01-02-2006 - Traces, n.2

Deus Caritas Est

The Humanity of Faith
On January 25th, Benedict XVI’s first encyclical was published. It has two parts; the first, on the essence of love: “The unity of love in creation and in salvation history;” the second, on Christian charity: “The practice of love by the Church as a community of love”

by Massimo Camisasca

A Pope’s first encyclical letter, at least in recent years, has always been a programmatic one. Many remember that of John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis, which Fr. Giussani chose as the text for School of Community for a whole year and continually referred to and commented on, focusing above all on the expression “Christ, center of the cosmos and of history.”
Older people will perhaps remember Paul VI’s Ecclesiam Suam, that Giussani included as an anthology among the texts for meditation in the “Three Days” at Varigotti in September 1963, a few weeks after its publication. These were programmatic texts in the sense that, in one way or another, they gave a reading of the actual state of the Church and the world, and a plan of action for the future. Benedict XVI took a different approach. At least it seemed like that when an encyclical letter on charity was first announced. In what sense could charity be a plan of action? In what sense does it concern people all over the world in our time? If we try to grasp the Pope’s intention, we discover that, far from getting lost in an analysis of the present day, he grasps what is most needed: reconciliation between man’s desires and love, two factors that today seem irremediably separated from each other. Anders Nygren, in a deservedly famous book in 1930, wrote that there is no possibility of encounter between Christian agape (the Greek word used by St. Paul and St. John to express the love of God) and the Greek eros (the platonic term used amongst other things to describe love as attraction, above all between persons).

Here, then, were the premises for a separation between life, made of infinite desires, and God, who, according to Nygren, wants to reign over the death of our desires. And what of Christianity? Is this what the Church wants for her children and for earthly man? The encyclical starts off from here, and overturns Nygren’s hypothesis, which had infiltrated the Western world since the end of the Middle Ages, with its “dolce stil novo” and its “disincarnate” love, its “distant” love. “Desire” is a word dear to Joseph Ratzinger and reveals the moments toward which he points his attention: the Fathers of the Church, particularly Augustine, and contemporary man. Augustine had made desire one of the pillars of his philosophy and his theology. It could not have been otherwise. Like few others, he had felt vibrating within him all the strings of human desire and had traveled his road in search of the truth and the good as an anxious and uneasy pilgrimage toward a place, a “You” in which to find an answer. For desire, or eros, is love in as much as it feels the absence of the loved one: it is love that wants to have what it lacks, that sets off to find it, and accepts the challenge. “Has mankind failed the Church, or has the Church failed mankind?” Eliot asked in a chorus we know all too well. The whole of the Pope’s encyclical revolves around this question. On one hand, there is no doubt that, following Aristotle, for example, a Christian in the Western Middle Ages lived a separation between eros and agape, between love as passionate desire and love as the gratuitous gift of self, or charity.

Eros and agape
The Middle Ages, however, was more than this. Suffice it to think of the Fathers of the East, the great mystics like St. Bernard, William of St. Thierry, St. Francis, or poets like Dante. The Pope goes so far as to say that it is thanks to Christian revelation, prepared by the Old Testament, that the separation between eros and agape was overcome and their intimate need for each other demonstrated. So the center of the encyclical is a reading of the history of salvation, in the language used by the biblical prophets which refers to the constitutional dimensions of love.
Eros is love as passionate desire for a good that is lacking. Eros is desire striving for what is missing. Ever since God created man, one can say that eros entered into God. He feels in Himself a nostalgia for our return to Him, He longs passionately for the response of our love. Just think of the parables in Chapter 15 of Luke’s Gospel, the lost sheep and the prodigal son. A lover desires the love of his beloved. This truth reveals itself progressively through the history of the covenant between God and the people that chose this elective, total love. In the prophet Hosea, the Bible begins to present the drama of the love between God and the people of Israel with images of astonishing intensity. Then the Song of Songs is the book in which the “erotic” nature of the relationship between God and His creature finds its supreme expression.
If love is understood as eros and desire for union with the beloved, it is clear that only with the incarnation of the Word is God’s love for man fully revealed. But this eros is at the same time agape, the gift of self, precisely because it is a love that comes down in search of the beloved and sacrifices itself for man to the point of the supreme gift of life. It is before Christ that the words of the Song of Songs about evil and the death of the other can be understood: love is as strong as death, envy as tenacious as the grave.

Charity, gift of self
It is in the Eucharist, the Pope says, that we contemplate and discover in an eminent way the mystery of God’s eros-agape for man. The image of God’s enthusiasm for Israel becomes a reality that could not be imagined before. Thanks to the gift God makes of Himself, we enter into communion with His body and His blood, we are united to His life. Here we see Benedict XVI’s familiarity with the Eucharistic mystery, which reveals itself as the key for understanding the whole of his current Magisterium.
Thus, we understand how genuine Christian charity, far from being opposed to eros, is in fact its fulfillment. Only because man (in the Christian community) experiences God’s passionate love for him, can he give himself freely to his neighbor, because he sees in his neighbor the image of his “Beloved,” Jesus Christ. This is the conclusion of the first part of the Pope’s letter.

Charity at work
The second part, dedicated to the practice of charity by the Church, considers the charitable structures born over the centuries within the ecclesial community, particularly Caritas. In his unwritten homily on January 18th, referring to this second part of the encyclical, the Pope affirmed that the Church “must also love as a Church, as a community, institutionally. And this so-called “Caritas” is not a mere organization like other philanthropic organizations, but a necessary expression of the deepest act of personal love with which God has created us.”
Traces will address this second part of the encyclical in the next issue, offering witnesses of individuals and initiatives as they measure themselves against the contents of the encyclical.

the cl movement’s gratitude
for the holy father

In the first lines of his encyclical, the Pope reminds us that “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.” The Pope stresses that Christ takes hold of the whole of human nature–soul and body–and brings it to fulfillment; in doing so, he demonstrates the humanity of the faith, because of which it is reasonable to be Christian. The encyclical speaks of God who lets Himself be so moved by man’s situation that He becomes in Christ “body and blood,” in such a way that “we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving.” The love of Christ, still today, also makes itself visible “in the men and women who reflect his presence.” Those who let themselves be taken up in this initiative of Christ’s can become witnesses to charity as a moved giving of self, that is, as a sharing in our fellow man’s deepest desire for happiness, and as the attempt to create signs and works of new humanity in the circumstances of life. In these times of confusion, we thank Benedict XVI for reminding everyone of the nature of Christianity, and Christians of the continual need to change, so that faith not be reduced to ideas or to ethics.
Julián Carrón, Milan, January 27, 2006

Deus caritas est
Here are some excerpts from the encyclical

“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 Jn 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.”
We have come to believe in God’s 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. Saint John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should... have eternal life” (3:16). (…)

Part One. The unity of love in creation
and in salvation history
A problem of language

2. God’s love for us is fundamental for our lives, and it raises important questions about who God is and who we are. In considering this, we immediately find ourselves hampered by a problem of language. 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. (…)
5. Love promises infinity, eternity–a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence. Yet we have also seen that the way to attain this goal is not simply by submitting to instinct.(…)
This is due first and foremost to the fact that man is a being made up of body and soul. 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.(…)
Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love–eros–able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur.(…)
Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure “sex,” has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. (…)
6. It is part of love’s growth toward 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 toward its definitive goal: love looks to the eternal. (…)
12. The real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts–an unprecedented realism. In the Old Testament, the novelty of the Bible did not consist merely in abstract notions but in God’s unpredictable and in some sense unprecedented activity. This divine activity now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the “stray sheep”, a suffering and lost humanity. (…)
His 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. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ (cf. 19:37), we can understand the starting-point of this Encyclical Letter: “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move.
13. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving. (…)
14. Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom he gives himself. I cannot possess Christ just for myself; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, his own. Communion draws me out of myself towards him, and thus also toward unity with all Christians. We become “one body”, completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbour are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to himself.
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. (…)
16. Can we love God without seeing him? (…)
17. True, no one has ever seen God as e is. And yet God is not totally invisible to us; he does not remain completely inaccessible. God loved us first, says the Letter of John quoted above (cf. 4:10), and this love of God has appeared in our midst. He has become visible in as much as he “has sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him” (1 Jn 4:9). God has made himself visible: in Jesus we are able to see the Father (cf. Jn 14:9).… Nor has the Lord been absent from subsequent Church history: he encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect his presence. (…)
Love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvellous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love. (…)
Contact with the visible manifestations of God’s 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. Acknowledgment of the living God is one path toward love, and the “yes” of our will to his will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all- embracing act of love. But this process is always open-ended; love is never “finished” and complete; throughout life, it changes and matures, and thus remains faithful to itself. (…)
The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and God’s will increasingly coincide: God’s will is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realization that God is in fact more deeply present to me than I am to myself.[10] Then self- abandonment to God increases and God becomes our joy (cf. Ps 73 [72]:23-28).
18. Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. (…)

