Companion to Encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI on “God is Love”
By Fr. Tissa Balasuriya OMI
The much awaited first encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI has been welcomed as manifesting his personality as more affable than when he functioned as the supervising Cardinal of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The encyclical has two parts
I) “the unity of love in creation and in salvation history” (nos 2 – 18)
II) “Caritas the Practice of Love by the Church as a “Community of Love” (nos 19 – 42).
Its language is both well written and philosophical. He writes in a personal style that is deeply grounded in the Western classical cultural and philosophical background and the Biblical studies, with numerous references from these sources. It presents an attractive teaching that “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
To a certain extent the encyclical has been positively received, especially as the Pope does not pontificate here on the disputed issues of sexual morality on which Christians are divided, and he shows a personal understanding of the value and meaning of love in its different but inter connected dimensions as eros, philia and agape : of love including physical and sexual expression, of love as friendship and love as other centered in care and service of the other. He links all these to God’s love for persons and humanity, revealed and expressed in Christ. In a spirit of compromise and understanding he tries to reconcile issues which seemed to be exclusive of each other.
Part I has to some extent received the attention and goodwill of those concerned with issues of inter-personal morality. He stresses that excesses of modern life have to be purified and ennobled by Christian and rational values. Part II is very much centered on love as social charity.
The encyclical would be reflected from many different points of view. The Pope’s writing shows he is very much influenced by the Western culture in which he has been nurtured. The different trends of Christian theology today would comment on it from their points of view. Thus the feminist theologians would find many shortcomings, beginning with the sexist language and going on to many debatable issues relating to persons’ reproductive rights. Liberation theologians as of Latin America would note the absence of any consideration to their unique contribution to the development of Christian theology during the past few decades with an accent on the social and structural dimensions of love. Asian and African contextual theologies of liberation have much to say about their experience of “Christian love” during and after the time of Western colonialism. The searchers in inter-religious dialogue would bring in the perspective of the traditional Christian interpretation of “God is love” as impacting them over the centuries. Those concerned with inter-racial justice, global ethics and Nature would comment on the way Christian theology and spirituality have been seen by them.
Love and Sexual Ethics
Love as eros and agape are said to be part of God’s plan for human relationships. In modern times the Church has had to face many issues concerning family life and inter-personal sexual morality. One of the most debated issues has been concerning the regulation of procreation. The climax in this connection was the decision of Pope Paul VI in July 1968 condemning the use of artificial contraceptive methods of birth prevention. The Pope decided on his own an issue that his predecessor Pope John XXIII assigned to a commission of specialists for advice. Pope Paul’s argument was that natural law indicated a necessary link between the marital act and procreation. Observance of the natural law was necessary for salvation. The Pope claimed the power of interpreting the natural law as the natural law is willed by God (no.4).
“the Churches Magisterium is competent to interpret the natural law.”
“This kind of question requires from the teaching authority of the Church a new and deeper reflection on the principles of the moral teaching on marriage — a teaching which is based on the natural law as illuminated and enriched by divine Revelation.
No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her Magisterium to interpret the natural moral law. It is in fact indisputable, as Our predecessors have many times declared, that Jesus Christ, when He communicated His divine power to Peter and the other Apostles and sent them to teach all nations His commandments, constituted them as the authentic guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law, not only, that is, of the law of the Gospel but also of the natural law. For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men’s eternal salvation. (Humanae Vitae no.40)
This claim of Pope Paul VI goes far beyond teachings of Jesus in the New Testament. How can the Church claim to be the authentic interpreter of the natural law, which is itself not clearly known to humanity and even scholars. Much less can the Pope claim that the observance of the natural law is necessary for men’s (sic) eternal salvation. In this decision and instruction the Pope is making a theological judgment based on a debated philosophical argument regarding the object of sexuality and the marital act. His argumentation is that the primary object of sexuality is procreation and the possibility of children should never be excluded artificially by a couple in the sexual act. That nature provides for infertile periods is God’s Providence, but it is argued that the human reason and free will have no right to interfere with the natural and normal consequences of sexual relations.
The decision of Pope Paul VI was very much debated at the time even among members of the Catholic hierarchy. Conscientious faithful were divided in their loyalty to the Church. Throughout the world, many Catholic families disregarded the Papal instructions. They made their decisions on their own. This led to their doubting the wisdom and right of the hierarchy to decide such issues. Almost everywhere the average size of the family became smaller, Catholic families not necessarily being bigger.
The combination of Church teachings and practices on moral issues, including the refusal of the Eucharist to divorced and remarried persons and couples led to more and more Catholics finding the Church position irksome and unacceptable. It is even being questioned whether the practical common sense of the majority of humanity is not a better indicator of the natural law than the theoretical decision of the teaching hierarchy.
During the past 40 years there has been a large-scale alienation of Christians from the Catholic Church. The participation in the sacraments has decreased. The vocations to the clergy are decreasing drastically. Seminaries and churches are being closed down mainly in the Western countries. The teaching of the Catholic Church concerning artificial birth control (and divorce) is one of the main reasons for this reduction in the practice of the sacraments including Baptism of children, Penance, Eucharist and Church marriage. Or it may be said that the ongoing de-churching of Christians coincides with the period after 1968. Many Asian families who cannot or do not observe the papal instructions concerning the use of contraceptives tend to abstain form Penance and the Eucharist. The official Church has become so conscious of this situation that the instructions to confessors advice them not to press this issue with penitents, even if they intend to continue the practice of artificial birth control in the future. Many couples in the West and elsewhere are ignorant of or ignore this papal teaching. Very recently Cardinal Martini who was a candidate for the Papacy at the April 2005 Conclave called for a revision of this teaching.
The present Pope has indicated in his first encyclical a greater sensitivity towards the matters of human sexuality, relating love as self centered eros, to love as other centered agape, with God as the ultimate source of both. Given the situation that the vast majority of humanity including Catholics and many of the Church hierarchy no longer hold such a doctrine concerning birth control, can it be expected that he would re-examine the teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the use of artificial contraceptives. The situation is more important since simple faithful exposed to the risk of HIV/AIDS may be in a difficult moral dilemma in this regard. Perhaps the Pope may appoint a competent commission to advise him in this regard. There seems to be some rethinking at the Vatican too concerning this as recently, two weeks ago the Vatican said that married couples where one person has AIDS is allowed to use condoms.
Having opened a somewhat understanding window to the world of human sexuality, the Pope may be encouraged to try to heal this wound that is largely responsible for the huge drift away of many persons of good will from the Catholic Church. It would be worthwhile for the Church leadership to reflect how it has been often obliged to learn concerning morality from the experience of common humanity as in the case of slavery, evolution, democracy, the rights of the working class, women’s rights and inter-religious relations. The Church can claim adherence of faith of the Catholics in matters that are clearly of divine revelation. But issues argued on the basis of reason and natural law can hardly demand the obligatory acceptance of the faithful. Issues that persons may want to settle freely on their own need at least to be further reconsidered, for example the remarriage of divorced persons and their participation in the Eucharist. Some such issues are matters of division of opinion among the Catholic hierarchy also.
