Love Grows through Love: Exploring a Shared Catholic-Lutheran History

 
 
[1] Actual quotes from different persons: I can't serve others without some kind of regular communal prayer. My primary call in ministry is to lead a community in worship. I left the (Baptist) seminary because I couldn't see myself religiously legitimating suburban life cyle rituals.

[2] What audacity measures love's growth? In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI argues that a rightly understood eucharistic liturgical catechesis re-unites word, sacraments and charity. This is a passionate message, aiming to chasten what normally passes for discourse about one object of emotions, passions and affections: love, caritas or charity. It is contested because, as in Augustine's time, this beloved world is awash in loves; some six billion people live among some 200 nations, and some 79,000 elected governments exist in the United States alone. It is conflicted; numerous secular and church-related organizations use a sophisticated range of ethical languages about loves ranging from utilitarian (cost-benefit) to more-than utilitarian forms (duty-obligations, rights, care, principles [respect, autonomy, nonmaleficence, justice]). It is timely; in an era when global Christianity and late consumer capitalism both cultivate desire, Augustine's celebrated yet contentiously interpreted and pithy advice to "love, and do what you will" seems chronically sentimental.

[3] Why is a writing about love/caritas by the eighth German pope but first in nearly five centuries (since Dutch-German Adrian VI, 1522-1523 during the Reformation) of special significance for Lutherans? What particular significance attaches to a teaching by a leader of nearly one billion Catholics for some ninety million Lutherans, among whom are nearly five million ELCA members? The pope's letter offers numerous bridge-building possibilities for those willing to step beyond the presuppositions of the politically right-leaning Missouri Synod or the politically left-leaning ELCA. Likewise it offers suggestive practical connections among liturgy, ministry and ecumenism with tantalizing hope for confessional movements within American Lutheranism.

[4] This exploration proceeds in five parts: (1) an introduction (an invitation rather than substitute for reading) to Deus Caritas Est and Pope Benedict; (2) a description of what is an encyclical in relation to other types of Roman Catholic Church documents, including the "Joint Lutheran-Catholic Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification"; (3) how the encyclical draws upon an Augustinian tradition shared by Lutherans and Catholics, and (4) Benedict's efforts to retrieve resources as prisms for interpreting Vatican II; (5) relations between love and justice; and (6) finally some very preliminary probings about Luther and Benedict, who both affirm that "love grows through love." Deus Caritas Est and Pope Benedict

[5] Given on December 25, 2005, Deus Caritas Est (DCE) is a text with forty-two paragraphs of about twenty-five single-spaced pages with only thirty-six footnotes but many biblical texts. Its self-described "speculative" first part (paragraphs #1-18), "The Unity of Love in Creation and in Salvation History," is a theological and spiritual reflection on love, in the ancient world (Greece, but also Latin antiquity), the Bible, Church history, ancient and modern philosophy (Nietzsche, Marx, Plato, Dante, Virgil), but not predecessors' encyclicals. Focusing on the language and concepts of love in principally "western" discourse, this first part makes historical claims, condensed analytic claims (the genealogy of love in human development, the primordiality of heterosexual spousal love as a paradigm) and striking constructive theological claims (the convergence of agape and eros in God). Human love as eros must be formed, matured, transformed through a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing into agape, not by routine disappointments attaching quotidian human loves, but through the complete gift of oneself for another patterned after the divine prototype of God's love in Christ (5, 7).

[6] The second part, "The Practice of Love by the Church as a Community of Love" (paragraphs #19-42), "draws on material previously circulated for a draft encyclical under John Paul II about church-run charitable works" (Vatican journalist Joseph Allen). In a January 24 audience with members of Cor Unum, the Vatican's charitable agency, Benedict stated that at first blush these two sections may appear to have little connection with one another, but he said the two topics can be understood properly only if seen as one.

[7] How an (original?) 14,900 word German text of 744 sentences became a 12,708 word Latin text of 675 sentences and a 15, 914 word English text of 762 sentences hints at the months of translation work involved with the encyclical. Future interpretation is likely to focus on the German text (despite precursor drafts of its second half in other languages); its receptions and interpretations are lively and ongoing.

[8] During and after Vatican Council II, Joseph Ratzinger taught at the universities of Bonn (59-63), Munster (63-66) and Tubingen (66-69) and Regensburg until becoming Archbishop of Munich in 1977. In 1981 he became Cardinal Prefect (chief officer) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith where he served until being elected pope in 2005.

