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Press Review: Benedict's Ode to Love

European editorial writers have had time to digest the messages about love, charity and social justice in Pope Benedict's long-awaited first encyclical, and have given the document mixed reviews.

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"Deus Caritas Est" is the Pope's long-awaited first encyclical

Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est" (God is Love), ranged in themes from erotic and spiritual love, to the role of the Catholic Church in the fight for social justice.

In his message devoted to the meaning of love, the Pope lamented that, in contemporary society, sex had been degraded to a "commodity" to be bought and sold, but said erotic love between a man and a woman could transform itself into a selfless, spiritual love.

Benedict said Christianity had not "poisoned eros," as Nietzsche had argued, and had not "blown the whistle" on the joy of God's gift to mankind. Eros was a gift to be cherished, but an "intoxicated and undisciplined eros" was "a fall, a degradation of man," he warned in the document.

A front-page commentator in Germany's left-wing tageszeitung was not impressed with the Pope's letter on love, writing that while Benedict clearly shows he is a learned man, his attempt to establish moral authority on the subject is not enough.

"There's nothing more beautiful or bigger than love," the paper commented. "But the Pope knows little about what love is and how you live it."

"This may be part of his duties as Catholic chief executive, but it is not helpful," the taz concluded.

Papst Benedikt XVI Päpstliche Enzyklika veröffentlicht

Pope Benedict XVI has had mixed reactions to his letter on love

In contrast, the Süddeutsche Zeitung deemed the Pope's letter to be "remarkable and, in many passages, outstanding." The paper was impressed by "the way in which there is often a thought-provoking, even searching quality to the encyclical," but was critical of the fact that it did not address love between same-sex couples or unmarried people.

"Lyrical, impassioned meditation"

The Times of London described the encyclical as "a lyrical and impassioned meditation on the multiple dimensions of love, erotic as well as divine, and on love's powers to heal and to inspire." Benedict's message has "evident charismatic potential, not least among the young," the Times said.

But the Dutch paper Trouw said the Pope's ode on love has raised questions that Catholics will now expect him to answer. "How are we to understand love in relation to controversial things such as homosexual marriage, the ban on birth control, the role of women in the Church and celibacy?" the paper asked.

The Italian paper La Stampa also commented that many readers of the encyclical could come away feeling unsatisfied "in the face of a document that, at first reading, seems not very pragmatic and almost abstract."

Switzerland's Tages-Anzeiger expressed its surprise that an ode to love should have come from the pen of Joseph Ratzinger who, before he became Pope, was known for being a stern theologian. "You get the impression that Benedict XVI is trying to correct his image with his first encyclical," the paper commented.

Austria's Der Standard said that the document proves Benedict's critics wrong. "Even non-believers can agree with the Pope's criticism of 'eros' being reduced to 'pure sex'," the paper commented, adding that "many of those who saw Joseph Ratzinger as an instrument of the Holy Inquisition, and perhaps continue to do so, are now probably disappointed."

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