The New York Times is, unsurprisingly, “surprised” that Benedict XVI’s first encyclical (Deus caritas est) would be concerned with love. Their surprise is due to the fact that they’d bought the story of Ratzinger the Inquisitor rather than engaging the history of his work.
I’ve not yet had a chance to read the encyclical closely (assigning it in my “Urban Altruism” seminar this spring will provide an opportunity), but a quick skim indicates that what’s really at stake here are questions about the relationship between church and “state,” and just which entity is responsible for the formation of a “just” society. (That a discussion of love would entail a discussion of justice is the sort of link that liberalism couldn’t think.) In this regard, Benedict follows a pretty straightforward line regarding subsidiarity–a line which, I think, could be justly questioned. Nevertheless, this is an important document that the entire global church–and even states–ought to engage. One could hope it will stimulate important conversations on these matters.