Deus caritas est
THE UNITY OF LOVE
IN CREATION AND IN SALVATION HISTORY
A PROBLEM OF LANGUAGE.
« 2. The love of God for us is a fundamental question for our lives and it raises decisive questions about who God is and who we are. »
Fr. de Nantes would say: about the “ipseity” of God and the “ipseity” of men. Yet, before finding an answer to these questions, the Holy Father intends to clarify the meanings of words:
« In considering this, we immediately come up against a problem of language. Today, the term “ love ” has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach entirely different meanings. Even though this Encyclical will deal primarily with the understanding and practice of love in Sacred Scripture and in the Tradition of the Church, we cannot simply prescind from the meaning of the word in different cultures and in present-day usage. »
« Let us first of all bring to mind the vast semantic range of the word “ love ”: we speak of love of country, love of one’s profession, love between friends, love of work, love between parents and children, love among family members, love of neighbour and love of God. »
This list leaves nothing to chance. When we reread it attentively, we remark that it contains the entire network of our relationships in its various degrees of perfection.
« Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, the love between man and woman, in which the body and soul are inseparably joined and in which develops for the human being, an apparently irresistible promise of happiness It would seem to be the very epitome of love, before which all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison. So we need to ask: are all these forms of love basically one, so that love, in its many and varied manifestations, is ultimately a single reality, or are we merely using the same word to designate totally different realities? »
Thus posed, the question amounts to asking ourselves: what relationship is there between the God-charity of our Faith, on the one hand, and on the other, the eros that obsesses our contemporary society?
“EROS” AND “AGAPÈ” – DIFFERENCE AND UNITY.
« 3. The love between man and woman that is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings, was called eros by the ancient Greeks.
It is lust – the possessive, inevitable, sudden, irresistible love – that is born of instinct.
« Let us note straight away that the Greek Old Testament uses the word eros only twice, while the New Testament never uses it: of the three Greek words for love – eros, philia (the love of friendship) and agapè – New Testament writers prefer the last, which occurs rather infrequently in Greek usage. »
The word agapè designates true, sincere and noble love, full of benevolence for others. It is charity – gratuitous, generous, unconstrained, and spontaneous love, a selfless love.
« As for the notion of friendship (philia), it is used with added depth of meaning in the Gospel of John in order to express the relationship between Jesus and His disciples. The fact that the word eros was put aside, and that the new vision of love is expressed through the word agapè, clearly point to something essential in the newness of Christianity concerning the very understanding of love. »
Before explaining this « newness of Christianity », the Pope defends it against Nietzsche. All Nietzsche knew of Christianity was its debased, Lutheran and Kantian form which, moreover, he assimilated to Buddhism! Once he threw himself to the opposite extreme from the pessimism and the dry moralism that he had discerned in it, we know to what barbarity he wanted to exalt life, nature, and man by an antichristianity, the outcome of which was the Hitlerian adventure!
« In the critique of Christianity that began with the philosophy of the Enlightenment and grew progressively more radical, this new element was seen as something thoroughly negative. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, Christianity had poisoned eros which for its part, while not completely succumbing, degenerated into vice1. The German philosopher expressed in this way a widely-held perception: does not the Church, with her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most beautiful thing in life? Does she not put up stop signs just when the joy that the Creator intended for us offers us a happiness that gives us a certain foretaste of the Divine? »
If “religion” only knows how to formulate taboos, condemnations and regulations, it does not “connect” us to anything at all, God is not the God-Charity, Creator and Father of men, His priests have no reason to exist. Nietzsche, however, is wrong. Where does his error originate? The Holy Father is going to put it admirably:
« But is this really the case? Did Christianity really destroy eros? Let us take a look at the pre-Christian world. The Greeks – not unlike other cultures – considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a “divine madness” that tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness. All other powers between heaven and earth thus appear secondary: “ Omnia vincit amor ” states Virgil in the Bucolics – love conquers all – and he adds: “ et nos cedamus amori ” – and let us, too, yield to love2. In the religions, this attitude found expression in fertility cults, part of which was the “sacred” prostitution which flourished in many temples. Eros was thus celebrated as divine power, as fellowship with the Divine. »
Conclusion: human love has always been considered as something sacred and connected with divine religion. Thus it is indeed religion that must regulate it. But then, which religion?
« The Old Testament firmly resisted this form of religion, which was opposed to faith in the one God as a very powerful temptation, and combated it as a perversion of piety. It in no way, however, rejected eros as such; rather, it declared war on its destructive distortion, because the counterfeit divinisation of eros that occurs here deprives it of its dignity and dehumanises it. Indeed, the prostitutes in the temple, who had to bestow this divine intoxication, were not treated as human beings and persons, but were simply used as a means of arousing “divine madness”: in reality, they were not goddesses, but human persons being exploited. This is why intoxicated and undisciplined eros is not an ascent in “ecstasy” towards the Divine, but a fall of man. It thus becomes evident that eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns. »
One might think that one was listening to Fr. de Nantes preaching “positive purity”, according to which “asceticism” must add the marvels of grace to the necessities of nature, without for all that repealing the latter in the name of the former.
« 5. Two things emerge clearly from this rapid overview of the concept of eros past and present. First, there is a certain relationship between love and the Divine: love promises infinity, eternity – a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence. Yet at the same time we have seen that the way to attain this goal is not simply by submitting to instinct. Purification and growth in maturity are necessary; and these also pass through the path of renunciation. It is not the refusal of eros; it is not its “poisoning”, but its healing with a view to its true grandeur. »
Thus, the Pope objects to a simplistic dualism. « Agapè does not deserve this inordinate honour of being described as pure, free, generous, and emancipated from all interest, ulterior motives, soul-searching, egotistical pleasure. What then would be its mainspring, its purpose, its goal? Nor does eros deserve this inordinate infamy, when its cupidity, its concupiscence, so often animal, associate themselves with so much benevolence and beneficence and slowly, as days go by, are transformed into blind devotedness, unlimited charity! How could human language confound this egoistical instinct with its opposite under the sole term of “love”, unless it also had, even in its worst expressions, some altruistic resonance, a generous impulse? » (Georges de Nantes, The Transphysical Basis of Love, CRC no 177, May 1982, p.6)
« This is due first and foremost to the fact that man is both body and soul. Man becomes truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved. Should man aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness. The epicure Gassendi used to offer Descartes the humorous greeting: “O Soul!” And Descartes would reply: “O Flesh!”3 Yet it is neither the spirit nor the body that loves: it is man, the person who loves in the unity of a sole creature composed of body and soul. »
Fr. de Nantes applies this truth to the Church, against the reformism of Fr. Congar :
I LOVE THE CHURCH
In his Letter to My Friends no 178, 6 August 1964, on the day of the publication of Ecclesiam suam, the first encyclical of Pope Paul VI, a charter of a reformist pontificate, Fr. de Nantes bore witness to his “carnal” love for the Church:
« IT is by virtue of this love, of this admiration, of this piety that overflows from my grateful heart, that I protest against the distinction that modern theology owes to Fr.Congar, between the unalterable “ structures ” of the Church and her accessory, changeable “ superstructures ”. This vivisection, of a Marxist type, allows everyone to decide what must be respected in the Tradition and what can be removed and replaced at will. The distinction appears to be well-founded, at least at first appearance and in the abstract. There is indeed in a human being a skeleton and vital, necessary organs; while other elements that cover them, flesh, muscles, skin, hair are less necessary. Yet the soul, the person, the cherished being are they not just as much in the one as in the other, in the skeleton and in the flesh, in the total being?
