Friday, July 5, 2013

Lumen Fidei

Pope Francis has issued his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”). Released today, it official date is June 29, Saints Peter and Paul. Its context, of course, is the current “Year of Faith,” initially proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI in order to mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Pope Benedict had apparently intended to end this Year of Faith with such an encyclical, and it certainly seems evident that much of the current encyclical’s actual content comes from him. The Pope himself says as much in the encyclical itself: 

“These considerations on faith — in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue — are meant to supplement what Benedict XVI had written in his encyclical letters on charity and hope. He himself had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith. For this I am deeply grateful to him, and as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own. The Successor of Peter, yesterday, today and tomorrow, is always called to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the priceless treasure of that faith which God has given as a light for humanity’s path” (Lumen Fidei, 7).

In an Vatican press conference today for the official release of the encyclical, Archbishop Rino Fisichella elaborated further, explaining the Pope Benedict had decided to write the encyclical for the end of the Year of Faith, but that Pope Francis is now offering it “as a ‘programme’ for how to continue to live this Year of Faith which has seen the Church involved in many highly formative experiences.”

One likely consequence of this will be an effort to attribute "authorship" to particular passages, to identify which parts and even which themes stem From Benedict and which from Francis. This will appeal especially to the media, whose interest in the substance of anything tends to be minmal and which cares much more about the pope as celebrity personality than about the papacy as magisterium. (I already heard one radio commentator speculate that 3 chapters were from Benedict and the fourth from Francis. That's perfectly plausible, but ultimately beside the point - if one understands an encyclical as an expression of the Church's ordinary magisterium and takes it seriously for precisely that reason!)

That said, a quick first reading of the text does certainly suggest a familiar "Benedictine" theme. It sets faith against the contemporary background of the modern rationalist association of faith not with light but with darkness and the post-modern appreciation of the limits of autonomous reason’s light, resulting in a “shadowy” future “fraught with fear of the unknown” (LF, 3). Against this, the encyclical proposes faith as a powerful light able to illuminate all aspects of human existence, “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” (LG, 4).

As encyclicals go, this one is relatively short and easy to read, which also means it can easily be read more than once in order to appreciate it more fully. (That I hope to do and return to this topic again soon!)

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