Throwing Down the Gauntlet of Faith | Carl E. Olson | Editorial for Catholic World Report
The uniquely penned encyclical "Lumen fidei" is about the light of faith, as well as divine life, true love, and absolute truth
“The future is made wherever people find their way to one another in life-shaping convictions. And a good future grows wherever these convictions come from the truth and lead to it.” — Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Preface to the Second Edition (2004) of Introduction To Christianity
“Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God—an encounter opening up new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. From God's standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly.” — Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est
There have already been some fine overviews written about Lumen fidei (“The Light of Faith”), the co-authored and unique encyclical released by Pope Francis on July 5th, but written largely in the months prior by his predecessor, Benedict XVI. Rather than trying to summarize a document that deserves to be read in its entirety, or to provide a “greatest hits” list, I will content myself in making a few loosely related points about the text that might be of interest to readers, especially those (again, hint!) who have or will read it in full.
Pope Francis notes that Benedict XVI “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” (7). My impression is that the vast majority of the encyclical came from Benedict's pen. That said, the passages by Francis are fairly obvious, but rarely in a disconcerting or jarring fashion; quite the contrary. There are moments of repetition, which are likely meant to be points of reiteration but sometimes are simply repetitive. That is a minor quibble, for Lumen fidei is a strong and challenging document that has some exceptional and even surprising passages. This text is like a gauntlet of faith that has been thrown down in the midst of a confused and deeply wounded world with a combination of humility, love, and exhortatory firmness.
Granted, those of us who love reading theological texts can sometimes get carried away in reacting to them. I understand that many Catholics won't bother to read the encyclical, and I know the larger world, if it pays attention at all, will simply try to find the “controversial passages.” That's sad, but predictable, and that's all I'll say about that at the moment.
As I read Lumen fidei, I was struck by the many passages that drew upon themes and insights found in several of Ratzinger's book, going back to his Introduction to Christianity, but also including Spirit of the Liturgy and Daughter Zion, as well as his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est. Although it has the name of Francis on it, the text bears the theological and stylistic imprint of Ratzinger, and it to Francis' everlasting credit that he so humbly and warmly presented it as he did.
In addition to the specific, previous works, there is a heavily Johannine, Augustinian quality to the encyclical.