In this regard would it not be part of pastoral prudence to re-examine some of the teachings and practices of the Church which may be challenged in relation to the growing consciousness of human freedom, and of women’s rights, while remembering the need to prevent excesses of human selfishness which the Pope refers to.
“God is love” in a Religiously Pluralist World
The Church is presented as the manifestation of the love of God through Jesus Christ. It develops the theme of the linkage of human love in its different dimensions to the love of God. What is unduly selfish in human love has to be purified to be the other centered love taught and manifested by Jesus Christ.
A question arises as to why the Catholic Church with it numerous saints of charity mentioned in the encyclical, has throughout most of the 2000 years of its history taught the exclusion of the majority of humanity from eternal salvation due to Original Sin, till the coming of Jesus Christ as unique and universal saviour of all humankind. In this there is a combination of the anthropology of the fall of all humanity in Original Sin beginning with the first parents Adam and Eve, and the traditional soteriology that salvation is only through Jesus Christ and membership of the Christian Church.
For over 1500 years since the time of the St. Augustine, Councils of Carthage in 418, and Chalcedon 451, the Catholic Church has claimed to be the unique means of eternal salvation. The Church taught that it was necessary to belong to the Church for a person to be saved. Baptism was said to be the unique means of eternal salvation.
The encyclical speaks of the love of God for all humankind but does not deal with the contradiction between such a universal love and the implication of the traditional Christian doctrine that most of humanity would be damned – before Jesus Christ and even after him as they did not belong to the Church and were not baptized. This may not be said now, but this was the position even till the mid twentieth century, with some room left for the baptism of desire.
Throughout its history the Christian Church has had a doctrine of its uniqueness and superiority that it excluded openness to other faiths as possible paths to the good life on earth and salvation thereafter. Thus Catholics were forbidden to participate in the religious worship of other faiths. These were considered false and superstitious and even the work of the Devil. Christian mission had no dimension of honest, frank, respectful dialogue with other religions. On the contrary mission was linked to the Western invaders who thought they had the God given call to denounce these other false religions. That is how “God is love” was interpreted in relations to the peoples who were not Christians, i.e. mainly non-Westerners. The encyclical is rather simplistic in ignoring the long centennial history of Christian spiritual arrogance. The rest of the world has not forgotten this past. The Christian God’s preferential love of Israel is another aspect of the Biblical presentation of the God of love that is not intelligible to others. The encyclical would seem to echo this exclusive love which is also said to be a means of healing others.
“The one God in whom Israel believes, on the other hand loves with a personal love. His love moreover is an elective love: among all the nations he chooses Israel and loves her but he does so precisely with a view to healing the whole human race. God loves, and his love may certainly be called eros, yet it is also totally agape. (no. 9)
Such interpretations may be accepted in a Western Christian milieu and culture, but would fail to communicate that “God is love” to many others peoples, including the Arabs. It shows how chauvinistic is such Christian presentation of the divine that is the object of meditation and spiritual encounter in so many other world and folk religions. It is also a cause of inter-religious conflicts over the centuries including the Crusades and perhaps even the of the militancy of the present day Christian Right in the USA and the predicted clash of civilizations.
In the last four decades since Vatican II (1962-1965) Catholic teaching has been developed to include the possibility of salvation of all human beings even outside the Church. Yet some Church documents still claim for the Catholic Church the privileged path to salvation – as in the Declaration “Dominus Jesus” of 2000. The World Council of Churches is now debating and studying how to reconcile evangelism and mission, with dialogue and inter religious relations. The Christian churches are discussing how they can come together in Eucharistic fellowship after centuries of estrangement.
God’s Love and Justice in Salvation History
Traditional Christian Trinitarian theology presents God the Father as sending the Son as a human being on earth to redeem humanity. In this perspective, God the Father is said to provide for the death of his only son Jesus. The love of God for humanity is such that the Father is prepared to sacrifice his only son by his death on the cross.
“God’s passionate love for his people – for humanity – is at the same time a forgiving love. It is so great that it turns God against himself, his love against his justice” (D C E. no. 10).
We may ask what type of a father is God that the son has to die to appease the anger of the Father. This seems to be a strange interpretation of the God of love or of the love within the Trinity. In what sense is Christ a saviour of humanity? A questionable issue is why is the whole of humanity condemned of original sin and offending God – even before the birth of subsequent generations? The story of Adam and Eve, though mythical, is not understood merely as such. It is taken as a foundation of Christian anthropology and of subsequent theology, including soteriology and ecclesiology. The traditional theology of salvation, and the “history of salvation” is founded on this presumption of original sin. This is different from humans being in an environment of sin or a human tendency to be self-seeking as against caring for others and for God. How can God’s justice condemn the whole of humanity for the sin of the first parents? Is not the underlying hypothesis of monogenism itself questioned in the face of scientific evidence?
the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” published by the
The situation is made more debatable, or unacceptable, when this love of God is interpreted as benefiting only Christians – that is those who belong to the Christian (Catholic) Church. Some world religions like Buddhism would find it difficult to understand how a God of love could condemn some human beings to an eternal hell (fire). It is understandable that such a combination of mythical anthropology, exclusive soteriology, and dominant ecclesiology is not attractive or acceptable, even now, to 95% of Asians i.e. about half the human race. Does not the God of love and the love of God deserve a better theological presentation to contemporary humanity? Does this situation not show how much traditional Christian theology has been (and is?) linked to European mythology and the partial interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and even of the New Testament within the subsequent framework of Western power?
In number 7 Benedict XVI implies that Christian love is typically Agape
“In philosophical and theological debate, these distinctions have often been radicalized to the point of establishing a clear antithesis between them: descending oblative love – agape – would be typically Christian, while on the other hand ascending, possessive or covetous love – would be typical of non-Christian, and particularly Greek culture.”
This characterization of love in non-Christian cultures as “ascending, possessive and covetous” seems somewhat improper, if not arrogant, on the part of Christians, not to say, the Pope. Would it not be correct to say that both types of love are present in all cultures and need purification when undesirable. Looking at the way the religions and cultures have behaved in the past 2000 years, it would be difficult to agree that Christian or Western culture has been more generous and other centered than non Christian cultures.
While the Pope explains his view of the source of the unselfish love of agape he refers to Christ as the source of such love:
“Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift. Certainly, as the Lord tells us, one can become a source from which rivers of living water flow. (cf.Jn 7: 37-38). Yet to become such a source, one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God” (cf Jn 19:34).