[9] Conventional lionizations and villainizations of Ratzinger underscore his ascent to leadership of the former curial office of proverbial excess known from 1542 until 1908 as the Inquisition, until 1965 known as the Holy Office, and thereafter as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Other accounts more attuned to history see irony. A Vatican II document perhaps authored by him as a council expert had a role in having this office's procedures (and name) changed. The unexpected silence of DCE on the very range of neuralgic issues that had bedeviled his worldwide interventions as leader of this office for nearly a quarter of a century has itself made news. Why?

[10] Some ask: Why should Benedict's writing about love now merit greater claim to attention than Ratzinger's publicly available host of administrative actions about proscribed loving, whether contraceptive, technologically reproductive, homosexual, or even clerical abuse? What conviction should greet arguments about justice from one whose previous office found wanting the justice claims of third world theologians? The very terms of such queries underscore the encyclical's note about the semantic range of terms for love (no less than justice). The very public record of past administrative interventions displays not only a different tone and ecclesial status but avers to a (neo-) scholastic framework and lexicon from Aquinas (who is nowhere cited in this papal document). Nothing there is explicitly denied, but something different is afoot here. Whether DCE's claims are persuasive, or even convincing, depends on much external to the text, but few serious readers will deny the truism that God is love, but not all love is of God. DCE aims to demonstrate that not only are conventional dualisms inadequate (eros/agape; instinct/altruism, etc.), but there is more to love (charity/caritas) than what is proscribed or prescribed.

[11] The influence of Ratzinger's first namesake, the founder of western monasticism, Benedict of Nursia (480-543), is evident in this encyclical in several notable ways. The recurrent language of training and formation bespeaks a liturgical catechesis. One sees similarities in the encyclical's emphasis on the ordinary way and prayer (#36) and on the social character of sacramental mysticism in which one engages all of the senses to form the heart for practical loving activity that visibly expresses a love for humans, nourished by an encounter with Christ (34 and Benedict rule 72). Like Benedict, the Church is a "school for the Lord's service." Notwithstanding appropriate if adjudicable divisions of labor (clergy/laity/Church/politics), what Benedict heralds as the deepest nature of the Church is its duty of word (kerygma-martyria), sacrament (leitourgia) and charity (diakonia) that bears non-accidental affinities to Benedictine traditions of prayerful readings of scripture (lectio divina), prayer and work. To underscore how word, sacrament and charity derive from sacraments of initiation, not orders, DCE evokes how these lay ministries (the Latin word throughout DCE 19-41 for the Greek diakonia) are Christologically based in the threefold office of Christ as priest (sanctifying), prophet (witness/proclamation) and [servant] king (governing). (This reflects Cardinal Newman's ecclesiological retrieval of Eusebius as seen in Vatican II texts on the Church and on the laity). What is an encyclical?

[12] An encyclical (letter, via Late Latin from Greek en + kyklios, circular, general) refers to a certain kind of papal pronouncement or act in the form of letter, which earlier popes addressed to bishops. Artfully composed in a way that repays careful re-readings, DCE is the first or flagship letter (encyclical) of Benedict's papacy. He is said to be preparing another on Jesus Christ.

[13] At a symposium for the pontifical council that oversees papal charities, Benedict stated that his aspiration was to do in this encyclical what Dante had done in his account of the unity of divine and human love (Imbelli). "In a world where the name of God is sometimes even associated with vengeance or even a duty of hatred and violence, this message is both timely and significant" (1 and 37, terrorism). The appeal to Dante and love has historical precedent. Spiritual remedies for a conflicted world are not escapist but equip the saints. For his predecessor Benedict XV (1914-1922), the specter of how Europe's world war threatened civilization and especially its most vulnerable (children) was troubling enough for him to write several encyclicals on peace and charity.

[14] In contrast to the previous Polish pope whose background as an actor and philosopher-author eventually led to fourteen such letters addressed to the world, this theologian-musician addresses his first letter to the Church (including Lutherans), "to the Bishops, Priests and Deans, men and women religious and all the lay faithful on Christian Love." Encyclicals are not used for dogmatic definitions "but rather to give counsel or to shed greater light on points of doctrine which must be made more precise or which must be taught in view of specific circumstances in various countries....An encyclical, then is an expression of the Pope's ordinary teaching authority; its contents are presumed to belong to the ordinary magisterium [teaching office] unless the opposite is clearly manifested. Because of this, the teaching of an encyclical is capable of being changed on specific points of detail" (Francis G. Morrisey).

