Perhaps one should give Francis the benefit of the doubt, since his first encyclical is really a re-make of predecessor Benedict’s final one.

I just finished reading Lumen Fidei. Didn’t find it very stimulating; and it could have used a good copy editor. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge: As one friend observed, it is a blitz of poetic and pietistic sound-bytes, with chunks of Ratzingerian scholarly prose thrown in here and there. The writer/writers made occasional attempts at inclusive language; but most of the letter proclaims the papal message in the familiar church docu-prose: male nouns and pronouns to describe men and women.

In theory Lumen Fidei seeks to enlighten people living in today’s world. Its piety, however, is from Benedict’s yesterday, with a good dose of Francis’ old-time Mariology.

Lumen looks askance at our contemporary times in an old world-is-evil Augustinian way. That of course is also the old Ratzinger way. The term “Vatican II” is scattered around the Benedict-Francis text, like raisins in a cake; but it tastes strange and lacks the flavor of Vatican II’s more positive incarnational perspective. Finally, readers are offered the usual reminders that a proper understanding of faith requires fidelity to the Magisterium; and sexual differentiation (being a man and being a woman) is the divine plan for human sexuality.

If the Bishop of Rome were my student, I would suggest he shred this document and try again, after meditating on something like the latest Pew report on contemporary belief.

Over the past few years, for instance, Pew Research surveys have found evidence of a gradual decline in religious commitment in the United States and in Western Europe. The number of Americans, for example, who do not identify with any religion continues to increase. (And the Catholic exodus continues.) Nearly one-fifth of the U.S. public overall – and a third of adults under age 30 – were religiously unaffiliated as of 2012. Two-thirds of contemporary Americans – those church-affiliated as well as those unaffiliated – say organized religion is losing its influence in their daily lives.

With the Bishop of Rome and the Emeritus Bishop of Rome, I would contend people today do indeed need a good dose of Lumen Fidei. I would like to see a new and better-written encyclical that addresses the really contemporary issues: What does it mean to experience God today? How do we speak about God and God’s presence in our daily lives and world events? How can we live, with dignity and mutual respect, as men and women with a great variety of God-given, and continually evolving, sexual, cultural, and ethnic identities. And what then is the place of organized religion in this grand scenario?

Let the Light of Faith shine brightly and illuminate all of God’s people.


13 thoughts on “Lumen Fidei : Not Very Enlightening

  1. Dan, I love Dick’s analysisl Really looking forward to meeting him.Sorry I’ll miss you guys tomorrow. Hello to the gang. Make sure you ask Paul about Patrick Collins–we (he) has to line him up. He’ll be happy to do a presentation on Thomas Merton. Plus he’s the whistle blower on John Myers, which means he really fits into our group. Tell Paul he has to see to it that Patrick is included and welcomed into our group. And you DIDN’T GET ANY OF THIS FROM ME!!!. Totally your idea!!! Your good at coaxing. Pax, Greg

  2. I, for one, would appreciate and really study an encyclical from Francis, Bishop of Rome, were it to discuss the points you suggest.

  3. Thank you for your overview. I am still wading through Lumen Fidei, which is a bit more abstruse than a home appliance manual. The last several popes have made it clear that the Church should be countercultural, but it seems their real message is more contrarian or what could be termed “extracultural,” outside the culture of the times. Historically, this is odd since the early successes in the Church were due to cultural adaptation and reinterpretation of mores and culture within a Christological context. It seems to me the question is not how can we speak against popular culture (and “popular” need not be always interpreted as “wrong”) but how can Christianity deepen, enrich, and elevate those real experiences of the populace. If I were trying to influence a person, to share my understanding of the most important thing in my life, I would first need to find where there is common ground, and attempt to frame those very important concepts in a way that might be meaningful to the other. It is hard to romance a person if the dialogue consists only of how the one romanced is hedonistic, relativistic, and too much a product of the times and culture. Jack, your blog a month ago on “A Culture of Encounter” really hit this point. As a layperson, I have to ask myself, how does my experience of faith, shared with others, make the kingdom come?

    1. Thanks Gerard. The last two Bishops of Rome, John Paul II and Benedict XVI, were anchored in an Augustinian “City of God vs Human City” mentality. For them the Human City (where we live and work) is an evil place. I don’t discount for a minute that there are evils in the world. On the other hand……it is precisely in this world where we live and work that we journey in and with the Spirit of Christ and encounter the Living God. An incarnational perspective says probe, ponder, and reflect on life as you live it each day because that is where you meet God.


    1. I am a believer and read it twice. That was more than adequate. When it comes to being crabby, you do rather well yourself. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  4. The position we must all, however grudingly, come to is this. This entire enterprize is based on a superstitious delusion. The church continues to teach nonsense of ths first order. As time passes the catholic church will slowly but surely be relegated to the dust bin of history.

  5. Jack, thanks for your usual insight. In a parallel vein, where I live the canonizations are a big deal. When I shared with some of the rsidents that I didn’t care one way or the other because my focus is elsewhere, some of the younger staff were really excited, in a very positive way, which surprised me. Could it be that Francis is trying to keep both sides together? I have trouble getting around what he said in Lumen, but I like what he says at Masses. All in all, though, we’re losing a lot of good folks.

  6. Thanks for your post. I definitely saw Benedict’s style all over Lumen Fidei, although it would seem I squeezed a little more hope out of it than you did. I’m very much looking forward to Francis’ next encyclical, whatever and whenever it may be. His own style is so different from Benedict’s, that I’m sure he felt a little stymied by what he was given to work with when it comes to Lumen Fidei. Then again, he didn’t have to publish it, but chose to.

    As for Benedict… I’ll admit that when they were about to announce who the next pope would be in 2005, I distinctly recall saying (out loud, and to myself): Anyone but Ratzinger. You can imagine my dismay. However, what I do read of Benedict’s (as long as it steers clear of topics that my conscience shouts to me that he is mistaken on), I’ve enjoyed his lectures. I recently read his “A School of Prayer” based on the Wednesday audiences he had during part of his papacy, and I felt blessed to have encountered it.

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