By Hilary White

ROME, January 26, 2006 ( – In the opening paragraph of his new encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), Pope Benedict XVI places the focus of his pontificate on the problem that western societies have had since the 1960’s with distinguishing love from sex. The first words, “God is love,” from the letter of St. John, have been twisted by the sexual revolution out of any resemblance to its original intention and Benedict’s encyclical gives the final word as to what the Church has always meant by “love”.

If the first encyclical of Benedict’s reign follows the pattern of outlining the new pope’s intentions, his encyclical clarifying the Church’s central teaching signals his intention to correct the misinterpretations of the nature of love, the concept that is the basic underpinning of all her other doctrines.

Benedict says that the Christian imperative to love our neighbour, has been corrupted by the misunderstandings of the meaning of love. “Today, the term ‘love’ has become one of the most frequently used and misused of words, a word to which we attach quite different meanings,” the Pope writes.

The pope gives a definition of the love between a man and a woman that balances the physical. Sexual love, (“Eros” in Greek) is not simply the sex act. “Eros, reduced to pure ‘sex,’ has become a commodity, a mere ‘thing’ to be bought or sold.” The love between a husband and wife represents instead a kind of type of the love of God for mankind, an ancient theme in Catholic theology.

He writes, “An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then, is not an ascent in ‘ecstasy’ towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man.”

Prominent Catholic philosopher, Peter Kreeft, summed up the problem of modern western societies saying the obsession with sex is the prime mover in the so-called “culture wars” both in and outside the Church.

Sex, Kreeft said at a 2003 talk at St. Michael’s College in Toronto, “unites man and woman,” to create a new immortal soul “which is destined for infinite, eternal, and unimaginable ecstasy in the presence of God forever.” But this meaning of sex, explained yet again by Pope Benedict’s encyclical, is violently rejected by a culture that sees human life as strictly material.

The media is wading in with the materialistic interpretation to which it has been wedded for the last four decades. In the New York Times piece headlined, “Benedict’s First Encyclical Shuns Strictures of Orthodoxy,” Ian Fisher presents the media’s obsession with homosexuality, contraception and abortion, as the defining doctrine of the Catholic Church.

Fisher quotes Christian Weisner, spokesman of the German anti-Catholic group, We are Church, praising his own interpretation of the encyclical’s message. Weisner, calling the encyclical “a sign of hope” that Benedict would prove to be a “human face for Christianity and for the Catholic Church,” wagged his finger at the Pope. “Loving your neighbors also means loving critical theologians. He also has to apply these ideas within the church itself.”

The most famous of the “critical theologians” has also weighed in praising the fact the encyclical is “not a manifesto of cultural pessimism or restrictive sexual morality.” Hans Kung, who knew Benedict in his days as a theology professor in Germany, demanded in a press release, that the pope’s next encyclical approve divorce and contraception and married priests, the standard litany of liberal demands since 1965.

“Joseph Ratzinger would be a great Pope if he drew courageous consequences for Church structures and legal decisions from his correct and important words about love,” Kung wrote. It appears from this reaction that Kung just does not get what the Pope has really taught in his first encyclical.
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