[15] To suppose incorrectly that all things Roman or papal are infallible, or, at the other extreme, to discount anything not explicitly declared infallible (a gift of immunity from error, given by the Spirit to the Church that it will abide in the truth given in the Gospel when specific conditions are met), or further still, constantly to compare a teaching to whatever approximates to some prejudgment about what should count as infallible (or alternatively, inerrant, indefectible, or irreformable) suggests a construal of authority that awaits the extraordinary yet risks neglecting much sage advice. Not everything wise is publicly declared certain. If what has been declared to be immune from all error exhausts for all time what consoles and enables human flourishing, Pope Benedict's encyclical is futile. But thoughtful reading shows otherwise.

[16] An encyclical is one of many types of ranked papal pronouncements. These include the Solemn Profession of Faith, Decretal Letters, Encyclicals, Apostolic Epistles, Apostolic Exhortations, Addresses to Consistories, Apostolic Constitutions and Motu proprios [papal letters]. Papal pronouncements are distinct from the four types of Vatican II conciliar documents: four constitutions, nine decrees, three declarations and messages. Conciliar documents are in turn distinct from documents issued by Roman congregations, councils and tribunals. Documents of Roman congregations include decrees, instructions, declarations, circular letters, directories, official responses, etc. The "Joint Lutheran-Catholic Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification" October 31, 1999 belongs to this type of document. It was signed by the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, Cardinal Edward Cassiday, and Dr. Ishmael Noko, General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), following some thirty years of consultations and dialogues.

[17] The historical and interpretive questions surrounding the joint declaration remain complex. Lutheran theologian Joachim Track saluted how positive and helpful then Cardinal Ratzinger was in overcoming difficulties. Track noted he was helpful by emphasizing that the ecumenical goal was unity in diversity not structural re-integration (Lutheran absorption by Roman Catholics), that the LWF had authority to negotiate with the Vatican and that "while Christians are obliged to do good works, justification and final judgment remain God's gracious acts." For hints at the difficulties this posed for both sides see Avery Cardinal Dulles' fascinating article. A Shared Augustinian Legacy

[18] Two successive non-Italian popes who have had dramatically tragic personal and family encounters with totalitarian regimes from Germany and the Soviet Union and now Islamic resurgence call for ressourcement-the efforts of a theological movement to retrieve from Scripture and tradition what can be useful for the current witness of the Church. It is not surprising that retrievals of Augustine abound in an era of civic suspicion about power(s) and love, imperial ambitions, and clergy abuse.

[19] What distinctive traditions (e.g. German Augustinianism) adequately diagnose our current situation (with "suspicion" about what ails us) and enable appropriate pastoral responses from a "retrieval" that employs specifically Christian sources ["ressourcement"] for renewed authentic religious witness in the contemporary world? Although this is neither the document, nor occasion, nor author to parse all the forms of (even German) Augustinianism, it can be useful to note several key themes evident in this text to a common Lutheran-Catholic heritage.

[20] Some of these themes echo those of earlier writings. For example, in his book Principles of Catholic Theology, Ratzinger notes several items including restoration of charity as the crucial intention, purification of memory and removal of the ban as an ecclesial-legal process. Concerning the last item, Ratzinger has written that Luther's historic excommunication ceased to exist with his death. In light of the consensus over the document of justification, "the corresponding doctrinal condemnations of the sixteenth century do not apply to today's partner[s]." ("Luther and the Unity of the Churches: An Interview with Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger"; "Joint Lutheran-Catholic Declaration on Justification," 13).

[21] Hearkening to his own dissertation on Augustine, Benedict begins each part with quotes from Augustine on the Trinitarian basis of love, and periodically engages in a kind of patristically informed pneumatological exegeses (1, 19, 39).

[22] Like Augustine, this encyclical seeks an affinity between orthodox Catholic teaching and deep truths about the human experience of committed love between spouses. Hence classic goods of marriages later canonically elaborated are read into and out of sacred texts and traditions (6, 11) in support of (previously contested) claims about connections between monotheism and monogamy. Among the "goods of marriage" that Augustine retrieves from pre-Christian and Christian sources are proles (procreation/offspring), fides (mutual service eventually canonically elaborated into exclusivity and monogamy) and sacramentum (the symbolic stability eventually canonically elaborated into permanence and indissolubility). As attested by later history and developments, these are neither the only goods to be found in marriage (spousal love and marital friendship could be elaborated) nor the only "uses" (worth/value or "goods") which the (nuclear/extended) "family" would be alleged to have for the community, whether constituted as religious or secular city, state, race, ethnic group, society or social order. Historical moments of cultural crises evoke calls for a return/retrieval/re-ordering using discourse of kinship values. Critical questions engage the elective affinity between the Augustinian diagnosis of suspicion and the prognosis of ressourcement.

