Lumen Fidei: A Forum for Ecumenical Dialogue

Jul 9th, 2013 | By | Category: Blog Posts

This past Friday, July 5, Pope Francis released his first encyclical letter, titled Lumen Fidei (The Light of Faith). In this letter he notes that Pope Benedict had “almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith,” and adds “as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own.”


The letter is intended to supplement Pope Benedict’s encyclicals on the other two supernatural virtues, in particular his two encyclicals on love (Deus Caritas Est and Caritas in Veritate), and the one encyclical on hope (Spe Salvi). Here I’m opening a forum to discuss this latest encyclical on faith, especially with a view to its ecumenical implications for Protestants and Catholics. Because one critical element of the Protestant-Catholic separation in the sixteenth century centered around faith and its role in salvation, it might be worthwhile to discuss together how Pope Francis’s encyclical on faith illumines also the ecumenical path by which this separation may be healed. In what ways does this encyclical on faith help Protestants and Catholics find common ground regarding Christian faith, or at least find more common ground than we may have seen before? In what ways does it show us a way forward in areas where we remain divided? What claims within the encyclical remain points of disagreement between Protestants and Catholics, and what are the underlying reasons for these remaining disagreements? In discussing this letter, please refer to the relevant paragraph numbers. The document is available online here: Lumen Fidei.

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  1. Bryan,

    Thank you for this brief post on Pope Francis’ Encyclical. One thing that struck me in the Encyclical was: “From a purely anthropological standpoint, unity is superior to conflict; rather than avoiding conflict, we need to confront it in an effort to resolve and move beyond it, to make it a link in a chain, as part of a progress towards unity” (#55).

    So often the ecumenical discussion stops at what we agree on, not moving forward to the matters that divide. But authentic ecumenism must not avoid conflict, precisely because we do share a fundamental bond through Baptism, that makes us members of the body of Christ.

    I think a great example from the Encyclical that can be explored further is what Pope Francis said about Baptism: “The transmission of faith occurs first and foremost in baptism. Some might think that baptism is merely a way of symbolizing the confession of faith, a pedagogical tool for those who require images and signs, while in itself ultimately unnecessary. An observation of St. Paul about baptism reminds us that this is not the case. Paul states that, ‘we were buried with him by baptism into death so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life'” (#41).

    I believe it is very important for Protestant Christians to come to terms with what exactly is Baptism and what does it actually do. In so doing, they will not only deepen their own understanding of the Sacrament of Faith, but, in dialogue with Catholics and the Church, all will be able to more clearly determine the ecumenical path moving forward.

  2. I like how the Encyclical ties the Unity of the Faith to the Unity of the Body of Christ (#48)
    “Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity. Precisely because all the articles of faith are interconnected, to deny one of them, even of those that seem least important, is tantamount to distorting the whole. Each period of history can find this or that point of faith easier or harder to accept: hence the need for vigilance in ensuring that the deposit of faith is passed on in its entirety (cf. 1 Tim 6:20) and that all aspects of the profession of faith are duly emphasized. Indeed, inasmuch as the unity of faith is the unity of the Church, to subtract something from the faith is to subtract something from the veracity of communion. The Fathers described faith as a body, the body of truth composed of various members, by analogy with the body of Christ and its prolongation in the Church.[42] “

  3. Thanks Tom and Andy. Another claim I noticed is at the beginning of the document, in paragraph #3:

    In the process, faith came to be associated with darkness. There were those who tried to save faith by making room for it alongside the light of reason. Such room would open up wherever the light of reason could not penetrate, wherever certainty was no longer possible. 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.

    Here he is speaking of the Enlightenment, and the effort of those who in response to the Enlightenment attempted to save faith by moving in a fideistic direction. What is lost in fideism and faith-as-sentiment is faith as “something which could be proposed to others as an objective and shared light which points the way.” When the objectivity of faith is lost, faith is something we can longer share with others. We can describe our own personal and private faith, but we cannot share it with others. In this way evangelism is tied to faith’s objectivity. When we speak of the loss of faith as something objective we mean, of course, the loss of a perception of its objectivity. If people are taught that faith is a blind leap, or a non-rational choice driven by blind emotion for the sake of personal consolation regardless of the truth of its content, they lose sight of faith as something objective. What also causes persons to lose sight of faith as something objective is a multiplication of disputing voices concerning faith, and a seeming intractability regarding such disputes and disagreements. Widespread confusion breeds further confusion and despair concerning objectivity. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the ubiquity and indissolubility of religious disputes among Christians resulted in a despair concerning the possibility of the objectivity of faith, which is a despair concerning the possibility of divine revelation as a true and public light from above to the whole world. The divisions between Christians (e.g. Protestant and Catholic) are not innocuous or without deleterious effect. They serve as a cloud of confusion, hindering the world from seeing clearly the light of the city set on a hill. Restoring public awareness of the objectivity of faith requires on our part the highest commitment and mutual engagement to resolving our disagreements and overcoming that which divides us.

  4. I am a Protestant and I agree with Andy with regards to the statements made by Pope Francis in paragraph #42 about unity and one faith. I also agree that we (meaning believers in Christ, whether Protestant, Orthodox or Catholic) can not get to unity by avoiding the conflicts that led to (or are the beginnings) of disunity. I have experienced this personally on a microscopic scale in my community of faith and have had to personally take on conflicts for unity’s sake. When we do not take on these conflicts, but let them stand as lines of division, this is where the enemy gains a foothold. Once the foothold is there for the enemy, he will wreck havoc in the church until he is weeded out through our confession of the error which led to the division, forgiveness and reconciliation. If this is introduced on a macroscopic scale, say to the divisions between the Protestants and the Catholic, I don’t think the process will be any different, however, it will take a greater willingness to face up to the allowance of division with in the body on both sides and confess our error in continuing in division. In essence, it would take a greater amount of faith, which is the whole discussion of this letter, to believe that God through Christ Jesus has endued His body with unity (spoken of in paragraph 47 and of course in Ephesians 4) and therefore that visible unity is possible, and really should stand as a hallmark of the Church.

    I enjoy the discussion of the church as a mother (Chapter 3), because again, having such a perspective can lead us to see the destruction that division wages on the church. If we are a body, and the church a Mother, then division is equivalent to mutilation of the body or our Mother. As Paul says, “And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”,(1 Corinthians 12:21) because if such a thing would occur to our own natural bodies, we should be in a horrible state, if not dead.

    I can not speak to all those things which divide the Church, for I am only learning in depth what those things are now, however, it is obvious that there was an initiating cause of the division that was never resolved for unity’s sake, or better yet, Christ’s sake. Now, maybe the time more so than ever when we could enter into the process of reconciliation, of which we are ministers (2 Corinthians 5:18). We need unity in the body so that all of the fullness of Christ can be expressed in us, and the world needs us to be unified so that they will believe that the “Father sent the Son” (John 17:21).

    Thank you for the friendly dialogue here and I hope it continues (and I hope to participate in a more concrete way as I learn more). Though I am a Protestant, my ultimate desire is for the truth that Christ said would set us free, which is the truth He revealed in his life, death and resurrection, unity of the body of Christ and for His Lordship in the world. I believe that these would be universal desires of anyone who follows Christ.

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