Latest News

ND ReSource: Scholars assess Pope Benedict XVI's first encyclical

Author: Arts and Letters


Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est” (“God Is Love”) was issued yesterday in seven languages. A 16,000 word teaching letter addressed to all Catholics, the encyclical has been widely anticipated as an indication of the new pope’s concerns, understandings and inclinations, and of how he hopes to exercise his ministry.

Two Notre Dame faculty members have read “Deus Caritas Est” and expressed differing reactions.

In an interview in today’s Newsday, Scott Appleby, a religious historian and director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, described it as “a return to a theology of church in which the church is primarily given the responsibility to form consciences and to provide charity – something no Catholic would disagree with – but which is not further responsible for prophecy or for actual social reform towards justice. That’s not how my generation of Catholics understood Vatican II.”

To Lawrence S. Cunningham, John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology, the encyclical seemed “a very sophisticated statement of what the church stands for in terms of love of God and love of neighbor. I take that as a very hopeful thing.” Speaking to a writer for the Baltimore Sun, Cunningham also remarked on what Pope Benedict left out. “Now this would have been a perfect time for him to launch into a huge diatribe against the moral relativism and pornography and so on,” he said. “He doesn’t do that. He sticks pretty much to what he wants to say.” _; and Lawrence Cunningham at 574-631-7137 or

Originally published by Michael O. Garvey at on January 26, 2006.