September 2013 Print

Church and World

Analysis of Pope Francis’s First Encyclical

Is Pope Francis’s first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, in line with Tradition? DICI examines the text and gives some conclusions.

Lumen Fidei [published on June 29, 2013] claims to be “in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced”;  thus there is an explicit reference—but only in a footnote—to Chapter 3 of the Constitution Dei Filius of the First Vatican Council (§7, note 7).  It is also about the “faith [that is] received from God as a supernatural gift” (§4), and it specifies that faith is a “theological” and “supernatural” virtue given by God (§7).

Similarly we read: “Since faith is one, it must be professed in all its purity and integrity” (§48); not a single article of the Creed can be denied;  there is a need for vigilance to ensure that the deposit of faith is passed on “in its entirety” (§48).

But those are the only traces of the traditional teaching.

Affective Relation of Love

All the rest of the Encyclical buries these all too rare allusions in a context that is quite foreign to them. This context connects the idea of faith with the idea of experience and personal encounter, which establishes a relation between man and God without making it clear whether this is the intellectual relation of knowledge1 or the affective relation of love.2 Nor is it very clear whether this personal encounter corresponds to the profound requirements of nature or whether it surpasses them by introducing man into a specifically supernatural order.3 The problem is compounded by the failure to cite the classical notions of natural and supernatural in describing this relation: it is above all a question of existence.4

The central idea is that faith is first of all existential, the product of an encounter with the living God that reveals love and leads to communion (§4, §8). It is essentially dynamic, openness to the promise of God and memory of [that promise about] the future (§9), openness to love (§21, §34), attachment to the source of life and of all fatherhood (§11), an experience of love (§47)… It consists of “the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call” (§13).

There is no definition of what a theological virtue is, and the reader will search in vain for a specific definition of the three theological virtues, which consequently are mixed up. Never is faith related to the authority of God who reveals (the word “authority” appears once, in §55, but in reference to another subject). The revealed deposit of faith is mentioned only in §48, but it is not defined—particularly the fact that it was completed at the death of the last apostle.

Article 18 recalls that “Christian faith is faith in the incarnation of the Word and his bodily resurrection; it is faith in a God who is so close to us that he entered our human history.” But it must be admitted that it is quite difficult to recite the act of faith on the basis of the considerations proposed here, according to which faith relies not on the authority of God who can neither deceive nor be deceived, but rather on the “utter reliability of God’s love” (§17), and on the reliability of Jesus “based…on his divine sonship” (ibid.). In other words: I believe in God because He is love and not because He is truthful.

Accept and Believe the Truth

We find in footnote 23 an excerpt from Dei Verbum that speaks about “[willing assent] to the revelation given by God,” which requires the grace of God anticipating it and assisting it, as well as the interior helps of the Holy Spirit, who moves the heart and converts it to God, and opens the eyes of the mind and makes it easy for all to accept and believe the truth (§29).

Yet further on the Encyclical reads: “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” (§45).

The necessity of faith in order to be saved is presented in a non-directive manner: the beginning of salvation is “openness to something prior to ourselves, to a primordial gift that affirms life and sustains it in being” (§19). Or else:  “Faith in Christ brings salvation because in him our lives become radically open” (§20). This is far from the Gospel clarity: “Go ye into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:15-16).

On the contrary, §34 says: “The light of love proper to faith can illumine the questions of our own time about truth….As a truth of love, it is not one that can be imposed by force; it is not a truth that stifles the individual. Since it is born of love, it can penetrate to the heart, to the personal core of each man and woman. Clearly, then, faith is not intransigent, but grows in respectful coexistence with others.”

Incidentally, one might wonder about the catechetical effectiveness of the definition of the Decalogue given in §46: “The Decalogue is not a set of negative commands, but concrete directions for emerging from the desert of the selfish and self-enclosed ego in order to enter into dialogue with God.”

In short, faith, as it is presented in Lumen Fidei, is first of all an experience of life and of love, fully realized in the “encounter with Christ” (§30): “Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment” (§26). Jesus is said to be the one savior because “all God’s light is concentrated in him, in his ‘luminous life’ which discloses the origin and the end of history” (§35).

Open Church to the Modern World

It is much too early to propose, based on a first encyclical, a key to reading the teaching of Pope Francis; the next encyclical—which is said to be dedicated to poverty—will be more personal and will enlighten us more precisely. We will simply be so bold as to point out that Lumen Fidei is indeed in line with post-conciliar teaching. Vatican II wanted to open up the Church to the modern world, which is characterized by its rejection of the argument from authority. Thus the Council claimed to be pastoral, avoiding all dogmatic definition so as not to give the impression of coercing contemporary minds.

