Sunday, March 19, 2006

Some Classical References in Deus Caritas Est

In reading through Pope Benedict XVI's recent encyclical Deus Caritas Est, I came across the following references to classical writers. All citations are from the English translation published by Libreria Editrice Vaticana (February 2006).

'The Greeks--not unlike other cultures--considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering or reason by "divine madness" which 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 in heaven and on earth thus appear secondary: "Omnia vincit amor" says Virgil in the Bucolics--love conquers all--and he adds: et nos cedamus amori"--let us, too, yield to love.' (p. 12) [I found it interesting that he turned to a Latin example while discussing Greek ideas of eros.]

'Consequently, [God's] 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 love--and as the object of love this divinity moves the world [the footnote reference is to Metaphysics XII.7]--but in itself it lacks nothing and does not love: it is solely the object of love. The one God in which 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 agape.' (pp. 23-4)

'So [speaking of the creation of Adam and Eve] 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" (Gen. 2:23). 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. But as a punishment for pride, he was split into two by Zeus, so that now he longs for his other half, striving with all his being to possess it and thus regain his integrity [the footnote reference is to Symposium XIV-XV.189c-192d]. While the biblical narrative does not speak of punishment, the idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, 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" (Gen. 2:24).' (p. 28)

'Acknowledgment of the living God is one 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. But this process is always open-ended; love is never "finished" and complete; throughout life, it changes and matures, and thus remains faithful to itself. Idem velle atque idem nolle [the footnote reference is to Sallust, De coniuratione Catilinae XX.4]--to want the same thing, and to reject the same thing--was recognized by antiquity as the authentic content of love: the one becomes similar to the other, and this leads to a community of will and thought.' (pp. 38-9)

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