A Luminous Testament of Faith
Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith), was released July 5, 2013, nearly four months after his election to the papacy. “It’s written with four hands, so to speak,” said the pope, “because Pope Benedict began writing it, and he gave it to me.” The 90-page document celebrates the gift of faith and completes a papal trilogy on the three theological virtues, following Benedict XVI’s Deus Caritas Est (2005) on charity and Spe Salvi (2007) on hope.
“The light of faith is passed from one pontiff to another like a baton in a relay, thanks to the gift of apostolic succession,” noted Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation of Bishops, who presented the document to the press. Publication of this encyclical was one of the most awaited events of the Year of Faith, which began in October 2012 and concludes this month on the feast of Christ the King, Nov. 24.
In the following pages, Columbia presents a sampling of key passages from the first papal encyclical ever penned by two living pontiffs.
THE GIFT OF FAITH: A GREAT LIGHT
The light of Faith: this is how the Church’s tradition speaks of the great gift brought by Jesus. … Those who believe, see; they see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the morning star that never sets. (1)
Yet in speaking of the light of faith, we can almost hear the objections of many of our contemporaries. In modernity, that light might have been considered sufficient for societies of old, but was felt to be of no use for new times, for a humanity come of age, proud of its rationality and anxious to explore the future in novel ways. (2) …
In the process, faith came to be associated with darkness. … 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. As a result, humanity renounced the search for a great light, Truth itself, in order to be content with smaller lights that illumine the fleeting moment yet prove incapable of showing the way. Yet, in the absence of light, everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads that take us in endless circles, going nowhere. (3)
There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim. 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. (4)
GOD IS FAITHFUL
The man of faith gains strength by putting himself in the hands of the God who is faithful. … The God who asks Abraham for complete trust reveals himself to be the source of all life. Faith is thus linked to God’s fatherhood, which gives rise to all creation; the God who calls Abraham is the Creator, the one who “calls into existence the things that do not exist” (Rom 4:17), the one who “chose us before the foundation of the world … and destined us for adoption as his children” (Eph 1:4-5). (10-11)
IDOLATRY: THE OPPOSITE OF FAITH
The history of Israel also shows us the temptation of unbelief to which the people yielded more than once. … In place of faith in God, it seems better to worship an idol, into whose face we can look directly and whose origin we know, because it is the work of our own hands. Before an idol, there is no risk that we will be called to abandon our security, for idols “have mouths, but they cannot speak” (Ps 115:5). 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. …
Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another. Idolatry does not offer a journey, but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth. Those who choose not to put their trust in God must hear the din of countless idols crying out: “Put your trust in me!” Faith, tied as it is to conversion, is the opposite of idolatry; it breaks with idols to turn to the living God in a personal encounter. (13)
FAITH AND REALITY
Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises. It would make no difference at all whether we believed in him or not. Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love, which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. (17)
THE CRISIS OF TRUTH: ‘A MASSIVE AMNESIA’
Today, more than ever, we need to be reminded of the bond between faith and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age. 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. … But Truth itself, the truth that would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion. … In the end, what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth and ultimately this means the question of God is no longer relevant. It would be logical, from this point of view, to attempt to sever the bond between religion and truth, because it seems to lie at the root of fanaticism, which proves oppressive for anyone who does not share the same beliefs.