« Beyond his anatomical, lifeless distinction, Fr. Congar lets another one be supposed, which assails the living unity of the being, the very soul of the Church: the structures alone are divine while the traditions, like an unfortunate exterior coating, are only human inventions, and even puffiness and wrinkles added by stupid and bygone centuries, incommensurable with the definitive greatness and beauties of our age. This reformer, sincere but short on intellect, this professor who has never been a shepherd of souls has not seen what is insulting to the Church, has not felt what is hurtful for the faithful in this dissection that heralds appalling lacerations. I do love neither a skeleton nor vital organs, I love Her face, Her sparkling clothes and even Her sandals, Her entire being. With the spiritual canticle I will sing of the hair on Her neck that charmed us as well, her children, as it ravished the heart of her Spouse.
« Oh, may those who love the Church understand! In her features and her slightest gestures, something indescribably exquisite carries us to the summit of her essential Mystery. This is why I hate these iconoclasts who are planning to shave her head, to strip her naked, and force cosmetic surgery on her, in their fashion, in the century of Picasso and Le Corbusier! »
« It is only when both merge into a true unity that man becomes wholly himself. Only thus is love – eros – able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur. »
The depreciation of carnal realities could be called spiritualism, mysticism or pessimism; their cult could claim to be humanism, naturalism, optimism, and would promptly be accused of sensualism. Between these two, Benedict XVI refuses to chose, and he teaches, in Christ, a superior, supernatural synthesis, as Fr. de Nantes did in his kerygmatic theology (Love before God, February 1973, published in CCR no 77, August 1976, pp.3-14).
« Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticised as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed. »
Fr. de Nantes admits this as well: « In our day a wave of universal eroticism is sweeping across a world that was for long Jansenist and Puritan. » (ibid., p. 12)
« Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced simply to “sex”, has become a commodity, a mere “thing” to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. In reality, this is the exact opposite of the great “yes” of man to his body. Man only sees the carnal aspect of the body and sexuality that he uses and exploits at will. It is not seen as a domain of his freedom, but a phenomenon that he attempts, in his own fashion, to make both gratifying and harmless. »
In a few lines, the Pope unmasks the alarming “alienation” of the sexual licentiousness in which our society is foundering:
« In reality, we are dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into the overall freedom of our existence, no longer is it the vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere. The apparent exaltation of the body can quickly turn into a hatred of corporeal nature. Christian Faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, in which spirit and matter compenetrate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility. True, eros tends to raise us “into ecstasy” towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves; yet for this very reason it calls for a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing. »
Thus it is a matter of « finding a Total Love, far from a deadly renunciation – deadly not for oneself, but for one’s neighbour », as Fr. de Nantes says, observing that « this dilemma of flesh and spirit is the fruit of an initial abstraction: that of the individual who isolates himself in order to consider himself, separated from other creatures and from God, and in order to choose between the two sides of himself. The two options, posed like that, are bound to be egoistic and deadly. If he chooses the spirit, the better to satiate himself, up above, with God the Pure Spirit, he will spurn all creatures – carnal but fraternal – as enemies of his good. If he chooses to live in the flesh, the better to experience the union of love, the communication and fusion of fraternal existences, then he will deprive himself of God and renounce his spiritual life! »
Conclusion: « It suits man to be neither angel nor beast… » (ibid., p. 13)
« 6. Concretely, how should we represent this path of ascent and purification? How must love be experienced so that its human and divine promise may be fulfilled? We can find a first, important indication in the Song of Songs, an Old Testament book well known to the mystics. According to the interpretation generally held today, the poems contained in this book were originally love-songs, perhaps intended for a Jewish wedding feast and meant to exalt conjugal love. In this context it is highly instructive to note that in the course of the book two different words are used to speak of “love”. First there is the word “ dôdîm ”, a plural form suggesting a love that is still insecure, indeterminate and searching. This comes to be replaced by the word “ ahabà ”, which the Greek version of the Old Testament translates with the similar-sounding “ agapè”, which, as we have seen, becomes the typical expression for the biblical notion of love. By contrast with an indeterminate, “searching” love, this word expresses the experience of a love that then becomes a real discovery of the other, thus moving beyond the selfish character that clearly prevailed earlier. Love now becomes care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice. »
According to Fr. de Nantes, « the Song of Songs is the precious pearl of the Old Testament, as the Gospel according to St. John is the diamond of the New Testament ». In these poems, the spouse symbolises the chosen race, unfaithful Israel. In the time of her captivity, which is her punishment, this spouse proclaims her desire to find her Bridegroom and to once again receive the perceptible marks of love and pardon:
« Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth!
for His love (dôdîm) is sweeter than wine. » (I 1.1)
The first poem shows this beloved discovering the interest that God takes in her. He takes care of her despite her swarthiness:
« Nigra sum sed gapea. »
She is a sinner, and nevertheless He shows her compassion. He turns towards her. He is going to free her, and the banner that he raises above her is love (ahabà; I 2.4).
In the second poem, the Bridegroom speaks to her, calls her to come out from her captivity, to become better and enter into the springtime of their renewed love, of the New Covenant. It is an invitation not only to convert, but to sanctify herself in order to go « into our land » (I 2.2), the Promised Land, the prefiguring of Heaven.
« Among the degrees of this ascent towards love and its inward purifications, appears the requirement for a definitive love, and this in a twofold sense: both in the sense of exclusivity – “this particular person alone” – and in the sense of being “for ever”. Love embraces the whole of existence in all of its dimensions, including that of time. It could not be otherwise, since its promise aims to establish something definitive: love aims for the eternal. Love is indeed “ ecstasy ”, not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God: “ Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve it ” (Lk 17.33), as Jesus says – one of His affirmations that can be found throughout the Gospels with several variants (cf. Mt 10.39; 16.25; Mk 8.35; Lk 9.24; Jn 12.25). In these words, Jesus portrays His own path, which leads through the Cross to the Resurrection: the path of the grain of wheat that falls to the ground and dies, and in this way bears much fruit. Starting from the depths of His own sacrifice and of the love that reaches fulfilment therein, He also portrays in these words the essence of love and indeed of human existence itself. »
« 7. By their own inner logic, these somewhat philosophical reflections on the essence of love have now brought us to the threshold of biblical Faith. »
We thus rejoin the Franciscan ideal of Duns Scotus: to find in our Sacred Scriptures and our Catholic dogmas, all the principles, the ideas and the vocabulary necessary for our living faith. Success is guaranteed. It suffices to read the unbelieving “philosopher”, Luc Ferry, to be convinced of this (below, p. 10). Our Lord would have said about him: « Here is a scribe who is not far from the Kingdom of God. »
THE GREATNESS AND THE APPEAL
OF THE CHRISTIAN PROMISE
IS physical love – this love that takes and possesses, this passion that the Greeks designated by the name of eros – the bête noire of Christianity, as the Nietzschean vulgate continually claims? Is unselfish, not to say disincarnate, love, – which is called gape and which is ordinarily translated by charity – then in her eyes the only one that is worthwhile? Benedict XVI chose to open his first encyclical by tackling these questions head-on, by pleading for the necessary unity of these two loves, each of which is worthless without the other. Behind this profession of Faith that rehabilitates eros – this will only surprise the fools who have been forced to swallow a third-rate Nietzscheism for too long – is hidden the whole originality of the Christian message: a message that, unlike that of the Buddhists in particular, does not exclude all forms of affection.
The point deserves our attention. For readers of Augustine will perhaps remember this passage of the Confessions in which he relates how, as a young man and not yet Christian, he let his heart be devastated by attaching himself to a friend who was suddenly carried off by death. His misfortune was totally linked to a lack of wisdom that consists in attaching oneself to perishable beings: “ For why had that first sorrow so easily penetrated to the quick except that I had poured out my soul onto the instability of moving sand, by loving a mortal person as if he would never die?” This is the misfortune to which all human loves are doomed when they are too human and only seek “tokens of affection” in the other that enhance us, reassure us and only satisfy our ego. The message of Augustine might thus seem quite close to that of the Buddhist sage. The Buddhist knows that all is impermanent, that the ego is detestable and that one must know how to resist attachments when they are exclusive, whereas « everything wastes away in this world subject to weakness and death. »
Yet who said that man was mortal? Who holds the soul to be but a temporary aggregate? Here resides basically all the singularity of Christian questioning. That one must not attach oneself to what is transient, very well. Why, however, would this be necessary for what is not transient? The reverse stands out by default: if the object of my attachment was not mortal, then how would it be blameworthy or unreasonable? If my love was brought to bear on eternity in the other, why should I not be attached to him?
The whole originality of the Christian message resides in the “ good news” of real immortality, that is to say, of the resurrection, not only of souls, but well and truly of individual bodies, persons as such, with their beloved faces. If we affirm that humans are immortal because they live and love in a third term – “ in God”, as Augustine says also – if we set out that this immortality is not only not incompatible with love, but that it is even one of the possible effects, then why abstain? Why not attach ourselves to those close to us, if Christ promises us that we can meet them after biological death and commune with them in an eternal life, provided that we join all our acts to God in it?
Thus, between love-attachment and simple universal compassion that is unable to attach to the dear one but only to the neighbour, a place appears for a third kind of love: love “ in” God of creatures, themselves eternal. Of course, this is what grounds the recommendation of Benedict XVI according to which eros without gape is blind, and gape without eros void. Here he once again agrees with Augustine: “ Lord, blessed is he who loves You and who loves his friend in You, and his enemy for the love of You. For he does not lose any of his friends, the one who loves none other than in Him who can never be lost. And who is He, if not our God… No one loses You, Lord, except him who abandons You” – and, may we add in line with this subject – no one loses the special beings whom he loves – except for him who ceases to love them in God, that is to say, in what they have that is eternal, because it is linked to the divine and protected by Him.
Thus, authentic love is the one that possesses not only the two dimensions of eros and agape, but that also unfolds itself in the heart of a third unifying term. It could be said that the message only applies to believers? Nothing is less certain, because for non-believers also, the requirement of unity and the relationship to a superior term – a project, children, shared actions, etc. – remain meaningful. This is why, as always, we have every interest, believers or non-believers, in meditating the message of the great religions. In this regard, the general treatment that the French media reserved for the encyclical of Benedict XVI does not, alas, augur good.
(La Croix, Friday, 10 February 2006)
Before continuing, Benedict XVI summarises:
« We began by asking whether the different, or even opposed, meanings of the word love point to some profound underlying unity, or whether on the contrary they must remain unconnected, one alongside the other. The other question dealt with was to know whether the message of love proclaimed to us by the Bible and the Tradition of the Church has some points of contact with the common human experience of love, or whether it is opposed to that experience. In this connection, we came across two fundamental words: eros, as a term to indicate “worldly” love and gape, as the expression that refers to love grounded in and shaped by the Faith. The two notions are often contrasted as “ascending” love and “descending” love. There are other, similar classifications, such as the distinction between possessive love and oblative love (amor concupiscentiae – amor benevolentiae), to which is sometimes also added love that only seeks its own advantage. »
« In philosophical and theological debate, these distinctions have often been radicalised to the point of establishing a clear antithesis between them: descending, oblative love – gape – would be typically Christian, while on the other hand ascending, possessive or covetous love – eros – would be typical of non-Christian, and particularly Greek culture. »
We might expect that this dilemma would be largely transcended by the need to regain contact with others:
« Were this antithesis to be taken to extremes, the essence of Christianity would be detached from the vital and fundamental relations of human existence, and would become a world apart, admirable perhaps, but decisively cut off from the totality of human existence. Yet eros and gape – ascending love and descending love – can never be completely separated from one another. The more the two forms of love, in their different dimensions, find their proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realised. Even if eros is at first mainly sensual and ascending – a fascination for the great promise of happiness – in drawing near to the other, it will be less and less concerned with itself; it will increasingly seek the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the other, bestows itself and wants to “be there for” the other. »
One might say, with Fr. de Nantes, that « all love honours a relationship that it presupposes or that it foresees. There are beings who love one another like the piers of a bridge. They are built in such a place, in such a manner, for the arch that they support in the space between them both. It is the arch that justifies them and balances both of them, one with the other, one by the other. Love walks on the bridge. » (CRC no 177, p.10)
« Thus comes the time when gape enters into this love, for otherwise eros is debased and also loses its very nature. On the other hand, man cannot live by oblative, descending love alone. He cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, man can become a source from which rivers of living water flow (cf. Jn 7.37-38). Yet to become such a source, he must constantly drink anew from the initial and original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced Heart flows the love of God (cf. Jn 19.34). »
This is an admirable transition through which the Pope, after having dismissed all false antinomy, introduces us at last into the secret of the Heart of God.
« In the account of the ladder of Jacob, the Fathers of the Church saw this inseparable connection between ascending and descending love, between eros, which seeks God, and gape, which passes on the gift received, symbolised in various ways. In that biblical passage we read how the Patriarch Jacob saw in a dream, above the stone that served as his pillow, a ladder reaching up to Heaven, on which the angels of God were ascending and descending (cf. Gn 28.12; Jn 1.51). A particularly striking interpretation of this vision is presented by Pope Gregory the Great in his Pastoral Rule. He tells us that the good pastor must be rooted in contemplation. Only in this way will he be able to take upon himself the needs of others and make them his own: “ Per pietatis viscera in se infirmitatem caeterorum transferat.4” »
Pope Benedict XVI puts this recommendation into practice in his encyclical. Part 1: contemplation of the Love of God. Part 2: the practice of this charity towards others.
« Saint Gregory speaks in this context of St. Paul, who was borne aloft to Heaven to the most exalted mysteries of God, and hence, having descended once more, he was able to become all things to all men (cf. 2 Co 12.2-4; 1 Co 9.22). He also points to the example of Moses, who entered the sacred tabernacle time and again, remaining in dialogue with God, so that he could be at the service of his people before God. “ Within [the tent] he is borne aloft through contemplation, while without he is completely engaged in helping those who suffer: intus in contemplationem rapitur, foris infirmantium negotiis urgetur. 5” »
« 8. We have thus come to an initial, albeit still somewhat generic response to the two questions raised earlier. Fundamentally, “love” is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or the other dimension may dominate more strongly. Yet when the two dimensions are totally cut off from one another, the result is a caricature or at least an impoverished form of love. »
« We have also seen, synthetically, that biblical Faith does not set up a parallel universe, or one opposed to that primordial human phenomenon that is love, but rather accepts the whole man; it intervenes in his search for love in order to purify it, and at the same time, to reveal new dimensions of it. This newness of biblical Faith is shown chiefly in two elements, which deserve to be highlighted: the image of God and the image of man. »
THE NEWNESS OF BIBLICAL FAITH.
What is liberating with this new Pope, after forty years dedicated to the cult of man, is that he speaks first about God… and then about man. Because, as Fr. de Nantes teaches, philosophy is powerless to teach us what Holy Scripture alone reveals to us: Love wanted to cross for us the infinite abyss that separated our being from that of God. Such is the great newness of Christianity. It shapes first of all the image that we have of God.
« 9. Above all it is a question of the new image of God. In the cultures that surrounded the world of the Bible, the image of God and of the gods ultimately remained unclear and contradictory. »
According to the « culture » of the Greeks, for example, by depicting the Creator in the likeness of His creature, natural theology itself, or “theodicy”, thought to penetrate the divine intimacy: « Alas, this automaton, made of bits and pieces, could not mislead anyone. His adornments and garments, in their truth as human objects, were more beautiful and more sparkling, more attractive, than he himself! It was too human to arouse the least enthusiasm, and too inhuman not to alarm, to terrorise, to put off souls, to freeze the hearts of believers themselves. » (G. de Nantes, CCR no 283, p.12)
« In the development of biblical Faith, however, the content of the prayer fundamental to Israel, the Shema, became increasingly clear and unequivocal: “ Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord ” (Dt 6.4). There is only one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who is thus the God of all men. »
To comment on this, I can not do better than to continue quoting Fr. de Nantes, whose thought follows a parallel course: « Much more human and divine than this mesh of stiff abstractions is the least chapter from Holy Scripture, which attracts hearts and souls to love God, “the friend of men” (Tit 3.4). »
« Two elements are significant about this statement: the fact that indeed all other gods are not God, and that the reality in which we live has its source in God and was created by Him. Naturally, the notion of creation is also found elsewhere, yet only here does it become absolutely clear that it is not one god among many, but the one true God Himself who is the source of all reality that proceeds from the power of His creative Word. Consequently, His creation is dear to Him, for it was willed by Him and “made” by Him. The second important element now emerges: this God loves man. The divine power that Aristotle at the height of Greek philosophy sought to grasp through reflection, is indeed for every being an object of desire and of love – and as the object of love this divinity moves the world6 – but in itself it lacks nothing and does not love: it is solely the object of love. »
That is not all! In strict Aristotelianism, man does not love either. He is absolutely egocentric… in the likeness of this God of Aristotle, the “first mover”, unchanging and transcendent, acting only by the final cause « attracting like a magnet », without losing its separate perfection.
« The one God in whom Israel believes, on the other hand, loves with a personal love. His love, moreover, is an elective love: among all the nations He chooses Israel and loves her – but He does so precisely with a view to healing the whole human race. God loves, and His love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agapè7.
« The Prophets, particularly Hosea and Ezekiel, described the passion of God for His people using boldly erotic images. »
Enjoined by God to take a prostitute as a spouse, the Prophet Hosea became the speaking image of God who, through an incredible Love, became the “ Go’el ”, the Redeemer of His depraved people. As for Ezekiel, he compared God, Yahweh, “ I Am ”, to a man who, while walking in the desert finds a newborn girl abandoned there, lying in her blood. His heart is moved. He cares for her, washes her and adopts her as a daughter and makes her a princess. This is a prefiguring of the Covenant of God with His people, with sinful humanity.
« The relationship of God with Israel is described using the metaphors of betrothal and marriage; in consequence, idolatry is adultery and prostitution. Here we find a specific reference – as we have seen – to the fertility cults and their abuse of eros, but also a description of the relationship of fidelity between Israel and her God. »
Quite naturally and in a holy manner, marriage became in biblical revelation the symbol of the Covenant instituted by God with His people. Marriage became the natural symbol of religion that has become supernatural; nature began to evoke grace… Adultery, on the other hand, worse than prostitution, became the main symbol of the impiety, the infidelity of the “people of the Covenant” to their God who had become their spouse!
« The history of the love-relationship between God and Israel consists, at the deepest level, in the fact that He gives her the Torah, that He actually opened the eyes of Israel to the true nature of man and that He showed her the path leading to true humanism. It consists in the fact that man, through a life of fidelity to the one God, comes to experience himself as loved by God, and discovers joy in truth and in righteousness – a joy in God that becomes his essential happiness:
“ Whom do I have in Heaven but You?
And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides you...
But it is good for me to be near God.” (Ps 73 .25, 28)
Benedict XVI has a liking for this psalm. The commentary that St. Augustine makes on it would suffice to summarise the whole encyclical of this Pope, a disciple of the Father of the Western Church: « “ It is good for me to adhere to my God ”, to God who needs no one to be good while all others need Him to be good. Do you want to know how good He is? Listen to the Lord replying to a question He was asked: “God alone is good” (Mt 19.17) »
« 10. As we have said, the eros of God for man is at the same time totally agapè. This is not only because it is bestowed in a completely gratuitous manner, without any previous merit, but also because it is love that forgives. Hosea above all shows us this agapè dimension in the love of God for man, which goes far beyond the aspect of gratuity. Israel has committed “ adultery ” and has broken the Covenant; God should judge and repudiate her. It is precisely at this point that God is revealed to be God and not man: “ How can I give you up, O Ephraim! How can I hand you over, O Israel! ... My Heart turns against Me, My compassion is stirred. I will not execute My fierce anger, I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and not man, the Holy One in your midst.” (Hos 11.8-9) The passionate love of God for His people – for man – is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against Himself, His love against His justice. Here Christians can see a dim prefigurement of the mystery of the Cross: so great is the love of God for man that by becoming man He follows him even into death, and so reconciles justice and love. »
Jesus will manifest this particularly with regard to Mary Magdalene, the mystical penitent whom He would make the favoured one of His adorable Heart, she, the prostitute, the figure of the masses of sinful humanity, and yet loved and espoused!
« The philosophical, historical and religious aspect that we should discover in this vision of the Bible lies in the fact that on the one hand we find ourselves before a strictly metaphysical image of God: God is the absolute source of all being; but this source that creates all things – the Logos, primordial reason – is on the other hand a lover who loves with all the passion of a true love. Eros is thus supremely ennobled, yet at the same time it is so purified as to become one with agapè. We can thus understand how the reception of the Song of Songs in the canon of Sacred Scripture was soon explained by the idea that these love songs ultimately describe the relation of God to man and of man to God. Thus the Song of Songs became, both in Christian and Jewish literature, a source of mystical knowledge and experience, an expression of the essence of biblical Faith: that man can indeed enter into union with God – the primordial aspiration of man. »
At least this is his vocation.
« But this union is no mere fusion, a sinking in the nameless ocean of the Divine. »
This is the temptation of pantheism, which is fixing the gaze on the creature and slavery of the heart to its charm. Pantheism « consists in surrendering to the shock produced by the very depth of being, and in abandoning oneself to the impression of power and plenitude provoked in the soul by this inexhaustible flux of being in perpetual outpouring. To sink into pantheism one only needs to allow oneself to be overcome by the affirmation of being, free from all consideration of the limits wherein it is enclosed, conditioned and therefore subjugated. It is marvellous that being should be there, in front of us, all around us, including ourselves, that it should be there in its one and multiple act, that the aesthetic regard should contemplate its victory over nothingness as an absolute, as an infinite force, as a god! » (The Reign of Grace, CCR no 125, December 105, pp.5-6)
« It is a unity that creates love, a unity in which both God and man remain themselves and yet become fully one. As Saint Paul says: “ He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him ” (1 Co 6.17). »
After having boldly shown how in God there was a movement of “erotic” love towards His creature, aiming at union, the Pope begins to describe the predisposition of this creature to respond by a similar love:
« 11. The first novelty of biblical Faith consists, as we have seen, in its image of God. The second, essentially connected to this, is found in the image of man. The biblical account of creation speaks of the solitude of Adam, the first man, alongside whom God wills to place a helper. Of all other creatures, not one is capable of being the helper that man needs, even though he has assigned a name to all the wild beasts and birds and thus made them fully a part of his life. So God forms woman from the rib of man. Now Adam finds the helper that he needed: “ This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” (Gn 2.23). »
The words of Adam express the joy that he experienced in discovering this creature, similar to him, in a world that until then was only mineral, plant and animal. They were then three persons: God, Adam and Eve. A divine simplicity, surpassing all that the pagans have imagined:
« Here one might detect hints of ideas that are also found, for example, in the myth mentioned by Plato, according to which man was originally spherical, because he was complete in himself and self-sufficient. As a punishment for pride, however, he was split in two by Zeus, so that now he longs for his other half, striving with all his being to possess it and thus regain his integrity8. The biblical narrative does not speak of punishment, but we find all the same the idea that man is somehow incomplete because of his formation, seeking in another the part that is lacking to his wholeness, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become “complete”. The biblical account thus concludes with a prophecy about Adam: “ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.” (Gn 2.24) »
The relationship of Adam and Eve is a relationship of deep love of the entire being, which is based not on fleeting sentiments nor on whims or passions, but on a similarity of nature, on a social interaction and a complementarity:
« Two aspects of this are important. First, eros is somehow rooted in the very nature of man; Adam is a seeker, who “ leaves his mother and father ” in order to find his woman; only together do the two represent complete humanity and become “ one flesh ”. »
« In a union of subordination determined by nature before being the operation of the will; it is physical before being moral. The conditions of this union are determined by anatomy and physiology, which are those of the complementarity of organs as functions, that is, of two independent systems that are strictly adjusted to each other, capable of synchronisation and perfectly completed. » (Georges de Nantes, CCR no 98, May 1978, p.7)
« The second aspect is no less important: in accordance with an orientation that originates in creation, eros directs man towards marriage, to a bond that is unique and definitive; thus, and only thus, does it fulfil its deepest purpose. Corresponding to the image of a monotheistic God is monogamous marriage. Marriage based on exclusive and definitive love becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people and vice versa. The way that God loves becomes the measure of human love. This close connection between eros and marriage in the Bible has practically no equivalent in extra-biblical literature. »
Thus, a word sufficed to differentiate it from the ugly Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek or Aztec mythologies… By saying: « Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth », God instituted for all time marriage, which Christ would make a Sacrament. Yet the mission given them to live on earth in mutual love arouses in both these wretched human beings the same movement of deep love for this Creator God who came to visit them in the cool of the day.
JESUS CHRIST – THE INCARNATE LOVE OF GOD.
« 12. Though up to now we have been speaking mainly of the Old Testament, nevertheless the profound compenetration of the two Testaments as the one Scripture of the Christian Faith has already become evident. The real novelty of the New Testament lies not so much in new ideas as in the figure of Christ Himself, who gives flesh and blood to those concepts – an unprecedented realism. »
Fifty-five years ago, Fr. de Nantes wrote: « I accuse progressivism of separating us from Jesus Christ Our Lord and of constructing a wall between Him and us, and of painting thereon a vulgar, ugly, hurtful image, which they give us to adore under the name of “the Christ”. » (Letter to My Friends no 77, October 1960) Today, before drawing up in Part 2 of the encyclical the first measures of a restoration of all things in Christ, the Pope restores the very “icon” of Christ:
« Already in the Old Testament, the novelty of the Bible did not consist merely in abstract notions but in the unpredictable and in some sense unprecedented activity of God. »
Throughout Sacred History, the goodness of God clearly manifests itself. So many transparent figures speak to us in advance of Jesus and Mary, convincing us that God is good. It suffices to follow the golden thread that leads us to the Cross and its mystery.
« This divine activity now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God Himself who goes in search of the “ lost sheep ”, a suffering and lost humanity. When Jesus speaks in His parables of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, of the woman who looks for the lost coin, of the father who goes to meet and embrace his prodigal son, these are no mere words: they constitute an explanation of His very being and acting. »
Jesus behaves as a man and yet, in the very midst of this sociability, it is God who reveals Himself: « He who sees Me sees the Father. » (Jn 14.9)
« His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against Himself in which He gives Himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form. »
This « turning of God against Himself » was announced in the sacrifice of Isaac (Gn 22), the summit of the Old Testament, a very moving representation of the very necessary sacrifice of expiation to come. Like the sacrifice of Iphigenia at Aulis, with all the distance that separates a fiction, inspired by God, from the cruel reality of a historical psychodrama created by the same God, the sacrifice of Isaac bears the revelation of His very good and merciful Heart.
