The press conference in Rome this morning at which the first encyclical letter by Pope Francis was released included addresses by Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and Archbishop Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The text of the encyclical, titled Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), can be read here.
Cardinal Ouellet began by noting that while Pope Francis completed and promulgated Lumen Fidei, it was almost complete when Pope Benedict XVI resigned in February. That the final document is truly the work of two popes is more than an interesting anecdote, however: “Its shared mode of transmission illustrates in an extraordinary way the most fundamental and original aspect of the encyclical: its development of the dimension of communion in faith,” Cardinal Ouellet said. “The encyclical in fact speaks not with a ‘royal “We,”’ but with a ‘we’ of communion. It describes faith as an experience of communion, of the expansion of the ‘I’ and of solidarity in the Church’s journey with Christ for the salvation of the human race.”
Objectively, the light of faith orients the meaning of life, comforts and consoles the broken and searching hearts, but it also commits believers to serving the common good of humanity through proclamation and an authentic sharing of the grace they received from God. This is why faith calls believers to embrace the world’s suffering, like St. Francis and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, so as to radiate the light of Christ there. “Faith is not a light that dispels all our darkness, but the lamp that guides our feet in the night and that is enough for the way,” the encyclical tells us (57).Subjectively, faith is an opening to Christ’s Love, a welcome. It is entering into a relationship that broadens our “I” to the dimensions of a “we” in the Church. This “we” is not simply human, but properly divine. That is, it is an authentic participation in the “We” of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. The encyclical insists on this Trinitarian foundation, which constitutes faith as a reality at once personal and ecclesial: “This opening to the ecclesial ‘we’ occurs according to the very opening of God’s love, which is not only the relation between Father and Son, between ‘I’ and ‘thou, ’but it is also, in the Spirit, a ‘we,’ a communion of Persons” (39).
Archbishop Müller, in his remarks on the new encyclical, referredto Pope Francis’ frequent reminder—by way of his daily homilies—that “all is grace.” “This affirmation, which in the face of all the complexities and contradictions of life might seem naïve or abstract, is in fact an invitation to recognize the ultimate goodness of reality,” Archbishop Müller said.
This is the purpose of the encyclical letter Lumen Fidei. The light that comes from faith, from the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and in his Spirit, illuminates the depths of reality and helps us to recognize that reality bears within itself the indelible signs that the work of God is good. Faith, because of the illumination that comes from God, in fact enables those who believe to see with a light that “illumines their entire journey” (n. 1), “every aspect of human existence” (n.4). Faith “far from divorcing us from reality, enables us to grasp reality’s deepest meaning and to see how much God loves this world and is constantly guiding it towards himself” (n. 18).
This is the central message of this encyclical letter which takes up some of the ideas that were dear to Benedict XVI. “These considerations on faith” writes Pope Francis “are meant to supplement what Benedict XVI had written in his 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” (n. 7).It is a fortunate coincidence that this text was written, so to speak, by the hands of two Popes. Notwithstanding the differences of style, sensibility and accent, anyone who reads this encyclical will immediately note the substantial continuity of the message of Pope Francis with the teaching of Pope Benedict XVI.