2013-07-05 Vatican Radio(Vatican Radio) The Light of Faith is “the missing Pillar” in Benedict XVI’s trilogy on the theological virtues but also a symbol of unity between two Pope, stated Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops as he presented the document to Press Friday.
“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. The origin of all things is God – and faith in Him is a recognition of this fact”.
Below we publish the full text of Cardinal Ouellet’s intervention:
A pillar was lacking in Benedict XVI’s trilogy on the theological virtues. Providence willed that this missing pillar should be both a gift from the Pope Emeritus to his successor and a symbol of unity. For in taking up and completing the work begun by his predecessor, Pope Francis bears witness with him to the unity of the faith. The light of faith is passed from one pontiff to another like a baton in a relay, thanks to “the gift of the apostolic succession.” This gift assures “the continuity of the Church’s memory,” as well as “certainty in attaining the pure source from which the faith flows” (49).
So we feel an altogether particular joy in receiving the encyclical Lumen Fidei. 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. 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. I will limit myself here to illustrating this viewpoint.
The encyclical presents the Christian faith as a light that comes from listening to the Word of God in history. It is a light that allows us to see the love of God at work, establishing his covenant with humankind. This light can already be perceived in the works of the Creator, but it shines forth as love in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Him, the light of Love irrupts into history. It offers us human beings a hope that gives us the courage to journey together toward a future of full communion. “Christ, having endured suffering, is “the leader and perfecter of our faith,” we hear in the Letter to the Hebrews, in a key passage of the encyclical (Heb 12:2; cf. LF, 57).
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).
In this Christological, Trinitarian and ecclesial light, confessing the faith acquires is concrete shape through the celebration of the sacraments of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist, in which “the believer affirms that the center of being, the most profound secret of all that is, is the divine communion” (45). He thus finds himself “engaged in the truth he confesses.” For this very reason, he is transformed and “introduced into a love story that seizes him and expands his being by making him a member of a great communion,” the Church (45).
From this Trinitarian “We” that prolongs itself in the ecclesial “we,” the encyclical follows very naturally with the “we” of the family, the place par excellence of the transmission of the faith (43). On the one hand, this is made manifest in the experience of infant baptism, in which the parents and godparents confess the faith on behalf of the child, welcoming him or her into the Church’s faith, which always precedes us. On the other hand, the encyclical reminds us, there are profound affinities between faith and the definitive love that a man and a woman promise to one another in marriage. “To promise a love that is forever, is possible when we discover a design greater than our own projects, which upholds us and allows us to give the entire future to the beloved person” (52). Thus, thanks to faith, the spouses’ love can last and unite the generations in the joy of fidelity and the service of life. “Faith is not a refuge for those who have no courage, but a blossoming of life,” concludes the encyclical, which sees the family as “the first environment in which faith enlightens the city of men” (52).
The encyclical contains a further remarkable discussion of the pertinence of faith for life in society, that is, for building up “the city of men” in justice and peace. Faith does so thanks to a respect for each person and his or her freedom, as well as the resources of compassion and reconciliation it offers to relieve suffering and resolve conflicts. “Yes, faith is a good for all; it is a common good” (51). The tendency to confine faith to the domain of private life is here peacefully but decisively refuted.
Many of the aspects developed in Benedict XVI’s encyclicals on charity and hope find their complement in this light shed on faith as communion and service of the common good. “The hands of faith are raised toward heaven; but at the same time, in charity, they build a city on the basis of relationships that have the love of God as their foundation” (51). “If we remove faith from our cities, trust between us will weaken”(55). In brief, through faith, God wants to “make relationships between human beings solid” (ibid.). He hopes for the realization of the “greatness of the shared life that He makes possible” through the grace of His presence (55).
In conclusion, the encyclical contemplates Mary, the figure of faith par excellence: she who listened to the Word and kept it in her heart, who followed Jesus and allowed herself to be transformed by “entering into the gaze of the incarnate Son of God” (58). In the end, Pope Francis reaffirms with his predecessor a truth of the faith that has been set aside or even doubted in certain milieus: “In Mary’s virginal conception, we have a clear sign of Christ’s divine filiation. Christ’s eternal origin is in the Father. He is the Son in a total and unique sense; and for this reason, he is born in time without the intervention of a man” (59).
We welcome with great joy and gratitude this integral profession of faith, in the form of a catechesis written “by four hands” of the successors of Peter. Together, they show forth the Church’s faith in its beauty – the faith that “is confessed within the body of Christ as the concrete communion of believers” (22).
In the meditations that he offers us by way of his daily homilies, Pope Francis often reminds us 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 recognise the ultimate goodness of reality.
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 recognise 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 reality¼enables 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.
The origin of all things is God – and faith in Him is a recognition of this fact. Faith opens up the mind and the heart of man, expands his horizons, brings him ever closer to his fellow man and throws open the doors to an existence commensurate with his dignity. Conversely, we must also recognise that every time we do not think, act or love in accordance with our faith in God, we do not contribute to building a more human world. In fact, acting in this way, we often give a counter- testimony to God and disfigure the face of the Church.
