Pope Benedict XVI- Audiences
John, the Theologian
"He Proclaims With Radiant Insight That 'God Is Love'"
H.H. Benedict XVI
August 9, 2006
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Before the holidays I had begun sketching small portraits of the Twelve
The apostles were Jesus' traveling companions, Jesus' friends. Their
journey with Jesus was not only a physical journey from Galilee to
Jerusalem, but an interior journey during which they learned faith in
Jesus Christ, not without difficulty, for they were people like us.
But for this very reason, because they were Jesus' traveling companions,
Jesus' friends, who learned faith on a journey that was far from easy,
they are also guides for us, who help us to know Jesus Christ, to love
him and to have faith in him.
I have already commented on four of the Twelve Apostles: Simon Peter;
Andrew, his brother; James, the brother of St. John; and the other
James, known as "The Less," who wrote a letter that we find in the New
And I had started to speak about John the Evangelist, gathering together
in the last catechesis before the holidays the essential facts for this
I would now like to focus attention on the content of his teaching. The
writings that we want to examine today, therefore, are the Gospel and
the letters that go under his name.
If there is one characteristic topic that emerges from John's writings,
it is love. It is not by chance that I wanted to begin my first
encyclical letter with this apostle's words, "God is love (Deus caritas
est); he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1
John 4:16). It is very difficult to find texts of this kind in other
religions. Thus, words such as these bring us face to face with an
element that is truly peculiar to Christianity.
John, of course, is not the only author of Christian origin to speak of
love. Since this is an essential constituent of Christianity, all the
New Testament writers speak of it, although with different emphases.
If we are now pausing to reflect on this subject in John, it is because
he has outlined its principal features insistently and incisively. We
therefore trust his words. One thing is certain: He does not provide an
abstract, philosophical or even theological treatment of what love is.
No, he is not a theoretician. True love, in fact, by its nature is never
purely speculative but makes a direct, concrete and even verifiable
reference to real persons. Well, John, as an apostle and a friend of
Jesus, makes us see what its components are, or rather, the phases of
Christian love, a movement marked by three moments.
The first concerns the very source of love which the apostle identifies
as God, arriving at the affirmation that "God is love" (1 John 4:8,16).
John is the only New Testament author who gives us definitions of God.
He says, for example, that "God is spirit" (John 4:24) or that "God is
light" (1 John 1:5). Here he proclaims with radiant insight that "God is
Take note: It is not merely asserted that "God loves," or even less that
"love is God!" In other words: John does not limit himself to describing
the divine action but goes to its roots.
Moreover, he does not intend to attribute a divine quality to a generic
and even impersonal love; he does not rise from love to God, but turns
directly to God to define his nature with the infinite dimension of
By so doing, John wants to say that the essential constituent of God is
love and hence, that all God's activity is born from love and impressed
with love: All that God does, he does out of love and with love, even if
we are not always immediately able to understand that this is love, true
At this point, however, it is indispensable to take another step and
explain that God has concretely demonstrated his love by entering human
history through the person of Jesus Christ, incarnate, dead and risen
This is the second constitutive moment of God's love. He did not limit
himself to verbal declarations but, we can say, truly committed himself
and "paid" in the first person.
Exactly as John writes, "God so loved the world," that is, all of us,
"that he gave his only Son" (John 3:16). Henceforth, God's love for
humanity is concretized and manifested in the love of Jesus himself.
Again, John writes: "Having loved his own who were in the world, he
loved them to the end" (John 13:1).
By virtue of this oblative and total love we are radically ransomed from
sin, as St. John writes further: "My little children ... if any one does
sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous;
and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for
the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:1-2; cf. 1 John 1:7).
This is how Jesus' love for us reaches us: by the pouring out of his own
blood for our salvation! The Christian, pausing in contemplation before
this "excess" of love, cannot but wonder what the proper response is.
And I think each one of us, always and over and over again, must ask
himself or herself this.
This question introduces us into the third moment of the dynamic of
love: From being the recipients of a love that precedes and surpasses
us, we are called to the commitment of an active response which, to be
adequate, can only be a response of love.
John speaks of a "commandment." He is, in fact, referring to these words
of Jesus: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another;
even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34).
Where is the newness to which Jesus refers? It lies in the fact that he
is not content with repeating what had already been requested in the Old
Testament and which we also read in the other Gospels: "You shall love
your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 19:18; cf. Matthew 22:37-39; Mark
12:29-31; Luke 10:27).
In the ancient precept the standard criterion was based on man ("as
yourself"), whereas in the precept to which John refers, Jesus presents
his own person as the reason for and norm of our love: "As I have loved
It is in this way that love becomes truly Christian: Both in the sense
that it must be directed to all without distinction, and above all since
it must be carried through to its extreme consequences, having no other
bounds than being boundless.
Those words of Jesus, "as I have loved you," simultaneously invite and
disturb us; they are a Christological goal that can appear unattainable,
but at the same time they are an incentive that does not allow us to
ensconce ourselves in what we have been able to achieve. It does not
permit us to be content with what we are but spurs us to keep advancing
toward this goal.
In "The Imitation of Christ," that golden text of spirituality which is
the small book dating back to the late Middle Ages, on this subject is
written: "The love of Jesus is noble and generous: It spurs us on to do
great things, and excites us to desire always that which is most
perfect. Love will tend upward and is not to be detained by things
beneath. Love will be at liberty and free from all worldly affections
... for love proceeds from God and cannot rest but in God above all
things created. The lover flies, runs and rejoices, he is free and not
held. He gives all for all and has all in all, because he rests in one
sovereign good above all, from whom all good flows and proceeds" (Thomas
à Kempis, "The Imitation of Christ," III, V, 3-4).
What better comment could there be on the "new commandment" spelled out
by John? Let us pray to the Father to be able, even if always
imperfectly, to live it so intensely that we share it with those we meet
on our way.
To special groups
I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims
present at today's Audience, including the groups from Scotland, Ghana,
China, India, Korea and Canada. May your pilgrimage renew your love for
the Lord and his Church, after the example of the Apostle St John. May
God bless you all!
Appeal for peace in the Middle East
My ardent thoughts go once again to the beloved region of the Middle
East. With regard to the tragic conflict under way, I propose anew the
words of Pope Paul VI to the United Nations Organization in October
On that occasion he said: "No more against one another, no more, never
again! ... If you want to be brothers and sisters, let the weapons fall
from your hands."
In the face of the efforts being made to obtain a ceasefire and a just
and lasting solution to the conflict, I repeat, with my immediate
predecessor the great Pope John Paul II, that it is possible to change
the course of events when reason, good will, trust in others, fidelity
to commitments and cooperation between responsible partners prevail (cf.
"Address to Diplomatic Corps," Jan. 13, 2003; L'Osservatore Romano
English edition, Jan. 15, n. 5, p. 4).
What John Paul II said then, also applies today, to everyone. I renew to
all the exhortation to intensify prayer in order to obtain the gift of
Lastly, as usual, I address a greeting to you, dear young people, sick
people and newlyweds.
Today, we are celebrating the feast of St. Teresa Benedicta of the
Cross, Edith Stein, co-patron of Europe. May this heroic witness of the
Gospel help each one of you to always have trust in Christ and to
incarnate his message of salvation in your own lives.
[Translation issued by the Holy See]
© Copyright 2006 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana [adapted]
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