The Summary of the Encyclical “Deus Caritas est”
Introduction: Pope Benedict XVI clearly brings out the destiny of Christian life in this encyclical “Deus Caritas Est”. The need of the hour has been realised by the Pope’s effort. Christian life is highlighted by Pope telling that it is an encounter with an event, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. The active role of love is well explained in and through this encyclical. Understanding the present condition, Pope vastly speaks of God’s love in order to make us to share that love with others also. Various dimensions and aspects of love are dealt for our better understanding about God’s love and man’s love. The Church’s role in propagating God’s love is emphasized and its goal has been clearly dealt.
The very beginning of the first part deals with an essential element that is love which helps us to know our purpose of our life and existence. Though multiplicity of meanings for love is mentioned, the love between man and woman stands out because of the union of body and soul as a result; it evokes irresistible promise of happiness. Of the three Greek words for love, eros, philia and agape, New Testament writers prefer the last, which occurs rather infrequently in Greek usage. Agape this word seems to be something new and significant. There was a new vision in using agape because it was new and different about the Christian understanding of love. In the pre-Christian world eros was celebrated as divine power, as fellowship with the divine. The Old Testament opposed this form of religion which represents a powerful temptation against monotheistic faith, but it never rejected eros in any way. It was rejected because of not giving dignity and for dehumanising attitudes. Human beings were not treated well just they were used means of arousing divine madness. Lack of human respect led them to exploit each other. So, there was a need to discipline and purify the eros because one thing was realised that it was not just a fleeting pleasure. In order to attain our goal, that is eternity, infinity we should not submit ourselves to instinct. This point is emphasised strongly here.
The uniqueness of human being is highlighted who is made up off body and soul. And we also understand that when both dimensions that are body and soul are united, then only man attains full stature. All of us are expected to balance both dimensions without giving importance to anyone. Today’s situation is portrayed very well where the body is so much exalted which is also deceptive. Man’s great ‘YES’ to the body is undeniable. How man’s body used as material and exploited is depicted well here.
Christian faith always considers man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter are brought to a new nobility. Since love leads us to divine, there arises a need of purification and healing. The best way of purification entails in the love where we show concern and care for others. The two Hebrew words such as ‘dodim’ was selfish in nature, but see that a transition takes place in the second word ‘ahaba’ where it seeks the good of the beloved. We are insisted that how this sort of love enables one to sacrifice for the sake of love. Thus the power of love is well explained here. The essence of love is highlighted by the sacrifice of Jesus himself. We too are called to sacrifice ourselves by self giving for the sake of love imitating Jesus our perfect model. The two notions such as ‘ascending’ love and a ‘descending’ love is differentiated very well.
The distinctions between those two notions are giving a clear picture about love in different aspects. The author strongly tells us that eros and agape – ascending love and descending love can never be completely separated. This above statement defends the unity and dependency of eros and agape with each other. We also get the idea that the nature of love in general is realised when we find a unity in the one reality of love. The need of giving and receiving in terms of love is a must. So in order to share the love with others we too are expected to receive from the original source that is Christ who gave himself for us for the sake of love for us (John 7:37-38). When Gregory interprets the vision of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28:12, he tells us that the good pastor must be rooted in contemplation. He also adds that how this contemplation helps one to offer himself for the needs of the other. Through this we understand that how love is selfless and genuine. By using the life of St. Paul, Gregory tells us that how having descended once more he was able become all things to all men (cf. 2Cor 12:2-4; 1Cor 9:22). Using the example of Moses in the Old Testament Gregory insists one thing that how the contemplation, dialogue with God enabled him to serve others. So, if we want to be at the service of others, we need to contemplate and we should have dialogue with God. This will strengthen us and enable us to serve others by giving up self seeking desires and attitudes.
The two elements such as the image of God and the image of man are dealt to show the newness of Biblical faith. A new image of God is presented by the world of Bible. The image of God was unclear and contradictory. The image of God was held as the one who created this universe which has its source in God. This idea is derived from the content of the prayer of Israel to God, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut 6:4).
The notion of creation is strongly emphasised as it was created by only one God who is the source of everything that lives on the earth. The dearness of God is highlighted through means of creation, which was willed by him and ‘made’ by him. The second important element that is God loves man, is described by the mention of Israel, which is chosen by God out of love for that nation, with a personal love yet it is also totally agape.
God’s passion for his people is described with images and metaphors by the prophets such as betrothal and marriage; idolatry is thus adultery and prostitution. We find a beautiful description of the relationship of fidelity between Israel and her God. God opens the Israel’s eyes to man’s true nature and showing the path leading to humanism by giving her the Ten Commandments. By being faithful to God, we can enjoy and experience real happiness and one can get the joy in God which becomes his essential happiness. We are also insisted that it is possible only through a life of fidelity to the one God. Hosea explains God’s love and passion for his people is entirely different from that of man. The uniqueness of God’s love is depicted clearly (Hos 11:8-9). God’s forgiving love can be understood if we look at the mystery of cross in which Jesus died for our sins in order to redeem us. The union between God and man creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one. This is explained clearly by the following reference from the Bible, “He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him”.
The second Biblical faith which consists in the image of man is dealt elaborately. One idea is emphasised that only in communion with the opposite sex, he can become complete (Gen 2:24). We understand that eros is somehow rooted in man’s nature. That is why man and woman they become together as one flesh. Through this eros a bond is taking place and it fulfils its deepest purpose. God’s way of loving becomes the measure of human love. So this makes us clear that how God expresses his love through measure of man’s human love to be union with him. In Jesus Christ we see the incarnate love of God and how it has been expressed through the whole humanity. The most radical form of love can be understood by the death of Christ on the cross and he gave himself for us, suffered for us and in order to give us redemption. When we engage ourselves in contemplation we can understand that how God loves us and how his love is deep. We can understand the starting point of this encyclical letter; “God is love” (1Jn 4:8). We are instructed to begin the definition of love from Christ who is the incarnate love of God.
