Friday, January 27, 2006

"Deus Caritas Est."

"God Is Love." This is the title of Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical published this past Wednesday. Now, love is no simple topic, especially in the context of Christian theology. Benedict (with the help of John Paul II, who wrote parts of this encyclical before he died) writes of how "eros" and "agape" work together to create the "caritas" all "good" people have in their hearts. Encyclicals are basically how popes preach --they're letters to the whole church (the whole media) ie. "Catholic meaning Universal". He further writes, "I wish in my first encyclical to speak of the love which God lavishes upon us and which we in turn much share with others." The "idea" being, if you don't believe in God, do you believe in love as an expression of God? What then is love? eros? agape? caritas? Has the definition changed over the years?

Back in the 4th century, Pope Damasus commissioned the ascetic scholar St. Jerome to prepare a Latin translation of the Bible now know as the "Vulgate", since the translation was into the common people's "vulgar" Latin. Jerome's sources were mainly in Greek, and in trying to get from Greek to Latin, one of the first problems he faced was what to do with "agape".

Agape is a Greek word meaning "love". But it's love of a special sort. The ancient Greeks had a number of words for love, each with different connotations. For example, you've almost surely heard the Greek love word "eros" and you can probably guess what kind of (erotic) connotations it carried. Agape, on the other hand, implied a chaste, self-giving, brotherly love (felio). Beaumont has a "drive-thru" coffee shop called "Agape" ie. a commercial use. Jerome's problem was that he lacked a good Latin equivalent for agape. Latin's primary love word was "amor", but its meaning was very broad. The love of a parent, brother, friend, lover --all sorts of love were "amor" in Latin. So Jerome turned to "caritas" instead.

Caritas is a Latin word that used to mean "dearness" or "high price". By extension, it sometimes meant "esteem", "affection" or--in an indisputably chaste sense --"love". By choosing it as his Latin "agape", Jerome lent great importance to "caritas"--and to words, like charity, that stemmed from it. He also inadvertently set up a linguistic schism in English Bibles. Some versions, like the King James Bible, talk of "charity" ("And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity") Others go right from agape to love (" now thesee three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love").

However you translate it, caritas is one of the tree primary Christian virtues, along with faith and hope. In his first letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes, "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing." Later, St. Augustine added, "Charity is a virtue which, when our affections are perfectly ordered(?), unites us to God, for by it we love him." Christianity still regards "caritas" as the bond of love and fellowship that unites us--both to each other and to God. So it is no surprise that the word "charity" has come to mean "giving". In "giving", we affirm the ties that bind us together (this is an except of "Knowledge News" by Michael Himick and Mark Diller)

After thrilling to the concert encore mentioned in my previous post, and reading this research, I have come to a different understanding of "love". There is a "brotherly love" that especially attracts me. I never really had a brother. I learned late in life that I had one who was "still born". My parents never mentioned it or talked about it to me. I found out about it in a very strange way. (topic of another post?) I have sought "brothers" to "love" all my life...still am. My jobs have mostly been with a majority of woman ie. school teacher, real estate sales. Betty and I raised four sons who are "brothers". They all live in different places and have very little contact.

I just got to know another (St.) "Jerome" alittle better. He came with my sister for a visit. I like him alot. He, at my request, is taking "good care" of my sister. They have been friends for years. They have similar interests in music, art, etc. He, to me, is giving a good example of "brotherly love" to my sister. I am not there for her very much. We live too far apart. Her chosen career has provided, over the years, much "caritas" to so many of her patients and clients. I wish I could've known her better and been a better brother. Yes, we all have regrets I'm sure. Maybe it's not too late...for me and other brothers. Bob


At 11:34 AM, Blogger BOB! Your Life Preserver said...

Jerome is really Jerry Nelson. He has lived in the house behind my sister's for years. He helps her with the landscaping and is a gourmet cook too. He raises massive funds for the Santa Fe Opera mainly by writing grants. What have I forgotten? Bob


Post a Comment

<< Home