The Holy Father's first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, is probably one of the most easily understandable papal encyclicals I have read. It is divided into two main parts, the first dealing with the nature of love understood from a philosophical and theological perspective and the second with concrete expressions of love in the Church's charitable works. The second section is supposed to have begun as a draft of a document by John Paul II.
This encyclical is at once basic and profound. It is marked by a deceptive lucidity that comes through even in translation from German. The orderly German theological mind of its author reveals itself and we, the readers, are all the better for it.
The encyclical's treatment of the kinds of love, the nature of God's love, and the love of man for God is highly pertinent and very accessible. I think many people will be surprised at how relatively easy a read it is. The discussion of sexual love will get most of the attention--the headlines are already pitching this as about sex--although that isn't the main topic of the letter.
Interestingly enough, Benedict XVI has a few things in his discussion of divine love that will get the theologians' tongues moving.
The discussion of the Church's charitable work, including the relationship of charity and justice and the role of the state with respect to charity and justice is extremely well presented. I'll use it in my social ethics teaching. Benedict's teaching here is apt also to generate some controversy, especially with respect to the state's role, and the limitations on government activity. In a sense, that's not the main point but in a politicized world, some people won't see anything else.
The relationship between love of God and love of man is elegantly stated. It takes what is often a presented as a cliche and helps us understand its profound and necessary truth. Likewise, the relationship between love of God and the communion of the Church in love is explained in a manner that moves beyond the platitudes to the underlying reality.
There's much more to say, of course. But that will have to come later. Oh, one more thing: it's relatively short--some 16,000 words in translation. I'm of two minds about that. I like what was there so much I wish he would have expanded on certain points. Yet long encyclicals discourage many readers.
Anyway, as I say, more to come.