A Look at Benedict XVI's Words on Faith

Pope’s Fourth Encyclical on the Horizon

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By Kevin M. Clarke

SAN MARCOS, California, JULY 30, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In recent weeks, Benedict XVI has been «resting» at Castel Gandolfo and, according to media reports, working on a third volume of Jesus of Nazareth and a new encyclical on faith. Many thought that the third encyclical would be on the topic of faith, but the Pope as pastor of the Church believed a more needed letter was «Caritas in Veritate.» Thus, the arrival of a faith encyclical may be more anticipated than at first glance.

The goal of this article is not to anticipate the work of the Holy Spirit or the words of the Holy Father, but to look at what the Pontiff has already spoken concerning faith in his previous encyclicals. And indeed there is much to focus upon as we look back. What better way to get into a «faith-ful» state of mind for the coming encyclical?

«Deus Caritas Est»

A common thread throughout «Deus Caritas Est» and «Spe Salvi» is the interconnectedness between all the theological virtues. Faith gives certain hope that God has given himself in love to us.

He writes in «Deus Caritas Est»: «Faith tells us that God has given his Son for our sakes and gives us the victorious certainty that it is really true: God is love! It thus transforms our impatience and our doubts into the sure hope that God holds the world in his hands and that, as the dramatic imagery of the end of the Book of Revelation points out, in spite of all darkness he ultimately triumphs in glory. Faith, which sees the love of God revealed in the pierced heart of Jesus on the Cross, gives rise to love» (No. 39).

He also wrote that faith, which is an encounter with the living God in itself, opens «new horizons extending beyond the sphere of reason» but also purifies reason of any blindness. Thus «faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly» (No. 28).

«Spe Salvi»

Now would be a great time for a close rereading of «Spe Salvi,» for of his three encyclicals none is as focused on faith as this one. The reason lies in the profound unity in the New Testament between the concepts of faith and hope. Faith is hope’s «substance» which leads to eternal life (cf. No. 10).

Commenting upon the Letter to the Hebrews, Benedict XVI explains the nature of faith: «Faith is not merely a personal reaching out towards things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for, and this present reality constitutes for us a ‘proof’ of the things that are still unseen. Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a ‘not yet'» (No. 7).

In the present time, the Holy Father identified a faith-hope crisis, which he traced from the time of Francis Bacon to the present day: faith in progress is an attempt to build the kingdom of man. But faith in progress has failed man, showing itself to be a «threat» that betrays man’s dignity and freedom (No. 17-23).

Later in the encyclical, he developed an eschatological theme of faith — looking «forward» in trust to the coming resurrection of the body and judgment as the path to definitive justice. God is the one who brings justice; faith gives the certainty that death is not the end and that God will do so. In this certainty we also have certainty in eternal life (cf. Nos. 41-44). He wrote, «Only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ’s return and for new life become fully convincing» (No. 43).

«Caritas in Veritate»

The Holy Father wrote in «Caritas in Veritate» that it is the truth that in charity reflects the twofold dimension of faith, one that is both personal and public (No. 3). Furthermore, the Church’s social doctrine is an «instrument and an indispensable setting» for faith’s formation (No. 15).

Echoing Pope Paul VI, Benedict XVI pointed out that while reason can grasp the equality of peoples, it cannot establish brotherhood without faith. Only faith in Divine Revelation enables us to perceive that we are one family under the Father (No. 19). He also emphasized the need for dialogue between faith and reason in human authentic human development (Nos. 56-57).

Many false forms of faith threaten development — faith in human progress, faith in institutions, faith in political structures, faith in technology. But without faith in God, all of these «faiths» use, reduce or destroy man. Faith in God’s presence in the mission of development gives purpose and hope to those who face such a great amount of work.

Can a faithless humanism work for the greater good of man in development? To this question, the Holy Father gave a striking answer: «A humanism which excludes God is an inhuman humanism» (No. 78). True development does not neglect man’s spiritual dimension. Thus only development that is open to God is true to man. The Holy Father concluded his encyclical with the essential truth that development needs prayer (No. 79).

Imitating Mary’s Faith

The need for a full development of the essence of faith is a need for the Church and the world. I hesitate to say what Benedict XVI will say in his coming encyclical, but I can say is that he will give us a rich theology of faith. Of that we can be certain.

But surely in his encyclical he will bring to the forefront, as he has often done, a model for faith. She is Mary, to whom the Pope has typically devoted the final paragraph of each encyclical.

The Holy Father often has commented upon Mary’s faith, a model for the Christian confession and response to God’s call. At the close of the Year for Priests, Benedict XVI called Mary the «great woman of faith and love who has become in every generation a wellspring of faith, love and life» (Homily, June 11, 2010).

He has often emphasized her assent to God’s plan in the Annunciation, her journey of faith to share the good news with her cousin Elizabeth, her unwavering presence at the foot of the Cross, and her hope throughout the darkness of Holy Saturday awaiting the dawn of the fulfillment of the promises of her Son.

In «Spe Salvi» he asked, «Could it have ended before it began? No, at the foot of the Cross, on the strength of Jesus’ own word, you became the mother of believers. In this faith, which even in the darkness of Holy Saturday bore the certitude of hope, you made your way towards Easter morning» (No. 50).

No matter what, we will come to a deeper understanding how to live «the faith» in the virtue of faith following the faith of the Virgin Mother, of whom Elizabeth said, «Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord» (Luke 1:45).

It certainly is a tall task for a papal retreat to compose a third volume of Jesus of Nazareth and an encyclical — all the while being sure to work in some well-deserved piano time. But if there is any man who can pull it off, have faith that he is none other than our Holy Father.

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Kevin M. Clarke has a master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and teaches religion at St. Joseph Academy in San Marcos, California. He is the author of a chapter on Benedict XVI’s Mariology in «De Maria Numquam Satis: The Significance of the Catholic Doctrines on the Blessed Virgin Mary for All People» (University Press of America, 2009), and is a recent contributor to the New Catholic Encyclopedia.

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