instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Caritas Splendor

In his speech last week to the Pontifical Council "Cor Unum," Pope Benedict said:
Today, the word "love" is so spoiled, worn out and abused that one almost fears to pronounce it. And yet, it is a fundamental word, an expression of the primordial reality. We cannot simply abandon it, but we must take it up again, purify it and bring it to its original splendour so that it can illumine our life and guide it on the right path.
This is certainly true, and "love" isn't the only word that has become spoiled, worn out and abused.

In advertising, "sinful" and "decadent" are used to mean "pleasurable, good tasting, and unhealthful." "Marriage" signifies a best efforts contract between (if we're lucky) two consenting adults. "Heaven" and "hell" mean "a time and place of pleasure" and "a time and place of discomfort."

Some of this is, I guess, just the natural entropy of language; over time terms become less specific in meaning. (Was it C.S. Lewis who wrote that eventually every word means either "good" or "bad"?) Some of it is the adolescent rejection and inversion of adult values. But all of it should be resisted, if Christians are to be able to proclaim their faith.

Maybe we can regard the abuse of such terms as a good sign, insofar as it shows that people are still somehow close to such ideas as love, sin, and heaven. Everyone has what he needs inside him to respond to Christ; it just wants straightening out.

It seems to me, as well, that what the Pope is inviting us to do is not so much to discard the abuses, not to say, "No! There is nothing of love in what you've been calling 'love,'" but rather to correct the abuses, to say something like, "Love is so much more than you think, and when you see how much more it is, you will see that some of the elements of your concept of love are contrary to love."

I need to reread the encyclical to be more confident, but as of now I sense a strong grace-perfecting-nature vibe in the statement, "Fundamentally, 'love' is a single reality."