[23] Finally, as disclosed in this encyclical's emphasis on liturgical and especially eucharistic catechesis as appropriate faith formation in love, Ratzinger becomes Benedict in ways that echoes Augustine's own life and writings. The historic and recurrent Lutheran request to see the priority of the faith in the life of sanctification is not disappointed, provided one concedes to Benedict the deep patristic understanding of the ecclesial nature (catholicity) of the faith so understood. As the common document on justification puts it, where Lutherans look for justification, Catholics see sanctification. But the sanctification so described is historical (eucharistic catechesis). Augustinian Retrieval and Vatican II: All Good Fridays and No Easter Sundays?

[24] In several ways DCE reflects a shared papal conviction with Pope John Paul II about the (in-) adequacies of the reception of Vatican II key texts. Whereas Pope John Paul II participated as bishop and as a social ethicist, his favorite Vatican II text was the "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" (Gaudium et Spes). Dulles notes that owing in no small part to his shifting roles as participant, early commentator on conciliar documents and later reflections on the reception of the council, Ratzinger becomes Benedict in way that displays both continuities and shifting reactions to three key conciliar texts; two dogmatic texts, revelation (Dei Verbum) and the Church (Lumen Gentium), and the not strictly dogmatic constitution on the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) (See Dulles, "From Ratzinger to Benedict," and Francis Schussler Fiorenza.

[25] Dulles adapts the appropriate Augustinian term "retractions" to describe the revised positions between the early and later Ratzinger. Some of these shifts reflect his own changed career responsibilities from theologian to archbishop and cardinal with responsibilities for the public life of the church (what Dulles terms "a deeper need for universal sacramental structures to safeguard the unity of the Church"). Ratzinger's early enthusiasm for liturgical changes was subsequently curtailed as cardinal by a concern to dispel misinterpretations and liturgical abuses (eclipse of Latin, eclipse of sacred music, ritual commotion). For neither Ratzinger nor Benedict is liturgy reducible to the Eucharist or to "The Mass"; however, DCE reflects the decisive importance of the Eucharist as the pedagogy of love: for understanding love, for adequate formation in love, for solidarity in love and for a theology of Love.

[26] Thus one hermeneutic key to the recurrent images of the pierced one is connected to this eucharistic theology. This key discloses our common Jewish heritage in the Passover Haggadah and the rich patristic heritage that celebrates the Pascal mystery and signals a discipline of humility and patience about intercommunion (Ratzinger's God is Near Us, The Eucharist as the Heart of Life; "The Lord's Open Side is the source from which spring forth both the Church and the sacraments that build up the Church" (43; DCE, 7, 12, 17, 19, 39). Both his book on the Eucharist and DCE signal a desire to re-engage Luther(ans) constructively and creatively on the question of sacrifice in general and the Mass as sacrifice. As the common document on justification suggests, this re-engagement revolves less around soteriological questions of merit than around ecclesial, spiritual, formational/nurturing questions of character and ethics in the Christian life of the community. Could there be in our context a new sympathy for hearing Luther's highly nuanced retrieval from Augustine's subtle distinction between incontinent grasping and rightly ordered clinging on how to discipline the eyes, mouth, heart and hands? (My colleague Eric Crump alerts me to how Luther's discussion of the passions in the Fifth Commandment in his "Large Catechism" draws upon Augustine on continence).

[27] The shared avowedly counter-cultural ethos of sacramental worldviews, however, face similar challenges, whether in characteristic Lutheran "paradoxical" or Augustinian transformationist forms. Liturgical-sacramental (re)formation must simultaneously concede that its ritual forms are culturally coded (in/enculturated) and must chronically aver and demonstrate how ritual practices enable character and behaviors that are participatory, pro nobis and donative. Otherwise such practices court suspicion as cultic celebrations only for a triumphal eschatological sect of disciples, therapeutic exercises for self-aggrandizing perfectionism, or consumerist religious decoration for life cycle rituals of a (sub)urban bourgeoisie. DCE is clear that such unity of faith, worship and ethos points outward, enabling seeing with the eyes of Christ (14, 18).

