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Philanthropy Part 1: What does the word mean?


The word "charitable giving" is often brought up in the context of "tax deductions", that is, trying to avoid paying more taxes by giving to charity.  While this may be one of many reasons we give to charities, it is not the only reason and by no means the most complete. In this blog I hope to explore the true meaning of charity.  What are its roots, where did it come from? In the next few weeks, I will look back into the ancient Greek philosophers, the Scriptures, and Holy Tradition of the Orthodox Church and even modern studies to show that the act of giving actually makes us fuller, joyous and God-like human beings.  Let's start by defining some terms.

Most Orthodox are familiar with the word "philanthropy".  It comes from two Greek words, "philo" meaning "friend" and "anthropos" meaning "man".  In the course of the liturgical services of our Church, we often refer to God as "Philanthropos", that is the "friend of Man".  The earliest known use of this word occurs in the ancient Greek mythology.

In Prometheus Bound (circa 5th cent B.C.), we find the word "philanthropic" as a description of Prometheus, who "looks kindly" towards humans as opposed to Zeus, who wishes to exterminate them. Next we find mentioned in the 4th century play Peace, the word "philanthropic" is used by humans as flattery to gain the god's favor.

Plato's Symposium (4th century B.C.) uses the word three times, again in reference to the god Eros, who is most "philanthropic" of the gods. In his work Euthyphro, Plato calls to use the word "philanthropic" not as an attribute for a god, but now one for his friend, Socrates.

As the 4th century B.C. continues, we find the word used more and more associated with a number of other civic virtues and leadership qualities such as justice. One should not "appear" as philanthropic just to gain public approval. Soon, philanthropy becomes an innate emotional attachment that people possess towards others.

By the 2nd century B.C. the word "philanthropy" begins to take on a financial aspect. Financial generosity and even "salary" come to be used in the context of the word.

In his paper, On the Meaning of Philanthropy, Classical and Modern, by Marty Sulek (which I reference in this blog) the word "philanthropy" evolves in he following way in ancient Greek writings:

A. Theological - in reference to divine beings;

B. Philosophical - in reference to the status of the knower, knowledge, learning and other associated concepts;

C. Political - in reference to rulers, magistrates and other civic leaders;

D. Scientific - reference to an innate love of, or attraction to, human beings;

E. Fiduciary - in reference to financial generosity.

Question to our bloggers...

Which one best describes your definition the word "philanthropy"?








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