Abiding in God and God abiding in us
The following is a translation of the Summary of the Holy Father's
first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), which was
published on Thursday, 26 January.
"God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides
in him" (I Jn 4:16).
These words that begin the Encyclical express the core of the
Christian faith. In a world in which God's Name is sometimes linked with
revenge or even with hatred and violence, the Christian message of
God-Love is very timely.
The Encyclical is divided into two main parts.
Part I presents a theological and philosophical reflection on the
different dimensions of "love"
eros, philia, agape
and explains certain essential facts concerning God's love for man and
the intrinsic connection of this love with human love.
Part II deals with the actual practice of the commandment to love
The term "love", one of the most used and abused words in today's
world, has a multiplicity of meanings. From them, however, emerges an
archetype of love par excellence: the love of a man and a woman, which
in ancient Greece was known as eros.
In the Bible, especially in the New Testament, the concept of "love"
is examined closely, a development which results in setting aside the
word eros in favour of the term agape to express a
This new vision of love, an essentially Christian innovation, has
often been judged in a totally negative way as the rejection of eros
and of bodiliness. Although these tendencies have existed, the meaning
of this deepening is different.
The eros, implanted in human nature by the Creator himself,
needs discipline, purification and growth in maturity if it is not to
lose its original dignity or degenerate into pure "sex", becoming a
The Christian faith has always considered man as a being in whom
there is a sort of interpenetration of spirit and matter, from which he
draws a new nobility. We can say that the challenge of the eros
has been overcome when body and mind are found to be in perfect harmony
in the human being.
At that point, love indeed becomes an "ecstasy", not in the sense of
a fleeting moment of intoxication but as an ongoing exodus from the
inward-looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus
towards self-discovery and the discovery of God: in this way the eros
can uplift the human being "in ecstasy" towards the Divine.
In short, eros and agape somehow need to be connected
to each other. Indeed, the more the two find the correct equilibrium in
their different dimensions, the more the true nature of love is
Even if eros is at first mainly desire, in drawing near to the
other person it becomes less and less concerned with itself,
increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, bestows itself and wants
to "be there for" the other. It is then that the element of agape
enters into this love.
In Jesus Christ, who is the incarnate love of God, the eros-agape
reaches its most radical form. In dying on the Cross, by giving himself
in order to raise and save man, Jesus expresses love in its most sublime
form. He guaranteed an enduring presence of this oblative act through
the institution of the Eucharist, in which he gives himself under the
species of bread and wine as a new manna that unites us with him.
By participating in the Eucharist, we too are involved in the dynamic
of his self-giving. We are united with him and, at the same time, with
all others to whom he gives himself; thus, we all become "one body".
In this way, love of neighbour and love of God are truly united. The
double Commandment, thanks to this encounter with the agape of
God, is no longer solely a precept: love can be "commanded" because it
has first been given.
Love of neighbour, grounded in love of God, as well as being a
responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, is also a
responsibility for the entire Ecclesial Community, which must reflect
Trinitarian love in its charitable activity.
Awareness of this responsibility also had a constitutive relevance in
the Church from the very beginning (cf. Acts 2:44-45), and very soon the
need for a form of organization became apparent, as a presupposition for
carrying it out more effectively.
Thus, the "diaconate" came into being in the fundamental structure of
the Church as a ministry of love of neighbour exercised in a
communitarian and orderly way
concrete but at the same time spiritual service (cf. Acts 6:16). As the
Church gradually spread, this practice of charity was confirmed as one
of her essential responsibilities.
The Church's deepest nature is thus expressed in her three-fold duty:
to proclaim the Word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrate the
sacraments (leiturgia), and exercise, the ministry of charity (diakonia).
These duties presuppose one another and are inseparable.
Since the 19th century, a fundamental objection has been raised to
the Church's charitable activity. People claim that it is contrary to
justice and will end by becoming a means of preserving the status quo.
Through individual works of charity, the Church would foster the
continuance of the present unjust system, making it appear at least to
some extent tolerable and thereby slowing down the result and potential
evolution of a better world.
In this regard, Marxism saw world revolution and its preliminaries as
the panacea for the social problem, a dream that has faded in the
The Papal Magisterium, starting with the Encyclical Rerum Novarum
of Leo XIII (1891) to the trilogy of John Paul II's social Encyclicals (Laborem
Exercens , Sollicitudo Rei Socialis  and
Centesimus Annus ), persistently tackled the social question
and, in confrontation with the ever new problematic situations,
developed a very comprehensive social doctrine which proposes effective
guidelines extending far beyond the Church's frontiers.
The just ordering of society and of the State, however, is a core
duty of politics and therefore cannot be an immediate responsibility of
the Church. Catholic social doctrine does not seek to confer upon the
Church power over the State, but simply desires to purify and illuminate
reason, making its own contribution to the formation of consciences, so
that the true requirements of justice may be perceived, recognized and
Yet there is no ordering of the State, however just, that can make a
service of love superfluous. The State which aims to provide everything
would ultimately become a bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very
thing which the suffering person
needs: loving personal concern.
Those who wish to get rid of love are prepared to get rid of the
human being as a human person.
In our time, a positive collateral effect of globalization can be
seen in the fact that concern for neighbour transcends the confines of
national communities and tends to broaden its horizons to the whole
world. State agencies and humanitarian associations support in various
ways the solidarity shown by civil society: this has led to the
foundation of many organizations with charitable or philanthropic aims.
In the Catholic Church as well as other ecclesial communities, new
forms of charitable activity have arisen. Among all these bodies, the
hope is for fruitful collaboration.
It is, of course, important that the Church's charitable activity
does not lose its own identity and become just another form of social
assistance, but that it maintain all the splendour of the essence of
Christian and ecclesial charity.
Christian charitable activity, as well as being based on
professional competence, must be based on the experience of a personal
encounter with Christ, whose love has moved the heart of the believer,
awakening within him love of neighbour.
Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and
ideologies. The Christian's programme
the programme of the Good Samaritan, the programme of Jesus
is "a heart which sees". This heart sees where love is needed and acts
Christian charitable activity, furthermore, cannot be used as a
means of engaging in what is nowadays considered proselytism. Love is
free; it is not practised as a way of achieving other ends.
But this does not mean that charitable activity must, so to speak,
leave God and Christ aside. A Christian knows when it is time to speak
of God and when it is better to say nothing about him and to let love
alone speak. St Paul's hymn to charity (cf. I Cor 13) must be the
Magna Carta of all ecclesial service to protect it from the risk of
being reduced to pure activism.
In this context and in the face of the impending secularism that can
also condition many Christians who are involved in charitable work, it
is necessary to reaffirm the importance of prayer.
On the one hand, living contact with Christ prevents the experience
of the immensity of needs and the limitations of our own action from
driving the agent towards a policy that would claim to do what God does
not seem to be doing or, on the other hand, from becoming a temptation
to surrender to inertia and resignation.
People who pray are not wasting their time, even though the situation
may seem to call for urgent action alone; nor do they claim to correct
God's plans, but rather seek
after the example of Mary and the saints
to find in God the light and strength of the love which overcomes all
the darkness and selfishness present in the world.