Lumen Fidei: Questions of Interpretation and Insights

Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), Pope Francis’ first encyclical, was written by “four hands,” as he has said. It represents the intellectual and pastoral collaboration of what some might call an unlikely duo: Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. The current Pope notes at the outset that “[Pope Benedict] himself had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith… As his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own” (7). This collaborative drafting process, combined with the fact that the encyclical was published on the same day as Pope Francis approved recommendations for the canonization of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, bolsters for some, as one news source has suggested, the perception that its publication is “less the act of a particular pope and more the faithful exercise of… apostolic succession.” Pope Francis meets Benedict XVI

But in contrast to this interpretive stance, other interpreters have considered the document less as a unified whole, instead seeking to identify which Pope crafted which sections of Lumen Fidei, not unlike redaction criticism in biblical interpretation. Drew Christiansen, S.J., for example, argues that the thinking of Pope Benedict is apparent in the document’s “concern for (unitary) truth as the object of faith, defense of the integrity of the deposit of faith, [and] the ecclesial context of faith and the responsibility of the magisterium to guard the wholeness of faith against attrition over time.” Conversely, he suggests that “chapter 4, on the church’s service to the world, hints of the present pope’s pastoral touch, especially the closing section (56-57) on the consoling role of faith in suffering and dying.”

So how should Lumen Fidei be read? As a unified whole, or even “the faithful exercise of apostolic succession,” or rather, as a multi-authored encyclical with editorial layers that must be detangled? Continue reading