DEUS CARITAS EST
A trinitarian encyclical
WHAT is God ?
Deus caritas est : in this Encyclical Letter addressed to the bishops, priests, and deacons, men and women religious, and all the lay faithful of the Roman Catholic Church, on Christian love, the God in question is the true God, the one God in three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, the unique object of our Catholic Faith and adoration. This encyclical therefore could have been divided into three parts : first, the love of God the Father, revealed in the Old Testament, then that of Jesus Christ our Saviour, and that of the Holy Spirit at work in the Church. As Benedict XVI, however, only wanted to evoke one aspect of the action of the latter, the encyclical is divided into two long parts.
The first is dedicated to showing « The Unity of Love in Creation and in Salvation History », as much from the point of view of God the Father who has the initiative of love, as from that of man, invited to respond by similar love that has been poured into his heart by God the Holy Spirit. We could entitle this first part : « Our Vocation to Total Love ».
The second part is dedicated to « The Practice of Charity by the Church as a “ Community of Love ”. » We could entitle it : « Circumincessant Charity ».
These two titles already show between the lines of the encyclical, the major themes of Fr. de Nantes’ theological and mystical work.
A maxim of the Carmel introduces the corpus of his works : « In the evening of life, only one thing is left : love. Everything must be done through love. » (Letter to My Friends n° 1, October 1956) Our Holy Father the Pope marks the beginning of his pontificate with the same maxim, by posing straightaway the great question : What is the love of God ? This is the subject of Part I. From the response given to this question flows its corollary : How does one love God ? This is the subject of Part II.
In order to reply, two broad paths present themselves. The classical path, that of Aristotle, taken up by the scholastics of the thirteenth century, but already by St. Bernard in his “ De diligendo Deo ”, in the previous century, consists in seeking reasons to love God in His perfections.
Why love God ? Because God is infinitely perfect, infinitely good. Considering all the goods of the earth : bread, wine, oil, and so many various kinds of fruits and flowers of creation that come from the hand of God, the reasoning is simple : it leads us to the conclusion : What is better than God ? If we love all these things, how can we not love Him who gives them to us ?
Yet, Fr. de Nantes observes in all sincerity : this reasoning has never convinced anyone. For a quite simple reason : to depict God in the image of man and the nature that man loves is ineffective. « To array God in adornments and garments that, in their truth as human objects, are more beautiful, more sparkling, more attractive than He Himself, is too human to arouse the least enthusiasm. »
In summary, « God in the image of man is not brilliant ! » (CCR n° 283, p.12)
All the more because it is necessary, in order to apply them to God, to remove from all created perfections the limitations that accompany them in creatures : nada, nada, nada ! St. John of the Cross teaches. As a result, it is too inhuman not to alarm, to terrorise, to put off souls, to freeze the hearts of believers themselves.
We are going round in circles ! The Pope remarked this contradiction in number 9 of the encyclical.
Another path, that of the Franciscans of the thirteenth century, the heir of St. Augustine, that we discover by reading St. Francis of Sales, set out from an entirely different viewpoint, according to which it is love that counts ; God created us out of love, in love and for love. And in order to make us capable of loving Him, he created us many. He did not say to us : « Love Me and then you will love your neighbour for the sake of Me », no ! He created us in the midst of “ neighbouring ” beings who attract us, so that loving them with a natural love, and even instinctive, we desire to love also Him who gave them to us. This is the Franciscan path followed by the Pope : « To love one’s neighbour also leads to the encounter with God, and closing our eyes to our neighbour also blinds us to God. » (n° 16)
Many of our loves and charities illustrate this truth. The Holy Father lists them at the beginning of Part 2 (n° 2). Then he favours « the love between man and woman ».
Now, in a series of brief meditations intended for young men and women in order to give them the desire to love the Blessed Virgin and to encourage them to recite many Rosaries for their salvation and that of the world, our Father formulated a wish, fulfilled today by this encyclical. One would think that our Holy Father, who acts as if he does not know him, had knowledge of it and wanted to reply to it without appearing to do so !
It was in August 1999 : « We would like to preach, to describe unabashedly, with all the means of the arts and poetry, under the benevolent tutelage of the Roman Church, what was the most beautiful thing in the world that God created. It is love, love between persons created by God and between the Divine Persons and the persons created by God in His own likeness.
« One might very well do so, under the tutelage of the Roman Church, just as in so many other centuries, and even under the benevolent tutelage of a dispassionate Inquisition. »
« The debauchery that characterises the modern world and into which Catholic peoples hurl themselves without any spirituality, stifles in the soul, precisely, any return of this liberating spirituality. Since we are immersed in this debauchery and since around us people hurl themselves into it – and perhaps we ourselves ? – this debauchery is a general condemnation of “ love ”, more or less suspected of leading to sin. Those who are obsessed with this immorality, with these unrestrained, exacerbated carnal pleasures would not know how to find a way to preach according to the Word of God the mystical loves that their ancestors celebrated in the liturgy of Divine Office, with a holy rapture inspired by Holy Scripture and the writing of the saints.
