|01-03-2006 - Traces, n.3
Deus Caritas Est proposes the Church’s “ministry of charity” to be an education of the human heart in love as the way to respond to the drama of the contemporary need for justice in this world
Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, is the logical follow-up to John Paul II’s effort of evangelization. In a certain way, John Paul offered us the content of the Church’s message, while Pope Benedict points us to the method, namely, an education in love. Deus Caritas Est proposes the Church’s “ministry of charity” to be an education of the human heart in love as the way to respond to the drama of the contemporary need for justice in this world. In that sense, the encyclical is a reflection and deepening of the appeal for education: “If there was an education of the people, everybody would live better.”
But for Benedict, charity’s power is not that of an external, ethical inspiration. Charity transforms the human heart itself, the source of our judgments and actions. The Church’s contribution to the struggle for a better world is an education of the heart in charity.
At the very beginning of the second part, Pope Benedict underlines the centrality of the gift of the Holy Spirit that is the fruit of Christ’s redemption of the world. This Spirit “harmonizes” the human heart with Christ’s heart and moves it to love as Christ loves (cf. 19). We have here an echo of the patristic view of the history of salvation as the education of man’s heart to divine life, and of God’s heart, so to speak, to human life–the education of eros to agape and of agape to eros. This education by the Spirit “transforms the heart” of the ecclesial community. The evangelization of the world through Word and Sacrament becomes in this way a force that “promotes man in the various arenas of life and human activity.” This service or ministry of charity is thus essential to the nature of the Church, and its power is educative. This education in charity is the “method” through which evangelization becomes an event in human history. Without this method, the Gospel remains an abstraction and nothing really changes. The principle of subsidiarity, which is so central to the Church’s social doctrine, is thus not much more than just an ethical principle. But in reality, it expresses a consequence of the Incarnation.
Although the Church’s ministry of charity is different from the State’s obligation to pursue social justice, the education in love offered by the ministry of charity also contributes to the pursuit of justice by the effect it has on human reason. With this insistence, Pope Benedict again responds to the position of those theologies of social justice that would uncritically embrace an analysis and judgment about the concrete demands of justice separate from the experience of faith. Such an analysis must be indeed the work of reason but, as an educative reality, the ministry of charity has an impact on reason itself.
The problem of justice is certainly a problem 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 effects of power and special interests” (28). Indeed, at this point, “politics and faith meet.” This statement of Pope Benedict will certainly disturb those–including Catholics, and especially Catholic politicians–that insist on a radical separation between their faith and their political life. Again and again, Pope Benedict insists on the fact that the Church does not get involved in politics as such, and that non-Christians have nothing to fear from the Church’s proposals concerning the demands of justice. It is absolutely true that faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. The “purification of reason” is thus not an imposition to non-believers of “ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith” (ibid.). The purification of reason occurs within the “autonomous sphere of reason” itself and can be verified by reason. This conviction of the Church is the “risk” of education.