Deus Caritas Est -- God Is Love
By Alan, Thursday, February 2, 2006
Alan is a member of this online community who frequently submits articles to us. While he does not submit monthly, his works are included here for reference.

Previous submissions from this author can be found in the Monthly Columns archives.

Is Pope Benedict in the throes of NRE? Has Divine Grace reached down and touched him or something?

The former Cardinal Ratzinger, who spent more than 20 years as pretty much the Vatican's Grand Inquisitor on issues of morals and sex, has just issued his first encyclical, titled "God Is Love." It dwells on the transcendance, wonder, and caring that is naturally generated through erotic love, and that is inherent in erotic love by its very nature. To quote from the Toronto Globe and Mail (January 26, 2006):

Pope Benedict XVI issued his first encyclical to the world's one billion Roman Catholics yesterday, a sometimes poetically steamy discourse on erotic love that left some scholars puzzled and others applauding the lyricism of a celibate 79-year-old....

In particular his objective appears to be to identify a common thread running through the Greek words eros -- human sexual love -- and agape -- spiritual love.

He writes that sexual love "is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings." He says: "True eros tends to rise in ecstasy towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves . . . [on] a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.

"Even if eros is at first mainly covetous . . . a fascination for the great promise of happiness in drawing near to the other, it [becomes] less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants 'to be there' for the other.

"The element of agape [generalized love for all] thus enters this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. . . . Fundamentally 'love' is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly."

...Benedict says sexual love is rooted in every human being. He acknowledges that Christianity in the past was often criticized for being "opposed to the body," and he says: "It is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed.

"Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure sex, has become a commodity, a mere 'thing' to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great 'yes' to the body."

He then challenges the conventional opposing definitions of spiritual love and sexual love and argues that they are the same, that even God manifests a love for humanity that is sexual but also totally spiritual -- a love that is personal but exists with the aim of healing the whole human race.

Holy kamoley. Take out the literal God part, and this is exactly why I identify as poly!

What a world away from the traditional Augustinian view that sex is an animalistic necessity meant only for reproduction, and that anything beyond that is the Devil's illusion-making. Or even the more modern Catholic view that sexual attraction is only meant for strengthening the bonds of a married couple.

While he still stresses male-female church marriage as the One True Way (is the Pope Catholic?), the encyclical has a lot about what New Age poly folks call Sacred Sex. Which by its nature doesn't want to be jammed into an institutional box, since it is a direct connection to the divine. A few pieces of the encyclical even sound like they could have been written by Janet and Sasha Lessin, the poly Tantra gurus.

Benedict is surely not about to reverse the Catholic Church's positions on gay relationships, the divorced, and on and on. Nevertheless, the view of sex and love in Deus Caritas Est is surely outside human laws and institutions. Everyone who believes in love's potentially transcendant nature -- including when it comes in unofficial places such as unmarried couples, gay couples, and poly groups -- now has rich new material to throw back at any who challenge us from a Catholic standpoint.

What WAS he thinking?! Benedict/Ratzinger is not dumb; in fact is he quite brilliant. Part of me suspects he is being Machiavellian and somehow setting Catholics up to be smashed with a doctrinaire shithammer. But if so, he will be accused of confusion and inconsistency, and his words will be used against him.

I wonder if the papacy has transformed him, as some writers (when he was chosen) said can happen to a pope when he gets elected. Maybe he's in NRE about being pope. Grace happens.

The whole text is on the Vatican's site.

--Alan (who's not a bit Catholic)