“Deus Caritas Est”

For the one and only true benchmark by which to judge the faithfulness of the Pope’s new encyclical, Deus caritas est, released this morning to much fanfare in Rome, to the phenomenon of being human, recall, first, the Italian sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini’s depiction of the "ecstasy" of Saint Teresa (Bernini’s greatest), and then Teresa’s own account of the "great impetuosities of Love" as she wrote about them in her Autobiography:

—- The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa di Avila, Gianlorenzo Bernini, ca. 1650, Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

Better still, perhaps, are Teresa’s own words (Autobiography, Ch. XXIX):

Our Lord was pleased that I should have at times a vision of this kind: I saw an angel close by me, on my left side, in bodily form. This I am not accustomed to see, unless very rarely. Though I have visions of angels frequently, yet I see them only by an intellectual vision…. It was our Lord’s will that in this vision I should see the angel in this wise. He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful—his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire: they must be those whom we call cherubim. Their names they never tell me; but I see very well that there is in heaven so great a difference between one angel and another, and between these and the others, that I cannot explain it. I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it. The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God. The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one. It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

"It is not we who apply the fuel," Teresa explained elsewhere; "the fire is already kindled, and we are thrown into it in a moment to be consumed." And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But the Church of Rome in particular.

Deus caritas est, Encyclical Letter of the Supreme Pontiff, Benedict XVI, December 25, 2005 News Services at the Vatican (Homepage) L’Osservatore Romano (Homepage) Vatican News Conference on the Release of Deus caritas est (Italian), Cardinal Renato Raffaele Martino et al., January 25, 2006

Autobiography (or The Life of St. Teresa of Jesus), Teresa of Avila, ca. 1560s, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College The Interior Castle, Teresa of Avila, ca. 1580, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Calvin College "‘Deus Caritas Est’," ZNet, January 25, 2006

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