BY SIMON CALDWELL
Pope Benedict XVI will contemplate the mystery of "erotic" love in the first major document of his papacy, it has emerged.
The Bavarian-born Pontiff will attempt to explain the differences between divine love and carnal desire in a letter to the Catholic Church later this month.
The contents of the encyclical — the most authoritative form of papal document — have been closely guarded since Benedict wrote most of it during his summer break in Les Combes in the northern Italian Alps.
But an American cardinal close to the Vatican has revealed that the Pope "is going to talk about the relationship between love and truth. between agape and eros". Agape is a Greek word referring to unconditional love. fellowship and charity, while eros takes its name from the Greek god of love and refers principally to sexual desire.
Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said that the Pope believed that both were inherently good in the eyes of God but it was important to distinguish between them.
"Our own human love, our desires, are good in themselves," the cardinal told the Chicago Sun-Vmes.
"The distinction between agape and eros is not a clean one. In fact, one influences the other and therefore both should be considered good.
"But we are sinful creatures, so they can be misused."
The 46-page encyclical, called Dens Caritas Est (God is Love), has been described as a "spiritual mediation".
It will also focus on the relationship of eros and agape to "Logos" — the word of the God in the person of Jesus Christ.
The document was signed by the Pope on Christmas Day but its release has been postponed until after January 15 because Benedict did not want it to clash with his World Peace Day message of January 1.
Benedict has asked Cardinal George to speak on its central themes at a conference in Rome at the end of the month.
Pope Benedict, 78, was elected successor to Pope John Paul 11 last April , becoming the first German pope in almost 500 years.
A pope's first encyclical is generally understood to be the document that sets out the themes of his pontificate.
The first of John Paul's 14 encyclicals was Redemptor Hominis, the 1979 document that identified Jesus Christ as being at the centre of the universe and of history.