Why Love is the Theme – Benedict XVI

The cosmic excursion in which Dante wants to involve the reader in his Divine Comedyends before the everlasting light that is God himself, before that light which at the same time is the love “which moves the sun and the other stars” (Paradise XXXIII, verse 145). Light and love are but one thing. They are the primordial creative power that moves the universe.

If these words of the poet reveal the thought of Aristotle, who saw in the eros the power that moves the world, Dante’s gaze, however, perceives something totally new and unimaginable for the Greek philosopher.

Eternal light not only is presented with the three circles of which he speaks with those profound verses that we know: “Eternal Light, You only dwell within Yourself, and only You know You; Self-knowing, Self-known, You love and smile upon Yourself!” (Paradise XXXIII, verses 124-126).

In reality, the perception of a human face — the face of Jesus Christ — which Dante sees in the central circle of light is even more overwhelming than this revelation of God as trinitarian circle of knowledge and love.

God, infinite light, whose incommensurable mystery had been intuited by the Greek philosopher, this God has a human face and — we can add — a human heart.

In this vision of Dante is shown, on one hand, the continuity between the Christian faith in God and the search promoted by reason and by the realm of religions; at the same time, however, in it is also appreciated the novelty that exceeds all human search, the novelty that only God himself could reveal to us: the novelty of a love that has led God to assume a human face, more than that, to assume the flesh and blood, the whole of the human being.

God’s eros is not only a primordial cosmic force, it is love that has created man and that bends before him, as the Good Samaritan bent before the wounded man, victim of thieves, who was lying on the side of the road that went from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Today the word “love” is so tarnished, so spoiled and so abused, that one is almost afraid to pronounce it with one’s lips.

And yet it is a primordial word, expression of the primordial reality; we cannot simply abandon it, we must take it up again, purify it and give back to it its original splendor so that it might illuminate our life and lead it on the right path.

This awareness led me to choose love as the theme of my first encyclical.

I wished to express to our time and to our existence something of what Dante audaciously recapitulated in his vision. He speaks of his “sight” that “was enriched” when looking at it, changing him interiorly (cfr. Paradise XXXIII, verses 112-114).

It is precisely this: that faith might become a vision-comprehension that transforms us. I wished to underline the centrality of faith in God, in that God who has assumed a human face and a human heart.Faith is not a theory that one can take up or lay aside. It is something very concrete: It is the criterion that decides our lifestyle.

In an age in which hostility and greed have become superpowers, an age in which we witness the abuse of religion to the point of culminating in hatred, neutral rationality on its own is unable to protect us. We are in need of the living God who has loved us unto death.

Thus, in this encyclical, the subjects “God,” “Christ” and “love” are welded, as the central guide of the Christian faith. I wished to show the humanity of faith, of which eros forms part, man’s “yes” to his corporeal nature created by God, a “yes” that in the indissoluble marriage between man and woman finds its rooting in creation.

And in it, eros is transformed into agape, love for the other that no longer seeks itself but that becomes concern for the other, willingness to sacrifice oneself for him and openness to the gift of a new human life. The Christian agape, love for one’s neighbor in the following of Christ, is not something foreign, put to one side or something that even goes against theeros; on the contrary, with the sacrifice Christ made of himself for man he offered a new dimension, which has developed ever more in the history of the charitable dedication of Christians to the poor and the suffering.

A first reading of the encyclical might perhaps give the impression that it is divided in two parts, that it is not greatly related within itself: a first, theoretical part that talks about the essence of love, and a second part that addresses ecclesial charity, with charitable organizations.

However, what interested me was precisely the unity of the two topics, which can only be properly understood if they are seen as only one thing.

Above all, it was necessary to show that man is created to love and that this love, which in the first instance is manifested above all as eros between man and woman, must be transformed interiorly later into agape, in gift of self to the other to respond precisely to the authentic nature of the eros.

With this foundation, it had then to be clarified that the essence of the love of God and of one’s neighbor described in the Bible is the center of Christian life, it is the fruit of faith.

Then, it was necessary to underline in a second part that the totally personal act of theagape cannot remain as something merely individual, but, on the contrary, it must also become an essential act of the Church as community: that is, an institutional form is also needed that expresses itself in the communal action of the Church.

The ecclesial organization of charity is not a form of social assistance that is superimposed by accident on the reality of the Church, an initiative that others could also take. On the contrary, it forms part of the nature of the Church.

Just as to the divine Logos corresponds the human announcement, the word of faith, so also to the agape which is God must correspond the agape of the Church, her charitable activity.

