Worth Reading: Lumen Fidei, Hot Off the Presses

by | Jul 5, 2013 | Uncategorized

Pope Francis met with media by Flickr user Catholic Church (England and Wales)

Pope Francis aims to enlighten.

Today, in addition to announcing that Popes John XXIII and John Paul II would both be canonized, the Vatican released Pope Francis’s first encylical letter, Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”). This encyclical was largely drafted by Benedict XVI before his resignation, and completed by Francis, who has referred to it as the “work of four hands” rather than just two.

It is a part of the strangeness of social media that a document that took many months to draft is now being read at high speed and live-tweeted in the process (seriously, check out the Twitter stream for #LumenFidei). Still, that being the world we live in, we here at TJP will play along.

There are a number of sources you can turn to if you want to get up to speed on the encyclical. America magazine has both excerpts and a set of three reflections up already. The folks over at FOCUS, who were also the ones behind the PopeAlarm notification system during the papal election, are again covering breaking pope-news, this time with a thorough overview and summary of the encyclical. If you have other go-to sources, let us know in the comments below, or tweet them to us @TheJesuitPost.

Or you could just go start reading Lumen Fidei itself. It’s not that long, and it’s relatively accessible, as papal documents go.

Part of the early attention to the encyclical will likely focus on identifying which parts came from Benedict, and which from Francis. (Hint: the ruminations on biblical etymologies and references to Nietzsche and Wittgenstein — probably Benedict.) But more important than trying to determine which hands wrote which words may be recognizing where the handoff leaves us: this encyclical completes the trilogy on love, hope, and faith (the three theological virtues) that Benedict began, and it sets the stage for the way Francis will teach as pope.

While Lumen Fidei reflects some of the characteristic themes of Benedict’s teaching — beginning from a broad foundation in scripture and tradition, making a critique of relativism, and delving into the encounter between Christian faith and Greek philosophy — it also already reflects some of the themes we have seen in these first days of Francis’s papacy.

Allow me to highlight two, very briefly:

Faith consists in the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call.

This is something I’ve been saying about Francis since the beginning — what he wants to change in the Church, primarily, is us. So, for example:

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 no refuge for the fainthearted, but something which enhances our lives. It makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love.

In his speech prior to the conclave that elected him, then-Cardinal Bergoglio issued a now-famous warning against the danger of the Church becoming self-referential and closed in on itself. Instead, he noted that he preferred the risk of a Church that goes out into the streets to such a sickness. As pope, he’s shown that faith is a matter of engagement and not simply security, whether in his willingness to improvise, both in public statements and in matters of protocol, or in his calling together a group of cardinals who are mostly active bishops rather than curial officials to advise him on reform, or in summoning all of us — even non-believers — to a “culture of encounter” that begins with doing good. (That last theme is echoed in Lumen Fidei as well — see paragraph 35.)

Faith draws us into encounter with the world, enhances our lives, and makes us aware of a magnificent calling, the vocation of love — a hopeful and challenging way to begin the formal teaching of a papacy.

In the comments below, let us know what catches your attention as you read Lumen Fidei.


Sam Sawyer, SJ

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