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Pope Benedict's edict explores issue of love

Pope Benedict XVI offered his vision for the Roman Catholic Church's mission in the world on Wednesday.

india Updated: Jan 26, 2006 00:25 IST

Pope Benedict XVI offered his vision for the Roman Catholic Church's mission in the world on Wednesday, saying in his first encyclical that it had a duty to influence political leaders to ease suffering and promote justice through its charitable work.

The encyclical "God is Love" -- Benedict's most authoritative work to date -- has been eagerly anticipated because inaugural encyclicals offer clues about a pontiff's major concerns and the priorities of his early pontificate.

As a result, the 71-page text can be seen as an effort by Benedict to stress the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith -- love -- and assert the church's duty to exercise that love through its works of charity in an unjust world.

In the encyclical, Benedict rejected the criticism of charity found in Marxist thought, which holds that charity is merely an excuse by the rich to keep the poor in their place when the rich should be working for a more just society.

The criticism appeared to be an extension of Benedict's firm rejection of the Marxist-inspired liberation theology, which he firmly denounced in his early years as the Vatican's chief doctrinal watchdog.

Liberation theology, which originated in Latin America, holds that criticizing the oppression of the poor and marginalized should be central to Christian theology, and that the Christian faith should be reinterpreted specifically to deliver oppressed people from injustice.

Benedict conceded that Marxist models of dealing with injustice by trying to provide for social needs did help the poor faster than the church did during the Industrial Revolution. But he said Marxism was a failed experiment because it could not respond to every human need.

"There will always be suffering which cries out for consolation and help. There will always be loneliness. There will always be situations of material need where help in the form of concrete love of neighbour is indispensable," he said.

Benedict stressed that the state alone is responsible for creating a just society, not the church. But he said the church has the right and the duty to be involved in politics by helping "form consciences in political life and stimulate greater insight into the authentic requirements of justice as well as greater readiness to act accordingly, even when this might involve conflict with situations of personal interest."

The text is divided into two parts: Part I explores what Benedict calls the "unity of love," in which he explores the two concepts of love found in the word "eros" -- the erotic love between man and woman -- and the Greek concept of love in the world "agape" -- unconditional love.

Those two concepts are united in God's love for mankind and in marriage between man and woman, he said.

He warned that sex without unconditional love risked turning men and women into merchandise.

"Eros, reduced to pure 'sex' has become a commodity, a mere 'thing' to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself has become a commodity," he wrote.

"Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body: no longer is it integrated into our overall existential freedom; no longer is it a vital expression of our whole being, but it is more or less relegated to the purely biological sphere," he said.

Part II of the encyclical takes the theological concept of love into concrete terms, which he said is found in the church's charitable activities, where the love of one's neighbour is put into practice.

Benedict said the church's work caring for widows, the sick and orphans was as much a part of its mission as celebrating the sacraments and spreading the Gospels. However, he stressed that the church's charity workers must never use their work to proselytize or push a particular political ideology.

"Love is free; it is not practiced as a way of achieving other ends," he wrote.