Wednesday 25 January 2006

Benedict XVI's encyclical: God is love

Just hours ago, Benedict XVI released his much-anticipated first encyclical, entitled “Deus caritas est” (“God Is Love”). He describes the purpose of the encyclical in these words: “To experience love and in this way to cause the light of God to enter into the world—this is the invitation I would like to extend with the present Encyclical.” The first part of the encyclical speaks of the love of God, and the second part speaks of the Church’s call to love. You can read the full text of the encyclical in English here.

One can only hope that the Holy Father will later address specific problems such as marriage, contraception and human sexuality. But regardless of these concerns, this is a profound encyclical, and it holds significant promise for the future. I’d encourage you to read it carefully. Here are some quotes:

“God’s eros for man is also totally agape. This is not only because it is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love which forgives.”

“[Jesus’] death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form.”

“The Spirit is also the energy which transforms the heart of the ecclesial community, so that it becomes a witness before the world to the love of the Father, who wishes to make humanity a single family in his Son. The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man.”

“Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically … but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs.”

“Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends.”


T.B. Vick said...

wow, some excellent words. I especially like - "[Jesus’] death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form."

That is the living gospel.

Ap said...

It seems to me that he had radical Islam in mind in the beginning when he talks about using the name of God for violence. He also (indirectly) tackles liberation theology in the second part.

If I am not mistaken, I heard that a part of the encyclical was written by John Paul the Great. It's great that it's not that long though.

Jim said...

The last one is a bit puzzling isn't it. It seems to me that the christian mission has always engaged in attempting to urge others to come to faith in Christ- and that said mission was motivated by love. What can the Holy Father mean by what he writes?

Anonymous said...

A tour de force, no doubt about that. I think some re-reading and measured reflection are in order lest our responses be hasty.

But (ignoring my advice!) picking up on Apololonio's two points. First, my initial reaction to the God, violence and vengeance reference is that the pope had the US Christian Right in his sights as much as militant Islam.

Second, on the "tackling" of liberation theology - to call it "indirect" is being too kind! As Joseph Ratzinger liberation theology was the pope's bête noir. And here he is at his most politically Lutheran. (In his biography Pope Benedict XVI, John Allen, Jr. observes that "after Augustine, there is probably no premodern Christian writer who has exercised more influence of Ratzinger's thought" than Martin Luther.) To wit, the dichotomy he sets up between faith and politics as the sphere of "the autonomous use of reason". This two kingdoms theology worries me: in his political theology I wish the pope had learned a little bit more from Barth, a little bit less from Luther. And don't you get the feeling that, for the pope, the church in its practice of faith, unlike the state in its deployment of reason, is somehow untainted by sin, somehow exempt from self-interest, ideology and injustice?

Ap said...


I think you emphasize too much on him being influenced by Luther. It must be noted that his doctoral dissertations were on Augustine's ecclesiology (of course, he read City of God) and Bonaventure's theology of history, emphasizing Bonaventure's criticism of Joachim (See John Allen's article: I should note that Benedict does not believe that Bonaventure rejects Joachim's thought altogether as Aquinas did. See Theology of History in St. Bonaventure, Franciscan Herald Press 1989, pgs. 104-118)

I should also note that he was influenced by Hans Urs von Balthasar who is famous for saying, "Forseeing that, Christ sent his believers into the whole world as sheep among wolves.Before making a pact with the world it is necessary to meditate on that comparison."

Anonymous said...

Well, whatever its origin - and Augustine's political pessimism would be sufficient to explain it - and of course Luther's doctirne of the two kindom's was a medieval take on Augustine's doctrine of the two cities - and, agreed, Hans Urs von Balthasar's antipathy to liberation is a profound influence on the Pope's thought - the question remains: Has the pope's visceral fear of totalitarianism and the politicization of Christianity caused him to over-egg his temporal dualism?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the above should, of course, read "HUvB's antipathy to liberation theology".

Anonymous said...

An exegetical point occurs to me about HUvB's reference to Matthew 10:16, cited in Apolonio's post.

As the following verses make clear, the "wolves" are actually Jewish adversaries - Jesus probably has the Pharisees in mind (cf. Matthew 7:15 - "false prophets"; cf. also John 10:12). In other words, they come from within the house of Israel, not from HUvB's "world".

Of course there may other biblical grounds supportive of a church/world dualism on which to build a case against liberation theology's deployment of Marxist analysis and its alleged failure to take eschatology seriously. But Matthew 10:16, I'd suggest, actually rather goes to to support the question I raised about the dangers of a church that looks for splinters in the world's eyes when it's got planks sticking out of its own - and a church that fails to see that the Spirit can speak through the world against the church.

Ben Myers said...

