Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith) constitutes the opening phrase of Pope Francis’ first encyclical, dated 29 June, the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. The expression is Biblical. Christ our Lord uses it of himself, for example (Jn. 12:46). It is cogently instructive, even in our Age of Absurdity and Chaos, wherein white is black, and up is down. Pope Francis recalls the illusory light kindled by Friedrich Nietzsche, who viewed faith as an illusion blocking the “faith of liberated humanity to its future” – in the Pope’s words. (Sec. 3)
Faith is a unique light; without it, “everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere.” (Sec. 4) Was it not the “God-intoxicated” Russian, Feodor Dostoyevsky, who concluded that if God does not exist, then everything is permissible?
Faith, moreover, goes hand-in-hand with reason; indeed, Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical on this topic. Since God is all Truth, and since reason and Revelation are the doorways to Truth, any real contradiction between the two sources is an impossibility. If ever there were a doubt about this, it was dismissed forever by St. Thomas Aquinas.
As faith and reason thrive, both also have grown. Dante Alighieri, in his masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, describes his own faith as a “spark, which then becomes a burning flame, and like a heavenly star within me, glitters.” (Paradiso, 24)
This year, Pope Francis reminds us all, was designated by his predecessor Benedict XVI, as the Year of Faith; in fact, Benedict had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical about faith when he vacated Peter’s Chair. (Francis admittedly took over the project, and added to it; see Sec. 7.) This year marks the 50th anniversary of Vatican Council II; here it provides a graced opportunity for emphasizing faith and “the vast horizons which faith opens up.” (Sec. 5)
For one thing, faith illumines the “way before us and accompanies our steps through time.” (ibid., 8) Unaided reason, as noble as it can be, cannot of itself ensure certitude in the journey of life. In the ultimate analysis, St. Augustine’s caution at the beginning of his Confessions guides us on; namely, “We were made for you, O Lord, and we shall never rest until we rest in you.” The same Doctor of the Church adds this warning, cited by Pope Francis: “Do not turn away from the one who made you, even to turn toward yourself.” (De Continentia)
Furthermore, Augustine demonstrates in his life’s story the truth that faith and/or reason can work together, one confirming the other.
Also – and we tend to forget this theologism – faith yields a certitude regarding many concrete aspects of daily life, especially in our age of absurdity and chaos. Yet “one who believes,” he writes, “may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility” precisely because faith “sets us on a journey” and enables us to dialogue with all. Even the “gaze of science,” he adds, benefits the person of faith because it “awakens the critical sense by preventing research from being satisfied with its own formulae and helps it to realize that nature is not always greater.” If nothing else faith stimulates wonder concerning the mystery of all creation.
The mother of our faith is, of course, the Catholic Church. Through the Church faith is transmitted over time, and is passed on in every age by persons of belief who embrace Christ in the Church. And since “faith is born of an encounter which takes place in history and lights up our journey through time, it must be passed on in every age.” This is to say that it is “through an unbroken chain of witnesses that we come to see the face of Jesus.”
One principal means by which this transmission of the faith occurs is through the celebration of the sacraments, by which the Church “hands down her memory.” Two other aspects of this transmission of faith are The Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments – the Decalogue.
That this transmission of the faith will continue is secured by the doctrine of Apostolic Succession. Which leads us back to the signature at the close of this encyclical; namely, Pope Francis, and to a litany of names in the Papacy before him, especially Benedict the Theologian, John Paul the Great, Paul VI and Good Pope John. What a treasure with which we have been gifted by Christ to safeguard the truths of our faith!