In this regard, though, we can speak of a massive amnesia in our contemporary world. The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path. (25)
THE TRUTH OF LOVE
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. (27) …
The light of love proper to faith can illumine the questions of our own time about truth. Truth nowadays is often reduced to the subjective authenticity of the individual, valid only for the life of the individual. A common truth intimidates us, for we identify it with the intransigent demands of totalitarian systems. But if truth is a truth of love, if it is a truth disclosed in personal encounter with the Other and with others, then it can be set free from its enclosure in individuals and become part of the common good. (34) …
HUMILITY AND WONDER
One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth that embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all. …
The gaze of science thus benefits from faith: faith encourages the scientist to remain constantly open to reality in all its inexhaustible richness. Faith awakens the critical sense by preventing research from being satisfied with its own formulae and helps it to realize that nature is always greater. By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world that discloses itself to scientific investigation. (34)
THE PATH OF FAITH
Because faith is a way, it also has to do with the lives of those men and women who, though not believers, nonetheless desire to believe and continue to seek. 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. They strive to act as if God existed, at times because they realize how important he is for finding a sure compass for our life in common or because they experience a desire for light amid darkness, but also because in perceiving life’s grandeur and beauty they intuit that the presence of God would make it all the more beautiful. (35)
FAITH AND COMMUNION
Persons always live in relationship. We come from others, we belong to others, and our lives are enlarged by our encounter with others. Even our own knowledge and self-awareness are relational; they are linked to others who have gone before us. …
Self-knowledge is only possible when we share in a greater memory. The same thing holds true for faith, which brings human understanding to its fullness. Faith’s past, that act of Jesus’ love which brought new life to the world, comes down to us through the memory of others witnesses and is kept alive in that one remembering subject which is the Church. (38) …
It is impossible to believe on our own. Faith is not simply an individual decision that takes place in the depths of the believer’s heart, nor a completely private relationship between the “I” of the believer and the divine “Thou,” between an autonomous subject and God. By its very nature, faith is open to the “We” of the Church; it always takes place within her communion. (39)
THE SACRAMENTS AND THE TRANSMISSION OF FAITH
The Church, like every family, passes on to her children the whole store of her memories. … There is a special means for passing down this fullness, a means capable of engaging the entire person, body and spirit, interior life and relationships with others. It is the sacraments, celebrated in the Church’s liturgy. The sacraments communicate an incarnate memory…. (40)
The transmission of faith occurs first and foremost in baptism. … Those who are baptized are set in a new context, entrusted to a new environment, a new and shared way of acting, in the Church. … No one baptizes himself, just as no one comes into the world by himself. Baptism is something we receive. (41) …
The sacramental character of faith finds its highest expression in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is a precious nourishment for faith: an encounter with Christ truly present in the supreme act of his love, the life-giving gift of himself. (44)
FAITH AND THE COMMON GOOD
Faith does not draw us away from the world or prove irrelevant to the concrete concerns of the men and women of our time. … Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good. Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope. … (51)
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. …
In the family, faith accompanies every age of life, beginning with childhood: children learn to trust in the love of their parents. This is why it is so important that within their families parents encourage shared expressions of faith that can help children gradually to mature in their own faith. (52-53)
FAITH AND HUMAN DIGNITY
At the heart of biblical faith is God’s love, his concrete concern for every person, and his plan of salvation that embraces all of humanity and all creation, culminating in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without insight into these realities, there is no criterion for discerning what makes human life precious and unique. Man loses his place in the universe, he is cast adrift in nature, either renouncing his proper moral responsibility or else presuming to be a sort of absolute judge, endowed with an unlimited power to manipulate the world around him. … (54)
Faith also helps us to devise models of development which are based not simply on utility and profit, but consider creation as a gift for which we are all indebted; it teaches us to create just forms of government, in the realization that authority comes from God and is meant for the service of the common good. (55)
CONSOLATION AMID SUFFERING
Christians know that suffering cannot be eliminated, yet it can have meaning and become an act of love and entrustment into the hands of God who does not abandon us; in this way it can serve as a moment of growth in faith and love. By contemplating Christ’s union with the Father even at the height of his sufferings on the cross (cf. Mk 15:34), Christians learn to share in the same gaze of Jesus. (56) …
Nor does the light of faith make us forget the sufferings of this world. How many men and women of faith have found mediators of light in those who suffer! So it was with Saint Francis of Assisi and the leper, or with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her poor. They understood the mystery at work in them. In drawing near to the suffering, they were certainly not able to eliminate all their pain or to explain every evil.
Faith is not a light that 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 that explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness that 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). (57)
MARY: OUR MODEL OF FAITH
The Mother of the Lord is the perfect icon of faith; as Saint Elizabeth would say: “Blessed is she who believed” (Lk 1:45). … In the fullness of time, God’s word was spoken to Mary and she received that word into her heart, her entire being, so that in her womb it could take flesh and be born as light for humanity. … In the Mother of Jesus, faith demonstrated its fruitfulness; when our own spiritual lives bear fruit we become filled with joy, which is the clearest sign of faith’s grandeur. (58)
Excerpts from Lumen Fidei © copyright Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Used with permission.