This would seem to be a privilege claimed for Christians in view of the earlier statement about non-Christian cultures. Such a position can be an obstacle to inter-religious dialogue that has to be critically respectful of others, humble and willing to learn from others. Once again this would be a perspective in which the God of the Christians is interpreted as favoring them with the gift of love.
It is not clear how John’s reference to the piercing of the heart of Jesus is to an original source of divine, oblative love for all humanity. In any case the interpretation of the Gospel message by the Church throughout most of history has not been as a universal saving, liberating revelation, but on the contrary as a self interested teaching that makes membership of the Church essential for salvation.
This is so different from the proclamation of Jesus in the Synagogue at Nazareth:
“He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives …to set free the oppressed…”(Luke 4:18).
The Pope quotes Luke recalling the parables of the rich man and poor Lazarus and of the prodigal son and Matt. 25: 25 – 46 which can be interpreted in terms of charity as social service, but not this proclamation of the liberative mission of Jesus.
Why is it that there not been a serious questioning of the presuppositions on which an intolerant Christian practice has been built up and defended over the centuries? Is not the liturgical preaching concerning the death of Jesus and the festivities of Easter still recalling the attributed original sin of humanity and the consequent salvation of all by the sacrificial death of Jesus?
How has such a theological interpretation of the Trinity led to a Christianity that is exclusivist and disposed to be intolerant to other faiths? The exclusivist interpretation of salvation led to the intolerance of Christians and even to persecution of others when Christians were in power. Mission was for the conversion of others to the Church. The theology of the day implicitly and even explicitly justified the use of force for conquering peoples and bringing them to the faith, which could be called proselytism.
Much of this may now be bypassed or changed, but the basic presuppositions of original sin have not been given up. They are repeated in the liturgy of Easter.
Since human languages and cultures are different and human mind has limitations in comprehending or interpreting the divine mystery, there is a likelihood of a multiplicity of interpretations or paths to the Divine. Christianity, teaching monotheism, claimed to know the nature of the Divine and of the actions of God in history. The God of love is interpreted as partial in favoring the people of Israel. The European peoples took advantage of such an interpretation of Christian mission to go out to conquer the rest of the world and build the present unjust world order.
God is Love and God is Just - in Church History
Part II of the Encyclical deals with charity as a responsibility of the Church and a manifestation of Trinitarian love. In this part the Pope emphasizes the need and obligation of charity that is social service especially to the needy rendered in a loving manner. While appreciating this perspective, our comments are on the sidelining of love as requiring justice among persons and in local and global communities.
The Pope mentions the social teaching of the Church historically as charity, and in recent times as demanding social justice. He confesses that while
“historically, the issue of the just ordering of the collectivity had taken a new dimension with the industrialization of society in the nineteenth century…”. “It must be admitted that the Church’s leadership was slow to realize that the issue of the just structuring of society needed to be approached in a new way.”
Part II also deals with the speculative theory of the practice, rather than with the actual historical practice of the theory. The God of theology may be the God of generous forgiving love, but is not the God of Christian history generally presented as de facto siding with the Christians who were often arrogant, violent dominators of others. Several critical comments that can be made of this part of the encyclical. His reflections are in the context of modern European history.
The Early Church
The Pope begins this part with a reflection on the Acts of the Apostles, with the well known story of charity in the early Church:
“Charity as a responsibility of the Church. … The awareness of this responsibility has had a constitutive relevance in the Church from the beginning.
‘All who believed were together and had all things in common; they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-5). In these words, St Luke provides a kind of definition of the Church, whose constitutive elements include fidelity to the ‘teaching of the apostles’, ‘communion’ koinonia, ‘breaking of the bread’ and ‘prayer’…”
The pope comments that even as the church grew its
“essential core remained: within the community of believers there can never be room for a poverty that denies anyone what is need for dignified life. (no 20).
This is a beautiful story, but the history of the Church is far from bearing witness to the communion, the sharing of prayer and the impact of prayer. The continuation of the story in the Acts is significant. It related how Barnabas
“sold a field he owned, brought the money, and handed it over to the apostles”.
Ananias and Sapphira
The Acts continues with story of Ananias and Sapphira who sold some property of theirs and kept part of the money thus obtained, thereby deceiving the apostles and the Spirit. (Acts 5 : 1-10) There underwent an instantaneous miraculous punishment of death. This shows that the early Church too had persons and families who lied to the community and did not share as they professed to do. It may be asked whether this is a precursor of what was to happen historically in regard to the Christian profession of charity and communion, of sharing and fidelity to the teaching of the apostles. In modern times it may resemble the proclamation of development aid by the rich (Christian) countries while continuing to exploit the poor peoples.
Aren’t there many Ananiases and Sapphiras today, with even transnational combinations, that take away the wealth of the poor peoples and classes? Are not the working of the system of international investment and trade today with the neo-liberal capitalistic pressures of the IMF, World Bank, and WTO, dominated by (Christian) USA and Europe, worse than the behaviour of Ananias and Sapphira, though they may profess to be good believers like the honest Barnabas. Perhaps further reflections of the early Church may induce the Pope to comment on these two stories also as prototypes of human weakness even in the community of believers.
The whole story or tragedy of the Crusades, slavery, the torture of witches, the Inquisition, and colonization since the early modern period seem to be neglected or bypassed. An assumption seems to be that Christian charity was sufficient for those periods, especially as he refers to
“the monastic and mendicant orders, and later for the various male and female religious institutes all through the history of the Church The figures of saints such as Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, John of God, Camillus of Lellis, Vincent de Paul, Louise de Marillac, Guiseppe B. Cotolengo, John Bosco, Luigi Orine, Teresa of Calcutta to name but a few - stand out as lasting models of social charity for all people of good will. The saints are the true bearers of light within history, for they are men and women of faith, hope and love.” (no.40)
These saints, almost all male celibates, are great personalities with their different charisms. It can however be questioned how far their social charity dealt with issues of social global justice, or even with issues of inter-personal relations. I was fortunate to meet Mother Theresa on three occasions, including once at her convent in Calcutta. On another occasion at a Catholic students meeting in India, she was asked why she did not work for a fair distribution of the surplus food stocked in India. She replied that is not my mission, I leave it to others.
It is not possible to realize, through more charity, a world in which the abundant food available is so distributed that there is no one in need. This requires political decisions. The preaching of the Word, the Eucharist and Christian service must participate in this task, especially when it is the rich and powerful Christian peoples who cause and benefit form such inequality.
In the early Church itself the apostles also had to face the problem of mal-distribution of the resources.
“Some time later, as the number of disciples kept growing, there was a quarrel between the Greek speaking Jews and the native Jews. The Greek-speaking Jews claimed that their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of funds. So the twelve apostles called the whole group of believers together … . (Acts 6: 1-6)
Thus the seven helpers were chosen to handle finances. Even in the exercise of charity there were problems of justice to be resoled by recourse to authority and the community.
