Friday, March 10, 2006



Perhaps you read the news about Pope Benedict’s first major writing since he became pope? The subject of former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s first encyclical was Love: the meaning of God’s love, erotic love between humans, and the relationship between the two. According to Msgr. Paul Josef Cordes (president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, the Vatican’s charities division), the pope’s choice for his first topic was "astonishing." The 71-page document was titled "God is Love" (Deus Caritas Est). Benedict attempted to define at least 3 aspects of the term "love," which he describes as "one of the most frequently used and misused of words."
Consider how freely the term is used. "I love you." "Let’s make love." "The boy really loves his dog." "If you loved me you’d give me what I ask for." "God so loved that world that he gave his only begotten son." Etc. Obviously, not all of these "loves" are the same thing.
Benedict spoke of erotic love (eros, or physical love) as something that is debasing if it is reduced to just sex, especially when it is sold. He writes that eros must be enhanced by spiritual love in order to "achieve a higher and full meaning." He used the term "agape" to refer to spiritual love. He also referred to acts of selfless loving – assisting others, loving your neighbor – as "caritas."
Interestingly, this encyclical was signed by the pope on Christmas day of 2005, but was not released until a month later due to problems in preparing the different translations. Also, according to Vatican analyst Sandro Magister, numerous Vatican documents has languished untranslated as part of a subtle campaign of protest against Pope Benedict (L.A. Times article by Tracy Wilkinson, 01/26/06 A3). Passive aggressiveness in the Vatican?
Perhaps Benedict should have read the classic book on Love, Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving. Fromm defines Love as an art, that is, something that must be practiced in order to master. He states that in order to master this art it must be of the greatest concern to the individual to learn the theory and to apply it in his or her life.
Fromm says that Love is the answer to the problem of human existence. He then defines the different aspects of love, such as brotherly love, motherly love, erotic love, self-love, and love of God. He explains how the practice of love has disintegrated in modern society.
Lastly, Fromm delineates the practice of this most important of arts. As an art, it requires discipline, concentration, patience, and making it a matter of supreme concern.
I have read Fromm’s book several times, and made many annotations. And though I have only read what others had to say about Benedict’s encyclical (I’ve not actually read it), it still seems as if Benedict is thinking down the same line as Fromm, that they both want us to understand the great necessity of Real Love, and they both want us to eliminate the Counterfeit Love from our own personal lives.
Fromm’s book is readily available from used book stores, and I highly recommend it. What are your thoughts on this subject?