Now on the homepage: Thoughts on 'Lumen fidei'

Head over to the homepage for new pieces from Robin Darling Young and Dennis O'Brien on the encyclical Lumen fidei.

From Robin's "Final Chapter, First Words":

Augustine, head and shoulders above other Latin Christian authors of the early centuries, was no pope – but his mind did shape the discussion of Christian theology in the West until scholastic theology displaced him (and made him attractive to the Reformers). So the new encyclical’s ritual swipes at Nietzsche as a symbol of antireligious rationalism should not distract from the core of Benedict’s project of Catholic renewal to rebuild Christian tradition in the face of secularism – a project particularly poignant in his native Europe, where churches are empty though mosques are filling.

For Benedict, the theological virtues, prompted and assisted by grace, are the key to such a renewal, within a community shaped by ordered worship. Lumen fidei’s four chapters remind its readers that faith has a history, beginning with Abraham; that believing is necessary for understanding, and creates the possibility for scientific reasoning; that faith is also a tradition, passed on through the sacraments and prayer; and that there will be a future city prepared for the faithful, and exemplified in the biblical accounts of Mary.

But if Lumen fidei is Benedict’s last chapter, its last word seems to be Francis’s: “Nor does the light of faith make us forget the sufferings of this world. How many men and women of faith have found mediators of light in those who suffer! So it was with Saint Francis of Assisi and the leper, or with Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her poor.”

From Dennis's "Hard Thinking"

A text that in two paragraphs moves from Wittgenstein to William of St. Thierry is not for the faint of heart and idle of mind. The account of the faith that emerges is complex and paradoxical. Faith is a light by which we see (lumen fidei), faith is a form of hearing (fides ex auditu), faith is touch, “what we have seen with our eyes and touched with our hands.” Faith exists only because love opens to truth beyond simple perception. Faith is sacramental. Faith is not individual and subjective; it is necessarily objective and communal; it must be “ecclesial.” Finally, in an unusual and oft repeated phrase, “faith is a process of gazing.” (Assuming that the original was written in German, the word translated “gaze” is Sichtweise, a manner of seeing. Faith is seeing in the manner that Christ sees.)

One could read the encyclical as a pious compendium of exalted phrases about faith: faith is love, life, destiny, hope, and so on. Given its provenance from a learned and dedicated pope, it might reassure the reader that one can cite Nietzsche, Rousseau, and Celsus and still believe — even though one doesn’t understand what it means or how it all fits together. Lumen fidei is not such a pious exercise; it is a profound statement, but one whose foundations are only hinted at in the textual superstructure. It is a document that needs to be read communally, paragraph by paragraph, followed by extended discussion on meaning and implication.

Dominic Preziosi is Commonweal’s editor. Follow him on Twitter.

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