Love requires that all be cared for and no one is in need of the essentials for the good life. To realize this in a situation of great inequality at the local and global levels, a coordinated strategic struggle against inequality is required, often based on long-term robbery and injustice. The present world order is based on centennial exploitation by powers that claimed to be Christian and favourably linked to the mission and history of salvation.
Church and State
“The just ordering of society and of the State is a central responsibility of politics. As Augustine once said, a State which is not governed according to justice would be just a bunch of thieves. Remota itaque justitia quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia?” ( no.28 a)
It may be asked : did not Christians co-exist with and even legitimize the enormously unjust regimes that have existed throughout many centuries of colonial rule by European powers? From the point of view of the colonized peoples would they not a bunch of robbers?
“Fundamental to Christianity is the distinction between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God” (Mt.22:21), in other words the distinction between Church and State, or as the Second Vatican Council puts it, the autonomy of the temporal sphere…The two spheres are distinct, yet always interrelated. (no.28 a)
This reply of Jesus to the lawyers who wanted to trap him concerning payment of tax to the Roman rulers did not mean separation of Church and State. His response to the crafty questioners seems to be : since you accept the Roman rule you pay the tax to them. This is not to say that the State is not under God, or not amenable to action by the civil society or the religious groups. There is no teaching by Jesus concerning the Church in this context, or elsewhere. In Christian thinking both the Church and the State are under God.
Why was Jesus Killed?
It would be a useful exercise to ask what were the real causes of the death of Jesus. Did he choose to die? Did he die in obedience to the Father – as a sacrificial lamb? Or was he killed by a combination of the high priests and Pharisees and the representatives of the Roman imperial power? Was he not killed as a presumed traitor to Rome, and an opponent of the official interpretation of religion as a burden on the mass of the poor afflicted people. The Gospels seem to bear witness to such a view. Cf. Matt. 23: 13-27 “teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites…”
Jesus was killed because he was accused of being a threat to the Roman Empire. “Above his head they put the written notice of the accusation against him: ‘This is Jesus, king of the Jews’.” (Matt. 27: 37). Mark says ‘ He (Pilate) knew very well that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him because they were jealous’ (Mark 15: 10 ). ‘If you set him free, that means you are not the emperor’s friend! Anyone who claims to be a king is a rebel against the Emperor.’ Jn 19:12) The Gospels reveal that Jesus himself was involved in issues of justice and politics, and the chief priests used these to accuse him in front of Pilate. His ministry was much more than one of mere social activity. His witness to the God of love included teachings and actions that lead to his crucifixion.
Jesus died not because of the justice of God, but because of the injustice of the dominant system and of the rulers and high priests of the time.
The Pope writes of the distinction of the roles of the Church and of the State.
“A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.”(no 28: a)
The encyclical speaks in a tone of the Church, especially the clergy, not being involved in the affairs of the State, especially in ideological strategies. The encyclical seems to forget that for over a thousand years till the mid 19'th century (1870) the Popes were the political rulers of the Papal States covering much of Italy with an army and even engaging in wars for political power. It was with reluctance that the Pope Pius IX acquiesced in the freedom and independence of Italy in 1870. He became a self-proclaimed prisoner in the Vatican. The popes continued this protest from 1870 -1929 as prisoners in the Vatican, till the Lateran Treaty with Mussolini acknowledged the Vatican as an independent sovereign state in 1929. Interestingly the Vatican is about the smallest State in the world. It is also the only state in the world in which a woman cannot be head of state. The papal envoys or ambassadors are members of the political diplomatic corps in many nations.
A characteristic of the teaching and life of the Church has been that while the Church preached that God is love, and exercised a mission and ministry of social service and charitable love of neighbour, the Church not only tolerated the unjust structures of society, but even benefited from them and fostered them as with the spread of colonialism.
Justice in the World
The encyclical does not give the ministry of justice the essential role it should have in the mission of the Church. The 1971 Synod of Bishops presents justice as an essential constituent of the mission of the Church.
Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church’s mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation.
Unless combated and overcome by social and political action, the influence of the new industrial and technological order favors the concentration of wealth, power and decision-making in the hands of a small public or private controlling group. Economic injustice and lack of social participation keep people from attaining their basic human and civil rights.
30. In the Old Testament God reveals himself to us as the liberator of the oppressed and the defender of the poor, demanding from people faith in him and justice towards one’s neighbor. It is only in the observance of the duties of justice that God is truly recognized as the liberator of the oppressed.
34. According to the Christian message, therefore, our relationship to our neighbor is bound up with our relationship to God; our response to the love of God, saving us through Christ, is shown to be effective in his love and service of people. Christian love of neighbor and justice cannot be separated. For love implies an absolute demand for justice, namely a recognition of the dignity and rights of one’s neighbor. Justice attains its inner fullness only in love. Because every person is truly a visible image of the invisible God and a sibling of Christ, the Christian finds in every person God himself and God’s absolute demand for justice and love.
36. The Church has received from Christ the mission of preaching the Gospel message, which contains a call to people to turn away from sin to the love of the Father, universal kinship and a consequent demand for justice in the world. This is the reason why the Church has the right, indeed the duty, to proclaim justice on the social, national and international level, and to denounce instances of injustice, when the fundamental rights of people and their very salvation demand it.
(Synod of Bishops 1971: Justice in the World)
What is even more questionable in the history of the Church is whether Christians and the Church have de facto being manifesting other centered oblative love. Is the evidence of history not the contrary? While saintly Christians and missionaries have been witnessing to charitable service, the Church has been structurally allied to the dominant, exploiting rulers, invaders, colonial rulers and affluent rich. Pope John Paul II apologized over 99 times for such abuses.
Benedict XVI refers to the documents of Catholic Social teaching from the 1891 Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII to Centesimus Annus of 1991. One of their deficiencies is the lack structural analysis in terms of global social justice. They were all written mainly from a European dominated worldview. There has been no critical moral evaluation of European colonialism by the Central Church authority throughout the 450 years since 1492. Much less has there been a demand for compensation by the exploiters, who were by and large Christian powers.
The writers of the encyclicals were influenced by the dominant ideology and surrounding culture of their times. The same can be said of the late Pope John Paul II who wrote disparagingly concerning Buddhism as negative, and of the present Pope in the Vatican Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF) Document “Dominus Jesus”. They both lack close live contact with the other religions in an ongoing manner. They have lived their lives almost entirely in the world dominated by white racism, whether under Capitalism or Communism. They have had no live-in experience (yet) of other peoples dominated by the West. It may be recalled that even Soviet Communism continued the white Russian colonial domination over Asian peoples of East Asia. Both Popes implicitly accept not only the world of neo-liberal domination but also the global world system of land distribution in which the European peoples have taken over the main habitable areas of the world in the Americas and Oceania. (cf. Tissa Balasuriya, Planetary Theology, Orbis NY 1984, chapter 2 The World System)
The encyclical does not refer to the structured lovelessness that prevails in the world system especially since 1492. The accent on charity and social work does not take the Pope to the analysis of the social structures that regulate the social order. It is such structures such as the distribution of wealth and incomes that prevent so many peoples from having their daily bread in a world of plenty and waste. Hence it does not deal with the root causes of poverty and injustice. The opposition to structured injustice in the society of his day led Jesus to his clashes with then political and social power elites and eventually to his death. Unfortunately the preaching and liturgy of the churches do not bring this aspect to the fore, while emphasizing charity.
It is legitimate to ask : can Benedict XVI claim that the Catholic Church witnesses to the God of genuine authentic love, when historically the Church by and large has not been on the side of reforming and transforming social action for justice, except indirectly by her education and other social service activities. The claims in the encyclical in favour of the Church’s social action are hardly credible in our Asian context where there is presently much critical academic and social evaluation of the position of the Church during the past five centuries.
On the contrary – have not the other religions been at the receiving end of Christian downgrading an even violence? This was linked to the Church’s traditional interpretation of God’s love as benefiting exclusively Christians. While being well versed in Western classical literature, European philosophy and the biblical tradition, the authors of the encyclical do not seem to have close and respectful acquaintance with culture, religious perspectives and millennial search for the divine by other peoples. It may also be asked whether the encyclical takes adequate note to the thinking of feminist scholars, activists and movements in relation to issues in both Part I and Part II. This is a major lacuna in the approach of the teaching hierarchical church that is systematically male dominated.
The Encyclical distinguishes functions in the Church and in a way separates the hierarchy from the laity. The charitable service by the Church is to be organized as an essential activity of the Church, whereas action for justice is said to belong to the political field and is to be undertaken by the laity. The church (clergy) is given the responsibility of inspiring a rational approach to issues of justice, but it would seem, not of participating in its being practically actualized. It is understandable that the clergy of the Church should not be involved in the running of the State. But the Church should not be identified with the clergy. The laity are also Church, and will be more so in a Church in which the clergy is decreasing in numbers and ageing. Yet the clergy still exercise a major controlling influence in Church life. To exempt them from participation in political issues often results in the laity lacking an effective leadership at critical moments in a country’s evolution. Thus the bishops in countries like the Philippines and some countries of Africa and Latin America have contributed courageously to the removing of oppressive dictatorial regimes in recent times.
In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the priest and the levite saw the man robbed, stripped, and beaten and left half dead, they walked by on the other side. Evidently they were lacking in the required love of the neighbor. This could be a message to the Christian clergy today, even if those two passing by were not Christian priests. Jesus pinpoints the spirituality involved in the concern for the neighbour fallen among robbers.
Several times the Pope refers to the need for the Church not to be linked to political ideologies.
“Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs.” (No. 31 b)
However, whether we like it or not, a certain dominant ideology prevails in social relations and situations. Thus in a time of slavery, the given social order was taken for granted and de facto supported as it was not opposed. St. Paul while wanting slaves to be well treated teaches slaves to be obedient to their masters. “Obey your human masters in all things… for Christ is the real Master you serve.” Coll: 3: 22-24. Likewise the colonial enterprise was not actively opposed, but was accepted and even supported by Christians and the Church. An explanation of this position could be that hitherto the author/s of the papal encyclicals may not have been adequately sensitive to the impact of the prevailing global social order on the oppressed peoples other than on the working classes of Europe after the industrial revolution.
The Pope refers several times to Marxism and explains its social thinking that considers social service as preventing social revolution.
“Part of Marxist strategy is the theory of impoverishment : in a situation of unjust power, it is claimed, anyone who engages in charitable initiatives is actually serving that unjust system, making it appear at least to some extent tolerable. This in turn slows down the potential revolution and thus blocks the struggle for a better world.” no 31. b) )
It is significant that while the Pope criticizes the Marxist theory and system as
“really an inhuman philosophy. People of the present are sacrificed to the moloch of the future”,
the encyclical does not criticize the prevailing capitalist system and specially the dominant neo-liberalism directly or in such language.
Is not the Pope himself taking an ideological position implicitly in favour of the capitalist system and colonialism that dominated the world for centuries and still continues.
In a sense Marx, a Jew, was perhaps inspired by the values of the Bible also, and his social analysis contributed to the modern Christians being reminded of the demands of social justice. But both Marx and the papal encyclicals overlooked the injustices of European colonialism. By asking the Church (clergy) to abstain from ideological struggles the Pope virtually favors the status quo as mere charitable social action would not change the unjust global system. The hierarchical leadership should be encouraged to participate in the peoples’ movements for justice. It may even be asked whether the Churches have shared in the present day struggle for peace in the world – specially in the face of the blatant violation of human rights in invading Iraq in March 2003. How different would have been the situation if the Christians in USA, UK and Australia had been led by their hierarchies to actively oppose this war non-violently. This would of course require the willingness of the faithful to follow or join a hierarchy that would have won their confidence by credible witness on other contemporary issues also.
The thinking in Part II of the encyclical is reminiscent of the strictures on Liberation Theology that emanated from the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith (CDF) when Cardinal Ratzinger was its head. It is noteworthy that the Pope does not speak of the mass movements for human liberation and structural changes in favour of justice in which the Churches of the world have been participating in recent decades. Neither does he mention great champions of social justice as Archbishops Oscar Romero and Helder Camara, whom the whole world honors as active contemporary friends of the poor and brave Christian leaders of their peoples.
The encyclical emphasizes the service of charity as an essential mission of the Church:
“The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God (kerygma-martyria), celebrating the sacraments (leitourgia), and exercising the ministry of charity (diakonia). These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but it is part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.”( 25 a)
The link between the celebration of the sacraments and the ministry and action for justice is not noted in the encyclical. On the contrary it speaks of centuries of Christian liturgical celebration, of service of charity and saints in the mission of charity but almost totally forgets the centuries of alliance of the Church and Christians with an exploitative social order such as slavery, and colonialism not to mention feudalism. How were the ministries of the word, of liturgy and diakonia or charity exercised over these centuries, and with what impact on the exploited and needy? How was Mt. 25: 31- 44 “I was hungry and you fed me…” implemented by a Church that stressed such views of mission without emphasis on justice? From our part of the world, one is inclined to ask for whom is the encyclical written, and by whom? Should not the God of “Deus Caritas Est” necessarily imply that God is also the God of justice? Does not the story of the good Samaritan imply need of getting rid of the robbers who waylay defenseless travelers?
Further Dimensions of “God is Love”
The love of God for humanity can be revealed, understood and interpreted in many senses. Common to all Christians is the view that God is love and God’s one commandment is that a person loves others as one loves oneself.
