In a certain sense civilization means the same thing as “culture”. And so one could also speak of the “culture of love”, even though it is preferable to keep to the now familiar expression. The civilization of love, in its current meaning, is inspired by the words of the conciliar Constitution Gaudium et Spes: “Christ… fully discloses man to himself and unfolds his noble calling”. And so we can say that the civilization of love originates in the revelation of the God who “is love”, as John writes (1 Jn 4:8, 16); it is effectively described by Paul in the hymn of charity found in his First Letter to the Corinthians (13:1-13). This civilization is intimately linked to the love “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Rom 5:5), and it grows as a result of the constant cultivation which the Gospel allegory of the vine and the branches describes in such a direct way: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (Jn 15:1-2).
In the light of these and other texts of the New Testament it is possible to understand what is meant by the “civilization of love”, and why the family is organically linked to this civilization. If the first “way of the Church” is the family, it should also be said that the civilization of love is also the “way of the Church”, which journeys through the world and summons families to this way; it summons also other social, national and international institutions, because of families and through families. The family in fact depends for several reasons on the civilization of love, and finds therein the reasons for its existence as family. And at the same time the family is the centre and the heart of the civilization of love.
Yet there is no true love without an awareness that God “is Love”—and that man is the only creature on earth which God has called into existence “for its own sake”. Created in the image and likeness of God, man cannot fully “find himself” except through the sincere gift of self. Without such a concept of man, of the person and the “communion of persons” in the family, there can be no civilization of love; similarly, without the civilization of love it is impossible to have such a concept of person and of the communion of persons. The family constitutes the fundamental “cell” of society. But Christ—the “vine” from which the “branches” draw nourishment—is needed so that this cell will not be exposed to the threat of a kind of cultural uprooting which can come both from within and from without. Indeed, although there is on the one hand the “civilization of love”, there continues to exist on the other hand the possibility of a destructive “anti-civilization”, as so many present trends and situations confirm.
Who can deny that our age is one marked by a great crisis, which appears above all as a profound “crisis of truth”? A crisis of truth means, in the first place, a crisis of concepts. Do the words “love”, “freedom”, “sincere gift”, and even “person” and “rights of the person”, really convey their essential meaning? This is why the Encyclical on the “splendour of truth” (Veritatis Splendor) has proved so meaningful and important for the Church and for the world—especially in the West. Only if the truth about freedom and the communion of persons in marriage and in the family can regain its splendour, will the building of the civilization of love truly begin and will it then be possible to speak concretely—as the Council did—about “promoting the dignity of marriage and the family”.
Why is the “splendour of truth” so important? First of all, by way of contrast: the development of contemporary civilization is linked to a scientific and technological progress which is often achieved in a one-sided way, and thus appears purely positivistic. Positivism, as we know, results in agnosticism in theory and utilitarianism in practice and in ethics. In our own day, history is in a way repeating itself. Utilitarianism is a civilization of production and of use, a civilization of “things” and not of “persons”, a civilization in which persons are used in the same way as things are used. In the context of a civilization of use, woman can become an object for man, children a hindrance to parents, the family an institution obstructing the freedom of its members. To be convinced that this is the case, one need only look at certain sexual education programmes introduced into the schools, often notwithstanding the disagreement and even the protests of many parents; or pro-abortion tendencies which vainly try to hide behind the so-called “right to choose” (“pro-choice”) on the part of both spouses, and in particular on the part of the woman. These are only two examples; many more could be mentioned. — from ‘Letter to Families” (1994)