Deus Caritas Est 12 February, 2006

How extraordinary it is to have a Pope whose first encyclical is on Love, and which he introduces in a recent address in the following words: ‘The cosmic excursion in which Dante wants to involve the reader in his Divine Comedy ends in front of the everlasting Light that is God himself, that Light which is at the same time the Love “which moves the sun and the other stars”. Light and love are but one thing. They are the primordial creative power that moves the universe.’ (A translation of the encyclical is available on the Vatican website and John Milbank’s commentary on it is available here.)

He goes on to say that while the pagan philosopher Aristotle also saw this fact about Love, Dante as a Christian was able to go beyond this. He knew that ‘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.’ Only God himself could reveal this to us: ‘God’s “eros” is not only a primordial cosmic force, it is the love that has created man and that bends before him, as the Good Samaritan bent before the wounded man, a victim of thieves, who was lying on the side of the road that went from Jerusalem to Jericho.’

He adds: ‘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 splendour 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. It is precisely this: that faith might become a vision-comprehension that transforms us.’

Thus he says, ‘Faith is not a theory that one can take up or lay aside… In an age in which hostility and greed have become superpowers, an age in which we witness the abuse of religion 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.’

In this way, the Pope seeks to give new depth to the notion that Love is at the centre of Christian existence, as expressed both in the love that finds expression in marriage, and in the charitable works that we must engage in. By emphasizing ‘love for the other that no longer seeks itself but that becomes concern for the other, willingness to sacrifice oneself and openness to the gift of a new human life’ the Pope has (among other things) reaffirmed and strengthened the Theology of the Body developed by his predecessor, which we will learn more about on our Study Day on 20 May.

Here is a link to the new Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church