Deus Caritas Est: first impressions on agape and eros

Deus Caritas Est: first impressions on agape and eros

I’m still working through Deus Caritas and writing my editorial for the February issue of Catholic World Report about it, so I still can’t speak with too much depth about it. If you want some good reporting and analysis, check out Catholic World News: “Understanding the Pope’s ‘surprising” encyclical” and “Papal encyclical explores divine, human love”. Both are very handy initial guides to the document.

As with all of Pope Benedict’s books, I’m impressed by its accessibility. For all his brilliance and intellect, the Holy Father can still write in a way that mere mortals can grasp. Yes, there are big words and philosophical/theological concepts, but if you have any experience with theology you can read it just fine. The first section, which talks about human and divine love, eros and agape, is sublime when considered next to what John Paul wrote on the subject of human love. Of course, all the secular media will go ga-ga over the fact that the Pope mentions eros, when in fact they are simply proving what he says. Eros is not simply carnal attraction and sex, a sensuality rejected by the purity of Christianity and the Church.

The Holy Father tells us that eros and agape are indissoluble and reach their highest human form within the marital union. Eros is a kind of “ascending” love. If at first it is mainly covetous, seeking its own end, it is this desire that draws it near to the other—whether that other is a spouse or God—and “it is 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.” (Yes, the encyclical actually says “be there for.”) So an element of the self-sacrifical love of agape enters into eros, which is necessary to prevent eros from becoming impoverished.

Likewise, agape needs eros. The two cannot exist apart from one another. As the Pope says, “Man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone.” “He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must receive love as a gift.”

I’m only cherry-picking from certain sections here, but there is so much more here, so many good nuggets it’s hard to pick just a few.

Later on, I’ll have more to say about Christ’s self-sacrifical love and on the second section on the encyclical on acts of charity.

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli