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January 26, 2006


Spirit of Vatican II

Here is my initial reaction, while still reading it:

The new Encyclical looks very much like an olive branch. The first quote is from Nietzsche, the anti-Christian thinker who has implanted himself most insidiously in Christian consciousness. The Pope gently chides his notorious compatriot, called "the German philosopher". This is a gesture of reconciliation, of recognition, and shows a willingness to take on board what is true in the Nietschean critique.

Some expected the Pope to confine Eros to heterosexuals, leaving homosexuals to specialize in Agape. But Ratzinger knows his classics, and knows that the philosophical theory of Eros was fashioned by Socrates and Plato in response to the sublimity of male beauty. The Pope cited the "Phaedrus" on this point in a 2002 message to Communione e Liberazione.

How can he send gay-friendly messages at the same time as he issues dismal documents branding homosexual orientation as objectively disordered? Well, Plato's "Laws" seems to contradict his "Phaedrus" in much the same way. I think we can understand it as follows: Consider one of Rudolf Nureyev's heart-stopping leaps -- the feeling of admiration that this icon of male beauty arouses could be intense, passionate, yet have no connection with an inclination to sexual activity -- indeed the admiration of beauty is an antidote to lust and stills sensual passion. So Ratzinger may be saying that eros is holy, opens us to God, and has nothing to do with impure passion.

I note that the second quotation in the letter comes from Virgil's "Eclogues", another gay classic (from which Andre Gide drew the title of his once-scandalous apologia "Corydon"). The literary and esthetic heritage of the Roman Church is in safe hands! Also, did any Pope ever speak so kindly of Julian the Apostate? 

Obviously, the Pope wants us to love one another, and not to turn the Church into an ideological battlefield (as "Whispers in the Loggia" points out). He is writing now from the upper reaches of orthodoxy, no longer obsessing about the fine print.

He sounded very modern when he talked about the Church "blowing the whistle" on our sexual lives. But the German and the other translations speak rather of hanging up tablets of interdictions.

Some, like Paddy Agnew in The Irish Times, wonder if he is preaching only to the elderly among the converted -- what he says about Marx seems to hark back three decades (though if present world inequality brings a revival of Marxism, that might change).


What a load of crap the above is! The "Eclogues" a "gay classic"? News to those who saw the Eclogues as prophetic about the birth of Christ.


At any rate, back to Amy's point :"he says outright that those who carry out the Church's charitable activity "must not be inspired by ideologies aimed at improving the world..." (33), and should be wary of at trying to do "what God's governance of the world apparently cannot: fully resolve every problem.""

Very timely in the week of the Campaign for Human Development.

As many of us are getting homilies about the "disease" of poverty, inspired by these modern architectonic assaults on human nature to "solve" poverty, much of this part of the encyclical is a reminder that "the poor you will always have with you."


Favorite passage: "The State may not impose religion, yet it must guarantee religious freedom and harmony between the followers of different religions. For her part, the Church, as the social expression of Christian faith, has a proper independence and is structured on the basis of her faith as a community which the State must recognize."

Res ipsa loquitur. Listen up, folks in Washington.

John Henry

I have only read the first part so far. But towards the end of that part are words that could have very well been addressed directly to me:

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 image of God. But if in my life I fail completely to heed others, 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.

I have focused so much lately on myself and how I need to be purified of my sins, that I have neglected the reason Christ poured his life and love into me in the first place: to share it with my neighbor. And consequently, my relationship with Christ has suffered. Prophetic...


The entire program of catching up eros into agape is all in Dante - it's one of the main themes of the Divine Comedy. Over and over, pagan themes, images, even entire phrases are re-visioned, re-imagined, and captured for Christ. Eros was a form of madness (see especially Aeneas and Dido in the Aeneid, among many, many example), but Dante showed how eros could be rightly ordered and find its place in agape --- much as C.S.Lewis said that it was not true that when the real God came, the half-gods had to leave; rather, it was only when the real God came that that half-gods could "stay" or be truly understood. (Or something to that effect - I don't have the quote in front of me).

The Divine Comedy, coupled with Dante's "New Life," is an amazing tour-de-force and would make great companion reading with the encyclical. In fact, I am teaching on the subject soon!
Mary - http://www.celestialnavigation.net/dante.html


I'm pretty sure he is taking aim at liberation theology. Interesting parallel: his vigil homily at Cologne: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2005/august/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20050820_vigil-wyd_en.html


I have the growing impression that perceptive recipients of the NGO-type, "building the kingdom"-type, aid, are begging donors not to add to corruption by well-meaning foreign aid, for instance.

Please, if receptive social-justice-formed Catholics could let this encyclical shift their perspective just a degree more deeply into real eros (and philea) in offering and effectuating charity.

One distinction I have read elsewhere is "serving the good" vs. "effecting the good," the latter being God's sphere. Tending directly to the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, with efficient faithful organization. Not trying to make others do it, or even pay for it, or other state-social engineering. The temptation to leverage the state betrays the otherwise deeply-blessed giver, IMO.

In addition, honest reflection on the motives of much social justice might reveal hatred and superiority toward "the rich," "those who oppose us," etc. Even when triumphing temporally, a kingdom of this world, unirenic and divisive.

The joy of giving vs. spiritual ambition and "justice" as an internecine weapon.

The cautionary, clarifying notes in the encyclical could yield rich fruit; deeply honoring them could magnetize good will, cooperation, and enthusiasm by legions more of us out here, and thoroughly distinguish charity from swagger.

Amy's tone of "hmmmmm..." suggests this is a Big Opportunity.

Maureen O'Brien

As with his books and articles written before he became Pope, this encyclical is written very clearly, combines well-known facts to create new insights, and invites much chewing over.

The idea that all love, even agape, is a two-way street, for instance. (Maybe Ayn Rand wouldn't hate this encyclical, after all.) The thing about Aristotle's prime mover not actually loving (man, that's sad!). The cute Plato story about Man originally being sphere-shaped (had you ever heard that before?). Darn it, it's all just so interesting!

But I'm still not done reading, 'cause I've been reading the whole thing out loud for archive.org. (As I threatened.) This has actuallly been good for me, because it makes me slow down and think. (Mostly, "geez, I guess I've got to go do something charitable".) But it does impair me in argument.

But if anybody's interested, pop over to marialectrix.blogspot.com and you can listen to the Introduction and the first part of Part I. The rest of Part I should be up later today, and Part II tomorrow (I hope).



I read the letter in its entireity, but only once, and without taking notes (though I did have a highlighter). I'm not going to quote the text so much as summarize my impressions.

It seems to me that if we were to try to simplify what our Holy Father is saying, he is saying that it is OK to be fully human - to expereince whatever passions and feelings you experience. Presumably, this would include gay infatuation if that is what is how eros comes to you.

Next, the Holy Father is inviting us to an encounter with a personal God,..., a God who is not just an abstract idea of the eternal ground of being who is all knowing and all powerful but incomprehensible.

No. This is a God who in some mysterious shares in the experience of eros in a perfect way that becomes transformed into agape. This is a God who is not only all knowing, but all feeling. This is a passionate God!

And we who experience eros are made in this God's image.

When we encounter this God, our own experience of eros can become transformed like his to agape. In eros,..., in the initial stages of falling head over heals in love or infatuation, we recognize the human longing to be swept off our feet and lifted into ecstacy where we seem to lose our minds - lose our very selves.

In agape, we are lost to ourselves in the other. What eros sought is achieved in agape.

To Amy's point about changing structures and chaging the world, these can be part of a life of one who has lost him or herself in agape, but the movement of love from eros to agape is always and everywhere person to person. It is never person to idea.

Even in the encounter with God, it is not that we intellectually comprehend the idea of God that perfects the Christian. Rather, it is that we become lost in love with the person of Christ. This loss of self in union with Christ leads us love those whom he loves.

Little Christian children know that Jesus loves everyone. We are called to do the same.

We are called to the same not vy getting the right idea or even the right actions, but the right feelings.

To all who say "Love is not a feeling", Benedict is saying, "That's not quite right".

Love is more than a passing feeling, but it is not devoid of feeling. It always begins with eros. The spark of infatuation and the accompanying desire to lose one's very self in the other is the clue to what we should feel towards every human person we encounter.

It is frequently said that love is not a feeling, but a decision. Benedict is saying it is a choice to feel, or at least open one's self to feeling for the other.

Who is the other?

Benedict's response is that the other is always and everywhere the very one in front of your face. Love that one. Don't just think it. Don't just strive for it as an abstract principle. Don't just do the right things. Instead, open yourself up to feeling it!

This does not mean that we will walk around wanting to have physical sex with every person we encounter, and much of what Benedict is saying about the purification of eros is telling us that. As we lose ourselves in agape with Christ in prayer and in the persons we encounter day to day, gradually, we come too recognize that eros, raw passionate desire, is not aimed at mere sex.

This is a process, and the letter states that. Without explicitly saying it, the Holy Father is admitting the possibility of some mistakes along the way. Even the one who makes no mistake will not fully understand what agape is or how it transforms eros until he or she has done it over and over for a period of time. Maybe the process continues till death, and even into the state known as purgatory.

Yesterday, Amy wrote that she was delayed in commenting on the letter by a sick child.

The love a parent has for a child is eros and agape in the singular motion that the Holy Father is referring to in this letter, though he doesn't use this specific example extensively.

A good parent does not love a child disspassionately. A good parent does not solely treat a child well without feeling, or simply avoid doing harm, or apply abstract principles to how to treat the child.

The parent feels first, and actions such treating the child well, avoiding harm, or learning good parenting principles follow.

And any parent honest with him or herself will admit some selfish desire gets mixed with the love of a child. Our parenting is a reflection of our very selves. Pride can distort parenting when it becomes more focused on the self than the child. We all know this. Yet, the Pope is reminding us that the selfish aspect of parenting is natural and good. Eros leads to agape, and is really one motion of love!

The child molesting parent confuses eros so that it misses its ultimate agapaic mark so obviously that most of us are repulsed by it. Yet, the problem is not eros per se, so much as the misdirection of eros.

The letter doesn't give us too much clear direction on how to know when eros is being misdirected. Instead, the Holy Father simply urges us to encounter the One in whom eros perfectly becomes agape. In that encoutner, the rest will gradually fall into place.

While affirming social justice teaching and traditional acts of charity such as the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, or the need to spend time in prayer, and so forth, and using some obvious examples of misdirected eros such as temple prostitution in the ancient near east, this letter is not really about morality or even ideas.

It is about passion, and in that sense, it is extreemly refreshing. We've lost sight of this in so much of the Church.

Christianity is not primarily a philosophy, or even a theology, or a political program, or a non-profit charitable organization, or a set of pious practices to be carried out legalistically.

As valuable as philosophy, theology, politics, charitable activity, and prayer are, they are all expressions of a feeling - and the ultimate test of Christianity is not orthodoxy, or orthopraxis, but love for the person in front of our face.

Opening ourselves to erotic love that moves into agape for another human person is love for Christ and love for the God in whose image the human person is made. Genuine heartfelt love for a human person is the ultimate act of worship. This is what makes marriage a sacrament and a fortaste of our union with God.

Realistically, we may not feel this love for all the people around us today. So, we turn again to the encounter, praying not to follow a pious observence, but to drink from the well of love so that we might become open to love once again - genuine passionate concern for every person we encounter.

This passionate love is like all human erotic love. It is not a program to proseletize or change the other. It is a love that seeks ecstatic transcendence in losing one's very self to the other. It is the desire to let the other sweep you off your feet.

I'm starting to babble, so I'll stop.


Tim Ferguson

I've been mulling over some points of the encyclical that are not setting easy with me. I hesitate to say I disagree, but there are some things I need to ponder more. Here, for example, is one: (end of article 26) "Historically, the issue of the just ordering of the collectivity had taken a new dimension with the industrialization of society in the nineteenth century. The rise of modern industry caused the old social structures to collapse, while the growth of a class of salaried workers provoked radical changes in the fabric of society. The relationship between capital and labour now became the decisive issue—an issue which in that form was previously unknown. Capital and the means of production were now the new source of power which, concentrated in the hands of a few, led to the suppression of the rights of the working classes, against which they had to rebel."

Despite his criticism of Marxism, he seems to embrace a Marxist view of history - that the Industrial Revolution caused the class conflict that led to the political rebellions and revolutions that followed or went alongside it. Painting the European revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries as class struggle was the predominant view of things in history departments in the recent past, but my understanding is that, along with the belief that feudalism actually existed on a grand scale, such a simplistic view of things is passe. And topping off my discomfort, his statement that the "working classes" "had to rebel" seems to imply that power has to be in the hands of all the people. Certainly an acceptable view in a democracy, but is the Church going from viewing democracy as opposed to the faith (19th c.), to one possible system compatible with the faith (20th c.), to an essential political structure (21st c.)? Maybe I'm just more comfortable with saying that the Church doesn't endorse any particular political system as long as it's not antithetical to the Gospel.

And yes, I realize, this little paragraph isn't the point of Benedict's encyclical, but it's often these minor points that end up meaning a great deal later on.


What has stuck with me 24 hours after reading? That I am complimented as a married woman. A recognition and honoring of the eros and agape love I experience and live every day in my marriage.

[Tim F. - Seems to me Benedict is "taking on" elements of capitalism as well as marxism as have previous popes. Nothing new here, really. Do you believe a pope really has little to say to the world about economic issues?]


funniest quote:

"The epicure Gassendi used to offer Descartes the humorous greeting: 'O, Soul!' And Descartes would reply: 'O, Flesh!'

Like the first commenter, I think it's an olive branch. I,too, did a double take at the apparent nod of charity toward Julian the Apostate. But isn't this a victory, that even Julian the Apostate was forced to recognize the truth, the requirement that we love one another? Isn't this a ray of hope piercing through in the darkest of times?

I love BXVI's emphasis on love being an act of intellect and will, not a "feeling." This is Catholic to the core, and something that needs to be grasped better today.

Also, I agree with Amy's comment about his treatment of justice. BXVI invokes St. Thomas' definition of justice as each person receiving what is due to them, which is FAR more radical than the modern "liberal" idea of justice, which has been reduced to trite bumper sticker slogans with marxist overtones.


Oh yeah, extra credit for referring to the Catholic principle of Subsidiarity. Yay!

Chesterton/Belloc lovers will know what I mean.


I have only read it once and would like to read it more closely this weekend, but it struck me as a wonderfully concise exxplanation of what it means to be Christian. There are two quotes that did stick out for me. He writes, The increase in diversified organizations engaged in meeting various human needs is ultimately due to the fact that the command of love of neighbour is inscribed by the Creator in man's very nature.

As someone who has been exploring Scottish moral sense philosophy in working on my dissertation, this seemed quite important. This statement means that God has implanted in every man the necessary desrire to do good.

Just above that, he wrote to praise the charitable works performed by young people, and he wrote: For young people, this widespread involvement constitutes a school of life which offers them a formation in solidarity and in readiness to offer others not simply material aid but their very selves. The anti-culture of death, which finds expression for example in drug use, is thus countered by an unselfish love which shows itself to be a culture of life by the very willingness to “lose itself” (cf. Lk 17:33 et passim) for others.

The word play between culture of death and culture of life is familiar to most of us, but it still was a very stark reminder of that. And again, the sense that we are to "lose ourself for others" is one of the central themes of the encyclical and our faith. Say what you will about the Jesuits, but the the motto of my Jesuit high school - "Men for others" - never seemed as pertinent as it does now.

Shaun G

I haven't yet tackled the encyclical, but one question to those who have:

Amy says that "Benedict's first task is to rescue eros."

Maybe I'm just ignorant, but:

Does eros really need rescuing?

I mean, it's not there's been a grand resurgence of the Shaker movement.

I thought the Church settled this whole thing long ago:

The body is not intrisically bad, sex is not intrinsically bad, sex is in fact (as an expression of married love) great, etc.

Does the "rescuing" part have to do with the perception that eros, while a good and valid form of love, is still inferior to agape?

If so: Does the encyclical say that eros is not always inferior to agape?

And also if so: Is such a misunderstanding really a huge problem for Christians? I mean, it sounds like it's just a quibbling over terms. I don't think, in a practical sense, many people stop to analyse to what degree their romantic love is eros versus agape.

Shy One


The Church may have settled the whole thing for itself, but the world has not yet grasped it, and by world I do mean us Christians.

This encyclical is built precisely on the foundations of JPII's Theology of the Body, which desperately needs further dissemination throughout Christendom (and beyond). I think it's a brilliant way for a new pope to begin his discourse with his flock - to define terms, to remind us of the basics, to plead for sanity in the simplest of Gospel truths.


Shaun, IMHO the "rescuing" means reuniting eros and agape and putting them in proper relationship. Neither is dispensable. In today's world they are often divided (we're surrounded, eg, by runaway eros) or, when they're united, it's not done quite right.

Tim Ferguson

I agree Ellen, and I certainly think the pope has, and should have much to say on economic issues, especially in the demands for justice, what I'm talking about is not economics but politics - not so much capitalism but democracy. I think the popes have definitely had some solid criticism of capitalism.

What intrigues me (to say it concerns me or bothers me is probably an overstatement) is that the pope seems to be endorsing democracy - the notion that "power" rightly is in the hands of all the people. I'm not opposed to that notion, to be sure, but I don't know if it's the only political system that's consonant with the Gospel.


In enjoyed the Encyclical greatly. However, to me it really had the feel of being greatly truncated, with several abrupt jumps to conclusions that I don't think were clearly elucidated in the preceding text. I'm thinking about paragraphs 5, 7, 8 for example.

Given his past writing, the relatively abbreviated format of an Encyclical may be a challenge for Pope Benedict. He does say that he's just "emphasizing some basic elements", but I look forward to hearing more from him on this topic.

My only other criticism (if I would call it that) is that I think the shots at Marxism are a bit of a strawman argument. Maybe my view is too West-centric, but I'm not hearing the sorts of arguments that Benedict rightly refutes.

Caroline Gissler

I've often thought that the penchant for turning all the traditional works of charity, especially the corporal ones, into works of justice has been a sly attack on women. Men still run the world, the structures of injustice are historically more man-made than woman -made, and men have much more power to do works of justice and to change the unjust social structures than women do. What women did since the time of Christ was to excel in the works of charity. I don't mean that men didn't do them too, but they were par excellence the role of women, maybe the only role of women for most women. Then we came to our time and we were taught that feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, the works of mercy as we learned them were still good but "merely" charity, just band-aids while only social justice through changing social structures really, really mattered. Even our so- called charity was a parody because the poor had a right in justice to be fed, to be, clothed, etc. etc. And of course women could do social justice and many do but in this unjust world men, not women, were still best positioned to significantly advance social justice. What women were really good at for centuries had become second rate.


Some of the exchanges above misconstrue what is meant by "eros" and "agape" and charity. Its not accurate to simply subtract one or the other from Love, generically spoken, and say the remainder is x. Rather, these are all participations, to a greater or lesser extent.
Eros, Philia, Agape all presuppose and participate in Caritas, considered simply, as God's Love of Himself, which cannot be distinguished from his essence, hence Deus est Caritas. But participation must be full instantiations of what the participate in, and so if "eros" in not relatable to Caritas, then it's something else, or its a privation (ie. evil.) This seems to be the sense of "rehabilitation" that is going on.


Could much of what the Pope wrote in his encyclical be directed at married couples? After all, the Church teaches that erotic love expressed by spouses represents the that love Christ has for his Church. The self giving of spouses to eachother and to thier children transforms eros into agape love.

For the non married, the giving of the self to Christ bears the same fruit as the married; as one gives himself to Christ, the virtues of charity and mercy come forth.

Erotic love and Agape love point to Christ and his Church. IMHO, both forms of love are inferior to Whom we ultimatly must place our affections and desires.

Placing too much emphasis on whether the Pope has a Nietzschean view of Eros (ie Greek), or accepts the Marxists view of History misses the point. If anything the Holy Father points to the classical ideal of erotic sublimation.


ajb, I don't hear those arguments either, but I'm not in Latin America. I think there, and in some justice-oriented Catholic thinktanks, versions of the Marxist problem the Holy Father points to are very much in the mix. To the extent that, as the HF says, people will think it is morally wrong to assist the person in front of you out of charity, because that will prop up unjust structures. The encyclical is reminding us that when we're motivated by God's love we don't sacrifice today's innocents for tomorrow's utopia.

Which is, incidentally, not far from a very influential argument for abortion: overpopulation.


Does this eros-agape talk remind anyone of Theology of the Body?


was particularly overjoyed to read the following excerpt: "Significantly, our time has also seen the growth and spread of different kinds of volunteer work, which assume responsibility for providing a variety of services. I wish here to offer a special word of gratitude and appreciation to all those who take part in these activities in whatever way. For young people, this widespread involvement constitutes a school of life which offers them a formation in solidarity and in readiness to offer others not simply material aid but their very selves. The anti-culture of Death, which finds expression for example in drug use, is thus countered by an unselfish love which shows itself to be a culture of life by the very willingness to 'lose itself' (cf. Lk 17:33 et passim) for others."

It's as though His Holiness has given me and my fellow volunteers a Gold Star for our work here at Gould Farm, an insight I've eagerly shared with each of them. Considering we are at this very moment engaged in a problem-solving discussion with the guests about drug/alcohol abuse which has recently surfaced among the guest community, the Pope lends a clear directive of what a Christian response of the staff and volunteers looks like. We are to offer our very selves as the antidote through generous support, not retribution. This is challenging stuff: we can name the injustices acutely felt, yet-- who among us is without sin? The response is unending Love.


This papal encyclical remains evil to the extent it continues to demonize, dehumanize and deligitimize innocent gay women and men.

The Vatican is possibly the most sexually dysfunctional group of humans on earth, and the last place on earth I would come to for advice about sex!

Despite the relatively modern and positive tone about sex, the encyclical is only a part of the larger mood swings of a sexual dysfunctionality that is 'deeply rooted' and wild.


Mostly excellent comments above.

This is wonderful theology-of-the-body stuff, rooting eros and agape in both our relationships with God and our neighbor, the encyclical's two parts echoing the two great commandments. What Benedict is saying here, I think, is that eros is not an inferior precursor to agape, but necessarily co-equal to it: love requires a subject, not an object. If eros detached from agape is madness, agape detached from eros is bloodless.

He has, however, affirmed the rootedness of sexual complementarity in the order of creation (contra Fr. O'Leary's spin in the first comment above), and further affirmed its iconic nature with respect to Christ and His Church. He also has subtly outlined how the Church's response to Islam, statism, and materialism should take shape.

The entire encyclical stands in opposition to the view of God as slave-master posited by Islam; our God loves mankind, and love is incomprehensible without Him. When the Church exercises true charity "retail", person to person, the Christian has the opportunity to be an icon of Christ and reveal Him as source and inspiration; when charity is exercised "wholesale" through the arm of the state, the recipient is falsely oriented toward Caesar as the source of hope. He has further repudiated the confusion of these two in medieval Christendom's temporal order: laity are to lead in politics. The statism of the right and the statism of the left are both in opposition to the gospel. With respect to materialism, he has emphasized the deep need for personal concern as the great work of the Church providing that which the state intrinsically cannot. Eros personalizes agape as agape tames eros.


I'm still reading the encyclical as well. As I've posted in Catholic Sensibility, perhaps because of the conclusion of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, the very beautiful encyclical reminded me of a 1977 article by W.A. Visser 't Hooft, the first General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, that identified the threat to Christianity in Europe as being a return to paganism. The then-Cardinal Ratzinger, of course, worried about "new forms of religion," and claimed that Christianity was historically a "true Enlightenment," dispersing superstition and false claims to divinity of power and violence. Perhaps Pope Benedict worries about the return of the "divine madness" of an intoxicating and undisciplined eros amidst the boredom of modern unbelief.

Visser 't Hooft wrote that the "historic mission of Israel and, following Israel, of the Christian Church is to challenge the gods, to de-sacralize life and so to make the way free for the meeting with the one God who demands exclusive faithfulness." Visser 't Hooft continued, in a vein that I also found quite congruent with the aims of the first part of the encyclical:

"Neo-paganism demands the rehabilitation and emancipation of Eros which has been suppressed by the Judeo-Christian tradition. But we must ask whether Eros by itself is a reliable guide for the creation of deep and permanent human relations.

"The modern protest against the disqualification of Eros in the tradition of the church and in various forms of moralism is not without justification. In Christian theology and teaching, Eros has seldom been treated as a normal and basic constituent element of human existence, but as a dangerous and evil force. This was, of course, due to the fact that in the ancient pagan world Eros had been the object of worship, and the nature of eros-love was essentially different from the nature of agape-love, the love characteristic of the Christian life. Now in our day, Eros takes its revenge. Eros refuses to be ignored any longer. Some declare that the time has come to combine religion and eroticism, since 'both have the same aim: They want to change man and seek his re-birth' (Walter Schubart). Others are convinced that in order to serve Eros we must reject the God of the Bible. In this situation the message of the Christian Church is lacking in clarity. We know that Eros must not be allowed to be in sole charge of human relations. For Eros is finally self-seeking and so its victories are often Pyrrhic; the victor does not reap any fruit of his victory. Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence's friend and himself an apostle of Eros, spoke a true word when he said of Lady Chatterley's Lover that it was 'a beautiful, but inexpressibly sad book.' The qualification applies even more to the literature by lesser writers of the pan-erotic school.

"It is, then, clear that Eros needs Agape. The very best we have in our tradition concerning the relations between men and women is inspired by Agape, very especially the definite commitment of two human beings to each other as faithful partners for life. But we have not yet done our homework on the question of what can and must be the place of Eros in the lives of men and women who want to be instruments of the God-given Agape. The debate between Anders Nygren, Karl Barth, Denis de Rougemont and others on Eros and Agape has not led to any conclusion that we can use in our evangelistic approach. Until we have a clear word on this deeper issue, we cannot deal helpfully with the acute moral issues of our time. One wonders why this crucial issue has not been taken more seriously at the ecumenical level."





That was very insightful and brings out a whole set of issues that I've been hashing about for the last 20 years. Having previously worked in the "social justice" world, I became discouraged as it seemed that all we did is create more structures and a lobby group for more resources and more structures. Sure we did some good but it became very hard to keep you eye on the real immediate goals. Everyone lived with the naive belief that with enough money we could solve all problems. Or, some became completely cynical and came to believe that all efforts were futile. (ever meet a burned-out social worker?)

It was impossible to question whether we were doing good. Of course we were. All we needed were more resources.

In many ways it is a mirror of the capitalistic world without the discipline of markets. Consequently, the usual answer is to try to build in fake market disciplines like comprehensive testing in schools.

It's not that some of these things aren't useful or that more money doesn't often help but without love, it all falls far too short.

I came to the conclusion that making charity into social justice removed the love and without personal love, charitable works are futile. We all know this in our own families with our own children. As Christians, we are called to provide that same charity to the "other." Social-justice structures run by professionals can't do it and are often counter-productive.

The Victorians had a different way of looking at it and while not perfect I think it was superior to ours. They saw the world of business (men) as corrupt and the world of home (woman) as the better place. In that light, the tradition of charity (historically woman) needs to be elevated in importance because that is where love is most likely to brought to problems.

And coming back to the encyclical, isn't it about love. Real love.



Is there anyone OUT there who can get in touch with the Pope and/or other prominent Catholic leaders to help make .love domains (TLDs) a positive reality on the Internet.

The goal of the dotLOVE movement is precisely that: to make .love an everyday expression (of love of course!) on the Internet.


If there is anyone OUT there who can help bring this message to the Pope and help make this dream a reality, that would be greatly appreciated!

I remain yours sincerely,

Nathan Braun

Peter Nixon

There’s a lot going on in this encyclical, but I can see themes that go all the way back to Benedict’s Introduction to Christianity. Written in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, the book takes seriously the great modern critics of religion: Marx, Nietzsche and Freud. Marx argued that religion was the “opiate of the people,” that it prevented them from challenging unjust social relations. Freud saw religion as psychologically repressive, particularly in the sexual sphere. Nietzsche despised the moral dimension of Christianity, its preference for the poor and powerless. While these three disagreed on much, they were united in the belief that to be authentically human is to leave God and religion behind.

In the encyclical, Benedict suggests that the ideas of these men are still powerfully at work in our culture. Contemporary unbelief often sees religion as a reactionary and repressive force, animated by a hatred of the human and particularly threatened by eros. There is also a religious response to the modern critique that tries to ensure the continued relevance of religion by presenting it primarily as an agent of social or personal transformation. Theology becomes anthropology. While this path corrects some of the mistakes the Church has made in the past, it often leaves Christians unable to articulate why we do what we do.

We do not know how to love as we ought, and we do not love as we should. On that much, at least, Christianity and its modern critics agree. But learning to love is less about the “liberation” of eros and more about its purification in agape. It is the conviction of a Christian that one learns to love as humans are meant to love by following Jesus Christ into the heart of the Trinitarian God. The Church is a community where we, individually and collectively, learn to love properly, both by how we relate to each other and by how we, as a community, in turn relate to the world. It is here that the authentic humanity we long for is actually found.

The challenge, of course, is that all too often, it is not our love that the world perceives, but our anger, our fear, our complacency in the face of injustice, our tangled relationship with power throughout our history. We, who should know better, still do not love as we ought. We must ask God’s forgiveness, and for the strength to do better.

Old Zhou

I'm reading....

I found the last sentence in n.3 of the English version to be a "groaner":

Doesn't she blow the whistle just when the joy which is the Creator's gift offers us a happiness which is itself a certain foretaste of the Divine?
"Blow the whistle?" Give me a break. And maybe "throw a penalty flag?" "Travelling below the belt?" Get some decent translators, please.

Here are the other languages:


Nonne fortasse nuntios prohibitionis attollit Ecclesia ...
Non innalza forse cartelli di divieto ...
¿No pone quizás carteles de prohibición ...
N’élève-t-elle pas des panneaux d’interdiction...
Stellt sie nicht gerade da Verbotstafeln auf, ...

How about, "Doesn't she turn on the 'Keep Out' sign..."

Where the heck did "Blow the whistle" come from? Expecially when this is easily confused with the business of "whistle blowers." Another poor English translation for English-only Catholics....


I wonder if the word "speculative" in the third paragraph of the introduction is a mis-translation. Why would the Pope call the first part of the Encyclical "speculative" in the same sentence that he expresses his desire "to clarify some essential facts"?

Old Zhou

For ajb,


The first part is more speculative,...
Earum prima pars prae se magis indolem speculativam fert,...
La prima avrà un'indole più speculativa,...
La primera tendrá un carácter más especulativo,...
Der erste wird einen mehr spekulativen Charakter haben,...

I think the English translation could be easily misunderstood. By saying that the first part is "speculative," it could be understood that it is nothing more than a speculation, that is is not real or definite.

The translator left out the word "indoles" in Latin ("an inborn quality, natural quality, nature") or "Charakter" in German. The adjective "speculative" is modifying this noun, indicating that the first part has a "speculative nature" or "speculative quality," not that it is a speculation.

A much better translation would be, "The first part has a more speculative nature [or character]..." indicating that it is more philosophical and theological, rather than practical and pastoral, like the second half.

Again, the English translation is not very impressive, IMHO. I recommend use of other languages.


Thanks Silicon Steve.

I do believe that the "dissing" of charity as opposed to "doing" social justice is what undermined the work of many female religious communities: teaching, and nursing not always so terribly poor people at a time when the preferential option was created, at least in so many words, and swung exclusively toward the extremely poor and only as long as they stayed extremely poor. Rise from poverty into competency let alone wealth, as did so many of us whose parents and grandparents came from Europe, and one by definition, became less favored/loved of the Church and presumably of God

I also believe this dissing of charity has contributed to feminist demands for priestly ordination. Only the powerful, for the most part across the globe not women, it seems, can do what really matters in God's eyes: not mere charity but social justice. And in the Church, although the priesthood is not about power, no one in the Church has power except through the priesthood.

I hope that Pope Benedict's encyclical restores the old works of mercy, both corporal and spiritual, to their former position of esteem in Catholicism whether the recipients of those works be dirt poor or filthy rich. I have brought Holy Communion as an EM to both kinds of people in hospitals and everyone in between. Cancer, Alzheimer's , suffering and death have no preferential option. Why should the Church?


Haldrik says the Church is "dysfunctional" about sex and he suggests that modern ideas concerning sex are enlightened.

I genuinely cannot understand how anyone could believe such a thing. The disordered notion of love that underlies modern ideas about sex (i.e., the ideas grouped under the banner of the sexual revolution) has resulted in rampant divorce, broken families, single parent homes, skyrocketing rates of illegitimacy, AIDS, other sexually transmitted disease on a massive scale and, last but not least, abortion. If this is not "dysfunction," what is? In any event, anyone who believes that the Pope's idea of love affirms, directly or indirectly, any aspect of the so-called sexual revolution has absolutely no understanding of Catholic teaching.


On the "blow the whistle" question:

Although the Latin version technically is the official version, it is my understandng that the Pope wrote the encyclical orginally in German and so the best way to know what "blow the whistle" corresponds to is by comparing it with the German. I don't know German. I know what an Italian "cartello di divieto" is -- it's a sign that prohibits something, like a no parking sign or a no smoking sign -- but I don't know off hand if there is an equivalent English term.

Old Zhou


The German, posted above, is "Verbotstafeln." Verbots-tafel. Literally "Forbidden Sign."
No whistles.
Or bells.

In modern society, that red circle thingy with a slash across it diagonally is a Verbotstafel.

Not a whistle.
What an awful translation.


Thanks Old Zhou. One online latin dictionary I found translates "speculat" as "observe".

I thought about the use of "philosophical", or "theoretical" or "academic", but there is practical, pastoral advice in the first part.

I get the sense the Pope was saying, "look, I'm going to soar in this first part, and I'll tackle the nuts and bolts in part 2." I guess there's no latin word for that.

Tom Karmo

Here's one of my favourite passages from Benedict's "God is Love"

My deep personal sharing in the needs and sufferings of others
becomes a sharing of my very self with them: if my gift is not
to prove a source of humiliation, I must give to others not only
something that is my own, but my very self; I must be personally
present in my gift.

One aspect of personal presence in the gift is the unconditional
character of what is given. Those who give external things
give with conditions: as recipient of, as it might be, the meal,
I am welcome at, as it might be, the dining table provided I am
quietly spoken, am wearing a shirt and shoes,
am recently washed, am free of lice, am sincerely proposing
to attend Mass. Those, on the the other hand,
who give their very selves give without conditions: here, as
recipient of (so to speak) the meal, I am welcome no matter what
I am or do. Here I am welcome even if I am shirtless or smelly;
even if I am a spy for the
Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the Archdiocese or the Nuncio;
even if I march in the Toronto Gay Pride Parade, or conversely
distribute anti-"gay" pamphlets; even if I am with the
Canadian Marxist-Leninist Party, or conversely
am a neo-Nazi; even if I applaud Ayn Rand and ridicule the Kyoto
Protocol on climate change; even if I believe
the earth to have been created 6,000 years ago; even if I preach the
damnation of Islam or conversely preach the damnation
of this or that Christian grouping.

It will be asked: Are there people in our cities who implement
Pope Benedict's ideal of giving "the very self"? My friend Jim
Loney is such a person. Jim helped found the Catholic
Worker houses here in Toronto. On 2005-11-26, he was abducted, with
three colleagues, in the course of Christian Peacemaker Teams
labours in Baghdad. The current fate of Jim and his
colleagues is unknown.

Over in New York, we find the late Dorothy Day and her
latter-day co-workers similarly
giving the very self. Here is a story told of Dorothy that I
believe to be true. She met, it is said, some white-robed
representatives, imposing in their moral purity, from
some contemplative community in some religion. The
representatives spoke eloquently of their high and severe
ideals, leading them (as they explained) to a penetrating discernment
regarding persons worthy of admission.
To this Dorothy, tired, rather bedraggled, down at heel,
possibly in slippers and dirty dress, replied, "Well, here at
Catholic Worker, we take in the people nobody wants."

What do we need? We need more people who, as Benedict puts it,
give "their very selves".


Toomas (Tom) Karmo

I am first posting this material to Amy Welborn's blog,
then e-mailing blogger Andrew Sullivan,
then e-mailing the Courage-Online
pastoral-theology listserv, then e-mailing a couple of
Vatican addresses. Finally, I am e-mailing sundry other people,
including people in my private circle. Any readers that may
result from this sequence of efforts are welcome to make any use
at all of my material. Readers wishing to pursue the
topic of Jim further can locate two longer pieces from my desk
by Googling firstly on the six-word, two-quote-marks search
((QUOTE)) loney iraq "two styles of activism" ((/QUOTE))
(for a piece written before Jim's abduction)
and secondly on the seven-word, two-quote-marks search string
((QUOTE)) loney iraq "open letter to his Excellency" ((/QUOTE))
(for an open-letter-to-USA-Ambassador specifically
addressing the theological relevance
of the abduction, and composed not long before Benedict issued his
exciting inaugural encyclical).


While you're on translations, does the German also have Adam rejecting God (his only possible "father and mother") so he can take Eve in section 11 par. 2? I'm assuming this is a translation error in the English version. The specific quote is

Adam is a seeker, who "abandons his mother and father" in order to find woman...

The proofreaders should have caught that!

Spirit of Vatican II

I am a bit nettled at being treated by an ignoramus for calling the Eclogues a gay classic. It is true that the Eclogue IV was treated as a Messianic prophecy. But there are nine others, and the theme of beautiful shepherds pervades them. (Virgil was regarded as homosexual by his contemporaries.) I do not think Benedict can have been unaware that in citing the Eclogues, and elsewhere -- even more clearly -- the Phaedrus, he was drawing on the wellsprings of homoerotic celebration in Western culture, which in the case of Plato coincide with the wellsprings of the philosophy of Eros as opening us to the transcendent. Eclogue II begins thus: "Formosum pastor Corydon ardebat Alexim, Delicias domini, nec quid speraret habebat.. 'O crudelis Alexis, nihil mea carmina curas? Nil nostri miserere? mori me denique coges'" (The shepherd Corydon burned for the beautiful Alexis, the delight of his master, and did not attain what he hoped for... 'O cruel Alexis, do you care naught for my songs? Will you have no pity on me? Will you have me die?'"). History has made it impossible to celebrate Eros without in the same breath celebrating homoerotic ardor.

Spirit of Vatican II

oops, "by an ignoramus" shd be "as an ignoramus"


Is it "gay friendly"? I don't think so. Here's why...


"The Vatican is possibly the most sexually dysfunctional group of humans on earth, and the last place on earth I would come to for advice about sex"

When one considers the crimes of child sex slave buisness in parts of Asia and Africa; the high incidence of teen STDs in North America despite billions spent on sex-ed;the 1.5 million abortions performed in N.America yearly- it might be difficult to convince the world that the Vatican is the most sexually dysfunctional group in the world.



My thoughts exactly. Good blog entry.

God Bless,


Church and State may need to stay separate, but when people think and practice what Jesus teaches, won't it just naturally influence our political decisions for the good of all?


Actually I think it's a good translation. The German phrase corresponds to the Italian phrase, which refers to a completely modern thing: a sign that prohibits something, often using the symbol of a red circle with a line through it. In English we have no commonly used word for such a sign (do we?). "Blow the whistle" is obviously not a literal translation but it seems to be an honorable attempt to catch the modernity of the phrases used in German and Italian.

Old Zhou


Of course there is a word for them in English. Otherwise, how would traffic engineers and traffic courts be able to refer to them? How would safety personnel, from janitors to MP's, be able to order them?
They are called Prohibition Signs (also in US, Australia). Just like Latin, German, Spanish, etc. "Prohibition signs" is a perfect translation corresponding to what was used in the other languages.

The translator is incompetent, and probably just used a lame "sports penalty" "dynamic equivalence" translation.

Ecclesial English sucks.


Old Zhou, you are right. The translator gratuitously changed it.

Spirit of Vatican II

"David" above refers to a link in which it is claimed that "same-sex eros can never be purified". But that undercuts the very basis of the papal encyclical, since the theory of the heavenly eros was developed precisely on a homoerotic basis in Plato and his countless developers. The classical debate about transcendent eros is primarily a debate about same-sex eros. It is substantialized heterosexualized for the first time in the Christian Song of Songs exegetical tradition, but even that harbors a lot of homoeroticism, as in the long disquisitions on its opening line -- "O that he would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth" -- in the Cistercian commentaries.


"When one considers the crimes of child sex slave buisness [where pedophile priests rape children with the help of the BISHOPS who go unpunished by the Vatican]; the high incidence of teen STDs in North America [because of the lack of condoms] despite billions spent on sex-ed [whose vital information the Vatican continues to sabotage to make sure people are ignorant about sex]; the 1.5 million abortions performed in N.America yearly [performed mostly for Catholic women!] - it might be difficult to convince the world [of anything else except] that the Vatican is the most sexually dysfunctional group in the world."


Here's one among many examples of the Vatican's malpractice with regard to sexual topics:

"In the United States, Latinas fare worse than other populations in various areas of reproductive health: breast and cervical cancer, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV/AIDS, and teen pregnancy.

How has the increase in federal funding for abstinence-only sex education affected the rate of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and teen pregnancy among adolescent Latinas?

Latinas are either in public schools or Catholic schools — so they are being affected by the current policy of teaching abstinence-only sex ed in school.

Latino parents want comprehensive sex ed in their schools and don't know how to talk to their kids about sex. They see the teen pregnancy rate [escalating among Latinas] and know about the STI rates [also escalating] and are outraged about the lack of sex education."

By the way, abstinence-only sex education has a failure rate of over 80%. People simply have sex before they get married, and pretending they don't puts lives at risk. I have NEVER known a Catholic woman who remained a virgin until marriage. The Vatican's info about sex is delusional.

The Vatican is perhaps criminally negligent because of the misinformation it gives about sex.


Hal, I guess you just don't know a heck of lot of Catholic women. Anyway, I don't see why they did not translate "Verbotstafeln" as something like "stop sign," or "warning sign," because that is what it means in the German context, I think. Ralf, was haelst du davon?


"Hal, I guess you just don't know a heck of lot of Catholic women."

:smirk: Anyone posting here probably knows a heck of a lot of Catholic women.

Unless a woman got married when she was 14 years old, she is NOT a virgin by the time she gets married.

LOL! Marrying off a 14-year-old daughter to an adult pedophile husband is pretty much the definition of a 'traditional' Catholic wedding!

Any culture that is obsessed with 'virginity' is a pedophile culture.

Modern women get married in their 20s and 30s, and fantasies about 'virginity' are archaic.

Deacon Barth

I posted a commentary at the link below as it seems that most people have missed the significance of this encyclical, particularly PART I.



I have finally gotten around to reading the encyclical and wanted to read y'all's comments on it. This was most amusing:

"the high incidence of teen STDs in North America [because of the lack of condoms]"

Lack of condoms? Haldrik, have you ever been in a public restroom?

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