A collection of unique and profound insights into the nature of Christian love
THE WAY OF LOVE:
Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Encyclical Deus Caritas Est
Edited by Livio Melina and Carl A. Anderson
(Ignatius Press, 2006, 366pp, hardcover, $50.00. Available from Freedom Publishing in about 2-3 weeks)
On his election to the papacy in 2005, Benedict XVI, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, had already earned a formidable reputation as a theologian, philosopher, and indeed as one of the most highly regarded thinkers and writers of the current era.
Unsurprisingly his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (DCE), on Christian love, has been received with great interest, both within the Church and without. It is in response to this important document that the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family has published The Way of Love: Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Encyclical Deus Caritas Est.
The encyclical itself explores the nature of Christian love, commenting in turn on: the unity of Christian love, through which self-interested eros leads to, and finds its fulfilment in the self-giving of agape; the implications, for Christians, of the divine nature of love's ultimate source, God the Father; and the practical means by which the universal call to love should be answered by both individuals and the Church as a community.
All of this is has, of course, been treated most comprehensively, and expressed with the lucidity and insight which we have come to expect from Benedict's remarkable intellect.
In his encyclical, Benedict suggests that the 'love between a man and a woman ... would seem to be the very epitome of love' (DCE, 2), later going on to note that 'marriage ... becomes the icon of the relationship between God and his people' (DCE, 11). It comes as no surprise, then, that Deus Caritas Est should excite the particular attention of the John Paul II Institute, resulting in this rich and diverse volume of reflective essays.
The essays number 27, with contributions from professors of the Institute's various sessions around the world, and have been edited by the President of the Institute in Rome, Livio Melina, and the Vice-President of the American session of the Institute, Carl A. Anderson.
Each of the essays uses Deus Caritas Est as a starting point, and although the degree to which the commentaries deal specifically with the text varies a great deal, a measure of familiarity with the encyclical itself is certainly recommended.
David L. Schindler's contribution, for example, titled 'The Way of Love in the Church's Mission to the World', offers a succinct summary of Deus Caritas Est before going on to examine more closely, and develop more fully, a number of its fundamental assertions. By contrast, Stanislaw Grygiel offers a far more esoteric study of 'Light and Love', drawing inspiration from the themes of encyclical, but with only occasional concrete references to the text itself.
This is to be expected given that the contributors approach the encyclical from a wide range of perspectives. Here we find political, theological, philosophical, anthropological and literary responses to an encyclical whose brevity and ease of reading at times belie the depth and richness of its message.
The result is a volume whose chapters can be markedly different in their tenor from one to the next: while some tend toward an academic analysis of their chosen topic, taking the reader into challenging theological and philosophical territory, others adopt a more accessible, editorial approach.
In this way, different readers will undoubtedly be attracted to some contributions more than others. Perhaps more significantly, all readers will find on offer, somewhere in this treasury of commentaries, an array of unique and profound insights into the nature of Christian love.
The chapters range in length between five and 20 pages, each one distinct from the others, while sharing an expected complementarity given that they respond to a common source. As such, one need not read the entire volume, in chapter order, from cover to cover. And although such a reading would undoubtedly be both fruitful and engaging, it is fair to assume that a more rewarding approach would be to consider the contents of each chapter in a more contemplative manner.
The volume's format favours a variety of uses, and indeed, The Way of Love would be an excellent resource for the academic, teacher, and student alike, but more generally would also be a wonderful companion to personal prayer. The discrete nature of the contributions also makes this volume delightfully re-readable; one might anticipate returning again and again to the various chapters, extracting new insights each time.
Impressively bound in hardcover, and with an attractive dust-cover, The Way of Love is printed on high- quality textured paper, with the text neatly laid out and easy to read. Each chapter is concluded with a comprehensive bibliography, and footnotes feature occasionally throughout.
This inspirational collection of essays expertly reveals the wealth of theological and spiritual insight contained in Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical, and offers its own unique insights into the nature and implications of the universal vocation of Christian men and women: the call to love. The Way of Love is published by Ignatius Press, and is currently available through Freedom Publishing.
Tim Cannon works as a research officer with the Thomas More Centre.