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Pope Francis' 1st encyclical released (with analysis, and link to full text)

July 05, 2013

The Holy See has released Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), the first encyclical letter of Pope Francis.

The document is dated June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. It was introduced to the media at a press conference in Rome on July 5.

The encyclical on faith was begun by Pope Benedict XVI, before his resignation, and completed by Pope Francis, who referred to the document as the work of “four hands,” suggesting that the encyclical represented the work of both himself and his predecessor.

In his introduction, Pope Francis writes that Benedict XVI “had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith.” He says that he “added a few contributions of my own.” Still the document is signed only by Pope Francis, and will be known to Church history as the 1st encyclical of the new Pontiff.

At the Vatican press conference introducing the new encyclical, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization, commented on the question of authorship: “It must be said without hesitation that while Lumen Fidei resumes some of the intuition and themes typical of the ministery of Benedict XVI, it is fully Pope Francisco’s text.” Pope Francis himself, clearly intent on underlining that his teachings are in full accord with those of Pope Benedict, observed in his introduction that the text is “in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue.”

The encyclical does cover some of the arguments that were central to the teaching of Benedict XVI during his pontificate, such as the importance of joining faith and reason and the danger of eliminating God from public discussion. The document also bears the scholarly tone of the Pope-emeritus, including allusions to Nietzsche, Dante, Dostoevsky, Wittgenstein, and T. S. Eliot along with citations from early Church fathers and a plethora of Scriptural references. At the same time, the encyclical also covers themes that Pope Francis has emphasized, including the impossibility of achieving justification through one’s own merits and the need to put faith into action through help for the poor. Following the usual Vatican practice, the encyclical takes its title from the opening words: Lumen Fidei, the light of faith. In its opening section the Pope remarks on how the gift of faith has always been associated with light, which enables believers to see things clearly.

However, the encyclical continues, in modern thought “faith came to be associated with darkness,” and philosophers sought for truth divorced from faith. That quest proved illusory, the Pope writes: “Slowly but surely, however, it would become evident that the light of autonomous reason is not enough to illumine the future; ultimately the future remains shadowy and fraught with fear of the unknown.” The encyclical strongly insists on the need to regain a proper understanding for the natural partnership between faith and reason. “Today more than ever, we need to be reminded of this bond between faith and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age.”

The faith of the Judeo-Christian tradition traces back to God’s revelation to Abraham, Lumen Fidei notes. That revelation was a dramatic departure from the beliefs of others at that time, the encyclical notes: “God is not the god of a particular place, or a deity linked to specific sacred time, but the God of a person, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, capable of interacting with man and establishing a covenant with him.”

This personal God called the people of Israel into a covenant, the encyclical continues. But Chosen People did not always respond: “The history of Israel also shows us the temptation of unbelief to which the people yielded more than once. Here the opposite of faith is shown to be idolatry.” The temptation toward idolatry continues among believers to this day, the Pope says, adding that idolatry is “a pretext for setting ourselves at the center of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands.”

The God of Abraham seeks the love of his people. Modern man tends to think of love as an emotion, the Pope observes. But a deep love is something far more than an emotional reaction; it is based on a recognition of truth. “Only to the extent that love is grounded in truth can it endure over time, can it transcend the passing moment and be sufficiently solid to sustain a shared journey. If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time.”

Pope Francis writes that anyone who shows love for others is taking the first steps toward faith: “Anyone who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God, is already sustained by his help, for it is characteristic of the divine light to brighten our eyes whenever we walk towards the fullness of love.”

Still, Lumen Fidei cautions that no one should seek faith alone. In fact the Pope writes bluntly: “It is impossible to believe on our own.” In the New Covenant, Jesus offers the Church as the guarantor of faith. Moreover the faith is transmitted and strengthened through the sacramental life of the Church, especially in Baptism. Sharing in the faith, all members of the Church, at all times, “possess a unity which enriches us because it is given to us and makes us one.”

Christian faith, the encyclical teaches, is not a static idea; it is recognized by believers as “a journey, but also as a process of building.” Here Lumen Fidei goes on to say that the faithful should build the Church, and awaken the faith of others, by service to the world’s poor and needy. There is no tension between service to the poor and the quest for truth, Pope Francis writes: “How many men and women of faith have found mediators of light in those who suffer!”

The encyclical concludes with an invocation of the Virgin Mary. “In her own life Mary completed the pilgrimage of faith,” the Pope writes, referring to her as a “perfect icon” of faith.

Introducing the document to the press, Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, took note of the encyclical’s message that faith is necessary to the welfare of society. He said that the Pope “wishes to restate in a new way the truth that faith in Jesus Christ is a good for humanity-- truly a good for everyone; a common good.”

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, drew out another aspect of the papal teaching. Calling attention to the encyclical’s connection between truth and lasting love, he said that the Pope “reminds us of the deep affinities between faith and the endless love a man and woman promise to each other when they unite in matrimony.”


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  • Posted by: Catawba01 - Jul. 11, 2013 9:14 AM ET USA

    Lumen Fidei is available for the Kindle ebook reader for 99 cents.