|Pope Benedict XVI|
Deus Caritas Est
(encyclical letter of Pope Benedict XVI, on Christian love)
Copyright © 2005, Libreria Editrice Vaticana
We have come to believe in Gods love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. [...] Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4:10), love is now no longer a mere command; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.
In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant. For this reason, I wish in my first Encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn must share with others.
The Unity of Love
and in Salvation History
|A problem of language||2.|
Today, the term love has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings. [...]
[...] Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love; all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison. So we need to ask: are all these forms of love basically one, so that love, in its many and varied manifestations, is ultimately a single reality, or are we merely using the same word to designate totally different realities?
|Eros and Agape difference and unity||3.|
That love between man and woman which is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings, was called eros by the ancient Greeks. [...] The tendency to avoid the word eros, together with the new vision of love expressed through the word agape, clearly point to something new and distinct about the Christian understanding of love. In the critique of Christianity which began with the Enlightenment and grew progressively more radical, this new element was seen as something thoroughly negative.
Did Christianity really destroy eros? Let us take a look at the pre-Christian world. The Greeksnot unlike other culturesconsidered eros principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a divine madness which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness. [...] In the religions, this attitude found expression in fertility cults, part of which was the sacred prostitution which flourished in many temples. Eros was thus celebrated as divine power, as fellowship with the Divine.
The Old Testament firmly opposed this form of religion, which represents a powerful temptation against monotheistic faith, combating it as a perversion of religiosity. But it in no way rejected eros as such; rather, it declared war on a warped and destructive form of it, because this counterfeit divinization of eros actually strips it of its dignity and dehumanizes it. Indeed, the prostitutes in the temple, who had to bestow this divine intoxication, were not treated as human beings and persons, but simply used as a means of arousing divine madness: far from being goddesses, they were human persons being exploited. An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then, is not an ascent in ecstasy towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man.
|5.||Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved. Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness.|
|Eros, reduced to pure sex, has become a commodity, a mere thing to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly mans great yes to the body. On the contrary, he now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will.|
It is part of loves growth towards higher levels and inward purification that it now seeks to become definitive, and it does so in a twofold sense: both in the sense of exclusivity (this particular person alone) and in the sense of being for ever. Love embraces the whole of existence in each of its dimensions, including the dimension of time. It could hardly be otherwise, since its promise looks towards its definitive goal: love looks to the eternal.
|7.||Yet eros and agapeascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized.|
|The newness of biblical faith||9.||The divine power that Aristotle at the height of Greek philosophy sought to grasp through reflection, is indeed for every being an object of desire and of loveand as the object of love this divinity moves the worldbut in itself it lacks nothing and does not love: it is solely the object of love. The one God in whom Israel believes, on the other hand, loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: among all the nations he chooses Israel and loves herbut he does so precisely with a view to healing the whole human race.|
The philosophical dimension to be noted in this biblical vision, and its importance from the standpoint of the history of religions, lies in the fact that on the one hand we find ourselves before a strictly metaphysical image of God: God is the absolute and ultimate source of all being; but this universal principle of creationthe Logos, primordial reasonis at the same time a lover with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agape.
|11.||From the standpoint of creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond which is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfil its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. Gods way of loving becomes the measure of human love. This close connection between eros and marriage in the Bible has practically no equivalent in extra-biblical literature.|
|Jesus Christ the incarnate love of God||13.||The ancient world had dimly perceived that mans real foodwhat truly nourishes him as manis ultimately the Logos, eternal wisdom: this same Logos now truly becomes food for usas love. The Eucharist draws us into Jesus act of self-oblation. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.|
|15.||Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbour. The concept of neighbour is now universalized, yet it remains concrete. Despite being extended to all mankind, it is not reduced to a generic, abstract and undemanding expression of love, but calls for my own practical commitment here and now. The Church has the duty to interpret ever anew this relationship between near and far with regard to the actual daily life of her members.|
|Love of God and love of neighbour||16.||The unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbour is emphasized. One is so closely connected to the other that to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbour or hate him altogether. Saint Johns words should rather be interpreted to mean that love of neighbour is a path that leads to the encounter with God, and that closing our eyes to our neighbour also blinds us to God.|
God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has loved us first, love can also blossom as a response within us.