The contemplation results in discovering the path along which his life and love must move. The act of oblation an enduring presence of Jesus through the institution of the Eucharist draws our attention.
This bread can be understood as new manna (cf. John 6:31-33). The Eucharist enables us to act like Jesus in sharing the love with others by giving self-seeking attitudes. By receiving the Eucharist, we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving. Thus the Eucharist plays an active role in enabling us to enter into the act of self-giving act that is seen in Jesus. We come closer to God by the union with God through sharing Jesus’ self-gift, sharing in his body and blood. Here we see a kind of human mystical elevation which could ever accomplish. The social character of sacramental mysticism is expressed by the communion with the Lord. St. Paul also confirms this union by the following passage “because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1Cor 10:17).
Love of God and Love of Neighbour: The real union with the Lord becomes possible, only when we are united with others. This communion makes us to come out of myself to serve and help the other in the time of their need. By doing this we become “one body”, completely joined in a single existence. The true union of love of neighbour and love of God is portrayed here very clearly. So we also understand that one cannot remain separated. Both should go hand in hand. Thus agape became a term for the Eucharist, and it comes to us bodily, in order to continue his work in us and through us. We are strengthened an enabled by Eucharist to continue to work like Jesus who gave himself for others and who was at the service of others out of love. Jesus’ teaching on love can only be understood only by keeping in mind this Christological and sacramental basis. Love can be “commanded because it has first been given more importance is given to neighbour’s concern in Jesus teaching. The concept of “neighbour” is now universalized. This calls every one of us to engage ourselves in practical commitment here and now. Love of neighbour is considered as most important criterion for the definitive decision about a human life’s worth. Jesus’ identification with the poor is an invitation for all of us to love our neighbours. “As you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). There is an unbreakable bond between love of God and love of our neighbour is expected and emphasized very much. Our love for God becomes meaningless when we are not ready to love our neighbour. So, St. John’s words clearly portray that love of neighbour is the only way to encounter God and to see him face to face.
Every activity of the Church is an expression of love. Because, the Church is rendering the service to these who are in need and it seeks to promote the goodness of all. Love is therefore the service that the Church carries out in order to attend constantly to man’s sufferings and his needs, including material needs. Every member of the ecclesial community has a greatest responsibility to serve others. As a community the Church is expected to practise love through charitable works which are the manifestations of love. Even the early Christians were aware of this and practising love by keeping all things in common. (Acts 2:44-45). Thus at present also the Church is expected to render service to those who are in need. Both the social and spiritual services were carried out in the early Church. In today’s situation also these both should be carried. This is what expected of us. As the Church grew, charity became an essential duty.
The Church cannot neglect the service of charity more than she can neglect the sacraments and the word. One thing is very clear that charitable activity of the poor and the suffering was naturally an essential part of the Church of Rome from the very beginning, based on the principles of Christian life given in the Acts of the Apostles. We are expected to imitate the apostles in the early Church to do the good things for all as a greatest responsibility. Justice is both the aim and the intrinsic criterion of all politics. Politics is more than a mere mechanism for defining the rules of public life: its origin and its goal are found in justice, which by its very nature has to do with ethics. Since the 9th century, an objection have been raised to the Church’s charitable activity, subsequently, Karl Marx emphasized that the poor needs justice and not the act of charity. Though the society must be the achievement of politics, the efforts of the Church to promote common is necessary and it also concerns the Church deeply. A willingness to engage ourselves for the service of others is recommended by the Church constantly. So, every faithful is obliged to carry out this task. The second Vatican council is the best example for promoting this goodness.
The Church is constantly trying hard to help others and promote goodness of others. Man’s very nature is inscribed by the Creator through the command of love of God and love of neighbour. Every individual person is expected to be responsible to the following tasks such as feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for sick, visiting those who are in the prison. These should be fulfilled not as an obligation alone but with heartfelt concern, one should fulfil. This will help one to experience the richness of humanity at a larger level.
We should not impose our faith on others by the charitable activity that we do to others. But the very act of charity which is rooted in Christ must draw them closer to Christ. Pope explains clearly the charity that is practiced from many levels such as diocesan level, parish, and the particular churches to the universal Church. However, the Church is all the more responsible to co-ordinate to do charitable activities in many levels. We need to be humble, if we want to be at the service of others. The very life of Jesus is an incomparable example of this humble activity by giving himself on the cross for our sins. The love of Christ itself is the great motivating factor to be at the service of others. In order to be aware of this selfless love that is Christ we need to have strong faith in God, and then only it will enable us to practice the virtue of love with others as Jesus did as a great service to all.
Conclusion: Having gone through this encyclical gives me an impression that the Pope has the interest to make the audience, the readers to be aware of God’s love fully and to share the same love with others. As we live in a competitive and consumeristic world man seems to be selfish and self-seeking but the object of this encyclical is very clear that it wants to bring a change in man’s heart from self-seeking attitudes to self giving attitudes for the sake of others. The emphasis on the love of God and the love of neighbour is fantastic and fabulous by using so many scriptural references and the Church’s teachings. Pope’s consideration to the love of neighbours is adding beauty to this encyclical. I hope certainly this encyclical would act as an inspiration to countless audience in experiencing the richness of human life.
- Bro. Satish, I Year Theology, Bangalore