Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Did the Pope read C.S. Lewis?

"Deus Caritas Est" and C.S. Lewis' "Four Loves"

Interview With Andrea Monda

ROME, MARCH 6, 2006 (Zenit.org).- In Benedict XVI's first encyclical it is possible to find affinities with "The Four Loves" of C.S. Lewis, says journalist Andrea Monda.

St. Paul's has published two of Monda's works on the British author: "Invito alla lettera di C.S. Lewis" (2000) and, with Paolo Gulisano, "Il Mondo di Narnia" (2005).

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Nov. 29, 1898. He was educated at Oxford, where he was a tutor and member of the governing council of Magdalen Collage from 1925 to 1954, the year in which he was appointed professor of medieval and Renaissance literature in Cambridge. He died on Nov. 22, 1963.

An atheist for many years, Lewis described his conversion to Christianity in "Surprised by Joy." His works of fiction include "The Chronicles of Narnia" series.

Monda spoke to ZENIT about the similarities of Lewis' "Four Loves" with Benedict XVI's encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est."

Q: What are the affinities between Pope Benedict XVI and the British writer?

Monda: It is known that the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger read and appreciated several works of the writer C.S. Lewis … and every now and then traces of that experience also appear in the texts of Pope Benedict XVI, including in the encyclical "Deus Caritas Est."

Q: In what passages in particular?

Monda: Above all in the decision to place love at the center of his reflection, essence of Christian doctrine and, especially, in having dedicated the first part of the encyclical to the comparison and distinction between "eros" and "agape," with a brief allusion to "philia."

It is quite likely that the Supreme Pontiff recalled Lewis' splendid 1960 essay on "The Four Loves," in which the writer analyzes four kinds of love: affection; friendship -- "philia"; and, specifically, eros and charity -- "agape."

But it is not just in structure where a harmony is perceived, but also in the contents: Lewis' sharp intelligence goes to the core of the Christian faith with the same capacity of penetration of the German Pontiff, and with the same ability to illuminate, explain and give to the reader's attention.

Q: Can you give an example?

Monda: Lewis writes, for example, speaking of charity, that "natural love-gift is always directed to objects that the one in love considers in a certain sense intrinsically worthy of love. … But divine love-gift in man enables him also to love what is not naturally worthy of love: lepers, criminals, enemies, the mentally retarded, the embittered, the proud and the scornful."

Further on, he continues to affirm: "We want to be loved for our intelligence, beauty, generosity, honesty, efficiency. In noticing, however, that someone is not offering supreme love -- charity --this makes a terrible impact on us. … In a similar way, receiving is harder and perhaps more meritorious than giving. … All those who have good parents, wives, husbands or children can be sure that sometimes -- and perhaps always, in regard to some specific feature or habit -- they are receiving charity, that they are not loved because they are lovable, but because Love itself is in those who love them."

It is quite likely that the Holy Father remembered this page of Lewis when, in point 17 of the encyclical, he wrote that "He has loved us first and he continues to do so; we too, then, can respond with love. God does not demand of us a feeling which we ourselves are incapable of producing. He loves us, he makes us see and experience his love, and since he has 'loved us first,' love can also blossom as a response within us."

And in the following point, he continues affirming that "Love of neighbor is thus shown to be possible in the way proclaimed by the Bible, by Jesus. It consists in the very fact that, in God and with God, I love even the person whom I do not like or even know. This can only take place on the basis of an intimate encounter with God, an encounter which has become a communion of will, even affecting my feelings. Then I learn to look on this other person not simply with my eyes and my feelings, but from the perspective of Jesus Christ. His friend is my friend. Going beyond exterior appearances, I perceive in others an interior desire for a sign of love, of concern. This I can offer them not only through the organizations intended for such purposes, accepting it perhaps as a political necessity. Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave."

Q: How can love, literature and spirituality coexist?

Monda: It is true that the Spirit blows where it will: A philologist-writer of fantasies, layman and Anglican -- even if he was very close to Catholicism -- and a German Catholic theologian, today Universal Shepherd of the Catholic Church, meet, are reunited in thought and word, united by the Spirit of Love.

What comes to mind is that English writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton, read and loved by Lewis and Ratzinger, was right when he wrote that the Church is the place where all truths meet.

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