[28] Ratzinger had early positive comments about the Vatican II document on revelation for its emphasis on the Word of God (with caveats about sin). According to Dulles, the later cardinal is more "confessionally Catholic," objecting to reductions of revelation to Scripture (neglecting a living tradition) and equations of exegesis with the historical method. Unlike concerns expressed elsewhere over contemporary historical exegesis in the traditions of Dibelius and Bultmann, Benedict's actual exegesis of claims about love in DCE inclines to patristic and medieval approaches--both literal and more than literal ones. Thus one sees etymologizing claims about Septuagint usage (3, 6) with typological interpretations of Jacobs's ladder (7).

[29] According to Dulles, Ratzinger had expressed many views about the Church and Vatican II's dogmatic constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium). For Ratzinger, the mystical body model favored by Pius XII falsely identified the Church with Christ the Lord and neglected or marginalized the ecclesial status of non-Catholics. Inspired by a theological movement which emphasized a return to the sources, faith and liturgy (nouvelle theologie) as well as by Henri de Lubac, Ratzinger endorsed the more biblical notion of the people of God, not as understood sociologically but especially in a sacramental sense. A sacramental mysticism is plain in DCE (e.g. 13, 14). Work with the synodal structure of the LWF was not made easier by his later retractions of earlier enthusiasms for episcopal conferences, the synod of bishops and local churches. To allow for ecclesial entities that are institutionally separate from the one Church but not in a self-satisfied dividedness and to enable healing, he has argued for nonexclusive understandings of Lumen Gentium's statement that the Church of Christ "subsists in" the Roman Catholic Church. As is evident in his conclusion to DCE, Ratzinger's Vatican II wariness of "Marian Maximilianism" has shifted to a turn to Mary as a way to learn the truth about Jesus (DCE, 42). DCE reconnects sacramental models of the Church with the servant models of the Church so predominant in the pastoral Constitution on "The Church in the Modern World" (Gaudium et Spes).

[30] Ratzinger and later Benedict expressed a range of reservations about the anthropological optimism of sections of Gaudium et Spes. For example, as a counter balance to conscience in GS 16 and free will in 17 (in contrast to Luther on servum arbitrium), Ratzinger/Benedict envisions a higher profile for the cross, and an enthusiasm for the centrality of Christ and Paschal mystery in Gaudium et Spes 22 (over Lumen Gentium 16, which to him suggested salvation was more of a human achievement rather than divine gift). His concerns were exacerbated by some later (especially secularist) interpretations of these and other (even liberation) documents that he argued neglect evil, speak of the signs of the times without the gospel or the (values of the) kingdom without God. DCE rebuts false understandings of love as one-sided self-sacrifice (3), self-giving without also receiving, thus reframing patristic hymns to kenosis as exclusively self-emptying. DCE likewise concedes the widely held perception that the Church with all her commandments and prohibitions (about love) "turns to bitterness the most precious thing in life" (7). A cursory reading of DCE's seven citations of the cross and one of the resurrection (17) risks over-stressing altruism and self-sacrifice as central, while minimizing all that is emphasized from scriptural and patristic traditions about the Cross as the prius of divine love (1, 10, 17, 19, 35, 38, 39). To paraphrase Martin Scorcese, we can't have all good Fridays and no Easter Sundays. If the Catholic excesses of self-sacrifice in the quest for sanctification are proverbial, Reinhard Hutter is among those who has mapped how shallow receptions of the cross have historically resulted in a "Protestantism lite" of beneficence and altruism unmoored to deeper religious truths and communal practices. Love and Justice

[31] Why love in a time crying for justice? Its practical character guarantees ongoing commentary on the second part of the encyclical. Contentious issues include distinguishing charity from justice and related demarcations between Church and politics. Some are keen to preserve that thread of episcopal teachings whose distinctive articulation came in a 1971 World Synod document "Justice in the World" which declared justice as constitutive to the gospel (6): Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel, or, in other words, of the Church's mission for the redemption of the human race and its liberation from every oppressive situation. In 2005, DCE 20 declares the historically constitutive role of charity in the Church: "As a community, the church must practice love. Love thus needs to be organized if it is to an ordered service to the community. The awareness of this responsibility has had a constitutive relevance in the Church from the beginning." That both are essential has not been aided by chronically underdetermined differences of meaning; each has been the other's hostile alter ego.

