First impressions about the encyclical Lumen Fidei

The Encyclical Lumen Fidei comes under the authorship of Pope Francis, but is known it was written by the previous Pope, now Emeritus, Benedict XVI. Pope Francis clearly confesses : «I assume your precious work, limiting myself to add some contribution to the text».  As it should be, otherwise, it would not have the papal teaching seal. It would simply be a theological text by someone who was Pope once.

Benedict XVI wanted to write a trilogy on the cardinal virtues. He wrote on hope and love. But faith was missing, which now he does with small additions by Pope Francis.

The Encyclical brings no sensational novelty that calls the attention of the theological community, of the faithful as a whole or of the general public. It is a high theology text, with an over elaborate style and filled with quotations from the Bible and from the Holy Fathers. Curiously, Benedict quotes authors from Western culture such as Dante, Dostoievski, Buber, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Romano Guardini and the poet Thomas Elliot. It can be clearly seen the hand of Pope Benedict XVI, especially in refined discussions hard to comprehend even for theologians, handling Greek and Hebrew expressions, as a doctor and a teacher often do.

The text is addressed to the Church. Talks of the light of faith to those who already are inside the world illuminated by the faith. In this sense, it is an intra-systemic reflection.

It has a typical Western and European diction. Only European authorities speak in the text. Not considered are the teachings of continental churches, with their traditions, theologies, saints and witnesses of the faith. It is fitting to point out this solipsism, because only 24% of the Catholics live in Europe, the rest is outside, 62% of them in the so-called Third World and Fourth World. I can imagine a Catholic from South Korea, India, Angola, Mozambique or even an Andean Catholic reading this Encyclical. Possibly all of them will understand very little of what is written there, nor they will find themselves mirrored in that type of argumentation.

The line of theological argumentation is typical of the thinking of Joseph Ratzinger as a theologian: the preponderance of truth as theme, I would say, almost obsessive. In the name of that truth is frontally against modernity. Has difficulty to accept one of the most important themes of modern thinking: the autonomy of the subject and its use at the light of reason. Ratzinger sees it as a way of substituting the light of the faith.

It does not show that attitude so much recommended by Vatican Council II which would be: in facing the contemporary cultural, philosophical and ideological tendencies, it is important above all to identify the nuggets of truth in them; and from there organize the dialogue, the critique and the complimentary. It is a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to imagine that the moderns have only thought lies and falsehoods.

To Ratzinger love itself has to be submitted to truth, without which would not overcome the isolation of the «I» (nº 27). However, we know that love has its own reasons and obeys a distinct logic, different, without being contrary to truth. Love cannot see with clarity, but sees reality with more profundity. Saint Augustine following Plato already said that we only comprehend that which we truly love. To Ratzinger, «love is the experience of truth» (n.27) and  «without truth, faith does not save» (nº 24).

This declaration is problematic in theological terms, because all Tradition, especially the Councils, has affirmed that only saves «that truth informed by charity» (fides caritate informata). Without love, truth is insufficient to reach salvation. In pedestrian language, I would say: what saves are not true preaching but effective praxis.

Every document from the Magisterium is done by many hands, seeking to contemplate the distinct acceptable theological tendencies. At the end, the Pope gives it its form and signs it. This is also applicable to this document. In its final part, probably from the hand of Pope Francis, there is a notable opening that does not match well with the previous parts, that are strongly doctrinal. In them is emphatically affirmed that the light of faith illuminates all dimensions of human life. In the final part, the attitude is more modest: «Faith is not a light that dissipates all our darkness, but a lantern that guides our steps in the night and that is enough for the journey» (nº 57). With theological precision affirms that «the profession of faith is not to assent to a group of abstract truths, but to make that life enters in plain communion with the living God» (45).

The richest part, in my opinion, is nº 45 when the Creed is explained. There it turns into an affirmation that goes over theology and touches philosophy: «the faithful affirms that the center of being, the most profound heart of all things is the divine communion» (nº 45). And completes: «God-communion is capable of embracing the history of man and introducing him in his dynamism of communion» (nº 45).

But in the Encyclical is seen a painful lagoon that takes away great part of its relevance: it does not touch the present crisis of faith of the human being, his/her doubts, questions that not even faith can answer: Where was God in the tsunami that decimated thousands of lives or in Fukushima? How to believe after the massacres of thousands of Native people at the hands of Christians throughout our history, of the thousands of tortured and murdered by military dictatorships from the years ‘970s to ‘980s? How to still have faith after the millions of dead in the Nazi concentration camps? The Encyclical does not offer a single element to answer these questions. To believe is always to believe in spite of… Faith does not eliminate the doubts and anguish of a Jesus who cries on the cross: “Father, why have you abandoned me?”. Faith has to go through this hell and become hope that for everything there is a sense, but hidden in God.  When will it be revealed?

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,,

3 comentários sobre “First impressions about the encyclical Lumen Fidei

  1. At the beginning of the last sentence: please put “lacuna” instead of “lagoon” (same root but diff. meaning). Love.


  2. Thank you for sharing. I have not yet read all of Lumen Fidei so I may come back with additional comments (or corrections to my comment) when I do but I at least wanted to point out that I find it interesting that two of your primary criticisms of Pope Benedict is that he minimizes the autonomous use of reason and that he does not acknowledge that deep doubt has a crucial role to play in the understanding of faith. It may be true that Lumen Fidei underplays or uses shorthand to discuss these attributes but I would not characterize them as hallmarks of Pope Benedict’s thinking.

    One of my favorite books by Joseph Ratzinger / Pope Benedict is “Introduction to Christianity”, originally written in the 1960s but republished in later editions over the decades. In that excellent book, Benedict talks at great length what it means to believe and talks about the deep doubt or crisis of faith that is common to all of humanity. Indeed, Benedict says that this doubt can be used as a bridge to find common understanding with non-believers.

    Moreover, within “Introduction to Christianity” and his later writings, Pope Benedict has demonstrated a willingness to accept the teachings of modern science, philosophy, etc. and incorporate them into Catholic faith. For example, I have a blog devoted to the teachings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest who was silenced and exiled by his religious superiors during his lifetime due to his attempts to integrate evolutionary biology with Catholic theology. Pope Benedict has gone a long way to rehabilitate Teilhard de Chardin and incorporate his vision into mainstream Catholic theology, much to the chagrin of those anti-modernists who still exist within the Church.

    W. Ockham


  3. Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed! Extremely helpful info specially the last part 🙂 I care for such info much. I was seeking this certain information for a long time. Thank you and good luck.


Deixe um comentário

Preencha os seus dados abaixo ou clique em um ícone para log in:

Logotipo do

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Sair /  Alterar )

Foto do Google

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Google. Sair /  Alterar )

Imagem do Twitter

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Twitter. Sair /  Alterar )

Foto do Facebook

Você está comentando utilizando sua conta Facebook. Sair /  Alterar )

Conectando a %s