01/23/2006, 00.00
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Pope's encyclical: love that becomes the gift of oneself to the other

Benedict XVI's second preview on the topic of "Deus caritas est", his first encyclical.  To the members of Cor Unum: Charity is not an optional; to God's Agape there must be a corresponding Church agape.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) – Starting from the Christian image of God, "Deus caritas est", Benedict XVI's first encyclical, to be published on the 25th, shows "how man is created to love and how this love, which initially appears mainly as eros between man and woman, must then from within transform itself into agape, into the gift of oneself to the other – for the very purpose of responding to the true nature of eros."  This is the leitmotiv that holds together the document's "single" content.  It was the Pope himself who today introduced in this way the encyclical's topic, which he chose to "underscore the centrality of faith in God, in that God which took on a human face and a human heart" and to affirm that "faith is not a theory that one can make one's own or even set aside.  It is something very concrete. It is the criterion that determines our lifestyle."

Benedict XVI used the occasion of his audience with the participants of a "Cor Unum" meeting to give a second "preview" of his encyclical after the one he gave last Wednesday at his general audience.  "My hope was to try to explain for our day and age and for our existence," the Dantesque concept of the "cosmic excursion", that "Light which is at the same time 'the Love that moves the sun and the other stars' (Paradise 33.145)."  A "Trinitarian circle of knowledge and love" in which "it is the perception of a human face – the face of Jesus Christ – which appears to Dante in the central circle of Light."  It is the "novelty of a love that brought God to take on a human face,  to take on in fact flesh and blood, the whole human being.  God's eros is not only a primordial cosmic force; it is love that created man and bows toward him."

"The word 'love'", he went on to say, "is today so dilapidated, so worn out and abused that there is almost the fear of letting it blossom on one's lips.  And yet, it is a primordial word, an expression of the primordial reality; we cannot simply abandon it, but we must take it back, purify it and restore it to its original splendour, so that it may enlighten our life and put it on the right path. It was this awareness that brought me to choose love as the theme of my first Encyclical."  "In an age in which hostility and greed have become superpowers, in an age in which we see religion abused to the point that it becomes the apotheosis of hate, neutral rationality on its own is not able to protect us.  We need the living God, who loved us unto death.  Thus, in this Encyclical, the topics of "God, "Christ" and "Love" are fused together as the central guide to Christian faith.  I wished to show the humanity of faith, of which eros is a component – the "yes" of man to his corporeity created by God, a "yes" which in the indissoluble marriage between man and women finds its form rooted in creation.  And there it happens that eros turns into agape – that love for the other no longer looks for oneself, but becomes concern for the other, willingness of sacrifice for him and openness also the gift of a new human life.  Christian agape, love for one's neighbour according to Christ's example, is not something that is foreign to, placed alongside or even against eros; rather, in the sacrifice that Christ made of himself for man, it finds a new dimension that, in the history of the charitable dedication of Christians to the poor and suffering, has developed ever more."


Thus it is that, "starting from the Christian image of God, there was the need to show how man is created to love and how this love, which initially appears mainly as eros between man and woman, must then transform itself within into agape, into the gift of oneself to the other – for the very purpose of responding to the true nature of eros.  On this basis, it was then necessary to clarify that the essence of the love of God and of one's neighbour described in the Bible is the centre of Christian existence, is the fruit of faith.  Further on, however, in a second part, it was necessary to stress that the completely personal act of agape can never remain a solely individual thing, but must instead become also an essential act of the Church as community: it also needs, that is, an institutional form that expresses itself in what the Church does as a community.  The ecclesial organization of charity is not a form of social assistance that just happens to add itself on to Church reality, an initiative that could even be left to others.  It is instead part of the nature of the Church.  Just as human announcement, the word of faith, corresponds to the divine Logos, the Church's agape, its charity activity, must correspond to Agape, which is God.  This activity, beyond its primary and very concrete meaning of helping one's neighbour, has essentially also that of communicating to others God's love that we ourselves have received." (FP)

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