This is from a Pakistani Christian paper--an odd choice of source, I know, but it's actually one of the better summaries I've seen so far.
Pope Benedict XVI yesterday praised the “ecstasy” of physical love between a man and a woman as a pathway leading to the divine love of God. In an encyclical charged with the language of eros, or erotic love, the Pope cautioned against the “debasement” of sexual love as a “commodity to be bought and sold”.
Quoting the Hebrew Bible’s Song of Songs, a book that exalts both the physical and spiritual aspects of conjugal love, he uses the document to reclaim for Christianity the divine potential of the erotic.
The Pope concedes that Christianity has been regarded at times as having been opposed to the body, and says that sex is meaningless if not combined with spiritual or divine love. But in Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), his first encyclical since being elected in April, he says that through God, eros can be enobled and purified.
In the 70-page encyclical, issued in Latin and translated into six languages, the Pope discusses the relationship between eros and agape — the Greek word for spiritual or higher love. Man, he says, “now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless. Here we are actually dealing with a debasement of the human body.”
I was rather struck by the similarity of all this to the themes of Plato's classic treatise on eros, the Symposium
, so I did a bit of Googling around and found that, in fact, Cardinal Ratzinger did actually write a 2002 address, The Contemplation of Beauty
, concerning the Symposium
....In a Platonic sense, we could say that the arrow of nostalgia pierces man, wounds him and in this way gives him wings, lifts him upwards toward the transcendent. In his discourse in the Symposium, Aristophanes says that lovers do not know what they really want from each other. From the search for what is more than their pleasure, it is obvious that the souls of both are thirsting for something other than amorous pleasure. But the heart cannot express this "other" thing, "it has only a vague perception of what it truly wants and wonders about it as an enigma"...(etc. etc. etc.)
Of course, the book from which the Pontiff took this particular model of eros
also just happens to be recounting a discussion between men--several of whom just happened to be lovers of each other. And who are, in many passages, clearly speaking of precisely that: their erotic love for and past relations with one another. At times even in nudge-nudge-wink-wink fashion.
Wonder what they would've thought of Benedict's new twist on their ideas.