rivers: there is one real source, usually small, unlikely, and difficult to find, far up among the hills; then, as the word flows on and comes into service, it takes in the force of other words from other sources, and becomes itself quite another word—even more than one word, after the junction—a word as it were of many waters, sometimes both sweet and bitter. Thus the whole force of our English "charity" depends on the guttural in "Charis" getting confused with the "c" of the Latin "carus"; thenceforward throughout the middle ages, the two ideas ran on together, and both got confused with St. Paul's Ancient greek which expresses a different idea in all sorts of ways; our "charity", having not only brought in the entirely foreign sense of almsgiving, but lost the essential sense of contentment, and lost much more in getting too far away from the "charis", of the final Gospel benedictions. For truly it is fine Christianity we have come to, which professing to expect the perpetual grace of its Founder, has not itself grace enough to save it from overreaching its friends in sixpenny bargains; and which, supplicating evening and morning the forgiveness of its own debts, goes forth in the daytime to take its fellow-servants by the throat, saying—not "Pay me that thou owest", but "Pay me that thou owest me not".

Not but that we sometimes wear Ophelia's rue with a difference, and call it, "Herb o'grace o'Sundays", taking consolation out of the offertory with—"Look, what he layeth out, it shall be paid him again". Comfortable words, indeed, and good to set against the old royalty of Largesse—

"Whose moste joie was, I wis,
When that she gave, and said, `Have this.'"

Again: the first root of the word faith being far away in—(compare my note on this force of it in "Modern Painters", vol. v., p. 255), the Latins, as proved by Cicero's derivation of the word, got their "facio", also involved in the idea; and so the word, and the world with it, gradually lose themselves in an arachnoid web of disputation concerning faith and works, no one ever taking the pains to limit the meaning of the term: which in earliest Scriptural use is as nearly as possible our English "obedience". Then the Latin "fides", a quite different word, alternately active and passive in different uses, runs into "foi"; "facere", through "ficare", into "fier", at the end of words; and "fidere", into "tier" absolute; and out of this endless reticulation of thought and word rise still more finely reticulated theories concerning salvation by faith—the things which the populace expected to be saved from, being indeed carved for them in a very graphic manner in their cathedral porches, but the things they were expected to believe being carved for them not so clearly.

Lastly I debated with myself whether to make the note on Homer longer by examining the typical meaning of the shipwreck of Ulysses; and his escape from Charybdis by help of her fig-tree; but as I should have had to go on to the lovely myth of Leucothea's veil, and did not care to spoil this by a hurried account of it, I loft it for future examination; and three days after the paper was published, observed that the reviewers, with their usual useful ingenuity, were endeavouring to throw the whole subject back into confusion by dwelling on the single (as they imagined) oversight. I omitted also a note on the sense of the word Ancient greek with respect to the pharmacy of Circe, and herb-fields of Helen (compare its use in Odyssey, xvii. 473, etc.), which would further have illustrated the nature of the Circean power. But, not to be led too far into the subtleness of these myths, respecting them all I have but this to say: Even in very simple parables, it is not always easy to attach indisputable meaning to every part of them. I recollect some years ago, throwing an assembly of learned persons who had met to delight themselves with interpretations of the parable of the prodigal son (interpretations which had up to that moment gone very smoothly) into high indignation, by inadvertently asking who the prodigal son was, and what was to be learned by his example. The leading divine of the company (still one of our great popular preachers) at last explained to me that the unprodigal son was a lay figure, put in for dramatic effect, to make the story prettier, and that no note was to be taken of him. Without, however, admitting that Homer put in the last escape of Ulysses merely to make his story prettier, this is nevertheless true of all Greek myths, that they have many opposite lights and shades; they are as changeful as opal and, like opal, usually have one colour by reflected, and another by transmitted, light. But they are true jewels for all that, and full of noble enchantment for those who can use them; for those who cannot, I am content to repeat the words I wrote four years ago, in the appendix to the "Two Paths"—

"The entire purpose of a great thinker may be difficult to fathom, and we may be over and over again more or less mistaken in guessing at his meaning; but the real, profound, nay, quite bottomless and unredeemable mistake, is the fool's thought, that he had no meaning."