The Encyclical on Faith | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | CWR
"Lumen Fidei" is a quiet new force in the world for those who seek God, truth, goodness, and salvation
“There is no human experience, no journey of man to God, which cannot be taken up, illuminated and purified by this light. The more Christians immerse themselves in the circle of Christ’s light, the more capable they become of understanding and accompanying the path of every man and woman toward God.” — Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 35.
“These considerations on faith—in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has propounded on this theological virtue—are meant to supplement what Benedict XVI had written in his first 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 had given as a light for humanity’s path.” — Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, 7.
It has long been known that Benedict XVI was working on a third encyclical, one on faith, in the years after completing Spe Salvi, his great encyclical on hope (still the JVS favorite!). Benedict had designated this year as that of faith. He had given several general audiences on the topic before he resigned. So it is both a gracious and profound thing for his successor, Pope Francis, to take up what Benedict had mostly completed to add his own touches to it. Nothing makes the point of the unity of faith over time and background as resident in the Chair of Peter more clearly than this collaboration of two popes. Though Pope Francis has shown himself quite capable of citing learned authors with the best of them, we know that when something begins with Nietzsche, then cites Dostoyevsky, Martin Buber, Dante, Romano Guardini, Ludwig Wittgenstein, T. S. Eliot, and Newman along the way, not to mention numerous fathers of the Church, especially Augustine, and heavy German footnotes, that we see the hand of Benedict. The only thing missing was a quotation from Plato.
What struck me about this latest encyclical was how little it addressed itself to current events. It does say that marriage is between one man and one woman for their good and that of the child, but that is nothing new. One would think that a Church that wanted to be “relevant,” with a new Pope, some greater effort would be made to speak of economics and foreign affairs. I can imagine the editorial writers in the world press and media scratching their collective heads trying to figure out how to deal with this obviously important document. They are not used to being told that they cannot explain the condition of their own souls without the faith that addresses itself to the whole of human existence.
I suggest that the encyclical’s purposeful indifference to such things is precisely its point. In the long run, these worldly things are not particularly important if they are not also taken up with the great drama of faith that constitutes salvation history. We cannot explain ourselves by ourselves to ourselves. “Idols exist, we begin to see, as a pretext for setting ourselves at the center of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands. Once man has lost the fundamental orientation that unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires…” (13). This encyclical spells out the alternative to the self-centered man. We are not the center of our own reality; yet, we really exist and there is a center.
The faith informs us about the communion within the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The one God is Triune.