Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Deus Caritas Est

The latest issue of First Things also had a commentary on Pope Benedict's first encyclical letter, "Deus Caritas Est" ("God Is Love"). When you hear about the pope speaking ex cathedra, as the absolute authority of the Church on matters of theology, this is what they are talking about. The encyclical letters are the vehicle for the pope to explore certain questions of theology. Reading them is not unlike reading a Supreme Court ruling -- while full of certain technical jargon, they are nonetheless generally readable and try to use philosophic principles to guide matters of real relevance in the world. (Yes, I like to read Supreme Court rulings, too. It restores my faith in government when I see important matters decided, not by sound bites and opinion polls, but by rational argument and fundamental principles.) I first got interested in the encyclicals when someone turned me on to Pope John Paul's "Fides et Ratio" ("Faith and Reason"), the last pontiff's attempt to describe the proper role of rationality within spiritual life.

There is a certain irony here. Benedict is generally viewed as a cold, prickly kinda guy, but his first theological publication as pope is all about the passionate, involved nature of God's love. (In contrast, John Paul II was the rock-star of warm fuzzies, but wrote about reason and "the splendor of the truth.") There might be some political calculus going on -- perhaps Benedict is aware of his image problem and wants to bring attention to his genuine love for the church and its people.

I've not read the entire encyclical yet, but I'm glad that Benedict decided to write it. I think the question of Love is the most important topic in Christian theology to address, since it is at the very center of the faith and is so radical in its nature that it sets it apart from other religions and philosophies. As Kierkegaard pointed out, other philosophies had recognized the importance of loving one's family and friends . . . but to love one's enemies . . . that was (and still is) radical stuff.

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