Thursday, January 26, 2006

Notes on Deus Caritas Est

Notes on Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical, Deus Caritas Est.

First Part


  • There are many kinds of love, but the love between a man and a woman is the epitome. This kind of love, which is not planned or willed, but somehow imposed on us, is called eros by the ancient Greeks.

  • Agape love is used in the New Testament for a new kind of love, one that is giving.

  • The Enlightenment and Friedrich Nietzsche claimed that Christianity has poisoned eros, with all of its rules and regulations. But is this true?

  • The ancient Greeks considered eros to be an intoxication, or divine madness. They thought that it allows man to experience supreme happiness. This led to fertility cults and temple prostitution.

  • The Old Testament rejects this form of religion. Eros is dehumanized, and the temple prostitutes are degraded and exploited. Instead, eros needs purity and discipline.

  • Love promises much, but must not be reduced to instincts. Instead it must be purified and mature.

  • Man is a unity of both body and spirit. Both body and soul must be united in love.

  • Nowadays, eros is reduced to just sex, a commodity. The exaltation of the body can readily lead to a hatred of it. Christian unity of body and soul lead to a need for "ascent, renunciation, purification and healing."

  • The Old Testament book Song of Songs is a great mystical portrayal of love: it begins by self-seeking, intoxication, and happiness, and ends by seeking the good of the other, renunciation, and self-sacrifice. This is a great illustration of eros love leading to agape love.

  • Higher love is exclusive and eternal.

  • The Enlightenment set up a philosophical antithesis between ascending eros love and descending agape love, with the former being worldly, and the latter being Christian. This is not the Catholic tradition, which sees these two kinds of love as a unity. Man must give and receive love to be a whole person.

  • Jacob's ladder is a symbol for this unified kind of love.

  • Biblical faith is unique in the world in that God loves Man. God, in particular, seeks out Israel as his beloved, in a free and undeserved manner, not just for the benefit of Israel, but for the whole world. This is both eros love and agape love.

  • God is portrayed as a lover seeking out his beloved, and Israel's idolatry is seen as adultery and prostitution.

  • God's love is ultimately forgiving, even choosing His love over His justice.

  • The mystics tell us that union with God is possible, and like lovers, although the two become one flesh, there isn't a fusion, but they remain individuals, and a single love is found between them.

  • Eros is a part of human nature, and leads to marriage, where agape love can flourish. The bond between God and Israel is also a marriage, exclusive and eternal.

  • Christ seeks his lost sheep and gives up his life on the Cross. Here God shows His love prevailing against His justice.

  • The Eucharist is the enduring presence of the Cross and Resurrection, where Christ continues to give his whole self. This is an even greater image of the marriage between God and Israel.

  • Eucharistic communion integrates both kinds of love, and makes all the Church and Christ one body as in a marriage bond.

  • Faith, worship, and morality are inseparable, because of the unity of the Eucharist.

  • The love for neighbor is now universal; but this is not limited to abstract feelings, but must be commitment in the here and now.

  • Christ identifies himself with the poor, the stranger, the sick, and the imprisoned.

  • We are to love God and each other. We cannot have one without the other.

  • Love is not merely a sentiment, but is a unity of our intellect, will, and sentiments with the other. Lovers eventually become of one mind. Having love with God, then, is not just following a set of rules or commandments, but instead is doing God's Will because that is your will also. In this way, we can love our neighbor because we love with God's love, and see our neighbor through Christ's eyes..

  • You don't practice charity if you do it by command, but only if it comes from love from within.


  • Second Part

  • Reflect on the role of the Deacons in the Book of Acts: these men "full of the Spirit and Wisdom" exercise the charity ministry in a well-ordered, communitarian way, providing a well-ordered love of neighbor.

  • The three missions of the Church are Evangelization, the Liturgy, and Charity.

  • Marxism says that we must not do charity, but instead pursue social justice. This is mistaken.

  • Catholic social teaching is codified in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, published in 2004 by the Pontifical Council Iustitia et Pax. The Church asserts that this doctrine has universal secular applicability.

  • Social Justice is not the business of the Church, that is the business of politics. However, the Church must be free to inform politics on justice, using reason guided by faith.

  • The State must have justice as its goal, otherwise it is just thievery: an exercise in special interests and power. Ethical blindness is always a danger.

  • Politics is more than just making rules of public life. It must use reason and be moral.

  • Catholic social teaching is based on reason and the natural law (human nature). The role of the Church in politics is to provide moral formation and purification of reason.

  • The Church cannot take up the political battle for social justice; that is the role of the State, but instead must use rational argument and awaken the spiritual energy of people.

  • Love is needed even in a just society. A bureaucracy is incapable of providing loving, personal concern. The claim that social justice makes charity unneeded is materialist and ignores the spiritual component of the human being.

  • Charity must not be confused with Justice.

  • The laity has the responsibility to be involved in politics.

  • Modern communications makes it easy for us to see the suffering of others throughout the world, and to become aware of both spiritual and material poverty.

  • Civil society exceeds individual means of providing charity.

  • Cooperation between Church and State agencies can give a Christian flavor to these activities.

  • Catholics need to cooperate with other Christian groups in doing charity.

  • Christian charity must not just be social services.

  • Charity workers must be professional, but also have a heartfelt concern for others. "Love of neighbor" must flow from their faith.

  • Charity is to be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not to change the world. Instead, it is for spontaneously meeting personal needs of individuals.

  • Evangelization and Charity are separate missions of the Church and should not be confused. Love is free and is not a means to another end. Even though the lack of God is a main reason for suffering, the faith must never be imposed on others. Silent love is the best example.

  • Charity is to be practiced at all levels: the individual, parish, particular church, and universal church.

  • All who work for Catholic charities must have a deep love of Christ; they must not be inspired by ideologies that promise to improve the world, and they also must be willing to cooperate with the Church and the Bishop.

  • Remember what Saint Paul said: "If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, I gain nothing‚".

  • Charity is the giving of the self.

  • Those who serve others must be humble, and must not consider themselves superior to those they serve. Being able to serve others is not a merit, but a grace. We are only God's instruments; the burden of saving the world is not on us, we do what we can.

  • We must not be driven by ideologies that claim to solve every problem; likewise, we should not give in to inertia where we think that we can't do anything.

  • Those who do charity must have a deep prayer life. Prayer takes primacy over action, even in desperate situations.

  • Activism and secularism has taken over much Christian charitable work. Instead, prayer conforms us to God's Will.

  • In the face of overwhelming dispair, we must remember Job and Christ on the Cross.

  • "Faith, Hope, and Charity go together". Love is the only light that can illuminate "a world grown dim"; it gives us courage to go on.

  • We must recall the lives of the Saints: Martin of Tours, Anthony of the Desert, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, John of God, Camillus of Lellis, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Giuseppe B. Cottolengo, John Bosco, Luigi Orione, Teresa of Calcutta, and emulate them.

  • We must emulate the Blessed Virgin Mary, who lives in God's Will and is imbued with God's Word.

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