To reply to your query, Jim: I think the pope is exactly right to emphasise that love can never be a "means" to another end, since this would be a denial of the freedom that always characterises love. But the encyclical isn't trying to undermine "proselytism" as such. Here's the broader context of the statement that I quoted:

"Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends. But this does not mean that charitable activity must somehow leave God and Christ aside. For it is always concerned with the whole man. Often the deepest cause of suffering is the very absence of God. Those who practise charity in the Church's name will never seek to impose the Church's faith upon others. They realize that a pure and generous love is the best witness to the God in whom we believe and by whom we are driven to love. A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak."

Ap said...

Hey Kim!

I just got back from a Cardinal Dulles lecture which had pretty much the same topic we're talking about. He labelled Benedict counter-cultural, but the encyclical was "transformative," meaning, that there is some good in this world and the evil parts must be transformed by the gospel. And that seems to me what Benedict was saying. That's clear, for example, when he speaks of purifying eros (I'm speaking with the assumption that you read it). This also brings up the issue of grace and nature. One can speak of politics being nature and the Church being grace. Now, it is true that we should not separate them in such a way that they cannot or cannot seem to be united. Henri de Lubac rejected that and Benedict knows fully well of that problem. However, it must also be noted that the telos of politics and the telos of the Church are different. The question is, is the State or politics' telos the Church?

As for your exegesis, I don't see any problem with it. But if in the Church there are wolves in sheep's clothing, if that is the type of environment in the Church (the grass is green), then what must be the environment outside her?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Apolonio. Your post is helpful.

But I would (wouldn't I!) hesitate about your last remark about the "environment" extra ecclesiam. Karl Barth always insisted that "it was the church, not the world, that crucified Christ"; he warned the church about its "nostrification of God" in which we simply elide the project of the church with the project of God; and he spoke of the lie as "the specifically Christian form of sin", compared to which the world's falsehoods are a mere "epihenomenon".

Not surprisingly, Barth and Hans Urs von Balthasar had disagreements about all this - about the postiton of the church as the "field of possible and actual representations of the history of Jesus Christ" (quoted in Eberhard Busch, The Great Passion, p. 252) and its relation to the world.

Perhaps what it comes down to is that for all of our ecumenical rapprochement, there would seem to be a fundamental (and insurmountable?) disagreement here between Roman and Reformed ecclesiologies.

Anonymous said...

I would like to recommend Ratziger's Introduction to Christianity as well.

Ap said...


Thanks for the post. It made me ponder a couple of things.

I guess I would disagree with K. Barth's statement that it was the Church and not the world that crucified Christ. It is true that His own people rejected Him (John 1), but it seems to me, from a Catholic's perspective, that Adam was a representative of the whole human race and his sin led us to give Christ His Cross. The Cross is, as von Balthasar noted, the incarnation of sin. In a paradoxical way, the world which crucified Christ, is also the world that Christ died for. He died for the whole human race. (I pondered: is it because the world crucified Christ that He died for them or is it because Christ was willing to die for the whole world that the world crucified Him? Maybe both?)

If Christ died for the whole world, then it seems to me that there is a place for Him extra ecclesiam in some way. In fact, this is the Catholic position, that there are elements of the Church outside her visible structure.

I can understand K. Barth's remarks from a reformed perspective in the sense that he believe limited atonement and therefore Christ died only for the Church (hence, the church crucified Him). I'm not sure if that's his position though, is it?

But I agree with you in our different ecclesiologies. I think a primary point that must be made is, did Christ die for the world or for the Church? Maybe this might be the question that can lead us to answer on Church vs. world issue.

David Williamson said...

There's a wonderful Barthian ring!

"[Jesus’] death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him"

In fact, does anyone know if the two ever met? Ratzinger's erstwhile pal Hans Kung certainly had contact with Barth.

Anonymous said...

One thing for sure is that KB was not a limited-atonement, or Christ-died-for-the-church alone, man. Just the reverse! KB's complete recasting of Calvin's grim doctrine of predestination into a joyful doctrine of election - which is the pinnacle of his dogmatics, which he called "the sum of the gospel", and which, in my view, is one of the great imaginative constructions in the history of Christian thought - brought him accusations of being an Origenist. Indeed KB anticipated HUvH in his hope for an empty hell (see my post immediately below in "HUvB: love alone").

And, yes, KB and HUvB knew each other - fratres sejuncti, they were nevertheless friends, though their theological disagreements sometimes put a strain on the relationship (HUvB thought Barth over-played his Christological hand and under-played his trinitarian hand). As the aging KB continued to churn out his dogmatics, HUvB delightfully referred to his most worthy opponent as "you eternal cornucopia"! You will find a picture of them together in a group of "the heads of the Swiss churches at Leuenberg, 28 February 1968" in Eberhard Busch's biography Karl Barth, p. 479.

Anonymous said...

KB and Ratzinger also knew each other. They talked together in Rome during Vatican II, as a result of which KB invited JR to participate in a seminar he held during the winter semester 1966-67 on the constitution Dei Verbum (De divina revelatione) from Vatican I.

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