By asking Abraham to become part of His plan of mercy, in accordance with the Covenant that unites them one to the other, God revealed His love for His creature, His craving to obtain a similar love from him. He indeed obtained it. To sacrifice Isaac, the child of the promise? even before he had begotten descendants? Abraham did not oppose it in any way; he did not even think of doing so. A certainty haunted him: All that comes from God is good. Abraham obeyed with a perfect love by which he merited to become the ancestor of the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus. Already he was raising his arm when an angel stopped him. A ram would substitute, and the Father made peace with the human race, thanks to the prayer of Abraham, until his own Son would suffer one day for sin, in order to save all men.
« He who turns his eyes towards the pierced Side of Christ, of which John speaks (cf. 19.37), understands the starting-point of this Encyclical Letter: “ God is love ” (1 Jn 4.8). It is in this pierced Side that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move. »
This route is that « of the forest of Crosses », according to the title of a poem of Fr. de Nantes, describing the perils of the journey, and warning us that, in our heart as in the Heart of Jesus, the Cross must be planted.
« 13. Jesus gave this act of oblation an enduring presence through the institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper. He anticipated His Death and Resurrection by already giving at that Hour to His disciples, in the bread and wine, His very self, His Body and Blood as the new manna (cf. Jn 6.31-33). »
« Take and eat. This is My Body ». This action and this word signify that Christ is giving His own Body for food. We know, however, from the discourse on the Bread of life to which the Holy Father refers here, that « it is not a question of little pieces of His flesh being given to nourish the bodies of men biologically. Jesus had already warned against this... cannibalism, that became the unthinkable heresy of the Capharnaites, by saying, “The flesh is of no avail; it is the spirit that gives life.” (Jn 6.64.) What He announced and later instituted was the reception of His Body as of a mysterious bread, nourishing the being in an eminent and spiritual manner: “Who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life” (Jn 6.54) It is not a question of fusing two beings or two spirits so that the one is annihilated in the Other; it is a communication of spiritual goods in a Person to person relationship through the gift of His Body. » (G. de Nantes, The Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of the Lord, New Theology of the Eucharist, CCR no 96, March 1978, p.7)
« The ancient world had ardently wished that the true food of man – what truly nourishes him as man –might ultimately be the Logos, eternal wisdom: this Logos now truly becomes food for us – as love. The Eucharist draws us into the act of self-oblation of Jesus. More than just statically receiving the incarnate Logos, we enter into the very dynamic of His self-giving. The imagery of marriage between God and Israel is now realised in a way previously inconceivable: what had meant standing in God’s presence now becomes union through sharing in the self-gift of Jesus, Communion in His Body and Blood. »
Through the mediation of His flesh, that is, the restored and recovered Presence of His living human being, Jesus gives Himself fully to His own under the singular form of a beneficent, spiritual food, which is far more expressive than any other operation of the flesh in an act of human love.
This number 13 of the encyclical vindicates the whole theology of the Eucharist of our Father, which some few wanted to accuse of “sensualism”. The intention of the Creator was, from all eternity, to give His Flesh to eat, and His Blood to drink. In anticipation of this gift, He created Adam and Eve, making them man and woman. The communion that He wanted to give us governed the creation of Adam and Eve. God wanted man and woman to find their communion in each other in order to enter into His grace.
« The “mysticism” of the Sacrament, which rests on the condescension of God towards us, is on a totally different level and leads to heights that no human mystical elevation could ever reach. »
About what “Sacrament” is the Holy Father speaking here? About marriage or the Eucharist? Both of them! Concerning marriage, St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians « This sacrament is great; I am applying it to Christ and the Church » (Ep 5.32), to Christ and the Virgin Mary, to the Word and the Holy Spirit. However great this Sacrament is, it is still only the figure of the Eucharistic communion, which is actually, in its fullness, the circumincession of divine charity into which human beings enter directly, without any symbolism and without any imperfection.
« No natural human gift approaches even remotely the realism of this total Presence in the flesh and its sublimity. The mode of Communion, that of eating, seems to us both the summit to which love could aspire and yet the impossible action that love would be mad to imagine for a single instant. » (G. de Nantes, ibid.)
« 14.We must now, however, consider another aspect: the “mysticism” of the Sacrament is social in character, for in sacramental Communion I am united to the Lord, like all the other communicants. As St. Paul says, “ Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread ” (1 Co 10.17). Union with Christ is also union with all those to whom He gives Himself. I cannot possess Christ for myself alone; I can belong to him only in union with all those who have become, or who will become, His own. Communion draws me out of myself towards Him, and at the same time towards unity with all Christians. We become “one body”, completely joined in a single existence. Love of God and love of neighbour are now truly united: God incarnate draws us all to Himself. We can thus understand how agapè also became a term for the Eucharist: there the agapè of God comes to us bodily, in order to continue His work in us and through us. »
In the sacramental symbolism of the meal taken in common, the Eucharist carries out Christ’s nourishing of His Church, as His own Body; hence the necessity for every priest to repeat the Mass in every church, wherever two or three come together in the name of Jesus.
« Only by keeping in mind this Christological and sacramental basis can we correctly understand the teaching of Jesus on love. The transition that He makes from the Law and the Prophets to the twofold commandment of love of God and of neighbour, and his grounding the whole life of faith on this central precept, is not simply a matter of morality – something that could exist apart from and alongside faith in Christ and its sacramental re-actualisation. Faith, worship and ethos are interwoven as a single reality that takes shape in our encounter with agapè of God. Here the usual contraposition between worship and ethics simply falls apart. “Worship” itself, Eucharistic communion, includes the reality both of being loved and of loving others in turn. A Eucharist that does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented. Conversely, as we shall have to consider in greater detail below, the “ commandment ” of love is only possible because it is more than a requirement. Love can be “ commanded ” because it has first been given. »
In order to understand such a rich teaching, one must have devotion to the Eucharistic Heart to Heart of Jesus-Mary, wherein love pours from these divine Hearts into our hearts. Sister Lucy saw with her very eyes the delightful illustration of this by contemplating in the Trinitarian theophany of Tuy: « beneath the left arm of the Cross, some large letters, as though of crystalline water running down from above the altar, forming these words: Grace and Mercy. »
« 15. This principle is the starting-point for understanding the great parables of Jesus. The rich man (cf. Lk 16.19-31) begs from his place of torment that his brothers be informed about what happens to those who simply ignore the poor man in need. Jesus takes up this cry for help as a warning to help us return to the right path. »
Jesus, who comes from above, passes on to us the cry of the damned, in order to warn us: it is the equivalent of the vision of Hell given to the seers of Fatima by Our Lady. It is all the more striking here because Paul VI and John Paul II had made a naturalistic application of this parable of the bad rich man and the poor Lazarus: « It is indispensable, as the Encyclical Populorum Progressio already asked », John Paul II declared in the encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis, to recognise the equal right of each people to “be seated at the table of the banquet, [of the goods of this world] instead of lying outside the door like Lazarus, while “the dogs came and licked his sores ” (cf. Lk 16.21). » Benedict XVI goes back to the literal sense, which is supernatural, of the warning of the Lord, to snatch us from Hell « and put us on the right path » to Heaven.
