By Hilary White

ROME, January 18, 2006 ( – Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical letter, titled Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), is to focus on the meaning of love in the context of modernity.

It is the custom of the Catholic Church that a pope’s first encyclical should outline the direction and “theme” of his papacy. As Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict was considered one of the Church’s leading theologians, which makes it unsurprising that his first encyclical should focus on theological rather than political matters.

In it, Pope Benedict discusses the difference between “eros” and “agape,” Greek words distinguishing between erotic love and spiritual love or charity.

Reuters, quoting an anonymous Vatican source, said on Tuesday the encyclical was to have been released in December, but was delayed because of revisions requested by various “departments as well as by a handful of cardinals and Church experts.”

The Pope warns that eros, while good in itself, is at risk of being “degraded to mere sex” without selfless charity or divine love.