Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Way of Love: Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Encyclical 'Deus Caritas Est' (Part 1)

If you're going to read The Way of Love reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, plan on taking your time with it. It's not a book you want to rush through.

Benedict's Book Club has been reading the Pope's encyclical Deus Caritas Est, (DCE) for the past two months, during which time I've been reading one of the essays/reflections from TWoL approximately every two or three days. I was adding short reviews of those individual papers until the review got too long and cumbersome. Nevertheless, I'm glad I wrote them as I went along because it helped me record the evolution of my impressions both to the encyclical and to other authors' ideas contained therein. Initially I saw no connection among the various pieces, each seeming to look out from the original work as from a geographical center. However, a little over a third of the way into the work, the overlap became readily apparent, most notably in discussions concerning the interplay between érōs and agápē.

TWoL is a collection of twenty-seven reflections written on Pope Benedict XVI's Encyclical Deus Caritas Est (DCE) by professors from Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family. The writings comprise scholarly articles from a variety of perspectives but all seeking to address the theological and philosophical issues raised in the Pope's first encyclical, DCE.

I'll be the first to admit, I'm no scholar. Yes, I read a lot. But I haven't attended formal schooling in years. These writings are scholarly pieces and no lightweight reading. I found more than a few of them to be dense and very challenging. Fortunately they're mostly less ten pages in length, mostly. It was good for me to stretch myself with this book. I know I got so much more out of DCE as a result of reading TWol. I highly recommend it; I hope there will a book like this for all of Benedict's encyclicals.

Here are the reviews for the first nine articles.

1. Introduction: The Way of Love, Camillo Cardinal Ruini: provides an introduction to the book as well as giving an overview of the encyclical itself, its theological importance, overall significance to history and the sources of PBXVI's insights. Brief but extremely helpful.

2. Love: The Encounter With An Event, Livio Melina: somewhat mystical reflection on love as an event that happens to us, a gift that is given. Our existence and our faith are not acts of our will or thoughts, but come freely from a God Who is Love. Probably the least scholarly work I've encountered thusfar.

3. The Way of Love in the Church's Mission to the World, David L. Schindler: focuses on the second half of the encyclical, the Church's charitable mission to the world as understood in DCE. 'Union with God entails union with all those to whom He gives Himself.' (DCE 14) Basically an elaboration of some aspects of Part II of DCE.

4. "The Love that Moves the Sun and the Other Stars": Light and Love, Stanislaw Grygiel: one of my favorites! Not sure if it was because I got so many good quotes or because of the "Aha!" experience I had while I was reading this one night. Here is just one of my favorite quotes: 'Agápē descends from eternity, and érōs desires to move out of time: eternity is its future. For this reason, only those who with faith, hope and love, in some way already dwell in eternity understand time and know how to carry themselves in it.' Profound and beautiful article.

5. Has Christianity Poisoned Érōs?, Jaroslaw Merecki: philosophical essay discussing various approaches to handling sexual desires from Nietzsche through Freud to the Sexual Revolution. PBXVI says in DCE, '...(the) love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love; all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison.' It would seem the answer is a resounding "No!"

6. Love between Man and Woman: The Epitome of Love, William E. May: made me aware of even greater depths in the text by revealing the Latin translations of the word "love". By comparing the English text with the Latin, we see that PBXVI 'argues that amor integrates into one the different kinds of "love" identified by érōs and agápē.

7. Érōs: Ambiguity and the Drama of Love, Giovanni Salmeri: a historic journey through philosophical and theological understandings and wrestling with érōs. An undeniable reality, érōs has been viewed with distrust, as ambiguous folly. Ultimately, we're shown the saints throughout history who have known God as the ultimate Érōs.

8. The Unity of the Human Person under the Light of Love, José Granados: speaks to the positive and integrated aspects of humanity when Love is at the core. 'Give me someone who loves, and he will understand, by the light of his love, that man is one, in body and soul.' An important article in its insistence that science and religion remain married, both disciplines committed to seeing human beings as both body and soul.

9. Agápē, the Revelation of Love and Its Appeal to the Heart: A Comment of Deus Caritas Est in Light of John Paul II's Category of "Elementary Experience", Margaret Harper McCarthy: the event of Jesus crystallizes the the reward in the higher form of love, i.e., the beloved being the reward, 'the joy of being with that person whom the lover takes as goodin se and whose good the lover pursues so that, by it the beloved may be more perfect and flourish.' Love being twofold, involving wanting some good for someone and the elementary experiences from original solitude, through unity to innocence which led Adam to Jesus.
(to be continued . . . )

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