Catholic World News News Feature
Encyclical message "unexpected and even astonishing" January 24, 2006
Deus Caritas Est, the first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, is an attempt to "proclaim the Word of God about love" to today's world, Archbishop Josef Cordes told a Vatican audience.
The German archbishop made his remarks in his address to a conference on Church charitable activity, sponsored by the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, of which is he president. He confessed that the conference had been scheduled for this week on the assumption that the encyclical would have already been released. Archbishop Cordes noted that he was not betraying any confidences by revealing that the publication date was set back, since Pope Benedict himself spoke of the delays in the process of translation.
Archbishop Cordes noted that the first encyclical by each Pope can be seen as a charter for that pontificate. He said that the topic chosen by Pope Benedict for his first encyclical is "unexpected and even astonishing." One might have expected the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to choose a controversial dogmatic issue, he said. Instead, Pope Benedict chose a topic that, in his view, addresses the primary pastoral needs of his people. Pope John Paul II had begun work on an encyclical about Church charitable activity, the archbishop noted; Pope Benedict took up the same topic, giving it his own distinctive perspective.
In discussing human love, Archbishop Cordes observed, Church leaders face the "almost insurmountable obstacle" of being regarded as irrelevant, "like a blind man talking about colors." To overcome that prejudice, he said, Pope Benedict bases his analysis on the essential message of the Gospel. It is, the German archbishop said, "an effort that no one should underestimate."
In Deus Caritas Est, Archbishop Cordes continued, the Holy Father responds to the accusation leveled by Nietzsche, who charged that Christianity had made eros a poison. The encyclical explains that eros is a natural human drive can be purified and transformed into an imitation of God's love. This love, in turn, "must be communicated to those who are suffering," the president of Cor Unum said. So the second part of the papal encyclical is devoted to the Church's charitable work. Responding to a question about how Pope Benedict's text would mesh with Catholic social teaching, Archbishop Cordes said that although "the social teaching of the Church and her theology of charity are undoubtedly similar," but the connection between the two has been incomplete. He added that "without a solid theological foundation, Church organizations are tempted to become disassociated from the Church," and become copies of secular charitable groups. When that happens, he said, the Catholic groups become "indistinct from the Red Cross or the UN." The encyclical, he said, asserts "the intimate connection between the humanitarian activity of the Church and the credibility of proclaiming the Gospel."