Pope Francis’ first encyclical, released on Friday, is actually, as he himself described it, the work of “four hands.” A joint effort by himself and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the papal letter, entitled Lumen Fidei which, in Latin, means “The Light of Faith,” completes the trilogy of papal teachings on the three theological virtues that was begun by Benedict. The Pope Emeritus had issued his encyclicals, Deus Caritas Est, on Charity, in 2005, and Spe Salvi, on Hope, in 2007.
Philippa Hitchen, at Vatican Radio, reports that Benedict passed on his draft of the letter on Faith to Pope Francis.
Hitchen describes the encyclical:
The document certainly continues many of Benedict’s favourite themes, from the complementarity of faith and reason, to the joy of a personal encounter with Christ. Firmly situated in the Year of Faith, it’s also set in the context of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which re-established the central role of Faith at the heart of all human relationships.
Divided into four chapters and a short introduction, the encyclical sets out to show how Faith in the Risen Christ can lead us beyond the narrow confines of individual existence into the all-inclusive community of God’s love. Rather than the notion of ‘blind faith’, which impedes scientific progress and must be kept to the private sphere of personal convictions, we’re called to rediscover the light that can guide all people from the darkness of selfish desires towards a more just and fraternal world, grounded in the faithful promises of God the Creator.
Below are quotes from the encyclical itself.
In Paragraph 4, Pope Francis teaches that the “light of faith” is so powerful that it cannot come from humans, but from God:
The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfilment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us.
In Paragraph 16, the Pope describes the greatest sign of love:
If laying down one’s life for one’s friends is the greatest proof of love (cf. Jn 15:13), Jesus offered his own life for all, even for his enemies, to transform their hearts. This explains why the evangelists could see the hour of Christ’s crucifixion as the culmination of the gaze of faith; in that hour the depth and breadth of God’s love shone forth.
In Paragraph 18, Pope Francis explains that Christians come to know and trust God through the person of Jesus, His Son:
In many areas in our lives we trust others who know more than we do. We trust the architect who builds our home, the pharmacist who gives us medicine for healing, the lawyer who defends us in court. We also need someone trustworthy and knowledgeable where God is concerned. Jesus, the Son of God, is the one who makes God known to us (cf. Jn 1:18). Christ’s life, his way of knowing the Father and living in complete and constant relationship with him, opens up new and inviting vistas for human experience.
In Paragraph 25, the Pope asserts that contemporary culture is suspicious of the real Truth, which comes from God, because it is not the result of “technology,” and not so subjective that it only pertains to one individual:
In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings. Yet at the other end of the scale we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual, which consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, yet these are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others in an effort to serve the common good. But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion.
In Paragraph 26, Francis teaches that the recognition of God’s love transforms and leads to faith, which, by its light, changes our perception of reality:
Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps. Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes.
In Paragraph 46, Pope Francis teaches how the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, can guide our lives:
The Decalogue is not a set of negative commands, but concrete directions for emerging from the desert of the selfish and self-enclosed ego in order to enter into dialogue with God, to be embraced by his mercy and then to bring that mercy to others. Faith thus professes the love of God, origin and upholder of all things, and lets itself be guided by this love in order to journey towards the fullness of communion with God. The Decalogue appears as the path of gratitude, the response of love, made possible because in faith we are receptive to the experience of God’s transforming love for us.
In Paragraph 52, Pope Francis teaches that the first experience of faith is in the human family in which one man and one woman bring forth new life, a sign of God’s love on earth:
The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God’s own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen 2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator’s goodness, wisdom and loving plan.
In Paragraph 57, the Pope likens Faith to a lamp that guides our way, even through our pain and suffering:
Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see the light within it. Christ is the one who, having endured suffering, is “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).
John L. Allen, Jr., writing at National Catholic Reporter, describes the tone of Francis’ first letter:
The text is marked by striking outreach towards people open to God who have not yet arrived at the fullness of Christian belief.
“To the extent that they are sincerely open to love and set out with whatever light they can find, they are already, even without knowing it, on the path leading to faith,” it says.
It suggests that a genuine concern for others, even among non-believers, represents the stirring of faith.
“Anyone who sets off on the path of doing good to others is already drawing near to God,” it says.
While insisting that Christian faith reflects objective truth, the encyclical also says that Christians must not be arrogant about it.
“One who believes may not be presumptuous,” it says. “On the contrary, truth leads to humility.”
The 90-page encyclical was presented at a Vatican news conference by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation of Bishops. Observing the joint effort of the papal letter by two pontiffs, Ouellet said that it “illustrates in an extraordinary way the most fundamental and original theme it develops, the dimension of communion in the faith.”