Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Tag: Benedict XVI

The Soul in Dialogue with Time

Let us suppose that each of one us has been given a gift, a soul. This soul is unique to us, and we cannot be parted from it.

We might imagine that soul turning to Time and saying:

“I know Someone mightier than you. You cannot hold me, you cannot change me, I am eternal.”

We might also imagine Time’s response:

“That is true soul, I am not your master, I do not define you. But only through me can you find yourself. You live in me and if you disregard me you diminish yourself and you disrespect your True Master.”

See also:

“Quid tam tuum quam tu, quid tam non tuum quam tu” (Augustine) – What is so much yours as yourself, and what is so little yours as yourself? The most individual element in us – the only thing that belongs to us in the last analysis – our own “I” , is at the same time the least individual element of all, for it is precisely our “I” that we have neither from ourselves or for ourselves.

Benedict XVI citing St Augustine

Friendship and Love

In Greek, the word “fileo” means the love of friendship, tender but not all-encompassing; instead, the word “agapao” means love without reserve, total and unconditional. Jesus asks Peter the first time: “Simon… do you love me (agapas-me)” with this total and unconditional love?

Prior to the experience of betrayal, the Apostle certainly would have said “I love you (agapo-se) unconditionally.” Now that he has known the bitter sadness of infidelity, the drama of his own weakness, he says with humility: “Lord; you know that I love you (filo-se),” that is, “I love you with my poor human love.” Christ insists: “Simon, do you love me with this total love that I want?” And Peter repeats the response of his humble human love: “Kyrie, filo-se” – “Lord, I love you as I am able to love you.” The third time Jesus only says to Simon: “Fileis-me?” – “Do you love me?”

Simon understands that his poor love is enough for Jesus, it is the only one of which he is capable, nonetheless he is grieved that the Lord spoke to him in this way. He thus replies: “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you (filo-se).”

Pope Benedict XVI in The Apostles

This is an important passage and the analysis by Benedict XVI is very illuminating and it shows the value of careful attention to differences in language. Reliance on a particular translation – particularly if this is then converted into a literalist interpretation – is naive.

We also remember the wonderful four-fold analysis of Lewis in The Four Loves. Both Lewis and Benedict XVI both identify true Christian love with agape. Lewis argues that each of the other kinds of love is good, but that each of the lower forms of love, if it becomes exaggerated and loses the balance brought by obedience to virtue will become distorted.

  • Storge – affection can become obsessive and distorting, leading to prejudice.
  • Fileo – friendship can become clubbish, cliquish.
  • Eros – erotic love can be selfish and narcissistic.

For Lewis ‘agape’ is the ideal form of love, proper Christian love, which is universal, selfless and truthful. It does not exclude or dimish the other forms of love – it completes, balances and transforms them – this transformation can also require suffering.

But Benedict XVI makes the additional and necessary point – God will even accept the poorest versions of our love – he knows agape is often a stretch for human beings in all their weakness.

Christian Love (Agape)

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”

Where is the newness to which Jesus refers? It lies in the fact that he is not content with repeating what had already been requested in the Old Testament and which we also read in the other Gospels: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”

In the ancient precept the standard criterion was based on man (“as yourself”), whereas in the precept to which John refers, Jesus presents his own Person as the reason for and norm of our love: “as I have loved you.”

It is in this way that love becomes truly Christian: both in the sense that it must be directed to all without distinction, and above all since it must be carried through to its extreme consequences, having no other bounds than being boundless.

Those words of Jesus, “As I have loved you” simultaneously invite and disturb us; they are a Christological goal that can appear unattainable, but at the same time they are an incentive that does not allow us to ensconce ourselves in what we have been able to achieve. It does not allow us to be content with what we are but spurs us to keep advancing towards this goal.

Benedict XVI from The Apostles

The absurdity, the impossibility and the boundlessness of this Christian conception of love (agape) is disturbing.

We want something more sensible.

But what we want and what we need are two different things.

One aspect of this absurdity is the way in which love drives confronts the injustices that many civilisations simply take for granted. Slavery, apartheid, racism, discrimination and all forms of exploitation are quite natural. Power seeks to extend itself – how else could it be power. The self seeks to look after itself – how could it do otherwise.

Yet love does challenge injustice – love denies that these natural inequalities must simply be accepted – love is always seeking for a new Jerusalem, even amidst the ruins, confusions and complexities of the present.

Can We Be Enchanted by God?

Why did not the Risen One reveal himself to his enemies in his full glory in order to show that it is God who is victorious? Why did he only manifest himself to his disciples? Jesus’ answer is mysterious and profound. The lords says: “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

This means that the Risen One must be seen, must also be perceived by the heart, in a way that God may take up his abode within us. The Lord does not appear as a thing. He desires to enter our lives, and therefore his manifestation is a manifestation that implies and presupposes an open heart. Only in this way do we see the Risen One.

Benedict XVI from The Apostles

The natural question for any sceptic is ‘Why does God not reveal himself?’ It is a clear and logical question – put another way ‘Why all the mystery?’

Part of the answer can be found simply by imagining what such a revelation would mean. At some level it would simply be the end of everything we know, nothing would be the same. Our freedom, our will, our personality, everything we think has value would fade to nothing. Whatever the absence of God means it certainly allows for a certain kind of being which his presence would end.

Part of that being, as Pope Benedict suggests, is being open to having God be present within us. The very opposite of his being present before us. This is a different kind of submission, not cowed or awed, but enchanted by God.

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