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On 'Deus Caritas Est' and International Charity

"Faith Liberates Reason From Its Blind Spots"

VATICAN CITY, MAY 6, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is the text of an address from Dominican Father Augustine De Noia, the undersecretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The address was given April 27 as part of the plenary session of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. It focused on "Deus Caritas Est."

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Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences
XIII Plenary Session 27 April 2007,10:30-12:30


J. Augustine Di Noia, O.P.
Undersecretary, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

It is an honor and a pleasure for me to address this distinguished pontifical academy at the start of your 13th plenary session, and to bring you the greetings of the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, William J. Levada, who, with Archbishop Paul Josef Cordes and Cardinal Renato Martino, first presented Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" to the world at a press conference on Jan. 25, 2006, but who is unable to join you today.

It is a particular pleasure to share the podium with Archbishop Cordes who, as president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, plays a crucial and active role in securing the charity and justice in the relations among people and nations that is your topic in this session of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences.

The focus of your discussion is the Holy Father's short but tightly argued first encyclical, ""Deus Caritas Est"." In its two parts, the encyclical makes two hugely important points. I should like first to state what I think these two points affirm, and then to suggest something of their significance within a social scientific perspective informed by the Catholic faith.

Eros and Agape: The Sanctification of Desire

As everyone who has read the encyclical will know, in his discussion of eros and agape, Pope Benedict insists on the unity of these two forms of love, as well as the continuity between them. He is particularly concerned to refute the widespread notion that the Christian faith separates these two loves, and even suppresses the one -- eros -- in favor of the other -- agape. On the contrary, asserts the encyclical, eros is ever reaching out towards its fulfillment in agape. The powerful dynamism of desire is itself a sign that human persons are made for and directed toward a love that never ends.

In order to clarify this immensely significant first point, allow me to turn for help to one of Pope Benedict's favorite authors, St. Augustine.

In his writings, and especially in his "Confessions," St. Augustine frequently invites his readers to consider the things that they have desired and the things that they desire now -- to consider, in effect, the experience of desire. When we have thought about things that we have desired very badly, and have worked very hard to possess, St. Augustine asks us to acknowledge that, in the end, we have often lost interest and become bored with these very things, and that we then move on to seeking other things.

For St. Augustine, this is most definitely not a cause for lament. On the contrary. In pondering the experience of desire, we learn something very important about ourselves: No good thing that we have wanted and even possessed can finally quench desire itself, because we are made for the uncreated Good which is God himself.

This means that the good things of this world -- and all the more so, the good of other persons -- far from being obstacles in our quest for ultimate happiness, point us to the Good itself which is their source and in which they share. If we do not love the good things of this world, how shall we be able to love their Maker?

The triune God, who made us for himself and who wants to share the communion of trinitarian love with us, uses the good things of this world to lead us to him who is, we could say, Goodness itself. The challenge -- and, sometimes, the tragedy -- of human existence is to desire and love the created good as if it were divine, to invest an absolute value in what cannot finally satisfy the human heart. That is what sin is. But rightly ordered desire and love of the good things of this world and the good of other persons is already a participation in the Good which is God himself.

These lessons from St. Augustine help us to grasp the point the Holy Father is making in the first part of "Deus Caritas Est" -- that eros is meant to lead us to agape, to the love of God and to the love of one another in God. Pope Benedict resists absolutely the misreading, sometimes perverse, that claims to see in Christian faith the suppression of the ordinary fulfillments of human earthly life, particularly ...

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