[32] To the Marxist charge mentioned by Benedict that charity is a balm for the comfortable to preserve the status quo (26), a neoscholastic Catholic rebuttal that one cannot make up in charity what is owed in justice, only exacerbates inadequate either/or thinking in theory and in practice. Charity is often understood as direct service, meeting immediate needs (corporal work of mercy), on an individual basis (even organized), as voluntary, rooted in pity and short run. A classic understanding of justice, when fully elaborated with a theory of virtue, has wider ambitions that are often indirect, such as addressing structural causes of injustice and seeking solidarity with those being helped to enable persons to be agents of their own beneficence if not destiny. [e.g. Richard Ryscavage, "Bringing Back Charity" and Thomas Massaro, "Don't Forget Justice" America (March 13, 2006)].

[33] Charity or Justice? Debates rightly caution against overemphasizing one at the expense of the other. Disjunctive caricatures are unhelpful: neither in practice nor theory are charity and justice absolute rivals. Interpretation and weighing are undeniably important for individuals and organizations. Contexts shape meanings. Ethically the debate features contending claims about the appropriate normative language used to describe charity: virtue or action-oriented categories in utilitarian or more-than utilitarian categories (duty-obligation, rights, care, principles [respect, autonomy, nonmaleficence, and justice]). Historically, part of the issue concerns how the encyclical's retrieval of both duty language of charity (e.g. 32) and some virtue language of charity (4-7, 17, 18, 31, 32, 34) sidesteps a longer virtue tradition of charity in Aquinas that has received insufficient magisterial attention in encyclicals (Keenan). Pastorally, part of the issue concerns how Benedict is attempting to reconnect ethics and liturgy, thereby returning to spiritual sources in scripture, liturgy, prayer and patristics too long ignored in the sin-centered, confession-oriented understandings of Catholic moral theology split from spiritual and dogmatic theology. Ecclesiologically, considerations of justice and charity orbit around the revival of diakonia, as well as whether and how women are a part of that historic and future ministry in the church (Zagano, Ross).

[34] Charitable organizations rarely ignore but widely interpret structural realities; DCE offers some suggestive ideas for healthy policy debates to ensue over effective diagnosis and prognosis of structural issues. Organized charities continue to calibrate such matters in accord with their historic identities and the political realities of their service.

[35] Thus more theoretical considerations about justice arise in DCE's suggestion that the Church is one kind of organization that can help to purify public discussions of the meaning of justice (28). For example, if Catholics and Lutherans want to use their shared retrieval of Aristotle's Ethics and Politics (as Luther does), perhaps the formal notion that justice deals with rendering each her due (rendering to equals equally and unequals unequally), then Catholic magisterial teachings (the Catechism and social teaching teachings, for example) and ELCA social teachings both have roles in public debate about adequate material principles for justice. This might include considering the adequacy of utilitarian considerations in traditional forms of justice as exchange in a global economy (27, 30) and the merits and liabilities of the range of more than utilitarian proposals for different kinds of distributive justice (Rawlsian justice as fairness; justice as equality; justice as need based, contribution based, etc.). Benedict's DCE is clear that the end of statist proposals is epochal (28). There are places in the document where power is described in excessive domination language (power over rather than power to, 37, 38). There is also the familiar Augustinian-Lutheran distinct-but-related-spheres language (28)-which Lutherans in American know as a historical trajectory from separation to functional interaction (Stumme). As distinct from both his predecessor Benedicts, the sense of a global church is explicit. The possibilities of Church and state interaction have become complex but necessary even in democracies.

[36] The larger issue of ecclesial identity and charitable service is a discussion well underway in ecclesial, academic and practical-pastoral levels. The guidelines laid out of specificity, competency, formation of the heart, independence, non-proselytism, witnessing by action, words (silence) and the encounter with Christ (31, 34) suggest broad boundary markers for hundreds of church related groups and agencies. Commentary literature indicates that this rich conversation continues, as numerous agencies receive and interpret this encyclical with their respective charismas and identity. It is, as Benedict suggests, in practical ways where "love grows through love" that creative discussions continue among Lutherans and Catholics. Luther and Benedict

