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Benedict's last testament.

That's how theologian Tina Beattie (remember her?) describes Lumen fidei, the first encyclical signed by Pope Francis.

Many will welcome this encyclical with its elegant weaving together of biblical, theological and philosophical themes, but I suspect that others will struggle with its bleak view of modern society and its romanticised vision of the Church. Only in one short section which comes about half way through its 88 pages does it acknowledge the possibility that faith might be found outside the doctrines, magisterial authority and sacramental unity of the Catholic Church. This section, titled ‘Faith and the search for God', is so different in tone that it leads me to suspect that here we detect the influence of a quieter, more pastorally sensitive authorial voice, and a hint of a different vision which is about to emerge. Apart from this one section, there is no suggestion that secular society and other religions might have something positive to contribute to the self-understanding of the Catholic faith, nor that people of faith come in many shapes and forms. The overall impression - apart from that one section - is that European culture is riven between faithful Catholics and godless relativists who have lost all concept of truth and meaning. For an encyclical so concerned with truth, this is not a true picture of the complex realities of the modern world.

Read the whole thing right here.

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Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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"This section, titled ‘Faith and the search for God', is so different in tone that it leads me to suspect that here we detect the influence of a quieter, more pastorally sensitive authorial voice, and a hint of a different vision which is about to emerge". 

Here's an excerpt from the address Pope Benedict XVI gave in 2011 at the meeting for peace in Assisi.

"In addition to the two phenomena of religion and anti-religion, a further basic orientation is found in the growing world of agnosticism: people to whom the gift of faith has not been given, but who are nevertheless on the lookout for truth, searching for God. Such people do not simply assert: "There is no God". They suffer from his absence and yet are inwardly making their way towards him, inasmuch as they seek truth and goodness. They are "pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace". They ask questions of both sides. They take away from militant atheists the false certainty by which these claim to know that there is no God and they invite them to leave polemics aside and to become seekers who do not give up hope in the existence of truth and in the possibility and necessity of living by it. But they also challenge the followers of religions not to consider God as their own property, as if he belonged to them, in such a way that they feel vindicated in using force against others. These people are seeking the truth, they are seeking the true God, whose image is frequently concealed in the religions because of the ways in which they are often practised. Their inability to find God is partly the responsibility of believers with a limited or even falsified image of God. So all their struggling and questioning is in part an appeal to believers to purify their faith, so that God, the true God, becomes accessible. Therefore I have consciously invited delegates of this third group to our meeting in Assisi, which does not simply bring together representatives of religious institutions. Rather it is a case of being together on a journey towards truth, a case of taking a decisive stand for human dignity and a case of common engagement for peace against every form of destructive force. Finally I would like to assure you that the Catholic Church will not let up in her fight against violence, in her commitment for peace in the world. We are animated by the common desire to be "pilgrims of truth, pilgrims of peace".

Also, I think Pope Francis is the one who quotes T.S Elliot.






One should also read Pope Benedict's December, 2012, Christmas greetings to the Roman Curia - the end of year address. You can see some of the themes in this address in the encyclical.

"At this point I would like to address the second major theme, which runs through the whole of the past year from Assisi to the Synod on the New Evangelization: the question of dialogue and proclamation. Let us speak firstly of dialogue. For the Church in our day I see three principal areas of dialogue, in which she must be present in the struggle for man and his humanity: dialogue with states, dialogue with society – which includes dialogue with cultures and with science – and finally dialogue with religions. In all these dialogues the Church speaks on the basis of the light given her by faith. But at the same time she incorporates the memory of mankind, which is a memory of man’s experiences and sufferings from the beginnings and down the centuries, in which she has learned about the human condition, she has experienced its boundaries and its grandeur, its opportunities and its limitations. Human culture, of which she is a guarantee, has developed from the encounter between divine revelation and human existence. The Church represents the memory of what it means to be human in the face of a civilization of forgetfulness, which knows only itself and its own criteria. Yet just as an individual without memory has lost his identity, so too a human race without memory would lose its identity. What the Church has learned from the encounter between revelation and human experience does indeed extend beyond the realm of pure reason, but it is not a separate world that has nothing to say to unbelievers. By entering into the thinking and understanding of mankind, this knowledge broadens the horizon of reason and thus it speaks also to those who are unable to share the faith of the Church. In her dialogue with the state and with society, the Church does not, of course, have ready answers for individual questions. Along with other forces in society, she will wrestle for the answers that best correspond to the truth of the human condition. The values that she recognizes as fundamental and non-negotiable for the human condition she must propose with all clarity. She must do all she can to convince, and this can then stimulate political action.