A living faith in God - through which we are led by His Spirit to His only begotten Son Jesus Christ – is our greatest resource. It is from this starting point that all attempts at reform and renewal must begin, and not only in the Church for at this level we are talking about a gift which the Church cannot keep for herself. Faith, and the life of grace that it offers us, is in fact a treasure of goodness and truth for all of humanity, because all are called to live in friendship with God and to discover the horizons of freedom that are opened to all who allow themselves to be guided by the hand of God.
Faith in the God who is revealed to us by Jesus Christ is the true “rock” upon which man is called to build his life and the life of the world. It is a gift which can never be presupposed or “taken for granted” but which must be continually “nourished and reinforced” (n. 6). It is through faith that we are able to recognise that every day we are offered a “great love”, a love that “transforms us, lights up our way to the future and enables us joyfully to advance along the way on wings of hope” (n. 7). It is because of faith that we are able to face the future that awaits us with realism and realistic confidence, without allowing ourselves to be “robbed of hope,” as Pope Francis continually reminds us. Faith, hope and love “wonderfully interwoven” constitute the dynamism of the life of man, opened to the gifts provided by God (cf. n. 7).
The encyclical Lumen fidei is divided into four parts, which can be seen as four aspects of one whole.
In the first part, we move from the faith of Abraham, the man who recognised in the voice of God “a profound call which was always present at the core of his being” (n. 11), to the faith of the People of Israel. The history of the faith of Israel, in its turn, is a continual passage from “the temptation to unbelief” (n. 13) and the adoration of idols, “works of the hands of man”, to the confession “of God’s mighty deeds and the progressive fulfilment of his promises” (n. 12). This leads ultimately to the history of Jesus, a summary of salvation, in which all the diverse threads of the history of Israel are united and fulfilled.
In Jesus we are able to say definitively that “we know and believe the love that God has for us” (1 Jn 4:16) because he is “the complete manifestation of God’s reliability” (n. 15). In him faith reaches its fulfilment. It calls us to recognise that God does not remain far away in the heights of heaven, but has become, and remains, approachable in Jesus Christ, who died and rose again and who remains present among us.
In following Jesus, faith transforms the whole of human existence. The individual identity of the believer, the “I”, once opened to the primordial love offered through faith (cf. n. 21) “becomes an ecclesial existence” (n. 22). By opening us to communion with our brothers and sisters, faith does not reduce us to “a mere cog in a great machine” (n. 22) but helps us to come into our own to the highest degree (cf. n. 22). “For those who have been transformed in this way, a new way of seeing opens up” (n. 22), and faith becomes an authentic “light” that invites us to allow ourselves to be transformed ever anew by the call of God.
In the second part, the encyclical forcefully raises the question of truth as one which is “central to faith” (n. 23). Because faith has to do with knowledge of reality it is intrinsically linked to truth: “ faith without truth does not save¼ it remains a beautiful story¼or it is reduced to a lofty sentiment” (n.24).
The question of truth and the imperative to seek the truth cannot be avoided. Neither can the role played by the major religious traditions in this search for truth be a priori excluded, especially when it comes to the great truths of human existence.
What, then, is the specific contribution offered by the Christian faith in this search? Faith, which opens us to the love of God, transforms the way we see things “because love itself brings enlightenment” (n. 26). Even if modern man does not always see the connection between love and truth – not least because today love is often relegated to a type of sentimentality – “love and truth are inseparable” (n. 27).
Love is authentic when it binds us to the truth and truth attracts us to itself with the force of love. “This discovery of love as a source of knowledge, which is part of the primordial experience of every man and woman” is confirmed for us in the “biblical understanding of faith” (n. 28) and is one of the most beautiful and important ideas emphasised in this encyclical.
It is because faith is both connected to knowledge and bound to the truth, that Thomas Aquinas was able to speak of oculata fides, of the act of faith as a type of “seeing” (cf. n. 30). Faith is not only about hearing because it is also “tied to sight” (n. 30) which looks for and recognises the truth, in an “interaction between faith and reason” (n.32). Already Augustine of Hippo had “discovered that all things have a certain transparency” and can therefore “reflect God’s goodness” (n. 33). Faith helps us to draw out the profound meaning of reality.
In this way we can understand how faith is able to “illuminate the questions of our own time about truth” (n. 34), the great questions which arise in the human heart when faced either with the beauty of reality or by its dramas. And because the truth, to which we are led in faith, is linked to and comes from love, it is not a truth which we must fear, for it does not impose itself with violence but seeks to persuade deeply, fortiter ac suaviter simultaneously.
This is why the encyclical does not hesitate to affirm that faith “broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself” (n. 34) both to scientific investigation and to any man or woman who is seeking with a sincere heart. It is precisely faith which reveals to us that any person who sets out to search for truth and goodness “is already drawing near to God” and is “already sustained by his help” (n. 35) even without knowing it.
