Benedictus XVI's first encyclical letter
January 25, 2006 4:08 AM   Subscribe

The just ordering of society and the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves: “Remota itaque iustitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia?”.
Eros and Agape, Justice, Charity, Marxism, and the separation of Church and State in Pope Benedictus XVI's first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est.
posted by matteo (14 comments total)
Latin text here
posted by matteo at 4:09 AM on January 25, 2006

Of course, it was written in Professor Ratzinger's native German: text here
posted by matteo at 4:13 AM on January 25, 2006

I'm about ¼ of the way through it, but I can already see glimpses of how my priest has been incorporating some of these thoughts into his homilies.
posted by sciurus at 4:35 AM on January 25, 2006

A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.


We have seen that the formation of just structures is not directly the duty of the Church, but belongs to the world of politics, the sphere of the autonomous use of reason. The Church has an indirect duty here, in that she is called to contribute to the purification of reason and to the reawakening of those moral forces without which just structures are neither established nor prove effective in the long run.


The direct duty to work for a just ordering of society, on the other hand, is proper to the lay faithful.

[..] charity must animate the entire lives of the lay faithful and therefore also their political activity, lived as “social charity”

All emphasis mine

So let's see. It's not Church duty to achieve just society, but indirectly it has a duty in "purifing reason" and adding moral support needed to conserve just structure.

What.."purifing reason" ? From what, from reason ?

Additionally, faithful people do charity by entering political activity and building a just ordering of society. So the Church isn't entering the politics, the faithful is and who's going to tell the faithful what's moral and just and "guide" him ?

There's a landmine in here somewhere...damn work, no more time.
posted by elpapacito at 5:12 AM on January 25, 2006

This encylical is badly needed. The Church today is facing a crisis in its engagement with human bodily desire as massive as that faced by Paul when he wrote to the church at Corinth. That said, I'm not optimistic that we'll find here some radically new, more generous moral anthropology.

Quick impression (I'm also 1/4 of the way through): Benedict confronts directly the peshat (i.e., non-allegorical) reading of the Song of Songs which has predominated since the Enlightenment. Standard Catholic exegesis has long strained to read the Song as an allegory of Christ's love for his Church or for the individual soul even as the prevailing winds pushed secular exegetes toward taking seriously the frankly carnal and erotic valences of the poem. Once scholars began noting its similarity to other types of erotic poetry in the ancient Near East such as the arabic wasf, it became ever more difficult to maintain that, at its core, this text (which mentions the divine name only once (in 8:6) and that in a strange sort of emphatic compound word: shalhevetYah ("Yah's fiery arrows", or something like that), was really about Divine/human love.

Read on its own terms, the Song is about the celebration of bodily desire and extra-marital (though not necessarily carnal!) indulgence. The fact of its canonization is astonishing because to read it is to see the love of and desire for bodies openly glorified.

Benedict rejects a view of divinized eros as "pagan". That's to be expected. But he still subordinates it to agape and in so doing, valorizes a model of Christian selfhood which privileges the soul, so constructed, over the body, directly experienced. As such, I doubt we'll find in this encylical new moral tools to help a celibate priest understand his sexuality as an organic and fundamental part of his self.

The "money shot" will be how Benedict counsels the use of desire. If he continues to elevate agape, I can't see how he can preach anything but restraint and submission. If he takes seriously the eroticism of biblical ahavah as described in the Song, and Hosea and other such texts, the sacrifices of his priesthood and generations of Catholic young people will begin to look like the scandalous tragedy that they are. If he avoids this confrontation, I think that this Encylical is nothing more than an exercise by the Pope (who styles himself a biblical scholar) of exegetical authority over potential, liberalizing interpretations of the Christian canon. I fear he's trying to take the bullets from guns that may be used in the coming war against revanchist Rome.

I'll gladly retract or modify my impressions as I continue reading, though. This is going to take some chewing over, I think.
posted by felix betachat at 5:17 AM on January 25, 2006

On a point of interest related to this FPP, the Vatican has apparently begun to invoke its copyright on papal documents and speeches to bill those who publish them.
posted by biffa at 5:37 AM on January 25, 2006

holy_father: yo, just pubd my 1st encyclical, it teh bomb. check it.
satan616: oh joe, always the comedian!
holy_father: ?
satan616: you can't be serious: Hinc vero minime eros repudiavit in se, sed quasi bellum indixit eius eversioni deletoriae, quoniam falsa divinizatio eros, quae hic contingit, destituit eum dignitate, eripit ei humanitatem.
satan616: you so didn't write that. c'mon. you would'nt know eros if you fell over it.
satan616: joe?
holy_father: gtg teh holy spirit is here really pissed.
satan616: oic divinely inspired no longer means checking it out with Them first before you publish? you guys up there really crack me up. laterz.
posted by moonbird at 5:37 AM on January 25, 2006

The Church today is facing a crisis in its engagement with human bodily desire

Oh it's just desire then? Jeez, and here I was thinking the Church's crisis was too many pedophile priests molesting young boys - and the Holy See's longstanding, willful blindness to these crimes.
posted by three blind mice at 5:55 AM on January 25, 2006

The only thing that bugs me in the first part is the continuing dependence on Aristotle. The historical context of Part I is pretty thorough. To me the operative point in the second part is:

We do not need a State which regulates and controls everything, but a State which, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces...

which seems to imply that the State should be a diaconia controlled by the Church. That makes me uneasy, and despite the claims of "legitimate autonomy" in social order, I think that implication remains possible. DANGER DANGER

One does not make the world more human by refusing to act humanely here and now.

Coming as that does in response to the Marxist critique that charity does more harm than good, all I can say to Marx is BURN!!!

felix:the sacrifices of his priesthood and generations of Catholic young people will begin to look like the scandalous tragedy that they are

I thought something similar when I read this:

Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness.

He does seem to kind of drop the gun when he switches from individual struggles with eros and agape to generalized applications of charity...
posted by sciurus at 5:55 AM on January 25, 2006

posted by klangklangston at 7:40 AM on January 25, 2006

Last week he told pilgrims that the "gift" of love between man and woman could develop over time into an unconditional love of Jesus, or "agape".

Huh-huh-huh-huh huh.

/this is fark, right?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 8:01 AM on January 25, 2006

There's a landmine in here somewhere

Oh there sure is. A lot of nice preaching about church/state separation but the practice is not as impressive is it?

Especially in Italy, the Vatican's involvement and influence in political debate is not and has never been that "indirect", not to mention the financial involvement with the bank system in all its scandal-and-corruption-ridden glory.

Credit where credit is due though, many of the Catholic charities do a lot of good work in a variety of areas.

sciurus - that's what the "principle of subsidiarity" means, the state provides some financial support for those charities, including religious ones, that serve some kind of social service function. Which is controversial in itself, especially when it includes schools, not just charities, but is far from claims of a state "controlled by the Church". At least in principle.
posted by funambulist at 8:46 AM on January 25, 2006

Following the example given in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison, etc. ... Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs. ... Charity, furthermore, cannot be used as a means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends.

posted by caddis at 8:48 AM on January 25, 2006

Elpapacito: The parts you've highlighted are not a surprise - it looks like a restatement of his anti-Liberation Theology views. There's more to it, but it will take a lot more reading.

Thanks to matteo for the post.
posted by patricio at 9:51 AM on January 25, 2006

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