Those who believe, see; they see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes from the risen Christ, the morning star which never sets. (LF 1)
I finished reading Pope Francis’ first encyclical. First of al, it is clear that Pope Benedict XVI had a strong hand in this encyclical. It reads a lot like his other encyclicals and completes the series on faith, hope, and love, that Benedict began with Deus Caritas Est. Francis states
These considerations on faith — in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue[ 7] — 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. (LF 7).
Lumen Fidei can, in a certain sense, be read as a completion of this “trilogy” and a final teaching from Benedict XVI.
After a brief introduction highlighting the need for a recovery of faith in the contemporary world, the encyclical is divided into four parts. The first part “We have believed in love” traces the faith of Israel beginning with Abraham and leading to faith in Christ. This chapter lays the scriptural and philosophical foundation for the rest of the encyclical. At its foundation, faith is personal.
Faith is our response to a word which engages us personally, to a “Thou” who calls us by name (LF 8).
Faith is a call and a promise which invites us into a journey into the broader “horizons opened up by God’s Word (LF 9). There is a respect for the Mystery of God, here. Faith does not provide easy certainty but it does provide a foundation to build on,
Faith accepts this word as a solid rock upon which we can build, a straight highway on which we can travel… The man of faith gains strength by putting himself in the hands of the God who is faithful (LF 10).
Faith is both surprising and somehow expected.
God’s word, while bringing newness and surprise, is not at all alien to Abraham’s experience (LF 11).
This journey of faith which begins with Abraham is deepened and purified in the history of God’s People, Israel.
Israel trusts in God, who promises to set his people free from their misery… God’s light shines for Israel through the remembrance of the Lord’s mighty deeds, recalled and celebrated in worship, and passed down from parents to children (LF 12).
Along this journey, the temptation to unbelief is present. This temptation manifests itself particularly in the form of idolatry. Quoting the rabbi of Kock, the Pope explains
idolatry is “when a face addresses a face which is not a face”.[ 10] (LF 13)
Idols lead to selfishness and confusion.
Idols exist, we begin to see, as a pretext for setting ourselves at the centre of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands. Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants. 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!” (LF 13).
Faith, on the other hand
consists in the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call. Herein lies the paradox: by constantly turning towards the Lord, we discover a sure path which liberates us from the dissolution imposed upon us by idols (LF 13).