Part Two. Caritas. The practice of love
by the Church as a “community of love”
25. Thus far, two essential facts have emerged from our reflections:
a) The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.[17]
b) The Church is God’s family in the world. In this family no one ought to go without the necessities of life. Yet at the same time caritas-agape extends beyond the frontiers of the Church. The parable of the Good Samaritan remains as a standard which imposes universal love towards the needy whom we encounter “by chance” (cf. Lk 10:31), whoever they may be. (…)
28. a) Fundamental to Christianity is the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God (cf. Mt 22:21), in other words, the distinction between Church and State, or, as the Second Vatican Council puts it, the autonomy of the temporal sphere.[19] The State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions. For her part, the Church, as the social expression of Christian faith, has a proper independence and is structured on the basis of her faith as a community which the State must recognize. The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated.
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 God’s 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. This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now, to the acknowledgment and attainment of what is just. (…)
b) Love–caritas–will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. 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.
29. The mission of the lay faithful is therefore to configure social life correctly, respecting its legitimate autonomy and cooperating with other citizens according to their respective competences and fulfilling their own responsibility.[22] Even if the specific expressions of ecclesial charity can never be confused with the activity of the State, it still remains true that charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as “social charity”.[23] (…)
36. When we consider the immensity of others’ needs, we can, on the one hand, be driven toward an ideology that would aim at doing what God’s governance of the world apparently cannot: fully resolving every problem. Or we can be tempted to give in to inertia, since it would seem that in any event nothing can be accomplished. (…)
39. Faith, hope and charity go together. Hope is practiced through the virtue of patience, which continues to do good even in the face of apparent failure, and through the virtue of humility, which accepts God’s mystery and trusts him even at times of darkness. Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory. Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love. Love is the light–and in the end, the only light–that 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 practice it because we are created in the image of God. 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.

41. Outstanding among the saints is Mary, Mother of the Lord and mirror of all holiness. (…) Mary’s greatness consists in the fact that she wants to magnify God, not herself. She is lowly: her only desire is to be the handmaid of the Lord (cf. Lk 1:38, 48). She knows that she will only contribute to the salvation of the world if, rather than carrying out her own projects, she places herself completely at the disposal of God’s initiatives. Mary is a woman of hope: only because she believes in God’s promises and awaits the salvation of Israel, can the angel visit her and call her to the decisive service of these promises. (…)
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 25 December, the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, in the year 2005, the first of my Pontificate.

[10] Cf. Saint Augustine, Confessions, III, 6, 11: CCL 27, 32.
[17] Cf. Congregation for Bishops, Directory for the Pastoral Ministry of Bishops Apostolorum Successores (22 February 2004), 194, Vatican City 2004, p. 213.
[19] Cf. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 36.
[22] Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life (24 November 2002), 1: L’Osservatore Romano, English edition, 22 January 2003, p. 5.
[23] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1939.

© Copyright 2005 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Love that moves the sun and the other stars
From the address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the participants at the meeting promoted by the Pontifical Council “Cor Unum.” Sala Clementina, Monday, January 23, 2006

The cosmic excursion in which Dante, in his Divine Comedy, wishes to involve the reader, ends in front of the perennial Light that is God himself, before that Light which is at the same time “the love that moves the sun and the other stars” (Par. XXXIII, v. 145). Light and love are one and the same. They are the primordial creative powers that move the universe.
If these words in Dante’s Paradiso betray the thought of Aristotle, who saw in the eros the power that moves the world, Dante nevertheless perceives something completely new and inconceivable for the Greek philosopher. Not only that the eternal Light is shown in three circles which Dante addresses using those terse verses familiar to us: “O everlasting Light, you dwell alone/In yourself, know yourself alone, and known/And knowing, love and smile upon yourself!” (Par. XXXIII, vv. 124-126).
As a matter of fact, even more overwhelming than this revelation of God as a Trinitarian circle of knowledge and love is the perception of a human face–the face of Jesus Christ–which, to Dante, appears in the central circle of the Light. God, infinite Light, whose immeasurable mystery the Greek philosopher perceived, this God has a human face and–we may add–a human heart.
This vision of Dante reveals, on the one hand, the continuity between Christian faith in God and the search developed by reason and by the world of religions; on the other, however, a novelty appears that surpasses all human research, the novelty that only God himself can reveal to us: the novelty of a love that moved God to take on a human face, even to take on flesh and blood, the entire human being.
The eros of God is not only a primordial cosmic power; it is love that created man and that bows down over him, as the Good Samaritan bent down to the wounded and robbed man, lying on the side of the road that went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. (…)
It was my aim to shed light on the centrality of faith in God; in that God who took on a human face and heart. Faith is not a theory that can be personalized or even set aside. It is something very concrete: it is the criteria that determines our lifestyle. In an epoch where hostility and greed have become superpowers, an epoch where we support the abuse of religion to the point of deifying hatred, neutral rationality alone cannot protect us. We need the living God, who loved us even to death. And so, in this Encyclical, the themes “God,” “Christ” and “Love” are fused together as the central guide of Christian faith. I wanted to reveal the humanity of faith, of which eros is a part; the “yes” of man to his bodiliness created by God, a “yes” that in an indissoluble matrimony between man and woman finds its form rooted in creation.
And here it also happens that the eros is transformed into agape: that love for the other which is no longer self–seeking but becomes concern for the other, ready to sacrifice for him or her and also open to the gift of a new human life.