From this perspective, the considerations on faith in Lumen Fidei are somewhat reminiscent of what the immanentist philosopher Maurice Blondel wrote:

“If faith increases our knowledge, it is not initially and principally inasmuch as it teaches us certain objective truths by authorized testimony, but rather inasmuch as it unites us to the life of a subject, inasmuch as it initiates us, through loving thought, to another thought and another love” (M. Blondel in A. Lalande, Dictionnaire technique et critique de la philosophie [Paris: PUF, 1968], p. 360, emphasis added).

It is not learning objective truths, but becoming united to the life of a subject and being initiated by loving thought to another thought and another love. Hence a problem arises: how can one be content to propose to modern minds, which are smitten with autonomy, what the authority of divine revelation imposes on us? And how can we do this without giving the impression to those minds that the authority of divine revelation is contrary to their aspirations to autonomy? And without diluting the revealed deposit itself either or diminishing its authority? These are the difficulties with which the Magisterium has been struggling for fifty years.

Revelation as the Living Word

In a recent article, Fr. Jean-Dominique, O.P., recalls the interest with which the Protestants of Taizé welcomed the non-dogmatic teaching of Vatican II: “The Council’s intention is to drop an excessively static and notional language so as to adopt resolutely a dynamic, living language. This whole magnificent document [Dei Verbum, the conciliar document on Revelation—Editor’s note] will consider Revelation as the living Word that the living God addresses to the living Church composed of living members….This whole document on Revelation will be dominated by the foundational evangelical themes of word, life, and communion. The Word of God is the living Christ whom God gives to mankind so as to establish between him and them the communion of the Spirit in the Church.”

Thus the Church gave up “speaking about the acceptance of revelation in terms of submission to authority” so as to speak primarily about a “personal faith that accepts God’s revelation” (Roger Schutz and Max Thurian, La Parole vivante au Concile [Les Presses de Taizé, 1966], pp. 77-78, cited by Fr. Jean-Dominique, “Concile ou révolution?Le Chardonnet, July 2013, p. 6).

This intention no longer to resort to dogmatic definitions is deplored by the Declaration of the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X dated June 27, 2013: “We are truly obliged to observe that this Council without comparison, which wanted to be merely pastoral and not dogmatic, inaugurated a new type of magisterium, hitherto unheard of in the Church, without roots in Tradition; a magisterium resolved to reconcile Catholic doctrine with liberal ideas; a magisterium imbued with the modernist ideas of subjectivism, of immanentism and of perpetual evolution according to the false concept of a living tradition [which is also found in the writings of Maurice Blondel—Editor’s note], vitiating  the nature, the content, the role and the exercise of ecclesiastical magisterium” (see DICI, No. 278, July 5, 2013).

(DICI, No. 279, July 19, 2013)



1 Recall: Faith  is defined as the adherence of our intellect to the truths revealed by God, because of the authority of God who reveals them. The spiritual life has faith as its principle, which receives from revelation its properly intellectual and therefore conceptual knowledge of the mystery. Without denying the fact that faith must be enriched by charity and flourish in loving knowledge, we must firmly maintain that, in order to be united in the actual spiritual life, faith and charity must remain formally distinct in their definition, in the eyes of the Magisterium and of theology.

2 “Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history” (§13). “Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps. Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes” (§26). “Christian faith, inasmuch as it proclaims the truth of God’s total love and opens us to the power of that love, penetrates to the core of our human experience. Each of us comes to the light because of love, and each of us is called to love in order to remain in the light. Desirous of illumining all reality with the love of God made manifest in Jesus, and seeking to love others with that same love, the first Christians found in the Greek world, with its thirst for truth, an ideal partner in dialogue. The encounter of the Gospel message with the philosophical culture of the ancient world proved a decisive step in the evangelization of all peoples, and stimulated a fruitful interaction between faith and reason which has continued down the centuries to our own times” (§32).

3 “The life of faith, as a filial existence, is the acknowledgment of a primordial and radical gift which upholds our lives. We see this clearly in St. Paul’s question to the Corinthians: ‘What have you that you did not receive?’ (I Cor. 4:7)” (§19). Does this refer to the gift of creation or to the gift of grace? “In accepting the gift of faith, believers become a new creation; they receive a new being, as God’s children”; this is well put, but it does not specify whether this newness is part of the natural order and in continuity with creation or whether it surpasses it.

4 “The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence” (§4). “For those early Christians, faith, as an encounter with the living God revealed in Christ, was indeed a ‘mother’, for it had brought them to the light and given birth within them to divine life, a new experience and a luminous vision of existence for which they were prepared to bear public witness to the end” (§5). “The Second Vatican Council enabled the light of faith to illumine our human experience from within, accompanying the men and women of our time on their journey. It clearly showed how faith enriches life in all its dimensions” (§6). “Thus wonderfully interwoven, faith, hope and charity are the driving force of the Christian life as it advances towards full communion with God” (§7). “Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history” (§13). “The beginning of salvation is openness to something prior to ourselves, to a primordial gift that affirms life and sustains it in being” (§19). “Those who believe are transformed by the Love to which they have opened their hearts in faith. By their openness to this offer of primordial Love, their lives are enlarged and expanded” (§21). “The realization that God is light provided Augustine with a new direction in life and enabled him to acknowledge his sinfulness and to turn towards the good” (§33).

