Sep 28, 2009


by Fr. Tissa Balasuriya
(Taken from
(Photos from Stara Boleslav are two posts below) 
For those of you unfamiliar with this remarkable Sri Lankan Catholic priest and theologian, he was excommunicated by the Vatican, largely through the intervention of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,  in 1997 on the basis of his book, Mary and Human Liberation. The excommuncation was eventually lifted. Here Fr. Tissa offers an exteremly valuable commentary on the Pope's encyclical from a third world, pluralist perspective that covers 1500 years of Church history since Chalcedon. Well worth the time to read it's 32 pages.

Pope Benedict XVI's much anticipated first Encyclical has been welcomed as evidence of a more congenial personality, of a less severe figure than his tenure as supervising Cardinal of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had suggested. The Encyclical consists of two parts:

I) "the unity of love in creation and in salvation history" (nos 2-18)
II) "Caritas the Practice of Love by the Church as a "Community of Love" (nos 19-42).

It is articulate, well reasoned, reflective, erudite. Its language, personal in style, conveys a sensibility firmly rooted in the Western intellectual tradition: philosophy, Biblical studies, and the classics are amply and dexterously referenced. And its message is highly appealing: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."

The reception to the Encyclical has been largely positive (especially considering that the Pope refrains from pontificating here on the divisive issues of sexual morality). He displays a personal understanding of the value and meaning of love in all its multifarious, interconnected complexity, as eros, philia and agape: of love as physical and sexual expression, of love as friendship, and as other-centered in care and service of the other. He links all these to God's love for individuals and humanity, revealed and expressed in Christ. In a spirit of compromise and understanding, he has apparently endeavored to reconcile mutually opposed positions.

Part I has been applauded by those concerned with issues of inter-personal morality. Here the Pope stresses that the excesses of modern life have to be purified and ennobled by Christian and rational values. Part II is very much centered on love as social charity.

While acknowledging a variety of viewpoints, the Encyclical remains firmly grounded in a traditional Western context. Adherents among the many strains of contemporary Christian theology may thus find much to take issue with here. Feminist theologians will object to its occasionally sexist language, along with its arguments with respect to reproductive rights. Liberation theology in the Latin American grain receives no acknowledgment of its unique contribution to the development of Christian teaching over the past several decades (e.g, love as it relates to compassionate activism and efforts at constructive social change). Proponents of liberation theology in its Asian and African incarnations will have much to say about their experience of the "Christian love" imposed on them through Western colonialism. Those seeking inter-religious dialogue may wish to remind the Pope that the traditional Christian interpretation of "God is love" seems not to have applied to them throughout much of Catholicism's history. And those concerned with inter-racial justice, global ethics, and ecology may also find fault with Christian theology and spirituality as they experienced it.


William D. Lindsey said...

Jayden, thanks for drawing attention to Tissa Balasuriya's commentary on the last encyclical. I hadn't read this commentary, and am very happy to know about it. It seems to parallel my own take on the encyclical, and it reminds me that I had promised readers on my blog to continue my commentary on the encyclical down the road.

I'm taken by the challenge of reminding folks within the Christian tradition today of what ought never to have been lost sight of: the primacy of love. It's interesting that the reminders about that are coming from the margins, from theologians in developing nations, from marginalized communities including women and gays, etc.

I noticed just today in one of the threads at National Catholic Reporter the claim that God is life, and where God is, there is life.

What strikes me about that is how we've re-written the basics of Christianity for political reasons, at this point in history, so that truth (and especially, some people's "truth" about abortion) takes priority over love. When texts about how God is love and where God is, love is found, become texts about something else, we've strayed far from the real meaning of Christianity to political applications that have little to do with that meaning.

Jayden Cameron said...

Bill- And where there is life, there is God. Just finished reading a slew of articles posted on Clerical Whispers which left me feeling a bit daunted and depressed, but then for some reason I remembered the time of Francis of Assisi - massive corruption and scandal in the church, and yet there was life on the margins in this extraordinary charismatic man and the movement he started. Today I feel something even more radical is called for.