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These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: In the same verse, Saint John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: We have come to believe in God’s love: 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: In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth.
The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence: Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus: Since God has first loved us cf.
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. That, in essence, is what the two main parts of this Letter are about, and they are profoundly interconnected.
Deus caritas est (December 25, ) | BENEDICT XVI
The first part is more speculative, since I wanted here—at the beginning of emcyclique Pontificate—to clarify some essential facts concerning the love which God edus and gratuitously offers to man, together with the intrinsic link between that Love and the reality of human love. The second part is more concrete, since it treats the ecclesial exercise of the commandment of love of neighbour. The argument has vast implications, but a lengthy treatment would go beyond the scope of the present Encyclical.
I wish to emphasize some basic elements, so as to call forth in the world renewed energy and commitment in the human response to God’s love.
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. Even though this Encyclical will deal primarily with the understanding and practice of love in sacred Scripture and in the Church’s Tradition, we cannot simply prescind from the meaning of the word in the different cultures and in present-day usage.
Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, one in particular stands encyclque 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: 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.
Let us note straight away caritsa the Greek Old Testament uses the word eros only twice, while the New Testament does not use it at all: As for the term philiathe love of friendship, it is used with added depth cafitas meaning in Saint John’s Gospel in order to express the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. The tendency to avoid the word erostogether with the new vision of love expressed through the word agapecarritas 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. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, Christianity had poisoned eroswhich for its part, while not completely succumbing, gradually degenerated into vice. Doesn’t she blow the whistle just when the joy which is the Creator’s gift offers us a happiness which is itself a certain foretaste of the Divine?
But is this the case? Did Christianity really destroy eros? Let us take a look at the pre- Christian world. All other powers in heaven and on earth thus appear secondary: 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. Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns.
Two things emerge clearly from this rapid overview of the concept of eros past and present. First, there is a certain relationship between love and the Divine: Yet we have also seen that the way to attain this goal is not simply by submitting to instinct.
Purification and growth in maturity are called for; and these also pass through the path of renunciation. 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. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness. The epicure Gassendi used to offer Descartes the humorous greeting: 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. Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed.
Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. 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.
Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of bodiliness. Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which encycliuqe is brought to a new nobility.
Concretely, what does this path of ascent and purification entail? How might love be experienced so that it can fully realize its human and divine promise? Here we can find a first, important indication in the Song of Songsan Old Testament book well known to the mystics.
Editions of God Is Love: Deus Caritas Est by Pope Benedict XVI
According to the interpretation generally held today, the poems contained in this book were originally love-songs, perhaps intended for a Jewish wedding feast and meant to exalt conjugal love. First there is the word dodima plural form suggesting a love that is still encycliqud, indeterminate and encycluque. Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: It is part of love’s growth towards higher levels and inward purification that it now seeks to become definitive, and it does so in a twofold sense: 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: In these words, Jesus portrays his own path, which leads through the Cross to the Resurrection: Starting from the depths of his own sacrifice and of the love that reaches fulfilment therein, he also portrays in these words the encycliqud of love and indeed of human life itself.
By their own inner logic, these initial, somewhat philosophical reflections on the essence of love have now brought us to the threshold of biblical faith. More significantly, though, we questioned whether the message of love proclaimed to us by the Bible and the Church’s Tradition has some points of contact with the common human experience of love, or whether it is opposed to that experience.
This in turn led us to consider two fundamental words: There are other, similar classifications, such as the distinction between possessive love and oblative love amor concupiscentiae — amor benevolentiaeto which is sometimes also added love that seeks its own advantage.
In philosophical and theological debate, these distinctions have often been radicalized to the point of establishing a clear antithesis between them: Were this antithesis to be taken to extremes, the essence of Christianity would be detached from the vital relations fundamental to human existence, and would become a world apart, admirable perhaps, but decisively cut off from the complex fabric of human life.
Yet eros and agape —ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The caritae 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 element of agape thus enters into this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone.
He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from carutas rivers of living water flow cf. Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God cf.
In the account of Jacob’s ladder, the Fathers of the Church saw this inseparable connection between ascending and descending love, between eros which seeks God and agape which passes on the gift received, symbolized in various ways.
In that biblical passage we read how the Patriarch Jacob saw in a dream, above the stone which was his pillow, a ladder reaching up to heaven, on which the angels of God were ascending and descending cf. Deux particularly striking interpretation of this vision is presented by Pope Gregory the Great in his Pastoral Rule.
He tells us that the good pastor must be rooted in contemplation. Only in this way will he be able to take upon himself the needs of others and make them his own: He also points to the example of Moses, who entered the tabernacle time and again, remaining in dialogue with God, so that when he emerged he could be at the service of his people. We have thus come to an sncyclique, albeit still somewhat generic response to the two questions raised earlier. Yet when the two dimensions are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at encyxlique an impoverished form of love.
And we have also seen, synthetically, that biblical faith does not set up a parallel universe, or one opposed to that primordial human phenomenon which is love, but rather accepts the whole man; it intervenes in his search for love in order to purify it and to reveal new dimensions of it. This newness of biblical faith is shown chiefly in two elements which deserve to be highlighted: First, the world of the Bible presents us with a new image of God.
In surrounding cultures, the image of God and of the gods ultimately remained unclear and contradictory.
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In the development of biblical faith, however, the content of the prayer fundamental to Israel, the Shemabecame increasingly clear and unequivocal: There is only one God, the Creator of heaven cairtas earth, who is thus the God of encycllique.
Two facts are significant about this statement: Certainly, the notion of creation is found elsewhere, yet only here does it become absolutely clear that it is not one god among many, but the one true God himself who is the source of all that exists; the whole world comes into existence by the power of his creative Word. The second important element now emerges: 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 love —and as the object of love this divinity moves the world  —but in itself it lacks nothing and does not love: