Vatican City: Pope Benedict XVI Wednesday released his first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” (God is Love), an exploration into Christianity‘s central message that invites Catholics not to confuse love with lust.
The eagerly awaited document is addressed to “the bishops, priests and deacons, religious men and women and all the lay faithful.”
Signed by Benedict Dec 25 – Christmas Day – its publication was delayed because of changes brought to the text by experts checking its draft.
The 70-page document opens with a phrase from the Bible: “God is Love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
“These words,” Benedict writes in the introduction, “express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith.”
The 78-year-old pope says his choice of subject is “both timely and significant” in a world where “the name of God is sometimes associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence.”
As a cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger headed the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Church’s main doctrinal watchdog, for nearly 25 years and is universally regarded as an enlightened theologian.
According to Church experts, however, his choice of encyclical shows that he is now keen to cast himself as a pastor who seeks to explain his religion to all.
“Here we have a great theologian who is placing the teaching of Christianity’s core message at the centre of his papacy,” said Sandro Magister, a Vatican expert writing for Italian weekly L’Espresso.
The encyclical is divided into two main parts. The first, seeks to “clarify some essential facts concerning the love which God mysteriously and gratuitously offers to man,” the pope says.
The second part looks at charity as a practical realisation of Christian love.
The pope draws from the Bible and from a vast range of philosophers, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Descartes and Aristotle, and discusses the relationship between two different concepts of love: erotic love (“eros”) and spiritual and selfless love (“agape”).
He rejects the idea that Christianity is against sex, arguing instead that his religion unites erotic and selfless love into a more mature form of love.
“Eros reduced to pure ‘sex’ has become a commodity, a mere ‘thing’ to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity,” the pope says.
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