On the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Pope Francis signed his first encyclical entitled “Lumen Fidei,” the Light of Faith. For the first time, Pope Francis acknowledged that a substantial portion of the encyclical was written by Pope Benedict XVI and that Francis had received a draft from him. The document completes a trilogy of encyclicals on the theological virtues: Deus Caritas Est (God is love) and Spe Salvi (hope that saves).
Encyclicals are letters written by popes to the entire Church. They carry significant value for the Magisterium of the Church, as encyclicals are often places where the popes teach about topics to a specific cultural context. In order to understand an encyclical well, it’s necessary to understand the time and context within which it was written as they often address topics relevant to that time.
Outline and Summary
Introduction – The ancients always put faith in something and proceeds to modern culture’s conception of faith: that it is for the blind and driven by emotion. At the same time, we are struggling with the discovery that reason alone isn’t enough. Jesus shines light in the world.
Chapter 1 – We Have Believed in Love (cf. 1 John 4:16) – This is an overview of salvation history. Abraham is the Father of Faith, who encounters God in a relationship and goes on a journey with God. It includes the story of Israel and the temptation to Idolatry.
Chapter 2 – Unless You Believe, You Will Not Understand (cf. Isaiah 7:9) – This is dedicated to the relationship between faith and truth, as well as the intertwining of love, reason, and theology. Truth is necessary for faith or else it will not remain grounded. Love also needs truth or else it becomes too influenced by emotions. We must grow in the truth and our love of it.
Chapter 3 – I Delivered to You What I Also Received (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3) – Faith and truth are received in a community. Must have faith in the truth that others are giving to us, including the Christian faith that is handed on to us. We accept faith in a community in the Church.
Chapter 4 – God Prepares a City for Them (cf. Hebrews 11:16) – Faith must be the foundation of society and of marriage and family. Faith also provides strength in suffering. It doesn’t provide the answer to every question, but is the light shining in the darkness. Faith provides us with joy. We should imitate the faith of Mary, who believed with joy.
- Lumen Fidei – Full text of the encyclical. Available in PDF also.
- Summary of the Encyclical Lumen Fidei – Provided by the Holy See Press Office, this is a quasi-official summary of the encyclical.
- Lumen Fidei: A summary on Pope Francis’ Encyclical – Provided by focus ministries, a great summary of the text.
- Lumen Fidei Highlights – From Ethika Politika, highlights from the text.
- Transforming the Whole Person: A Reflection on Lumen Fidei
Questions for Discussion
1. Encyclicals are addressed to the “bishops, priests, deacons, consecrated lay persons, and the lay faithful” of the Church. Have you ever read an encyclical before? If so, which ones? If not, why not? Since this includes everyone in the Church, do you think many people read them? In your experience, do your friends and family read papal encyclicals? If not, why not?
2. What can the church do to better promote the teachings of the popes? What might be some of the obstacles to reading encyclicals?
3. In the introduction, Pope Francis explains that the document was written for the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and to coincide with the Year of Faith.
4. How has the Second Vatican Council influenced your faith? The Year of Faith? Should we be doing more to understand both of them?
5. Pope Francis says, “Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. -LF 57. What might be some examples of the darkness that faith shines into? What might he be thinking of?
6. The idea that God doesn’t explain or argue away suffering but walks with us in a journey is most important. Have you encountered situations of difficulty where people let faith die because of suffering they experience? How does our faith in God as a companion in our suffering help us endure it?
7. Pope Francis makes it very clear that faith must be experienced in community, in a communion with the Church. When we each say, “I believe,” we are professing that together as one Church.Do you agree? Does faith require a community? Can faith be real if it is kept personal?
8. Francis specifically mentions the family in relation to faith. A family with faith, he argues, can fill the society with light. What role does the family play in faith? Many people argue that children shouldn’t be baptized or evangelized: just let them choose when they are old enough. How should we respond to that line of thinking?