DEUS CARITAS EST
ENCYCLICAL LETTER OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF BENEDICT XVI
TO THE BISHOPS, PRIESTS, AND DEACONS,
MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS, AND ALL THE LAY FAITHFUL,
ON CHRISTIAN LOVE.
« 1. “ God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him ” (1 Jn 4.16). These words from the First Epistle of St. John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian Faith : the Christian image of God and the image of man and his path that flows from it.
It can be said of this Encyclical Letter what Fr. Éphrem Longpré, OFM wrote about the theological and philosophical work of Blessed Duns Scotus : « A large and powerful synthesis completely dominated by the idea of love. » (Études Franciscaines, 1924)
Benedict XVI is above all a theologian. It is with the very word of God that he wants to light the « path » of man.
« Furthermore, in the same verse, John offers us, as it were, a summary of the Christian existence : “ We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. ” »
Straightaway we find ourselves immersed in circumincessant charity. Spelt with a “ c ” the word expresses the perpetual movement of affection and mutual devotedness so efficacious that it welcomes every soul who desires to take part in it. All have access to it and this is our beatitude.
« We have come to believe in the love of God : in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a Person, which gives our life a new horizon and thus its decisive direction. In his Gospel, John described that event in these words : “ God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should (…) have eternal life ” (3.16). »
The Christian knows the living and true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and His designs of love, by the revelation of the redemptive Incarnation. These first truths, of absolute certainty, unveil what Fr. de Nantes calls, in the manner of Duns Scotus, « the infinite liberty of love » of God’s love. It is a love that originates in Heaven and that returns there, with its fruit, the harvest, the wine harvest, if possible, of the whole human family, at least of all of those whom God our Father elected and who will be saved. May God will to count us among them and to reunite us all in His Heaven forever and ever…
« In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian Faith has retained the core of the faith of Israel, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth. The pious Israelite prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy in which he knew was contained the heart of his existence : “ Hear, O Israel : the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might ” (6.4-5).
In what does the « depth » and the « new fullness » brought to the « faith of Israel » by the « Christian Faith » consist ?
« Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus : “ You shall love your neighbour as yourself ” (19.18; cf. Mk 12.29-31). Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4.10), love is now no longer a mere “ commandment ”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us. »
In the Old Testament, love is a commandment. It remains so in the New Testament, but it is not « only » that, because being fundamental in us as in God who is its source, it has a spontaneous character. How is this ? The object of the Encyclical Letter is to explain it.
With primacy given to the will to love, Benedict XVI engages us on the path that was opened by the Franciscans of the XIIIth century : St. Bonaventure, on whom Fr. Ratzinger did his thesis, and Blessed Duns Scotus, whom Fr. de Nantes discovered late in life (CCR nos 280-283). God created us to love Him. In order to make us able to love Him, however, He created us many. The whole of the theology of Blessed Duns Scotus is « completely dominated by these two intimately related truths : Deus caritas est, Deus vult alios diligentes » (R. P. Léon Seiller, o. f. m., Jean Duns Scot, un docteur des temps nouveaux, Paris, 1953, p. xiii).
« In a world where the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant. For this reason, I wish in my first Encyclical to speak of the love that God lavishes upon us and that we in turn must communicate to others. »
Cain attempted to clear himself of the murder of his brother Abel, by this question : « Am I the keeper of my brother ? (Gn 4.9) In other words, he had acted as though God, indifferent to our existence, did not ask us to account for our brothers. Benedict XVI on the contrary teaches that God makes Himself present by His initiative of love that pours into us and makes us responsible for one other. »
« That is what the two main parts of this Letter are about, and they are profoundly interconnected. »
« The first part is more speculative, since my intention, at the beginning of my Pontificate, is to clarify some essential facts concerning the love that God mysteriously and gratuitously offers to man, and at the same time to reveal the intrinsic link between that Love and the reality of human love.
« The second part is more concrete, since it treats the ecclesial exercise of the commandment of love of neighbour. The question is vast, but a lengthy treatment would go beyond the scope of the present Encyclical. I wish to emphasise some basic elements, so as to call forth in the world renewed energy by which man responds to divine love by means of works. »