This activity, in addition to its first very concrete meaning of help to the neighbor, also communicates to others the love of God, which we ourselves have received. In a certain sense, it must make the living God visible. In the charitable organization, God and Christ must not be strange words; in fact, they indicate the original source of ecclesial charity. The strength of “Caritas” depends on the strength of faith of all its members and collaborators.

The spectacle of suffering man touches our heart. But charitable commitment has a meaning that goes well beyond mere philanthropy. God himself pushes us in our interior to alleviate misery. In this way, in a word, we take him to the suffering world.

The more we take him consciously and clearly as gift, the more effectively will our love change the world and awaken hope, a hope that goes beyond death.

 

Zenit.org. Benedict XVI has published his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, God is love. Why did he write it? Why did he choose this theme? What was his intention? The Holy Father responds to these questions in the text below.

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Pope Benedict XVI

Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, was born in Bavaria, Germany, on April 16, 1927, Holy Saturday, and baptized the very same day, in the newly blessed Easter water. This special baptism was seen from the beginning of his life as a very special blessing of Divine Providence. Josef and his brother George entered the seminary and were ordained priests together on June 29, 1951. After receiving his doctorate in theology from the University of Munich in 1953, Fr. Joseph Ratzinger became a professor of dogmatic theology at the University of Bonn. When Vatican Council II began in 1962, Fr. Ratzinger, only 35 years old at the time, was named chief “peritus” or theological advisor to the Archbishop of Cologne, Joseph Cardinal Frings and accompanied him to all four sessions of the council, having input on the writing of several of the Council Documents. From 1969 until 1977 he taught theology at the University of Regensburg and, from 1969 until 1980, he was a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. Fr. Joseph Ratzinger was ordained archbishop of Munich-Freising on May 28, 1977 and was created a cardinal priest by Pope Paul VI on June 27, 1977, his titular church in Rome being St. Mary of Consolation (in Tiburtina). On April 5, 1993 Cardinal Ratzinger was transferred by Pope John Paul II to the order of cardinal bishops as titular bishop of the suburbicarian see of Velletri-Signi. In 1981 Cardinal Ratzinger became the Prefect (head) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican department in charge of protecting the sacred deposit of the faith handed on from the apostles. As such, he was Pope John Paul II’s chief assistant in the formulation of the Pope’s teaching and writing. There is perhaps no one who worked more closely with Pope John Paul II during the course of his pontificate. Cardinal Ratzinger would generally have lengthy private meetings with the Pope twice per week. Before his election as Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger also served president of the Pontifical Biblical and Theological Commissions. On November 6, 1998, Cardinal Ratzinger was appointed Vice-dean of the Sacred College of Cardinals. Prior to the death of Pope John Paul II, he served as a member of the Congregation of Bishops, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Congregation for Catholic Education, the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, the Council for Christian Unity, the Council for Culture, the Commission Ecclesia Dei, and the Commission for Latin America. As prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Ratzinger had a decisive role in the writing of the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” signed in October 1999 by the Holy See and the World Lutheran Federation in Augsburg, Germany. The declaration, one of the most important ecumenical steps since Martin Luther’s split with the Catholic Church in the 16th century, took place thanks to the dialogue held in November 1998 between Cardinal Ratzinger and Lutheran Bishop Johannes Hanselman in Munich. As he approached his mid-seventies, Cardinal Ratzinger attempted to retire several times, but Pope John Paul II would not accept his resignation. It seems Pope John Paul II knew God had other plans for the German Cardinal. At 78, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005, only the second day of the conclave. This speedy election demonstrates a remarkable consensus on the part of the 115 Cardinals who elected him by a two-thirds majority. Their vote was for a defender of the truth, a man of prayer, a humble servant of the servants of God. Besides his academic articles and official Church documents, the new Pope Benedict XVI provides us with a window into his mind and heart through several books, the Ratzinger Report (1996), The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000), God and the World (2002) and Introduction to Christianity. For those who have had the privilege of knowing him personally, what is most striking about him is his simplicity, humility, and childlike wonder at things. His self-effacing manner is combined, however, with a firm but gentle courage in defending the faith in all its fullness and integrity. In his resolute opposition to error, he is however, never personally defensive since he has no ego to protect. It is worth noting that on his coat of arms, Benedict replaced the traditional papal tiara with a bishop’s miter with three stripes representing the Church’s three-fold mission to teach, sanctify, and govern. At his inaugural Mass, he took the time to explain the importance of the pallium which symbolizes the shepherd’s mission and the yoke of Christ.