Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was not able to complete his encyclical on faith during his pontificate, and Pope Francis chose to complete the work, Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”.) Acton’s Director of Research, Samuel Gregg writes about the connection between these two men, made possible by their faith, at National Review:
[I]f there’s anything demonstrated by Pope Francis’s first encyclical letter Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), it’s a profound continuity between the two men: i.e., their love for and belief in the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic faith. Right at this encyclical’s beginning, Francis states the text’s first draft was prepared by his predecessor and “as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own” (LF 7).
The point being made here isn’t just that Joseph Ratzinger is probably the greatest theologian to sit on Peter’s Chair and may one day be declared a Doctor of the Church. A more subliminal message is that Catholicism’s content doesn’t change when one pope succeeds another. As many people don’t (and sometimes don’t want to) understand, Catholicism isn’t just another political movement that distorts or abandons its core beliefs under the guidance of consultants to gain votes from fickle voters.
Gregg notes that Pope Francis was under no obligation to take up Benedict’s text, but this is not an atypical occurrence, as many hands typically draft encyclicals. However, the obligations of faithfulness rests on the pope who signs the encyclical, and Francis’ fingerprints are clearly on Lumen Fidei:
Herein we find, Francis teaches, Christian faith’s great significance today: its capacity to open up a modernity that, despite its genuine achievements, has profoundly cramped conceptions of reason, equality, freedom, and love and which usually ends up emptying all these things of substantive content. Without faith — and not just any faith, but Christian faith as the “theological virtue” as affirmed, Francis carefully footnotes, by both the First and Second Vatican Councils (LF 7) — self-described moderns are, like the Greek and Roman pagans, stuck in an intellectual prison largely of their own making.
Lumen Fidei makes very clear Francis’s deep awareness that religious faith is often understood by many moderns as “darkness” (LF 3). That’s partly because of mischief-making by particular Enlightenment thinkers that’s been uncritically assimilated by most contemporary liberals. But it’s also because many people today associate faith with murderers who fly planes into buildings.
Certainly there are such things as what Benedict XVI once described as “pathologies of faith.” But Lumen Fidei goes to considerable lengths to unpack Christian faith’s true meaning so as to distinguish it from its counterfeits. Francis juxtaposes Christian faith, for instance, with our penchant for putting our trust in contemporary idols.
In this encyclical on faith, Francis clearly points out, according to Gregg, that faith does not rest on emotion: “Christian faith isn’t therefore a ‘feeling-faith.’ It’s ‘not simply an individual decision’ (LF 39). Instead it is, Francis writes, ‘born of an encounter which takes place in history’ and which we know about “through the memory of others — witnesses — and is kept alive in that one remembering subject which is the Church.”
Gregg also goes on to show how Pope Francis discusses faith against the backdrop of suffering, especially those who suffer for the faith. This encyclical is clearly one that spans not only the pontificate of two men, but the whole of Christianity.