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Benedict XVI's Address on Forthcoming Encyclical

1/24/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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"I Wished to Show the Humanity of Faith"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 24, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today to the participants in a meeting organized by the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum" on the theme "But the Greatest of These Is Love" (1 Corinthians 13:13).

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The cosmic excursion in which Dante wants to involve the reader in his "Divine Comedy" ends before the everlasting Light that is God himself, before that Light which at the same time is the love "which moves the sun and the other stars ("Paradise" XXXIII, verse 145). Light and love are but one thing. They are the primordial creative power that moves the universe.

If these words of the poet reveal the thought of Aristotle, who saw in the "eros" the power that moves the world, Dante's gaze, however, perceives something totally new and unimaginable for the Greek philosopher.

Eternal Light not only is presented with the three circles of which he speaks with those profound verses that we know: "Eternal Light, You only dwell within Yourself, and only You know You; Self-knowing, Self-known, You love and smile upon Yourself!" ("Paradise," XXXIII, verses 124-126). In reality, the perception of a human face -- the face of Jesus Christ -- which Dante sees in the central circle of light is even more overwhelming than this revelation of God as Trinitarian circle of knowledge and love.

God, infinite Light, whose incommensurable mystery had been intuited by the Greek philosopher, this God has a human face and -- we can add -- a human heart. In this vision of Dante is shown, on one hand, the continuity between the Christian faith in God and the search promoted by reason and by the realm of religions; at the same time, however, in it is also appreciated the novelty that exceeds all human search, the novelty that only God himself could reveal to us: the novelty of a love that has led God to assume a human face, more than that, to assume the flesh and blood, the whole of the human being.

God's "eros" is not only a primordial cosmic force, it is love that has created man and that bends before him, as the Good Samaritan bent before the wounded man, victim of thieves, who was lying on the side of the road that went from Jerusalem to Jericho.

Today the word "love" is so tarnished, so spoiled and so abused, that one is almost afraid to pronounce it with one's lips. And yet it is a primordial word, expression of the primordial reality; we cannot simply abandon it, we must take it up again, purify it and give back to it its original splendor so that it might illuminate our life and lead it on the right path. This awareness led me to choose love as the theme of my first encyclical.

I wished to express to our time and to our existence something of what Dante audaciously recapitulated in his vision. He speaks of his "sight" that "was enriched" when looking at it, changing him interiorly [The textual quotation in English is: "But through the sight, that fortified itself in me by looking, one appearance only to me was ever changing as I changed" (cf. "Paradise," XXXIII, verses 112-114)]. It is precisely this: that faith might become a vision-comprehension that transforms us.

I wished to underline the centrality of faith in God, in that God who has assumed a human face and a human heart. Faith is not a theory that one can take up or lay aside. It is something very concrete: It is the criterion that decides our lifestyle. In an age in which hostility and greed have become superpowers, an age in which we witness the abuse of religion to the point of culminating in hatred, neutral rationality on its own is unable to protect us. We are in need of the living God who has loved us unto death.

Thus, in this encyclical, the subjects "God," "Christ" and "Love" are welded, as the central guide of the Christian faith. I wished to show the humanity of faith, of which "eros" forms part, man's "yes" to his corporeal nature created by God, a "yes" that in the indissoluble marriage between man and woman finds its rooting in creation. And in it, "eros" is transformed into "agape," love for the other that no longer seeks itself but that becomes concern for the other, willingness to sacrifice oneself for him and openness to the gift of a new human life.

The Christian "agape," love for one's neighbor in the following of Christ, is not something foreign, put to one side or something that even goes against the "eros"; on the contrary, with the sacrifice Christ made of himself for man he offered a new dimension, which has developed ever more in the history of the charitable dedication of Christians to the poor and the suffering.

A first reading of the encyclical might perhaps give the impression that it is divided in two parts, that it is not greatly related within itself: a first, theoretical part that talks about the ...

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