Faith and doubt always travel together
Faith is not a leap in the dark but a lamp which guides our steps
Lumen Fidei begins by peering into the darkness, asking if faith might be an illusory light which prevents mankind from boldly setting out in quest of knowledge. In its second paragraph, it calls to the witness box the archangel of modern cynicism, Frederick Nietzsche: “If you want peace of soul and happiness, then believe, but if you want to be a follower of truth, then seek”.
By the coherence of its perspective and the sure-footedness of its language, Lumen Fidei deftly transports us between the different layers of reasoning in which our cultures have latterly come to cogitate. There is a quotation from Saint Gregory the Great: “amor ipse notitia est” – love is a knowledge possessed of its own logic.
‘Question of truth’
Loving and being loved are essential conditions for the human capacity to understand mankind’s total situation. Memory is another lamp lighting the path: “The question of truth is really a question of memory, deep memory, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can glimpse the goal and thus the meaning of our common path.”
The text is studded with astoundingly clear sentences, like: “It is through an unbroken chain of witnesses that we come to see the face of Jesus.” Faith is an encounter – a “we” directed at a “Thou”.
As much as it cautions against scepticism, Lumen Fidei warns also of the dangers of a “faith” without reason. It intimates the “massive amnesia” of the contemporary world infects the religious imagination as much as the secular one.
There have been encyclicals in the past in which the weight of the work was done by one pope and completed by another, but none, to my knowledge, in which the witness was of such a personal character and yet almost entirely the testimony of the pope whose signature the final document does not bear.
By putting his name to the final great statement of his brilliant predecessor, Pope Francis does not simply announce his own modesty and grace – he also, replicating the content of the encyclical in the gesture of affirming it, reminds us that the witness of others is what enables us to “know” anything at all.