July 16, 2013
A Reflection on Lumen Fidei
Rev. Regis Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap.
Rev. Regis Armstrong, O.F.M. Cap., the John C. and Gertrude P. Hubbard Professor of Religious Studies, offers a reflection on Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Lumen Fidei.
In this Year of Faith, providence has placed in our hands a document about faith by two men of faith: Lumen Fidei, an encyclical that will undoubtedly be remembered by the historical circumstances of its composition. To a generation that has been basking in the papacy of the charismatic personality of John Paul II, Benedict XVI and now Francis testify to the enduring character of the office of the papacy and assure those weak in faith of the rock upon which it is built. “The Successor of Peter,” Francis writes, “yesterday, today, and tomorrow, is always called to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the priceless treasure of that faith which God has given as a light for humanity’s path” (LF 7).
When we read Lumen Fidei as a supplement to Benedict XVI’s encyclical letters on charity and hope (LF 7), we come to recognize many of the themes that bind the three documents together. Chief among these is this statement found in the opening lines of Deus Caritas Est: “Becoming Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (DC 1). In Spe Salvi, hope is described as a confluence of faith and charity: “Life is not a simple product of laws and the randomness of matter, but within everything and at the same time above everything, there is a personal will, there is a Spirit who in Jesus has revealed himself as Love.“ (SS 5) An echo of this statement can be found in a 1969 meditation of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger: “When all is said and done, to believe is to say ‘yes’ to this holy adventure of ‘losing oneself.’ In its quintessence, faith is nothing other than true love.”
Lumen Fidei may be seen in these very terms as an unfolding of concentric circles that begin with the gift of faith given to Abraham and his children (8-22), as a personal starting point for understanding (23-36), as a dynamism at the heart of the ekklesia (37-49), and as a leaven for the family, for society, and for all human beings. The encyclical closes with a simple meditation on the good soil of Luke 8:15 — “These are the ones who when they hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance” — whom Benedict XVI and Francis see personified in Mary, the “Daughter of Zion.”
On June 29, 1967, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Pope Paul VI inaugurated a Year of Faith “to recall the supreme act of witness by these two saints so that their martyrdom might inspire the present-day Church to collectively and individually make a sincere profession of faith.” In light of the stepping-down of Benedict XVI and the striking day-by-day examples given to us by Francis, one passage of Lumen Fidei, promulgated in this current Year of Faith on June 29, 2013, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, seems appropriate to reflect upon, particularly by those of us at The Catholic University of America: “Theology demands the humility to be ‘touched’ by God, admitting its own limitations before the mystery, while striving to investigate, with the discipline proper to reason, the inexhaustible riches of the mystery” (LF 36).