In the gradual unfolding of this encounter, it is clearly revealed that love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. [...] It is characteristic of mature love that it calls into play all mans potentialities; it engages the whole man, so to speak. Contact with the visible manifestations of Gods love can awaken within us a feeling of joy born of the experience of being loved. But this encounter also engages our will and our intellect.
|18.||If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, solely out of a desire to be devout and to perform my religious duties, then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely proper, but loveless. Only my readiness to encounter my neighbour and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and how much he loves me.|
The Practice of Love
by the Church
as a Community of Love
|Charity as a responsibility of the Church||20.||As the Church grew, this radical form of material communion could not in fact be preserved. But its essential core remained: within the community of believers there can never be room for a poverty that denies anyone what is needed for a dignified life.|
|Justice and Charity||28.||
Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics. The State must inevitably face the question of how justice can be achieved here and now. But this presupposes an even more radical question: what is justice? The problem is one of practical reason; but if reason is to be exercised properly, it must undergo constant purification, since it can never be completely free of the danger of a certain ethical blindness caused by the dazzling effect of power and special interests.
Here politics and faith meet. Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God—an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. From Gods standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly.
|There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love. Whoever wants to eliminate love is preparing to eliminate man as such. [...] In the end, the claim that just social structures would make works of charity superfluous masks a materialist conception of man: the mistaken notion that man can live by bread alone (Mt 4:4; cf. Dt 8:3)a conviction that demeans man and ultimately disregards all that is specifically human.|
|The distinctiveness of the Churchs charitable activity||31.|
Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs. The modern age, particularly from the nineteenth century on, has been dominated by various versions of a philosophy of progress whose most radical form is Marxism. Part of Marxist strategy is the theory of impoverishment: in a situation of unjust power, it is claimed, anyone who engages in charitable initiatives is actually serving that unjust system, making it appear at least to some extent tolerable. This in turn slows down a potential revolution and thus blocks the struggle for a better world. Seen in this way, charity is rejected and attacked as a means of preserving the status quo. What we have here, though, is really an inhuman philosophy. People of the present are sacrificed to the moloch of the futurea future whose effective realization is at best doubtful. One does not make the world more human by refusing to act humanely here and now. We contribute to a better world only by personally doing good now, with full commitment and wherever we have the opportunity, independently of partisan strategies and programmes.
|Those responsible for the Churchs charitable activity||36.||Prayer, as a means of drawing ever new strength from Christ, is concretely and urgently needed. People who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation appears desperate and seems to call for action alone. Piety does not undermine the struggle against the poverty of our neighbours, however extreme. In the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta we have a clear illustration of the fact that time devoted to God in prayer not only does not detract from effective and loving service to our neighbour but is in fact the inexhaustible source of that service.|
It is time to reaffirm the importance of prayer in the face of the activism and the growing secularism of many Christians engaged in charitable work. Clearly, the Christian who prays does not claim to be able to change Gods plans or correct what he has foreseen. Rather, he seeks an encounter with the Father of Jesus Christ, asking God to be present with the consolation of the Spirit to him and his work. A personal relationship with God and an abandonment to his will can prevent man from being demeaned and save him from falling prey to the teaching of fanaticism and terrorism. An authentically religious attitude prevents man from presuming to judge God, accusing him of allowing poverty and failing to have compassion for his creatures. When people claim to build a case against God in defence of man, on whom can they depend when human activity proves powerless?
|38.||Even in their bewilderment and failure to understand the world around them, Christians continue to believe in the goodness and loving kindness of God (Tit 3:4). Immersed like everyone else in the dramatic complexity of historical events, they remain unshakably certain that God is our Father and loves us, even when his silence remains incomprehensible.|
|39.||Love is the lightand in the end, the only lightthat can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage needed to keep living and working. Love is possible, and we are able to practise it because we are created in the image of God.|
|Conclusion||42.||In the saints one thing becomes clear: those who draw near to God do not withdraw from men, but rather become truly close to them.|
text checked (see note) Feb 2006