[37] Contrary to simplistic Catholic propaganda that Benedicts rejects "Protestant" separations of eros and agape, closer reading of the actual text shows an appreciative engagement and desire to find a deeper unity where Nygren opposes eros and agape. Some Catholic scholars argue that Paul Tillich's account of the relation of eros and agape is more sympathetic to Catholic thinking than is Nygren's separation. For Luther, as for Benedict, charity in its larger sense of love is more than private works (acts) of mercy (faith active through love, quoting Galatians 5: 6 in DCE 33). Furthermore, the host of historical neuralgic points around justification (keenly surveyed in the common document on justification) and issues surrounding the soteriological implications around works of charity and justice (so much at the center of attention of Ratzinger's agonistic juridical relations with liberation and third world theologians) beckon common ground with Lutherans worldwide and are of great interest to ELCA Lutherans precisely around questions of history.

[38] Both Benedict and Luther remark that love grows by works of love. Luther does so in thesis 44 of his "Ninety-five Theses": "Because love grows by works of love, man thereby becomes better." In DCE 18, Benedict writes, "Love grows through love." (Luther's German reads, "durch ein Werk der Liebe wächst die Liebe," and Benedict's German reads, "Liebe wächst durch Liebe.")

[39] Yet the historical context of each is vastly different. Historians would have us hold in check undue ecumenical exuberance. In reducing "charity" to "works of mercy," this thesis (like #42) argues that it is more important to do works of mercy than buy letters of indulgence. Notwithstanding the number of juridical and canonical (counter) reforms of indulgences from Trent through Vatican II, a contemporary era less concerned about the traffic in religious indulgences than traffic jams of cultural self-indulgence seems newly poised to hear about love. Furthermore, Benedict concedes the semantic range of the word love (2) challenges us with the multiplicity of meanings (like loves) and poses the question of their unity (7, 8) that burdens German no less than English (or Latin) translators. Yet readers of the German text cannot avoid the echoes of Luther; all will rightly see someone leading us to a common heritage in Augustine. Perhaps there is more here than meets the eye. Whereas the English word "love" evokes, invites, inclines, courts, and dominates normative talk (despite many cognates), scholars of sacred Greek and Latin (even Hebrew) texts have for generations reminded us of alternate words that promised to offer a richer grammar of affections. Prior to but encapsulated in C.S. Lewis' 1960 Four Loves, we understood that ancient Greeks distinguished storge (affection), philia (friendship), eros (conventionally eclipsed to "romantic" love) and agape (self-giving, elided to charity). DCE sacramentally reframes Lewis' naturalization of the first three and consequent idealized rescue by the fourth. 

[40] In so doing, Benedict's retrieval of love is decidedly Augustinian and rooted in faith and committed to its links to word and sacrament (e.g. 32). The text invites further scrutiny. For example: How does a revived and/or retrieved sacramental piety address traditional Lutheran concerns about sanctification in the ethics of character and action? How shall a patristically informed and scripturally based revival of liturgical and sacramental traditions constructively engage or meaningfully evoke conviction from non-sacramental (or even non-Trinitarian) Christian counter-traditions of love in shared charitable endeavors?

[41] Interpretations of this encyclical are already proposing guidelines, in the spirit of the maxim incorrectly attributed to Augustine but actually authored by the seventeenth-century orthodox Lutheran theologian Rupertus Meldenius between 1626 and 1627, in the midst of the Thirty Years War: "In necessary things unity, in doubtful things freedom, in all things charity....". The Vatican too has its paraphrase of the same saying without citing its source: "But the common saying, expressed in various ways and attributed to various authors, must be recalled with approval: in essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity." (See Pope John XXIII, Ad Petri Cathedram, (On Truth, Unity and Peace in a Spirit of Charity) 79. Cautions are wise; each of this maxim's terms invites further inquiry: necessary, unity, doubtful, freedom, and charity. Nor must we assimilate this discussion to criticisms (especially Lutheran) of moral systems, those historic patterns of moral reasoning used to weigh the bearing of church law and personal sin so excoriated by Pascal. Whether as a maxim of prudence in the face of a practical task, a command of duty in the face of urgent need, a religious call for distinctive identity amidst fears of assimilation or a sign of growing love, such irenic advice from the midst of the Thirty Years War is sure to increase in our time. Would that we continue to listen carefully. Deus Caritas Est suggests our ecclesial communities offer us a liturgical catechesis that can give us ears to hear and "a heart which sees" (31).
 
 

© September 2006
Journal of Lutheran Ethics
 Volume 6, Issue 9