August 23, 2013

Christian faith proclaims the truth of God’s total love

(The following is the third in a series of five articles looking at Pope Francis’ recently released encyclical, “Lumen Fidei” “The Light of Faith.” See part two here.)

By John F. Fink

Chapter 2 of Pope Francis’s encyclical “Lumen Fidei” (“The Light of Faith”) acknowledges the crisis of truth in our age. We must, he says, remember the bond between faith and truth. “Faith without truth,” he says, “does not save, it does not provide a sure footing” (#24).

Yet, he says, our culture tends to consider technology, what makes life easier, to be the only truth. Or, at the other end of the scale, we allow for subjective truths of the individual, valid only for that individual. This, of course, “is relativism, in which the question of universal truth—and ultimately this means the question of God—is no longer relevant” (#25).

So how can Christian faith serve the common good by providing the right way of understanding faith? Pope Francis devotes 17 paragraphs to answer that question. Most if not all of them may have been written by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

We must, Pope Francis says, first reflect on the kind of knowledge involved in faith. As St. Paul wrote, “One believes with the heart” (Rom 10:10), from the core of the human person. The heart is where we become open to truth and love.

“If love is not tied to truth,” Pope Francis says, “it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time” (#27). Faith is tied to love because love brings enlightenment. Love and truth are inseparable. Every man and woman discovers love as a source of knowledge, the pope says.

In a section about the dialogue between faith and reason, the pope says that Christian faith proclaims the truth of God’s total love and opens us to the power of that love. When the first Christians began to proclaim that message, they encountered the philosophical culture of the Greek world. The ensuing interaction between faith and reason has continued down the centuries to our own times.

He uses the life of St. Augustine as an example of reason being integrated into the horizon of faith.

“The light of love proper to faith can illumine the questions of our own time about truth,” the encyclical says (#34). If truth is a truth of love, it says, it cannot be reduced to validity only for an individual (relativism). “It can be set free from its enclosure in individuals and become part of the common good” (#34).

The same paragraph says, “One who believes may not be presumptuous; on the contrary, truth leads to humility, since believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth which embraces and possesses us” (#34).

Science can benefit from faith, the pope says, because faith encourages the scientist to remain open to reality. “By stimulating wonder before the profound mystery of creation, faith broadens the horizons of reason to shed greater light on the world which discloses itself to scientific investigation” (#34).

The light of faith in Jesus can also illumine the path of all those who seek God, no matter what their religion, Pope Francis says. Religious men and women can see signs of God in their daily lives, in the cycle of seasons, in the fruitfulness of the Earth, in the movement of the cosmos. He can be found by anyone who seeks him with a sincere heart, the pope says.

Even those people who are not believers, but who continue to seek, can find the path to faith even without knowing it, the pope says, as long as they are sincerely open to love. Anyone who is doing good to others is already drawing near to God, he says.

The pope ends Chapter 2 with a note about the relationship between faith and theology. Theology is impossible without faith, he says, because it seeks an ever deeper understanding of God’s self-disclosure that ends in Christ. As the great medieval theologians taught, theology as a science of faith is a participation in God’s own knowledge of himself, he says.

Theology, he says, must serve the faith of Christians by protecting and deepening everyone’s faith, especially ordinary believers. The magisterium of the pope and the bishops in communion with him, he says, “provides the certainty of attaining to the word of Christ in all its integrity” (#36).

(John F. Fink is editor emeritus of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.) †

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