Personal and collective service as charity to those in need is emphasized in the 2'nd part of the Encyclical “God is Love”. The Encyclical develops this teaching and relevant example of Jesus in his life to persons in all manner of need.
Continuing the analysis of love, and God is love, proposed in this encyclical, we can refer to love in the gospel of Jesus in several senses:
i) Love as charity of social service. This is beyond the basic love of desire termed eros, and is other centered as philia of friendship and agape of self-giving communion.
ii) Justice that is demanded by love. Justice require that what is due is given to each one, in distributive and social justice. The encyclical refers to this, somewhat in passing and does not engage itself in the local and global struggle for justice.
iii) Love as understood in the Beatitudes as in the Sermon on the Mount. This is a deeper level of self-giving that goes beyond the service of charity and the norms of justice. This is a spirituality that is distinctive in the teaching of Jesus and some of the deeper levels of the world religions. It is a spiritual culture and way of life that has a rare power of transforming persons and communities. It is the development of a soul force that does not impose harm on others but tries to overcome evil and anger by love. It bears the burden of inter personal relations by suffering in oneself rather than by harming others. It is a message of supreme endurance that bears up suffering imposed by others without harming others.
Jesus on the cross bears witness to this message of love unto ultimate self-giving in bearing witness to one’s convictions and message. Unfortunately the significance of this message has been lost or distorted by the interpretation that Jesus suffered his death to pay for the sins of humanity to appease an offended God the Father.
The Sermon on the Mount
A significant omission in the Encyclical in relation to the teachings and life of Jesus is the Sermon on the Mount – as in Mt. 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-41.
The Beatitudes present a dimension of Jesus Christ that goes beyond the charity of social service and the mere legality or correctness of loving one’s friends, and the boundaries of strict obligations of justice. Jesus teaches that human happiness and the coming of the Kingdom of God is in the goodness of self-giving for the others. From this disposition many conclusions can be drawn for personal and social life.
The teaching of Jesus and of the world religions is summarized in the golden rule “do unto others as you would that they do unto you.” (Luke 6:31) Jesus says:
“the measure you use for others is the one that God will use for you”.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who ill-treat you. If anyone hits you on one cheek, let him hit the other one too, if someone takes your coat, let him have your shirt as well. (Luke 6: 27-30).
“Happy are those who are humble;
They will receive what God has promised.” Matt. 5: 5
Have Christians as a community been humble? What has been the relationship of the Church towards other faiths, people of other religions and of non-Western cultures? Has it been one of humility and respect for them? Could the Church say that it has followed the teaching of Jesus:
“If one of you wants to be great, he must be the servant of the rest; and if one of you wants to be first, he must be the slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served; he came to serve and to give his life to redeem many people.” Mark 10:45
On the other hand has not the historical record of the Church been one of thinking of itself as having the unique truth concerning God and a monopoly of the path and means to salvation. Others faiths and religions were considered wrong, and therefore without rights. They could not only be opposed but also defeated and if possible exterminated as works of the Devil. The interpretation of Christian revelation combined with political and military power gave the European peoples a thinking that they were superior human beings, especially loved and privileged by God.
The attitude of the Catholic clergy towards women is that men were/are considered more in the image of the Man-God Jesus Christ and hence superior to women. Women are still not considered worthy of priestly ordination and of the exercise of higher teaching and administrative functions in the Church. The exclusion of women in some places from university and seminary theological studies till Vatican II (1962-65) ensured that the point of view of women had little chance of influencing the teaching and life of the Church. This is a long history of male domination that continues even today.
The Sermon on the Mount teaches
“if you lend only to those from you hope to get it back, why should you receive a blessing? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. No, Love your enemies and do good to them. Lend and expect nothing back. You will then have a great reward, and you will be sons of the Most High God.
For he is good to the ungrateful and the wicked.
Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.
Forgive others and God will forgive you.” (Luke 6: 34-37).
His prayer includes “forgive us our sins as we forgive others”.
The world system is very far from this reign of God presented by Jesus. The norms in the dominant world system are so different from these ideals. The foreign debt of poor countries is an unbearable burden that further impoverishes poor indebted countries that have being long exploited by the former colonial rulers. The IMF and the World Bank impose Structural Adjustment Policies that compel poor indebted countries to open their economies to foreign subsidized imports that destroy local production, and to privatize their public enterprises such as supply of water, fuel, common services as health, education, communications and transportation.
The encyclical ends with a reflection on and prayer to Mary the mother of Jesus. She is presented as a model of social service. Her humility and kind services as at Cana are underlined in the encyclical. But it does not connect the virtues of Mary with the active public life of Jesus. Jesus took strong positions concerning true spirituality in religion and strongly castigated religious leaders who placed unnecessary burdens on the simple people. The whole of Matt.23 is a very strong public criticism that was bound to get Jesus into grave trouble with them.
“They tie on the people’s back loads that are hard and heavy to carry, yet they aren’t willing to lift a finger to help them carry those loads. They do everything so that people may see them.” (Matt 23: 4-5).
Mary knew that Jesus was being targeted by the high priests, scribes and Pharisees. She was with him in his mission unto the death on the cross, and thereafter with the early Church.
The Pope comments on the Magnificat, the hymn attributed to Mary when she visited Elizabeth her cousin. The Pope praises her humble sentiments and the glory of God, but makes no mention of its important radical social message.
He does not comment on the revolutionary consequences that would follow from a serious meditation on the socially demanding pronouncements of the “Magnificat”.
“He has stretched out his mighty arm and scattered the proud with all their plans.
He has brought down the mighty kings from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly,
He has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich with empty hands, (Luke 1: 51-53)
These radical teachings are in line with the more revolutionary messages of the prophets of the Old Testament, which are also bypassed in this encyclical.
“Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but pay no attention to the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘please, brother, let me take the speck out of your eye’, yet cannot even see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite! First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will be able to see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)
On reflecting on the history of Christianity there is much cause to regret that as a faith community Christians have thought of themselves as superior to others, since they claimed to be the privileged of God. Christians, when in power, were intolerant of others. Among different Christian groups there were the wars of religion, that decided the fate of Catholicism and Protestantism in Europe on the basis of political power and the axiom “cujus regio ejus religio” (whose is the regime, his is the religion).
The long centuries of Christian intolerance require an examination of conscience by Christians, to see where and in what way the Church went wrong. In the past, prior to Vatican II, the Catholic Church was not accustomed to accept that it could be wrong in condemning others and even persecuting them. There has been a significant change in the attitudes of Pope John XXIII who convoked the Council Vatican II to update the Church (aggiornamento), and Paul VI who somewhat hesitatingly continued the conciliar process.