« It is in this foul atmosphere already contradicted on account of the panic that some feel of being sullied themselves that our investigations and preaching have borne some delicious fruits that have ripened on well-grafted trees, but its inverse has also happened ; I mean the horrible loathsome rumours from which I will no longer be able to clear myself before the Roman Church makes a decision. »
Well ! Roma locuta est ! By the pen of the great Inquisitor Joseph Ratzinger himself, become Pope Benedict XVI.
In order to compensate for the weakness of nature and the stain of original sin, God arranged for every human being to be connected to other beings who love him naturally, instinctively, and also through grace, that is to say that he knows the joy of love. St. Augustine said : « Give me someone who loves, he will understand what I mean. » There is the experience of love first. And who does not have it ? We know the joy of loving and of being loved. This joy that is given to us by creatures evokes in us the possibility of loving and or of being loved by more perfect persons, for example saints living amongst us, or already in Heaven : St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin, Jesus, and their crown of holy martyrs and pontiffs, monks and virgins. This is how God wanted us to love Him.
And it happens that this morning, good friends wrote me certain unpleasant things. As a result… I no longer love them ! because I am evil. If I were good, I would look at things from their viewpoint, I would forgive perhaps one hasty judgement or another that wounded me, I would be grateful to them for some act of devotion or another. In her manuscript “ C ” on the subject of love of neighbour, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus has left us the know-how… We only have to follow her example, if we understand well and implement what the Pope says in number 18 of his encyclical :
« Love of neighbour as defined by the Bible, by Jesus, consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I also love the person whom I do not like or even know. »
Love of neighbour goes beyond resentment, egoism, and narrowness, in order to move from the exquisite persons, the holy souls for whom we have had loving feelings, to the poorest, the sickest, the most abandoned and dejected, in order to love them.
In Part 2 of the encyclical, the Pope shows himself to be markedly reactionary with respect to his two predecessors, reaffirming the specific role of the Catholic Church. In all conscience, however, we have some reservations. Some reflections are in fact directly inspired by the social doctrine of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II, against which Fr. de Nantes formulated important criticism. Above all we remark a lack of knowledge of politics as the science and art of the common good, previous to individual good and distinct from the sum of individual goods. This serious deficiency leads to a confusion of the political and social domains, reduced to an individualist morality, totally incoherent with the first part of the encyclical, which is fundamentally “ relational ”. The Pope does not mention any institutions other than charitable ones ; yet family, professional, municipal and national communities have a decisive influence on the practice of charity in society !
Above there is the State, below, « man ». There are no intermediate bodies. Thus, the role of the Church is limited to « the purification of reason and ethical formation, in order that the requirements of justice become understandable and politically achievable. » (n° 28).
This is what Saint Pius X called a « dream » when he condemned the Sillon for wanting to « raise to its maximum the conscience and civic responsibility of every one » with a view to establishing « economic and political democracy and the reign of justice, equality, fraternity. » (Letter on the Sillon, 25 August 1910, n° 19). « And if, the holy Pontiff objected, perverse individuals are to be found in a society, and there always are », failing to understand « the requirements of justice », and making them unachievable ? « Should not authority be all the stronger as the selfishness of the wicked is more threatening ? » (n° 22)
Especially if these « perverse individuals » end up controlling the State and international institutions, the national and world economy, the school system and the leisure of our Christian peoples ! How then, can Catholic charitable organisations exist ?
Benedict XVI does not seem to envisage this possibility that is however the reality of which Catholic works are the victim today, almost everywhere in the world.
Thus, in the second part of the encyclical, we do not find the vigorous calls capable of making charitable institutions into elements of a Catholic Action, at the same time spiritual, political and social. Such was the idea of Saint Pius X for restoring all things in Christ.
What delights us the most is to see love of God given the place of honour in the light of the Franciscan school. Such a teaching infallibly leads to the discovery of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the masterpiece of this Love. Even before the revelation of Fatima, Blessed John Duns Scotus had the intuition of it because he ardently defended the Marian privilege of the Immaculate Conception, against almost all the theologians of his time. It was then necessary to wait more than five hundred years for the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854, by Blessed Pius IX.
Let us hope that it will take less time for the Sovereign Pontiff to recommend the reparatory devotion of the five First Saturdays and to consecrate Russia to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in order to obey Heaven’s will that desires the reign of this Immaculate Heart, for our eternal salvation, and the temporal salvation of a world in perdition.
Since the “ official ” translation seemed too unsound, and sometimes tendentious, we have revised and corrected it from the original German text. We are publishing our translation in full, accompanied by our commentary.