« The parable of the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10.25-37) offers two particularly important clarifications. Until that time, the concept of “ neighbour ” was understood as referring essentially to compatriots and to foreigners who had settled in the land of Israel; in other words, to the closely-knit community of a single country or people. This limit is now abolished. Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbour. »
May we permit ourselves to point out that this is not precisely the lesson that Our Lord draws from this parable, since He agreed with the « lawyer » for having concluded, to the contrary, that « the one who proved himself the neighbour to the man who fell among the robbers […] was “the one who showed mercy on him”. » That is to say, the Samaritan, the figure of Our Lord Himself bending down to our misery in order to raise us. Nevertheless:
« The concept of “neighbour” is now universalised, yet it remains concrete. Despite being extended to all mankind, it is not reduced to a generic, abstract and undemanding expression of love, but calls for my own practical commitment here and now. The Church has the duty to interpret ever anew this relationship between near and far with regard to the actual daily life of her members. »
One would say that Benedict XVI is working at the task of rectifying all the abuses of Holy Scripture committed by his predecessors. On 7 December 1965, in his closing speech to the Council, Pope Paul VI declared that « the old story of the Samaritan formed the model for the spirituality of the Council. » In what manner? By reconciling itself with « man as he really is today, living man, man totally taken up with himself, man who not only makes himself the centre of his own interests, but who dares to claim that he is the end and aim of all existence », in short, « man who makes himself God. » As for Benedict XVI, he does not appear prepared to kneel before the Enemy of God who defies and hates Him, but only before Jesus Christ, present in our neighbour:
« Lastly, it is particularly fitting here to mention the great parable of the Last Judgement (cf Mt 25.31-46), in which love becomes the criterion for the definitive decision concerning the worth or lack of worth of human life. Jesus identifies Himself with those in need, with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. “ As you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me ” (Mt 25.40). Love of God and love of neighbour have become one: in the least of the brethren we find Jesus Himself, and in Jesus we find God. »
St. Paul had the revelation of this on the road to Damascus: « I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. »
LOVE OF GOD AND LOVE OF NEIGHBOUR
« 16. Having reflected on the essence of love and its meaning in biblical Faith, we are left with two questions concerning our own attitude: is it even possible to love God without seeing Him? And can love be commanded? To the double commandment of love corresponds a double objection that is echoed in these questions. No one has ever seen God, so how could we love Him? Moreover, love cannot be commanded; it is ultimately a feeling that is either there or not, nor can it be produced by the will.
« Scripture seems to reinforce the first objection when it states: “ If anyone says: I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen ” (1 Jn 4.20). This text, however, does certainly not exclude the love of God as something impossible. On the contrary, the whole context of the passage quoted from the First Letter of John shows that such love is explicitly demanded. It is the unbreakable bond between love of God and love of neighbour that is emphasised. One is so closely connected to the other that to say that we love God becomes a lie if we are closed to our neighbour or hate him altogether. We should rather interpret this Johannine verse to mean that love of neighbour is a path that leads to the encounter with God as well, and that closing our eyes to our neighbour also blinds us to God. »
All the more so because my neighbour is first of all Jesus Christ Our Lord in Person, as He Himself revealed in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
« 17. True, no one has ever seen God as He is in Himself. Yet God has not remained totally invisible to us nor is He simply inaccessible. God loved us first, says the Letter of John quoted above (cf. 4.10), and this love of God has appeared in our midst. He has become visible in as much as He “ has sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him ” (1 Jn 4.9). God has made Himself visible: in Jesus we are able to see the Father (cf. Jn 14.9).
« Indeed, God is visible in a number of ways. In the love-story recounted by the Bible, He comes towards us, He seeks to win our hearts, all the way to the Last Supper, to the piercing of His Heart on the Cross, to His apparitions after the Resurrection and to the great deeds by which, through the activity of the Apostles, He guided the nascent Church along its path.
« By the same token, the Lord has never been absent from subsequent Church history: He encounters us ever anew, in the men and women who reflect His presence, in His word, in the Sacraments, and especially in the Eucharist. In the Liturgy of the Church, in her prayer, in the living community of believers, we experience the love of God, we perceive His presence and we thus learn to recognise that presence in our daily lives.
« He has loved us first and He continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling that we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, He makes us see and experience His love, and since He has loved us first, love can also blossom as a response within us. »
We must not forget the great initiatives of God by which He shows that « He encounters us ever anew » in our modern times, namely the revelations of the Sacred Heart at Paray-le-Monial in the seventeenth century; the manifestation of the Miraculous Medal and of Our Lady of Victories at Paris, the apparitions of the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes in the nineteenth century; of the Immaculate Heart of Mary at Fatima and Pontevedra and of the Holy Trinity at Tuy in the twentieth century. In this last manifestation, for the benefit of those who in our times of apostasy « do not believe, do not adore, do not hope, do not love », because they have not seen this Son of God ascended to His Father with their own eyes nor heard Him with their own ears, Sister Lucy saw the Father in the form of a “ man ”, above the Cross of His Son: « the face of a man and His body to the waist. »
Now, the aim of these Marian apparitions and of this Trinitarian theophany is to make known to us what the present will of God is for producing love: God wishes to establish in the world devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
« In the gradual unfolding of this encounter, it is clearly appears that love is not merely a sentiment. Sentiments come and go. A sentiment can be a marvellous first spark, but it is not the fullness of love. Earlier we spoke of the process of purification and maturation by which eros comes fully into its own, becomes love in the full meaning of the word. It is characteristic of mature love that it calls into play all the capacities of man; it engages the whole man, so to speak.
« Contact with the visible manifestations of the love of God can awaken within us a feeling of joy born of the experience of being loved. This encounter, however, also requires our will and our intellect. Acknowledgment of the living God is a path towards love, and the “yes” of our will to His will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all-embracing act of love. This process, however, is constantly progressing; love is never “ finished ” or completed; throughout life, it changes and matures, and thus remains faithful to itself. Idem velle atque idem nolle9 – to want the same thing and to reject the same thing; this was what the Ancients defined as the authentic content of love: to become similar one to the other, which leads to unity of will and thought. »
For example, to recommend the reparatory devotion of the five First Saturdays of the month, because it is the will of God expressed by Our Lady; or to consecrate Russia to Her Immaculate Heart because She demands this insistently.
And to recite the Rosary every day.