Pope John Paul II’s Apologies
The Polish Pope John Paul II was quite clear in apologizing throughout his long pontificate for the wrongs and mistakes of the Catholic Church. He did so in the name of the Pope especially during his numerous travels. He asked pardon for the wrongs of anti-Semitism, of slavery, of the Crusades, the Inquisition, of the divisions among the Churches and the wars of religions, from Islam, Hus, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Galileo, the native peoples of the Americas, for the compromises with dictatorships and different forms of injustice, for the mistakes in the centennial confrontation of science and the faith, for the responsibility of the men of the Church in the discrimination against women, for the forced conversions that accompanied the brutal conquest of the peoples of the other continents, for not resisting the temptation of “integrism”, claims of exclusive righteousness. Pope John Paul II asked pardon courageously and persistently, often alone in his position.
As the millennium was coming to a close he persistently called the Church to an examination of conscience concerning the previous millennia, to begin a new stage in the history of Christianity with the grace of the Millennium 2000. He called it the “purification of memory”, as against the tendency to forget or overlook the past mistakes and wrongs of the Church, which claimed papal infallibility. Thus the ageing pilgrim Pope helped open the path to dialogue among the religions, among Christians, among conflicting peoples, and generations, as in the inter-religious days of prayer at Assisi, and the World Days of Youth, attended by millions. He asked journalist Jas Gawronski, “at the end of the second millennium: where are we? Where has Christ led us, or where have we deviated from the Gospel? (cf. Luigi Accattoli: Quand le Pape Demande Pardon, Albin Michael, Paris 1997, p. 18 et alibi)
Peace and Non-Violence
“Blessed are the peace-makers, God will call them his children.”( Mt. 5: 9)
This has great relevance in the history of the Church and now in the 21'st Century. It includes options for peace as well as methodologies of action for peace such as active non-violence, and civil disobedience.
Mahatma Gandhi was drawn towards Jesus due to the deep humanity of the Sermon on the Mount. It reveals Jesus as giving a divine message beyond the limited considerations of charity, and even of justice. From Jesus teaching on love of enemies and forgiveness of those who offended him, Mahatma Gandhi developed the philosophy and theory and practice of non-violence in all spheres of life – including the political struggle for the liberation of India from British Imperial rule, and of the Black and Coloured peoples from white racist domination in South Africa at the beginning of the 20'th Century.
The Mahatma (Great Soul) was inspired in his theory and practice of non-violence from the meditation on the Sermon on the Mount, also, in the background of the Indian peoples’ struggle for the freedom from the largest empire in the 19'th and early 20'th century. He developed the methodology of active non-violence as a very powerful weapon of the peaceful people to impact even the most powerful regimes and ruling peoples. He promoted peoples’ power – soul force and the strategy of civil disobedience in which the leaders court imprisonment rather than take to violence. In a period in which there is much resort to violence and terrorist attacks to achieve one’s objectives – Mahatma Gandhi was a pioneer in evolving the teaching and practice of civil disobedience.
He trained the poor Indian masses to be disciplined in eschewing violence. He did so by public education such as calling off a campaign of non-violence when some groups of his followers resorted to violence. His moral courage and spiritual influence on the masses was so great that it became impossible of the British to continue their rule in India with Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress leadership in British jails. He led by being in the front ranks of the resistance – being the first to go to prison on 9'th August 1942 in support of the Congress resolution demanding the British to “Quit India”.
He was followed by Martin Luther King in the struggle of the Black people for their rights in the USA in the 1950s and 1960s. King was a Christian Minister who mobilized the people of good will in the USA to protest non-violently against racial discrimination. He was a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi and a teacher of active non-violence out in the field - till his assassination.
Nelson Mandela of South Africa influenced by Gandhi and King also showed the world a magnificent example of forgiveness at the point of victory in calling on the people of Africa to forget past grievances and live together in peace as South Africans of all races – after having been 28 years in an apartheid prison.
Although there were Christians, including religious, who offered themselves as ransom for prisoners, it would seem that it is Mahatma Gandhi who first brought out this dimension of spirituality as soul force in the public and political sphere. It is a hope and belief in the ultimate triumph of love that inspires peace and non-violence, as self-sacrificial love can teach a lesson to the offending parties and powers. It is not to be a position of mere passive acceptance of injustice, but a strong active resistance to evil and injustice, that does not bow the knee before insolent might (as Tagore calls it) but holds the head up high asserting justice and practices supreme love even unto death. These inspiring examples of some of the greatest personalities of the world in the 20'th century can be invoked as very meaningful lessons for humanity in the 21'st century. They give principles, methods and sacrificial fidelity to the God of love and love of one another.
In a sense this was the message of the martyrs of the early Church during the period of persecution of Christians. It got submerged in theology and spirituality when the Christian Church joined the ruling state powers in persecuting dissenters from proclaimed orthodoxy as after Nicene in 325. Tradition, thought of as a source of divine revelation, perpetuated this omission or distortion from generation to generation up to recent decades. It is opportune that the Churches return to the teaching of Jesus. This would be one dimension of the re-evangelization of Christians that is said to be necessary today.
21'st Century – Violence and Christianity
The 21'st century has been born in violence, with the “terrorist” air attack on New York on 11'th September 2001 and the invasion of Iraq by USA, UK and Australia on 18'th March 2003. It is now well known that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not motivated by fear of a nuclear attack by Saddam Hussain or due to the desire of the invading forces to install democracy in Iraq. It was a step in the effort of the USA and its allies to exercise superpower domination especially over the Middle East largely due to its oil riches. This war has now gone on for over three years without an end in sight. There is even the possibility of it spreading to other countries such as Iran.
One of the greatest challenges for Christians in the 21'st Century is that it is mainly they who control world power after the end of the cold war with the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the end of the Communist Empire in Eastern Europe.
In the encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” there is no significant reference to this war of the 21'st century, and to the worldwide movement for peace. This war is causing the death of several thousands of innocent men, women and children.
The super-power world of the 21'st century has been built up by force and invasion during the five centuries since 1492 when the Christian Churches were partners with Europe in global conquest. These crimes call for reparation. The Church has been far from being an effective witness to the God of love during the building of this unjust racist world (dis)order. Most of the saints mentioned by the Pope as icons of social charity were far from being champions of the rights of the oppressed and conquered peoples of the Americas, of Africa and Asia. Global social justice was hardly their concern during the times when the exploitative world system was being built up. They were inspired by a theology and spirituality that presented the message of Jesus in a manner that legitimized the Western colonial adventure.
How and Why did this happen ? How has it been possible that despite innumerable saintly persons in the Church, and millions of periods of prayer and meditation by thousands of millions of good Catholics throughout a millennium and more, the basic message of the Beatitudes did not become the way of life of the Christians and of the Church? They did not inform the spirituality and moral theology of the teaching Church to become their guiding principles, and the core inspiration of Christian culture and civilization.