Jean Madiran Passes Away

Jean Madiran passed away on July 31, 2013. He was the cofounder of the newspaper Présent in 1982. La Porte Latine, the Society of St. Pius X District of France’s website, pays homage to him in these words: “Among the great figures of the Catholic resistance to the aggiornamento, the name of Jean Madiran will certainly be one of the most frequently quoted, and if the list is reduced to French laymen, few can vie with him for first place. He was unquestionably one of the last representatives of this generation to have written, contradicted, and fought to warn the authorities of the Church, to encourage her faithful priests, and to form the generations for tomorrow.”

We owe to him the magazine Itinéraires, which he founded in 1956, with the collaboration of, among others, Fr. Calmel, Dom Guillou, Dom Gérard, Fr. Berto, Fr. Dulac, Luce Quenette, the Charlier brothers, Louis Salleron, Marcel De Corte, Charles De Koninck, Gustave Corçao, Jacques Perret…

After constantly supporting the Society of St. Pius X, particularly in a special edition of Itinéraires (1976) entitled The Illegal [“Sauvage] Condemnation of Archbishop Lefebvre, Jean Madiran distanced 
himself from the Society after the episcopal consecrations of June 30, 1988. However, when questioned two years ago, in the movie Archbishop Lefebvre: A Documentary, he made a point of declaring: “If the Society of St. Pius X still exists today, it is because Archbishop Lefebvre gave it four bishops. What gives it the importance it has, what makes the Pope consider it as something, is the fact that it has bishops.” And he explained, “In the Church, it counts to be bishops. And so the founder was right; in any case, he made a durable foundation and provided the conditions necessary for his work to continue.”

In the many memories brought to mind with his passing, allow us to mention the tribute paid to his surgical style: “This micro-word-surgeon relentlessly pointed out errors of logic and weaknesses of thought and errors of style, but he was moved by the good of his country and of the Church” (Jeanne Smits). And “the sharp scalpel of this thought-surgeon was unequaled when it came to dissecting error; his biting irony, when it came to ridiculing it; his insistence when it came to shedding light on it” (Bruno Gollnisch). Indeed, we remember the methodical dissection of the “religion of Saint Avold” in his masterpiece, L’Hérésie du XXe siècle (The Heresy of the 20th Century), published in 1968 by Nouvelles Editions Latines. In the afterword of the second edition in 1988, he did not hesitate to write: “If I had to leave behind me only one book, it would be this one.” And he added in an interview with Présent (May 13-14, 1988), “I have expressed in L’Hérésie all the reasons for my refusals and also all the ideas I fight for. All the combats to which I have, in a way, consecrated my life.”

(Source: DICI)

The Franciscans of the Immaculate under Surveillance

A Roman decision affecting the Franciscans of the Immaculate has caused quite a commotion in Rome, right in the middle of the summer. In fact, following an Apostolic Visitation that began a year ago, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life issued, with the explicit approval of Pope Francis, a Decree dated July 11, 2013, but made public only several days later, which appoints an Apostolic Commissioner to govern the Franciscans of the Immaculate until their next General Chapter convenes in 2014, and which imposes the Mass of Paul VI on all its members, unless they obtain the express authorization from the Commissioner.

Franciscans Adopt Traditional Mass

The Congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate was founded in 1970 by two Franciscans, Fr. Stefano Manelli and Fr. Gabriele Pellettieri. This congregation was approved according to diocesan right by the Archbishop of Benevento, Abp. Carlo Minchiatti, in 1990. On January 1, 1998, it was raised to the status of an institute of pontifical right.

The Franciscans of the Immaculate, who today number around 400 religious in more than 50 houses, head several radio and television stations throughout the world; they direct several websites and a publishing house, Casa Mariana Editrice, which has published dozens of volumes, among them the book by Msgr. Brunero Gherardini, The Ecumenical Vatican Council II: A Much Needed Discussion. The female branch, the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate, erected as an institute of religious life of pontifical right in the same years as the Friars, includes more than 400 nuns.

Now, six years ago, following the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum dated July 7, 2007, which acknowledged that the Mass of Saint Pius V had never been abrogated, the congregation of the Franciscans of the Immaculate began to adopt habitually—but not exclusively—the Traditional Mass. That is why the Roman decision raises several questions.

