LOVE IN THE HOLY SEE
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- Published 5.02.06
?In the beginning was the word?, it could also have begun with love. ?God is Love? is the central message of the Book of Revelations in the New Testament. Pope Benedict XVI returns to this theme in his first encyclical. The choice is somewhat surprising, since the encyclical, a papal letter addressed to the bishops, is the vehicle for conveying Roman Catholic policy. The theme is not unimportant but the priority that the new head of the Catholic church endows on it is not devoid of significance. Over the years, the orthodoxy of the Vatican has acted as a killjoy to sexual enjoyment. The devout have had to admit their sins of the flesh at the confessional. When the new pope was known as cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he earned his colours in the Roman Catholic establishment as a staunch champion of orthodoxy. This is the reason why the choice of sex as the subject of his first encyclical has surprised many of his erstwhile liberal critics. Under the Latin title, Deus Caritas Est (God is love), the pope poses the challenging question: ?Doesn?t the Church, with all her commandments and prohibitions, turn to bitterness the most precious thing in life??
Benedict XVI proceeds to answer his own poser through a discourse that distinguishes between what the Greeks called eros and agape. Eros was intoxicating and was a means to approximate towards divine love and supreme happiness, while agape ?involves a true discovery of the other?. Eros was ?a self-seeking in the intoxication of happiness? and agape ?seeks the good of the beloved? and thus a ?journey out of the closed inward-looking self?. Without privileging one over the other, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized their interrelatedness through the obvious example of the Song of Solomon, whose poetics is informed by an erotic charge. The pope was obviously appealing to his flock to return to the message of love embedded in the Christian faith; he was also warning the faithful to refrain from degrading love to the level of lust. The pope?s message will strike a chord among Indians to whom the intermeshing of divine and human love is well-known in poetry, art and architecture. Indian gods are known for their sexual playfulness and they have been worshipped by devotees in the form of the beloved.
If the pope?s views on love and sex convey a sense of liberation, they should be set beside the Vatican?s recent instruction banning homosexuals from priesthood. While it is true that this instruction does not carry the weight of a papal encyclical, it is difficult to believe that the instruction does not have a papal endorsement. The message from the Vatican is confusing. It is reviewing its attitude towards the enjoyment of sex, but only sex between men and women in marriage seems to be winning its approval. Adultery leads straight to the confessional, and over homosexuality hangs the threat of excommunication. The Catholic church is waking up, but it must realize that it has a lot to catch up on if it is to make itself relevant to the contemporary world.