Need of Purification
It can be asked how and why did the Church go so wrong for nearly 1500 years of its 2000 year history concerning such significant issues such as the salvation of those not of the Christian faith? Was there not a mistaken emphasis in the three major functions of the Church.
- in preaching the Word in an exclusivist and dominant sense, regarding Jesus Christ as the unique and universal saviour of all humanity
- the celebration of the Eucharist being performed alongside the grave injustices of slavery, feudalism, colonial invasions and present day growing global injustice and inequality
- thirdly the ministry of charity being concerned as social service and not requiring reforming social action from the Church leadership.
We cannot help seeing an inadequacy in this interpretation of God and of the mission of the Church as service of charity. The world injustice of 20% of the population having 80% of the wealth and millions going hungry each day is too well known to require repetition.
i) Its anthropology is based on the mythical presupposition of original sin placing the whole of humanity in sin as offenders against God.
ii) Human redemption is explained as due to the death of Jesus on the cross, paying the required price to God the Father,
iii) This gives an understanding of the life of Jesus that does not emphasize the positions he took for justice in the society of his day. This dilutes his strong critical message concerning the injustices of the prevailing social order and the faults of the religious and civil leaders.
iv) This gives an explanation of his death as due to need to make amends to the Father for original sin, rather than due to his strong critical stance against the social-religious injustice and struggle for the liberation of the oppressed of his day.
This divine activity now takes on dramatic form when, in Jesus Christ, it is God himself who goes in search of the “stray sheep”, a suffering and lost humanity. When Jesus speaks in his parables of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, of the woman who looks for the lost coin, of the father who goes to meet and embrace his prodigal son, these are no mere words: they constitute an explanation of his very being and activity. His death on the Cross is the culmination of that turning of God against himself in which he gives himself in order to raise man up and save him. This is love in its most radical form. By contemplating the pierced side of Christ (cf. 19:37), we can understand the starting-point of this Encyclical Letter: “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8). It is there that this truth can be contemplated. It is from there that our definition of love must begin. In this contemplation the Christian discovers the path along which his life and love must move. (no. 12)
The Pope speaks of a lost humanity. His definition of divine love “God is love” begins with the hypothesis of a lost humanity to be saved by a divine act of reconciliation.
v) Consequently an other worldly interpretation is given to spiritual discipleship of Jesus, to the meaning of prayer, and to the understanding of salvation and Christian mission. Christian holiness is understood mainly as leading to charitable activity and not so related to action for justice and peace that transforms social structures.
There is no practical application of the demands of God is love for peace with justice in the world of the 21'st century. The sacramental life goes on side by side with the killings of wars, an economy of grave exploitation and pollution of nature.
‘A Eucharist which does not passover into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented.’ (no. 14)
vi) The sacrament of baptism was given an effect of automatic redemption of infants. The sacraments of penance and Eucharist were not closely related to the need of justice and peace in society as oppressors, slave drivers and colonizers could receive the sacraments without meaningful remorse for their social evils. They could be at peace with the Church with a good conscience, especially if they did charitable works.
vii) Correspondingly for a long time there was a downgrading of other faiths, and opposition to friendly inter-religious relations.
viii) The kingdom of God preached by Jesus is seen as being realized in the next world, rather than on this earth. Hence a neglect of the care for nature, God’s gift for all humanity to be safeguarded for succeeding generations and shared equitably among all peoples.
If the Church leadership does not undertake a critical social analysis of a given situation it cannot and would not be able to influence the laity and church organizations to take political action to bring about justice. Without a clear option for justice, especially to the poor, the Church could not fulfill the responsibility, which the Pope entrusts to it :
“the Church is duty-bound to offer, through the purification of reason and through ethical formation, her own specific contribution towards understanding the requirements of justice and achieving them politically.” (no 28 : a )
A Mission for the Pope
May we suggest that in a subsequent encyclical he develops the radical demands of the Christian gospel of Jesus. The Pope could propose very effective remedies to this unjust situation in a relevant meditation on the Sermon on the Mount. If the Pope listens to the present cries of humanity expressed by the global protests and peace movements, he would discern the potential that the Church has for bringing the war to a halt. The Christian leadership can inspire active non-violent protests, including civil disobedience such as by refusing to pay taxes for the war and the armaments industry that supports and profits from war. This would be at least as meaningful as the encouragement to charitable social service within the grossly unjust world order of violence and international lawlessness.
The Pope can lead the Christian churches and peoples to develop methodologies of non-violent protest that are far more feasible now with the present rapid global communications. If the Pope and the Christian leadership of North America, Europe and Oceania are firmly determined to stand up courageously for a just peace in a coordinated manner, the Iraq war can be brought to an early halt. The price would be the severing of the unholy alliance between the Church and the dominant Western colonizers, an option not effectively made since the time of Constantine.
Reflecting on the wider implications of the message of Jesus, that God is love, the Christian churches in the world can rethink the core of their teaching in the present world situation of war and grave injustice. The catechesis can highlight the different dimension of the demands of love that could lead to the transformation of persons, relationships and structures. We need to develop our thinking and methodology of peace with justice to be achieved by non-violent methods. Otherwise the alternative at the world level is vast unimaginable destruction, given the divisions in the world and the accumulated powers of self-destruction available to many.
In a subsequent encyclical or instruction the Pope can give the leadership that the world needs. The world religions have the common core message of peace and strategies to save humanity from the impending tragedy to humans and nature itself. Throughout the world there are numerous persons, groups and movements that yearn for peace with justice, beyond the limits of the dominant neo-liberal capitalism. The gospel of Jesus gives inspiration for another possible world that can give a better chance for most humans to live a full and meaningful human life. The World Social Forum meeting in Poto Allegre in Brazil and elsewhere expresses the hopes of humanity for such a peaceful transformation. This present situation is a great challenge for all of us to bear witness to the God of love revealed by Jesus. We hope Pope Benedict XVI would help us all to face this challenge wisely, courageously and peacefully.
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God”.
If, as the Pope writes in the introduction the encyclical is meant to be a guideline indicating his thinking, it needs careful reflection on its intents and, limits.
“since I wanted here - at the beginning of my Pontificate – to clarify some essential facts concerning the love which God mysteriously and gratuitously offers to man (sic), together with the intrinsic link between Love and the reality of human love.”
If part II intends only to direct and support the organized Church social action as “Caritas”, then the sidelining here of the mission and action for justice and peace can be understood. We would then await another encyclical on the justice and peace of God that would deal with all such issues directly and give the required leadership to the whole church.
The encyclical “Deus Caritas Est” can be taken by study groups for small group reflection. This “Companion” many come in handy for it.
Since the Pope indicated, at his inauguration, that his desire and role is also to listen to others, the results of such groups studies may be sent to the Pope through the Apostolic Nuncios in the different countries. This may help him to prepare his next encyclical. We will be happy to hear from you in this regard.