I do not intend, in the brief time remaining to me, to summarise the third and forth sections of the encyclical, but would just like to draw attention to a few points which, in my opinion, are particularly important. Above all I would like to highlight the origin of faith, which if it profoundly touches the believer, is an event which does not close the person in on himself in an isolated and isolating “face-to-face” with God. Faith in fact “is born of an encounter which takes place in history” (n. 38) and “is passed on¼by contact from one person to another, just as one candle is lighted from another” (n.37).
Faith arises out of a set of relationships which both precede and transcend us, from an “us” which invites us to emerge from the solitude of our “I” and to place ourselves within an ever larger environment and horizon, in a dialogue and on a journey that have no end. The dialogical form of the early baptismal formulas of the Church (which are the origin of our Creed) testify to this fact and to this dynamic which places us within an ecclesial “we”, within a new subject to which we belong through faith.
The Church is the place in which this personal dynamic – which arises out of the vision of faith – is rooted and from which it is constantly re-launched, moving us towards God and to our neighbour, and becoming, therefore, a new Weltanschauung, and unique way of looking at the world: it is, in fact – as Romano Guardini beautifully put it – “ the bearer within history of the plenary gaze of Christ on the world” (n. 22).
The Church is the place in which faith is born and in which it is able to be communicated, that is, the place in which it can be witnessed to in a rational, and therefore reliable, way: “what is communicated in the Church¼is the new light born of an encounter with the true God” (n. 40).
It is precisely this encounter with the living God that is made possible by the Church and that renders faith credible. The vehicles and efficacious signs of this encounter “are the sacraments celebrated in the liturgy of the Church” (n. 40). Thus the encyclical affirms that “faith itself possesses a sacramental structure” (n. 40).
In this way we can easily understand the inherent dynamic of faith: it moves us from the visible and the material “to the mystery of the eternal” (n. 40). In this dynamic the believer in his whole being becomes involved in the truth that he recognises and confesses (cf. n 45). And so “he or she cannot truthfully recite the words of the creed without being changed” (n. 45) because faith demands a continual change; it prohibits the believer from closing his or herself in an accommodating sense of peace.
Another issue I would like to draw your attention to is a quotation from the Sermons of St. Leo the Great that is included in the third part of the encyclical: “If the faith is not one, then it is not faith” (n. 47). We live today in a world which, despite all its connectedness and globalisation, is fragmented and divided into many “worlds” that, even if in communication with one another, are often and intentionally isolated and in conflict. The unity of the faith is, therefore, the precious gift that the Holy Father and his fellow Bishops are called to foster, guarantee and witness to, as the first fruits of a unity that wants to give itself as a gift to the whole world.
What we are talking about is not a monolithic unity, but a rich and active pluriformity – God himself is Three in One – which is simultaneously both the origin and the mission of the Church. For this very reason the Church was defined by the Second Vatican Council as “the sign and instrument” (LG 1) of the unity that comes from God and which is destined to embrace the whole of humanity.
This unity is rightly called “catholic” because it is founded on the truth that it seeks to serve and promulgate. It has, in fact, the “power to assimilate everything that it meets in the various settings in which it becomes present and in the diverse cultures which it encounters, purifying all things and bringing them to their finest expression” (n. 48). This unity, because it is founded on the truth, deprives us of nothing – rather it enriches us with the gifts that come from the generosity of the heart of God.
This unity in truth, which leads us to God – the Father of us all – actually assists us in the rediscovery of the origins of true brotherhood (cf. n. 53). Without truth and without God, the modern dream of universal brotherhood will never be realised but is rather destined only to replicate the miserable experience of Babel. Indeed, brotherhood “lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure” (n. 54) - a fact that is unfortunately all too manifest in the history of the last two centuries.
Finally, I would like to make one last suggestion taken from the fourth part of the encyclical. While it is true that authentic faith fills one with joy and “a desire to live life to the fullest” (n. 53) – here we see concretely the connection between the teaching of Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI – “the light of faith does not make us forget the sufferings of the world” (n. 57). Rather it opens us up to “an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light” (n. 57). Only the light that comes form God – from the incarnate God who has encountered and defeated death – is able to offer a reliable hope in the face of evil, in the face of every type of suffering which afflicts the life of man.
In summery, the encyclical wishes to restate in a new way the truth that faith in Jesus Christ is a good for humanity “truly a good for everyone; a common good”: “It’s light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter; it helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope” (n. 51).
These are just a few thoughts through which I want to encourage everyone to read and savour this beautiful document. Indeed, this encyclical letter can be rightly called a “document” because it is not just a collection of words but documents for us, in the light of faith, the Christian vision of life which draws us into a total participation in God. This, above all, is the witness for which we are grateful to both Pope Francis and Benedict XVI – two great witnesses of faith and hope for modern man.