Announcing the forthcoming publication of his first encyclical [Lumen Fidei – The Light of Faith], Pope Francis described it as a work of “four hands”, begun by his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who passed on his draft for the new Pope to complete. The document certainly continues many of Benedict’s favourite themes, from the complementarity of faith and reason, to the joy of a personal encounter with Christ. Firmly situated in the Year of Faith, it’s also set in the context of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, which re-established the central role of Faith at the heart of all human relationships.
Divided into four chapters and a short introduction, the encyclical sets out to show how Faith in the Risen Christ can lead us beyond the narrow confines of individual existence into the all-inclusive community of God’s love. Rather than the notion of ‘blind faith’, which impedes scientific progress and must be kept to the private sphere of personal convictions, we’re called to rediscover the light that can guide all people from the darkness of selfish desires towards a more just and fraternal world, grounded in the faithful promises of God the Creator.
The first chapter takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the Old and New Testaments, from Abraham, who first hears God’s call, through the Israelites travelling towards the light of the Promised Land, to Jesus’ death on the Cross, the ultimate act of God’s love for humanity. The more we are touched by the transforming power of that love, writes the Pope, the better we are able to understand our relationship to all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Chapter two insists on the essential link between Faith and Truth, without which our beliefs seem nothing more than a fairy story, an illusion of happiness, unable to sustain us when the going gets tough. Contemporary society, the encyclical says, tends to see technological progress and individual pleasure as the only objective truth, viewing any broader questions about the origins of our existence with deep suspicion.
Without love in our hearts, truth becomes cold, impersonal, oppressive, unable to transform the lives of others. But by listening, seeing and believing in Christ’s presence in our lives today, we can broaden our horizons and find better ways of serving the common good. The light of our faith in Christ can also contribute to a more fruitful dialogue with non-Christians and non-believers, showing how all those who search for God or seek for truth will be welcomed and illuminated by that light.
The third chapter of the encyclical centres on the Church as the place where the light of faith is safeguarded and transmitted from one generation to the next. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, through profession of the Creed, praying the Our Father and obeying the Ten Commandments, the Church teaches the language of faith and draws us into the Trinitarian relationship of love, so that ‘whoever believes is never alone’.
The final chapter focuses on Faith and the common good and shows how the light of faith can promote peace and reconciliation, and teach respect for God’s creation. The encyclical also considers those areas illuminated by Faith, starting with the family based on marriage, understood as a stable union between man and woman. Faith, writes the Pope, cannot eliminate suffering in our world, but it can accompany us and bring a new sense of hope in God’s love. The encyclical ends with a prayer to Mary, Mother of Jesus and icon of faith, who can lead us into the light of God’s love.