« The love-story between God and man consists in the very fact that this communion of will increases in a communion of thought and sentiment, and thus our will and the will of God increasingly coincide: the will of God is no longer for me an alien will, something imposed on me from without by the commandments, but it is now my own will, based on the realisation that, in fact, God is more deeply present to me than I am to myself.10 Then self-abandonment to God increases and God becomes our happiness (cf. Ps 73  23-28). »
For the second time, Benedict XVI refers to this psalm (supra, n° 9, in fine). He quoted it at the end of his memoirs with the commentary of St. Augustine:
« What Augustine writes here illustrated to my eyes my own destiny. The psalm, from the tradition of Wisdom, shows the difficulty of the Faith, which comes from its earthly failure. He who stands alongside God is not necessarily on the side of success: cynics are precisely men on whom everything seems to smile. How can this be understood? The Psalmist finds the answer by standing before God, with whom he understands the vanity of riches and material success and recognises what is truly necessary and salvific. Ut jumentum factus sum apud te et ego semper tecum. We would translate this today by: “ When my heart was troubled, I was mad and unreasonable; I was like a senseless beast of burden in Your eyes. Yet I was continually before You.” »
« 18. Love of neighbour is thus shown to be possible in the sense defined by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. »
To understand this major conclusion in order to put it into practice in the manner that the second part of the encyclical expounds, it is necessary to reread St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus:
« There is a sister in the community who has the talent of displeasing me in everything, her way of doing things, her words, her character seem very disagreeable to me. Nevertheless, she is a holy nun who must be very pleasing to God; therefore, not wanting to yield to the natural antipathy that I felt, I said to myself that charity should not consist merely in the feelings but in deeds, so I set myself to do for this sister what I would have done person I love most. Every time I met her I prayed to the Good God for her, offering to Him all her virtues and merits. I felt that this was very pleasing to Jesus, for there is no artist who is not gratified when his works are praised, and Jesus, the Artist of souls is pleased when we do not stop at the exterior, but, penetrating to the inner sanctuary He has chosen for His dwelling, admire its beauty. I did not rest satisfied with praying a great deal for this Sister, who gave me such occasions for self-mastery, I tried to render her as many services as I could, and when tempted to answer her sharply, I contented myself with giving her my friendliest smile and I tried to change the subject, for the Imitation says: “ It is more profitable to leave everyone to his way of thinking than to give way to contentious discourses.” »
« Sometimes, when I was not at recreation (I mean during work hours), having occasion to work with this sister, when my struggles became too violent, I would run away like a deserter. As she was absolutely unaware of the way I felt towards her, she never suspected the reasons for my conduct and remained persuaded that her character was pleasing to me. One day at recreation, she said these words to me with a beaming face: “ My dear Sister Thérèse, tell me what attraction you find in me, for whenever you look at me I see you smiling?” Ah! What attracted me was Jesus hidden in the depths of her soul… Jesus who makes sweet even that which is most bitter… I replied to her that I smiled because I was happy to see her (of course I did not add that it was from a spiritual viewpoint). » (The Story of a Soul, Manuscript “C”, 1897, folio 14)
« This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter that has become a communion of will, even affecting feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. »
« How did Jesus love His disciples and why did He love them? Ah! It was not their natural qualities that could attract Him; between them and Him there was an infinite distance. He was knowledge, Eternal Wisdom; they were poor sinners, ignorant and full of earthly ideas. Yet Jesus calls them His friends, His brethren. He desires to see them reign with Him in the Kingdom of His Father, and in order to admit them to this Kingdom He wills to die on the Cross, for He said: Greater love than this no man has, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
« Dear Mother, as I meditated on these words of Jesus, I understood how imperfect my love for my Sisters was. I saw that I did not love them as the Good God loves them. Ah! I understand now that perfect charity consists in bearing all the defects of others, in not being surprised at their weaknesses, and in being edified at the smallest virtues that we see them practice, but above all I understood that charity must not remain shut up in bottom of the heart: No man, Jesus said, lights a candle to put it under a bushel; but upon a candlestick, that it give light to all in the house. It seems to me that this candle represents the charity that ought to enlighten and gladden, not only those who are dear to us, but all those who are of the household, without excluding anyone. (ibid., folio 12)»
« Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in the other an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern that I give him not only through the organisations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give the other much more than his outward necessities; I can give him the look of love that he craves. Here we see the necessary interplay between love of God and love of neighbour of which the First Letter of John speaks with such insistence. If I have no contact whatsoever with God in my life, then I cannot see in the other anything more than the other, and I am incapable of seeing in him the divine image.
« On the other hand, if in my life I fail completely to heed the other, solely out of a desire to be “ devout ” and to perform my “ religious duties ”, then my relationship with God will also grow arid. It becomes merely “ proper ”, but loveless.
« Only my readiness to encounter my neighbour and to show him love makes me sensitive to God as well. Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me and to His manner of loving me. The saints – consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta – constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Lord in the Eucharist, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. »
The example of Mother Teresa, beatified by John Paul II is poorly chosen, salva reverentia! since she was seen going to a Buddhist pagoda, in order to lose herself in prayer, before the statue of Buddha. (Photos and explanations in He is Risen n° 15, November 2003, pp. 1-8.) Is it the « encounter with the Lord in the Eucharist » that led her there?
Instead, let us take as a model St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. « the greatest saint of modern times », according to Saint Pius X. It was on Christmas Day 1886 that she “converted”, after having had « had the joy of receiving the strong and mighty God ». In what did this conversion consist? « In a word I felt love enter into my heart and a need for self-forgetfulness in order to please others, and from that time I was happy! »
« Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable; they form a single commandment. Both, however, live from the prevenient love of God who has loved us first. No longer is it a question, then, of a “ commandment ” imposed from without and calling for the impossible, but rather of an experience of love bestowed from within, a love that by its very nature must then be shared with others. Love grows through love. Love is “ divine ” because it comes from God and unites us to God; through this unifying process it makes us a “We” that transcends our divisions and makes us one, until in the end God is “ all in all ” (1 Co 15.28). »
Taken from He is Risen! n° 43, March 2006
(1) Cf. Jenseits von Gut und Böse, IV, 168 ( Beyond Good and Evil ).
(2) X, 69 : Les Belles Lettres, Paris (1942), p. 71.
(3) Cf. René Descartes, Œuvres XII : V. Cousin éd., Paris (1824), pp. 95 sq.
(4) II, 5 : SCh 381, p. 196.
(5) Ibid., p. 198.
(6) Cf. Métaphysique, XII, 7.
(7) Cf. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite who, in his work De divinis nominibus IV, 12-14 : PG 3, 709-713 : Œuvres complètes, Paris (1943), p. 106-109, calls God Himself both eros et agapè.
(8) Cf. The Banquet, XIV-XV, 189 c - 192 d : Les Belles Lettres, Paris (1984), pp. 29-36.
(9) Salluste, Conjuration de Catilina, XX, 4.
(10) Cf. St. Augustine, Confessions, III, 6, 11 : CCL, 27, 32 : Bibliothèque augustinienne 13, Paris (1962), p. 383.