Deus caritas est: A Symposium
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The editors of Communio are pleased to devote the Fall, 2006 issue of the journal to a symposium on Pope Benedict XVI’s inaugural encyclical, Deus caritas est. We have taken this step for three interrelated reasons. First, out of gratitude for the election of Joseph Ratzinger, one of the founders of Communio, to the papacy. Second, because, as the discussion of the encyclical in the following pages will make abundantly clear, the document is a timely, original, and intellectually interesting text by one of the most acute theological minds working anywhere in the Christian world. Third, because the Church must wrestle with the question of eros if it is going to find the resources to counter the evacuation of significance from the physical world that is one of the greatest obstacles to the Gospel today. As Benedict explains in the encyclical, the word “love,” though of course much abused, names not only the fundamental human experience, but the foundation, the core, the really real itself, which took on a human face in Jesus: “God is love.” Deus caritas est is, among many other things, a reminder that St. John’s affirmation of God’s being love is not at all banal or harmless, but connotes the energy of a raging fire that implacably consumes everything that it touches—which is precisely everything.
In “The Unity of Love and the Face of Man: An Invitation to Read Deus caritas est,” Angelo Cardinal Scola offers a complete section-by-section commentary on the encyclical; he highlights the anthropological significance of the unity of eros and agape and finds in this unity the key to the coherence of the two parts of the document.
David L. Schindler’s “Charity, Justice, and the Church’s Activity in the World” also provides a comprehensive commentary on Deus caritas est, in which Schindler stresses how the unity of eros and agape in the first part of the text indicates a reading of the second part that takes us beyond the conventional manner of merely juxtaposing the demands of love and justice. What Benedict is proposing, Schindler argues, is that ecclesial communio is the inner form of the Christian exercise of intelligence in worldly order.
John Milbank, in “The Future of Love. A Reading of Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Deus caritas est,” then complements Scola and Schindler with a brief panorama of the encyclical’s concerns, especially of its defense of eros.
The encyclical’s recovery of the unity of eros and agape has already been noted. It may be regarded as a golden thread linking together the contributions that follow.
D. C. Schindler explains the radicalness of the pope’s understanding of the unity of love in “The Redemption of Eros: Philosophical Reflections on Benedict XVI’s First Encyclical.” Here Schindler shows that the real novelty of Christianity is not that it attributes generosity to God, but that it builds eros into the heart of that generosity.
In “The Logic of Love and the Unity of Catholic Truth: Reflections on Deus caritas est,” Michael Hanby draws on the same oneness of love in order to exhibit the encyclical as an example of Ratzinger’s and the Church’s unified response to a range of seemingly disparate contemporary issues; whether it is dealing with gay marriage or biotechnology, the Church is resisting the evacuation of the significance of the physical world, which is to say its intrinsic lovability.
Rodney Howsare’s “Why Begin With Love? Eros, Agape, and the Problem of Secularism,” similarly focuses on Benedict’s recovery of the differentiated unity of love as an answer to secularism that, in Howsare’s view, preserves both the distinctiveness and the universal relevance of Christianity to this world in its worldliness.
In “Deus caritas est and the Retrieval of a Christian Cosmology,” Larry S. Chapp confirms the fruitfulness of the pope’s rediscovery of the unity of love for the understanding of worldly being: the unity of eros and agape, of interiority and exteriorization, becomes for Chapp the key to a rehabilitation of teleology and to a recovery of the goodness of the world beyond the sterile alternative of evolution versus Intelligent Design.
Our two final articles on the encyclical focus on aspects less directly touched on by the others. Thus, Roch Kereszty’s “Deus caritas est: A Potential to Renew Christian Life and Thought” examines not only the unity of love—a concrete expression of the unity of reason and revelation—but also the unity of the two Testaments, the unity of faith, worship, and ethos, and the significance of the encyclical for a genuine liberation theology and for interreligious dialogue.
Finally, Ricardo Aldana, writing in “‘The Word of God is not chained’ (2 Tim 2:9). The Encyclical Deus caritas est as an Exercise in Biblical Thinking,” presents the document as an expression of the freedom of thought that flows from the adoption of revelation as the standpoint for addressing the fruitful tension between love of God and love of the world in the unity of eros and agape.
We close the present number of the journal with a Notes and Comments contribution that responds to the recent proposal of some moral theologians such as Martin Rhonheimer that married couples in which one of the spouses is HIV-positive could legitimately use condoms providing that they do not intend to contracept. David S. Crawford, writing in “Conjugal Love, Condoms, and HIV/AIDS,” shows that such a use of condoms, even presuming no contraceptive intent, would still violate the structure of the conjugal act as a certain privileged type of physical union in whose very material structure is inscribed a dynamic of personal self-gift. Crawford’s piece is a fitting conclusion to an issue devoted to Deus caritas est, for it makes the case that the Church has a compelling interest in the defense of the scandalous claim—as scandalous as the Incarnation—that the physicality of sex has a beautiful form whose integrity needs to be respected as an “anticipatory sign of self-gift,” to cite the late Pope John Paul II.
Finally, we welcome two new members to the editorial board of the English-language Communio: Rev. Antonio López, F.S.C.B., assistant professor of theology, and Dr. David S. Crawford, assistant professor of moral theology and family law, both at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America.
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