Benedict will be a tough act to follow. We will miss him. Like many Catholic academics, I have been reading Ratzinger for a long time and have derived much benefit from doing so. But one of my favorite passages in his writings comes from something he wrote in persona Petri. It is a humorous and poignant paragraph from Deus Caritas Est about the unity of body and soul in the human person.
Man is truly himself when his body and soul are intimately united; the challenge of eros can be said to be truly overcome when this unification is achieved. Should he aspire to be pure spirit and to reject the flesh as pertaining to his animal nature alone, then spirit and body would both lose their dignity. On the other hand, should he deny the spirit and consider matter, the body, as the only reality, he would likewise lose his greatness. The epicure Gassendi used to offer Descartes the humorous greeting: “O Soul!” And Descartes would reply: “O Flesh!” Yet it is neither the spirit alone nor the body alone that loves: it is man, the person, a unified creature composed of body and soul, who loves. Only when both dimensions are truly united, does man attain his full stature. Only thus is love – eros – able to mature and attain its authentic grandeur.
Of course, someone other than Papa Ratzinger may have been the author of this exact passage in the encyclical but anyone familiar with his other writings would not regard the style or the content as uncharacteristic. In any case, once he signed his name to the encyclical, these words became his.