Thoughts on Lumen Fidei

I’ve been on a restful vacation in Oklahoma visiting in-laws. This morning I awoke and was checking my RSS feeds and stumbled across a new encyclical letter from Pope Francis. Since I’m uniquely interested in nature of Catholic theology (being a committed Free Church Protestant) this was certainly worth reading…so I did. Here are some of my thoughts:

Here is a downloadable a copy of Lumen Fidei.

1. It is unique for two Popes to have collaborated in authoring this encyclical. Both Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI worked on this document. Having two popes alive at the same time, one which retains aspects of the position while living in retirement and the other the fully functioning official, is itself historically unique. Now having a document which one began and the other finished is also important.

2. I hope Protestants along with Catholics read this document. It is a good document and it wonderfully explores many of the essential features of Roman Catholic doctrine. One of the challenges I continue to see in having conversations and community between these two groups of Christians is that Protestants, especially my evangelical brethren, have many assumptions about Catholic doctrine that are unfounded and untrue. It is a worthwhile document to read for both sides, and perhaps not for entirely different reasons.

3. I’m impressed by the integrating motif that Lumen Fidei provides between faith and reason, but more specifically love and truth. One of my larger takeaways is that I have been encouraged to teach the profound reality that love isn’t to be a solely emotional commitment, but should be anchored in truth. There are some really good thoughts on this in sections 32-35.

4. The document has a plethora of quotable lines. Right from the start I enjoyed this: Faith was thus understood either as a leap in the dark, to be taken in the absence of light, driven by blind emotion, or as a subjective light, capable perhaps of warming the heart and bringing personal consolation, but not something which could be proposed to others as an objective and shared light which points the way…Yet in the absence of light 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.

5. The heart of the encyclical concerns its topic, the Light of Faith. If we were to boil it down to one basic thought (which is difficult to do) it might be something like: Faith in Christ provides an illumination to the world which seeks to gather those outside the faith to itself and fortifies the believer with profound beliefs as we encounter a challenging era.

6. I found myself in substantial agreement with most of the chapters. For this I am thankful. Yet as a mindful Free Church Protestant (or evangelical) I took respectful exception to much of chapter three. Since I’m not a sacramentalist I don’t find salvific efficacy in either the Church, the sacraments, or the need to pray to Mary. I respect my friends who are Catholic for their belief in this way. If you are interested in reading a well considered discussion of their beliefs on this, please read these sections.

7. I am utterly unsurprised that the media attached itself to two sentences in section 57 and neglected to mention both the context and larger ideas within the encyclical. Since the western media is utterly bereft of journalistic integrity and simply jumps from controversial point to controversial point, this was another sad example of its inability to pay attention.

8. This encyclical was written to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II, which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI played a significant part as the theological consultant. For those familiar with the council and its proceedings, the theological impact of Vatican II is seen throughout this encyclical.

9. Since the document was a work of “four hands” it is good to note that it benefits from the deep theological memory of Benedict as well as the pastoral hand of Francis. This is certainly a benefit for the document.

10. Finally, I said it would be a few points, I am encouraged by the description of the nature of faith and its ability to fortify and round out a believer’s life. We often have been told that truth is only found in scientific certainty, however in the articulation herein we, believers, are reminded that the Christian faith provides a fullness to life.

Feel free to add any thoughts you might have. If you’ve read Lumen Fidei, what did you think? Where do you see agreement? How has it aided you?