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Pope Benedict XVI's Revolutionary Encyclical

Interview With Philosopher, Father Jesús Villagrasa

ROME, FEB. 7, 2006 (Zenit) - Benedict XVI's encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est," just might spark a revolution of love, says philosopher Father Jesús Villagrasa.

In this interview with us, Father Villagrasa, who is finishing a book on the life and thought of Joseph Ratzinger, comments on the encyclical which he calls a philosophical work that confronts head-on the gravest challenges of modern times.

Q: What was your first impression on reading the encyclical?

Father Villagrasa: Admiration and joy. Benedict XVI gave us a big present, a masterpiece of clarity and depth and, in addition, brief. It is as its author, and as the sea: clear and transparent, but fathomless.

It can be read without difficulty by anyone with a middling education. Professional philosophers and theologians will discover better its extraordinary wealth of thought.

Q: What have you discovered in this encyclical?

Father Villagrasa: That Joseph Ratzinger has placed his cultural, philosophical and theological formation at the service of the magisterium. On reading this encyclical his articles, lectures and books came to mind. It is a very mature personal synthesis, a treasure of wisdom.

Q: Can you give an example?

Father Villagrasa: The first part is entitled "The Unity of Love in Creation and in Salvation History," an analogy that is applied to the concepts that have "weak but real unity."

Love is an analogous concept because it is expressed with different meanings that, however, have some relation among themselves. The analogy expresses the unity preserved despite the real differences.

Divine love and the different forms of human love are not the same, but neither are they entirely different. There are relations and similarities which the first part of the encyclical tries to explain.

Q: Could you show explain more specifically some of these fundamental structures?

Father Villagrasa: I look at the theological-philosophical-religious structure present in the first part of the encyclical when the concept of love is worked out in the light of religions, first, and of philosophy and the Bible afterward.

Philosophy has helped to purify the negative elements present in religions, but it is unable to give the ultimate answer to the human aspiration to love. Only the Incarnate Word illuminates the mystery of man and of human love.

The great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar organized his thought making use of this structure. In his book, "Epilogue," he wished to give a general view of his monumental work.

He made use of the image of the cathedral and its three parts. The "atrium" is occupied by the religions and cosmo-visions that express the search for the meaning of reality and of human existence. The "threshold," constituted by philosophy, leads to the "sanctuary" of theology where the Christian mysteries of the Incarnation and the Trinity are contemplated.

I think this structure is present in the first part of the encyclical.

Q: Were you surprised that the encyclical mentioned several philosophers?

Father Villagrasa: In a certain sense yes, because it has not been something common in this type of document.

Suffice it to see that the first quotation of the encyclical is of Friedrich Nietzsche: It is a provocation of this philosopher of suspicion and denunciation, of this father of contemporary nihilism. From the beginning of the encyclical, Benedict XVI places himself before the great challenges of contemporary culture.

I am amused to see how the initial ample philosophical reflection of this encyclical breaks certain clichés, such as "Wojtyla the philosopher-Pope and Ratzinger the theologian-Pope."

These formulas are good for newspaper headlines, but they do not grasp the reality. Already in his doctoral thesis on St. Augustine, Ratzinger said that the Christian faith of the first centuries was not contiguous with earlier religions, but rather with philosophy, understood as the victory of reason over superstition. Philosophy, in turn, is purified and elevated by faith.

Q: How would you describe this encyclical?

Father Villagrasa: Revolutionary. In Cologne, Benedict XVI spoke to young people of a revolution. God's revolution is love. Only a great explosion of good can defeat evil and transform man and the world. Only God and his love can transform the world.

But this divine revolution comes through human collaboration, also by associated and institutional collaboration. Hence the importance that charitable associations have the characteristics that the Pope indicates in the second part of the encyclical.

If a Christian lives love, he will light the world with this fire.

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