January 18, 2006

Pope hopes encyclical will explain true love

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Benedict said on Wednesday
his long-awaited first encyclical will be published next week
and that he hopes it can show Christians the proper
relationship between erotic love and spiritual love.

He told pilgrims at his weekly general audience that the
encyclical, called "Deus Caritas Est" (God is Love), will be
published on January 25 to coincide with a week in which the
Catholic Church prays for Christian unity.

"In this encyclical, I want to show the concept of love in
its various dimensions," he said, speaking without prepared
remarks to make the surprise announcement.

"In the terminology used today, love often appears very far
from what a Christian thinks," the Pope, elected in April, told
listeners in the Vatican audience hall.

The main theme of the encyclical, the highest form of papal
writing, is love and charity. A pontiff's first encyclical is
always keenly awaited because it is seen as a keynote for his
entire papacy.

In the writing, about 50 pages long, the Pope discusses the
relationship between "eros," or erotic love, and "agape,"
(pronounced ah-gah-pay) the Greek word referring to
unconditional, spiritual and selfless love as taught by Jesus.

In his comments on Wednesday, the Pope suggested that his
encyclical will warn that erotic love risked being degraded to
mere sex or merchandise if it did not have a balancing
component of spiritual or divine love founded on the Christian


"Eros, this gift of the love between a man and a woman,
comes from the same source, from the goodness of creator," he

He said erotic love can be blended with and transformed
into spiritual love, "where two people really love each other
and one no longer seeks his or her own joy or delights but
seeks above all the good of the other person."

The Pope told the audience he hoped his first encyclical
would "illuminate and help our Christian life."

Vatican sources familiar with the encyclical said that in
explaining his position in the encyclical, the Pope quotes not
only from Biblical writings, his predecessors and Church
teachings, but also from philosophers including 17th century
thinker Rene Descartes.

While the Pope is believed to have written the first part
himself, the second part, dedicated to the theme of charity,
was already on the burner in the final years of the pontificate
of his predecessor John Paul.

The second part, believed to have been written by experts
and edited by the Pope, deals with the need for Christians to
do charitable works.

The encyclical was due to have been published on December 8
but Vatican sources said it was delayed by a series of
additions, deletions and changes after observations from
various Vatican departments and cardinals who had read a draft.

Pope John Paul wrote 14 encyclicals during his nearly
27-year reign, including several so-called social encyclicals
on themes such as the rights of workers and the relationship
between the superpowers during the Cold War.

Pope Benedict has said he does not expect to write as much
as his predecessor did but wanted to spread John Paul's
teachings and see that they were properly understood.