Monday, July 8, 2013

First impressions of the encyclical "Lumen Fidei"

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Leonardo Boff Blog

The encyclical Lumen Fidei comes with the authorship of Pope Francis, but it is known that it was written by the previous pope, now emeritus, Benedict XVI. Pope Francis clearly admits it: "I'm taking up your precious work, limiting myself to adding some contribution to the text." So it must be, otherwise it would not have the note of papal magisterium. It would be merely a theological text from someone who was once the Pope.

Benedict XVI had wanted to write a trilogy about the cardinal virtues. He wrote about hope and love. But faith was lacking, which he has done now with small additions from Pope Francis.

The encyclical doesn't bring any spectacular novelty that draws the attention of the theological community, of the faithful as a whole, or the general public. It is a high theology text, in an ornate style and full of biblical quotations and ones from the Holy Fathers. Interestingly, it cites authors from Western culture such as Dante, Buber, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Romano Guardini and the poet T.S. Eliot. You can clearly see the hand of Pope Benedict XVI, especially in the refined arguments that are hard to understand even for theologians, using Greek and Hebrew expressions, as a doctor and teacher usually does.

The text is addressed to the Church. It speaks of the light of faith to those already within the world enlightened by faith. In this sense, it is an intrasystemic reflection.

It has a typically Western and European tone. In the text, only European authorities speak. The teaching of the continental churches, with their traditions, theologies, saints and witnesses of faith, is not taken into consideration. This solipsism should be noted since only 24% of Catholics live in Europe; the rest are outside, 62% of them in the so-called Third World and Fourth World. I can imagine a South Korean, Indian, Angolan, Mozambican or even an Andean Catholic reading this encyclical. It's possible that all of them would understand very little of what is written there, nor would they find themselves reflected in this type of argument.

The thread of theological argumentation is typical of the thought of Joseph Ratzinger as a theologian -- the preponderance of the issue of truth -- almost obsessive, I would say. In the name of that truth, he frontally opposes modernity. He has difficulty accepting one of the most cherished themes of modern thought: the autonomy of the subject and its use in the light of reason. J. Ratzinger sees it as a way to replace the light of faith.

It doesn't demonstrate that attitude so recommended by the Second Vatican Council which would be that in clashes with contemporary cultural, philosophical and ideological trends, the main thing to do is identify the nuggets of truth in them, and from there organize the dialogue, criticism and complementarity. It is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit to imagine that modern people have only thought up lies and falsehoods.

For Ratzinger, love itself must submit to the truth, without which the isolation of "ego" could not be overcome (no. 27). However, we know that love has its own reasons and obeys a distinctly different logic, without being contrary to the truth. Love can not see clearly, but it sees reality more deeply. St. Augustine, following Plato, said that we only truly understand what we love. For Ratzinger, "love is the experience of truth" (no. 27) and "faith without truth does not save" (no. 24).

This statement is problematic in theological terms since the whole tradition, especially the Councils have stated that only "that truth [faith] that is informed by love" (fides caritate informata) saves. Without love, truth is insufficient for salvation. In pedestrian language, one would say that what saves is not truthful preaching but effective practices.

Every document of the Magisterium is made by many hands, trying to contemplate the different acceptable theological tendencies. In the end, the Pope shapes it and endorses it. That also applies to this document. In its final part, probably from Pope Francis' hand, there is a remarkable opening, with a pastoral feeling, that is hard to reconcile with the previous, heavily doctrinal parts. In them, it's emphatically stated that the light of faith illuminates all dimensions of human life. At the end, the attitude is more modest: "Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey." (no. 57) With theological precision, it states that "the creed does not only involve giving one’s assent to a body of abstract truths; rather, when it is recited the whole of life is drawn into a journey towards full communion with the living God." (no. 45).

The richest part, in my opinion, is No. 45 where the Creed is explained. Here, it becomes an affirmation that overflows theology and touches on philosophy: "The believer thus states that the core of all being, the inmost secret of all reality, is the divine communion." And it adds: "this God of capable of embracing all of human history and drawing it into His dynamic of communion." [Translator's note: For this sentence, there is a significant -- and unfortunate -- difference between the official Portuguese and English translations of Lumen Fidei. Since Leonardo Boff was working from the Portuguese text, I have chosen to "re-translate" the official Portuguese text into English to preserve the meaning. -- RG]

But one notices a painful gap in the encyclical that takes away much of its relevance: it does not address the crisis of faith of human beings today, their doubts, their questions that not even faith can answer: Where was God in the tsunami that decimated thousands of lives, or at Fukushima? How does one believe after the massacres of thousands of indigenous people at the hands of Christians throughout our history, the thousands tortured and killed by the military dictatorships of the 1970s and 80s? How does one still have faith after the millions of deaths in the Nazi death camps? The encyclical does not offer any evidence to answer those questions. Believing is always believing in spite of...Faith did not eliminate the doubts and anxieties of a Jesus who cried out on the Cross, "Father, why have you forsaken me?" Faith has to go through this hell and become hope that there's sense in everything, but that it is hidden in God. When will it be revealed?

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