Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature (Deus Caritas Est 5).
The long-awaited first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI was released on 25 January. After much speculation about its content and thus indicators of future directions for the Catholic Church, the encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), has received wide praise and approval amid many sighs of relief.
Dissident Swiss theologian, Hans Kung, has reportedly said that the encyclical is a ‘positive’ sign and that the pope’s next encyclical should treat ‘the structures of justice in the institutional Church’. (Catholic World News, reporting an interview with the Italian daily, La Stampa.)
The editorial of The Tablet
declares that the encyclical confirms Benedict as ‘a man of humour, warmth, humility and compassion, eager to share the love that God ‘lavishes’ on humanity and display it as the answer to the world’s deepest needs …’ and that he has ‘produced a profound, lucid, poignant and, at times, witty discussion of the relationship between sexual love and the love of God…’ The editorial concludes with: ‘If first encyclicals set the tone for a new papacy, then this one has begun quite brilliantly.’
Closer to home, the immediate past editor of OnLine Catholics, Chris McGillion, writes in the Sydney Morning Herald that ‘There is just enough interpretative latitude to keep alive both the hopes of those who would like to see him become a church reformer and the confidence of those who expect his pontificate to be a clone of that of John Paul II.
‘Overall, however, the substance of this encyclical – God’s love for humanity and humanity’s appropriate response – and the way in which it is treated are curiously uncontroversial and incontrovertible. In this may lay the clue to Benedict’s real intention in issuing this letter to the Catholics of the world… No one can argue with his reasoning precisely because it is uncontroversial and incontrovertible. Yet in this way, Benedict has cleverly established a theological mandate for what may yet prove to be a surprising pontificate.’
Prominent papal commentator, Paul Collins, writes in The Australian that reading the encyclical produced a unique experience – that it engaged his curiosity.
‘Reading it, I found myself talking to myself, agreeing, questioning, underlining and admiring the clarity of Pope Benedict’s text. It has been well translated into English and reflects none of the original turgid and convoluted Latin that one found in translations of past encyclicals.’
We’ll have more about the second part of Benedict XVI’s first encyclical in the next issue of Wel-com.