A Distinctive Voice

 

The reaction to Pope Benedict XVI’s long-awaited first encyclical, Deus caritas est (God Is Love), has been appreciative, even enthusiastic. If some assumed that a seventy-eight-year-old celibate, best known for policing the errors of his fellow theologians, would have little of import to say about the nature and reality of love, they have been proved wrong. Much to her own surprise, Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondent for The Times of London, was moved and impressed. “I started reading Deus caritas est expecting to be disappointed, chastised, and generally laid low,” she wrote. Instead, Gledhill discovered a voice comparable to George Herbert’s or C. S. Lewis’s. “This encyclical is not the work of an inquisitor,” she concludes. “It is the work of a lover-a true lover of God.” In his New York Times “Beliefs” column, Peter Steinfels made the case that those who found the encyclical uncontroversial, even bland, because it didn’t provide ammunition for the culture war over sexual morality, were being obtuse. One can argue, Steinfels wrote, that the eloquent, carefully reasoned case Benedict makes “for love, personal, self-giving love, as the bottom-line character of reality is the wildest, most astonishing of claims” that can be made in an era when scientific materialism and modern skepticism are commonly thought to foreclose such a possibility. There is little reason to disagree with these assessments. A very...

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