Discussion Questions for Deus Caritas Est, nn. 2-8
Here are my notes for a discussion of the first part of the first part of Deus Caritas Est. The numbers in brackets refer to the section number of the encyclical containing the quotation.
1. "...we cannot simply prescind from the meaning of the word in the different cultures and in present-day usage."  • What other words do the Church and the world use differently? (E.g., "tempting," "sinful," "truth")
2. "The Greeks -- not unlike other cultures -- considered eros principally as a kind of intoxication, the overpowering of reason by a 'divine madness' which tears man away from his finite existence and enables him, in the very process of being overwhelmed by divine power, to experience supreme happiness."  • Does our culture think of love as intoxication or "divine madness"? • What does the culture say love enables man to do?
3. "An intoxicated and undisciplined eros, then, is not an ascent in 'ecstasy' towards the Divine, but a fall, a degradation of man. Evidently, eros needs to be disciplined and purified if it is to provide not just fleeting pleasure, but a certain foretaste of the pinnacle of our existence, of that beatitude for which our whole being yearns."  • What does the concept of "a degredation of man" imply? • What happens when we don’t acknowledge that there is a beatitude for which our whole being yearns?
4. "... love promises infinity, eternity -- a reality far greater and totally other than our everyday existence."  • What else in our culture makes such a promise?
5. "Purification and growth in maturity are called for; and these also pass through the path of renunciation."  • What does "the path of renunciation" mean?
6. "... man is a being made up of body and soul... Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness."  • Why is this true, and how can we know it is true?
7. "Eros, reduced to pure 'sex', has become a commodity, a mere 'thing' to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great 'yes' to the body."  • Can the culture see the truth of this?
8. In the Song of Songs, "Love now becomes concern and care for the other. No longer is it self-seeking, a sinking in the intoxication of happiness; instead it seeks the good of the beloved: it becomes renunciation and it is ready, and even willing, for sacrifice."  • Do we desire to love in this way? • What would make us desire to love sacrificially?
9. As it grows, love "seeks to become definitive... both in the sense of exclusivity (this particular person alone) and in the sense of being 'for ever'."  • What has happened to our concept of love?
10. "Love is indeed 'ecstasy', not in the sense of a moment of intoxication, but rather as a journey, an ongoing exodus out of the closed inward -- looking self towards its liberation through self-giving, and thus towards authentic self-discovery and indeed the discovery of God."  • Does this mean we can take 1 John 4:7b -- "everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God" -- literally?
11. "Yet eros and agape -- ascending love and descending love -- can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized."  • Is this a new idea for you? • How is this teaching lived in the Church? • What might happen if the Church taught this clearly enough to the world?
12. Man "cannot always give, he must also receive. Anyone who wishes to give love must also receive love as a gift."  • How important is it that love be received as a gift?
13.To "become a source from which rivers of living water flow... one must constantly drink anew from the original source, which is Jesus Christ, from whose pierced heart flows the love of God."  • What does it tell us, about love and about our faith, that Pope Benedict identifies "the love of God" with the water (of baptism) and blood (that washes away sin) that flowed from Jesus' side?
14. "We have thus come to an initial, albeit still somewhat generic response to the two questions raised earlier."  • What are the two questions, and what are the answers? i. "[A]re all ... forms of love basically one"?  ii. "Did Christianity really destroy eros?"  • What does all this mean for us this Lent?