In man’s present situation, the dialogue of religions is a necessary condition for peace in the world and it is therefore a duty for Christians as well as other religious communities. This dialogue of religions has various dimensions. In the first place it is simply a dialogue of life, a dialogue of being together. This will not involve discussing the great themes of faith – whether God is Trinitarian or how the inspiration of the sacred Scriptures is to be understood, and so on. It is about the concrete problems of coexistence and shared responsibility for society, for the state, for humanity. In the process, it is necessary to learn to accept the other in his otherness and the otherness of his thinking. To this end, the shared responsibility for justice and peace must become the guiding principle of the conversation. A dialogue about peace and justice is bound to move beyond the purely pragmatic to become an ethical struggle for the truth and for the human being: a dialogue concerning the values that come before everything. In this way what began as a purely practical dialogue becomes a quest for the right way to live as a human being. Even if the fundamental choices themselves are not under discussion, the search for an answer to a specific question becomes a process in which, through listening to the other, both sides can obtain purification and enrichment. Thus this search can also mean taking common steps towards the one truth, even if the fundamental choices remain unaltered. If both sides set out from a hermeneutic of justice and peace, the fundamental difference will not disappear, but a deeper closeness will emerge nevertheless.

Two rules are generally regarded nowadays as fundamental for interreligious dialogue:

1. Dialogue does not aim at conversion, but at understanding. In this respect it differs from evangelization, from mission;

2. Accordingly, both parties to the dialogue remain consciously within their identity, which the dialogue does not place in question either for themselves or for the other.

These rules are correct, but in the way they are formulated here I still find them too superficial. True, dialogue does not aim at conversion, but at better mutual understanding – that is correct. But all the same, the search for knowledge and understanding always has to involve drawing closer to the truth. Both sides in this piece-by-piece approach to truth are therefore on the path that leads forward and towards greater commonality, brought about by the oneness of the truth. As far as preserving identity is concerned, it would be too little for the Christian, so to speak, to assert his identity in a such a way that he effectively blocks the path to truth. Then his Christianity would appear as something arbitrary, merely propositional. He would seem not to reckon with the possibility that religion has to do with truth. On the contrary, I would say that the Christian can afford to be supremely confident, yes, fundamentally certain that he can venture freely into the open sea of the truth, without having to fear for his Christian identity. To be sure, we do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us: Christ, who is the truth, has taken us by the hand, and we know that his hand is holding us securely on the path of our quest for knowledge. Being inwardly held by the hand of Christ makes us free and keeps us safe: free – because if we are held by him, we can enter openly and fearlessly into any dialogue; safe – because he does not let go of us, unless we cut ourselves off from him. At one with him, we stand in the light of truth".

This is old news now .....


Jim McCrea  Subscriber  July 6, 2013 - 6:51pm

Tina Beattie, of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Religion, Society and Human Flourishing at the University of Roehampton, had this reaction in The (London)Tablet, entitled “Francis' first encyclical? It's really Benedict's last testament”

- See more at:

As is the comment I made on David Cloutier's post when Jim first linked to Tina Beattie's column:

"Here's is what I wrote on the "America" website (beating Ms Beattie by 24 hours):


"we are witnesses to an extraordinary collaboration that might equally be called the Testament of Benedict and the Inaugural Address of Francis."


I certainly second her assessment that the encyclical is "Pope Benedict's last and perhaps greatest encyclical." My point above is that Francis appropriated and endorsed his Predecessor's Christ-centered vision of faith.


As for her suggestion that Section 35, "Faith and the Search for God," is "different in tone" and represents "a quieter, more pastorally sensitive authorial voice," may I politely say: humbug!


Anyone who has heard Benedict preach of the Magi on the Feast of the Epiphany, anyone who has followed his pastoral initiative in sponsoring "The Courtyard of the Gentiles," will recognize his pastoral voice here. Moreover, when the Section speaks of seekers who "strive to act as if God existed," it employs a classic Benedict term -- and all this without mentioning that the Section's two footnote references are to St. Irenaeus and "Dominus Iesus!"


But the decisive point is that "Lumen fidei" is signed "Franciscus" and bears the authority of the present Bishop of Rome."


it's just another non-event

Actually, it strikes me that Fr O'Leary is right. The encyclical is supposedly addressed, first, to bishops, but I'm not sure how many bishops will have time to ponder it. It's a reflection that may be beautiful and deep, but it does not address their urgent concerns. It is better suited to seminarian students or to retired people. Bernardin wrote that he was so busy that at one point he realized that he didn't take time to pray any more! What active bishop would waste time reading Lumen Fidei? What question do they have that might be answered by it?

What's the point of an encyclical anyway?


Great question, Claire.

The point, I think, was to give Benedict his last word that he didn't take the time to make prior to resignation.

Francis appears to be extremely gracious in how he is treating his predecessor.

Jim McC. ==

Here's an article about what Francis thinks of Benedict, "el viejo".  


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