The historian Roberto de Mattei asks himself: “What is the intention of the supreme ecclesiastical authority? To suppress the “Ecclesia Dei” Commission and to abrogate the Motu Proprio of Benedict XVI? Then it is necessary to say so explicitly, so that the consequences thereof can be drawn. And if that is not the case, why issue a Decree that is uselessly provocative with regard to the Catholic circles that adhere to the Tradition of the Church? These circles are going through a period of great expansion, especially among young people, and perhaps that is the chief reason for the hostility that is directed against it today.”

The last five lines of the July 11 Decree are the most astonishing: “In addition to the above, the Holy Father Francis has directed that every religious of the Congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is required to celebrate the liturgy according to the ordinary rite and that, if the occasion should arise, the use of the extraordinary form (Vetus Ordo) must be explicitly authorized by the competent authorities, for every religious and/or community that makes the request.”

Decree Contradicts Summorum Pontificum

The Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister emphasizes: “The astonishment stems from the fact that what is decreed contradicts the dispositions given by Benedict XVI, which for the celebration of the Mass in the ancient rite ‘sine populo’ demand no previous request for authorization whatsoever…. While for Masses ‘cum populo’ they set out a few conditions, but always guaranteeing the freedom to celebrate.

“In general, against a decree of a Vatican congregation it is possible to have recourse to the supreme tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura…. But if the decree is the object of approval in a specific form on the part of the pope, as it seems to be in this case, recourse is not admitted. The Franciscans of the Immaculate will have to comply with the prohibition on celebrating the Mass in the ancient rite beginning Sunday, August 11.”

What are the reasons for this Roman decree? The journalist Yves Chiron asked an Italian historian, Fabrizio Cannone, in Aletheia (No. 204, July 31, 2013), about possible dissension within the community of the Franciscans of the Immaculate. Here is his response: “For some time now there have been differences among the members of the Institute. Differences essentially of two types. First, there have been increasingly strong criticisms aimed at the Founder and Superior General, who recently turned eighty, whom some consider no longer capable of supervising the many activities and the development of the Institute….


“The second internal criticism came to light after the 2007 Motu Proprio: although the majority of the priests accept the document and have made extensive use of it, while nevertheless always respecting diocesan pastoral guidelines, some religious have not looked kindly on this supposed “Tridentinization,” which was perhaps unexpected. The significant reason, in my opinion, is that the Institute is perhaps the only one in the world, at least among those that have a certain numerical importance, that has tried to go over to the traditional liturgy, at least for the internal celebrations within the community: and this, I repeat, was greeted with great joy by most of the priests, simple brothers, nuns and third-order lay people. This was a sign that there should be and there is a connection between their spirituality and the typical spirituality of the traditional rite. Some priests did not accept this development, which was however foreseen by the text of the Motu Proprio itself, and they began to find fault with Father Manelli, with his co-founder Father Pellettieri, and the other members of the [General] Council. Hence the Apostolic Visitation, the Decree and the nomination of a Commissioner.”

Fabrizio Cannone concludes: “This measure seems to be a punitive measure, in the sense that the possibly deficient government by the Superiors and the supposed lack of a sensus Ecclesiae are not the same thing as the liturgical form that they may have adopted—far from it. What is more, in this case one can observe also the copious fruits of young vocations.”

When asked about the Decree, Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Press Office of the Holy See, stated that this was a decision aimed at responding to specific problems and tensions within the community of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, and he assured the reporter that it was not a matter of contradicting the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum that liberalized the use of the old rite.


This was the context in which the public learned, on Saturday, August 2, that the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” had a new secretary. Indeed, the pope had just appointed to that post Abp. Guido Pozzo, Archbishop of Bagnoregio in Italy, who until then had been the Papal Almoner, and who had already occupied that post from July 2009 to November 2012.

According to Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux and a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to which the “Ecclesia Dei” Commission is attached, the reappointment “of someone who knows the files very well” will allow this Commission to “benefit from his experience and knowledge” at a moment when it is confronted by several crucial issues. In the August 5 issue of La Croix Cardinal Ricard reflects that with regard to the Society of Saint Pius X it is time to “recognize a failure of the negotiations, meetings and dialogues”; the recent statement of its bishops on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the episcopal consecrations (see DICI, No. 278, July 5, 2013) “is a categorical and definitive refusal.” According to the french bishop, the “new” secretary of the “Ecclesia Dei” Commission might be able “to tell whether some of the files can be reactivated,” whereas Abp. Gerhard Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [and ex officio President of the “Ecclesia Dei” Commission] “finds it more difficult to understand” the refusal of the Society of Saint Pius X to recognize the Second Vatican Council as a whole, and Abp. Augustine Di Noia, Vice-President of the “Ecclesia Dei” Commission since June 26, 2012, “can only declare that the dossier is complex.”

In Rome, an attentive observer of this story informs us that “there are not yet any unofficial or official explanations” for the reappointment of Archbishop Pozzo. The only conclusion that can be drawn from it is that for the moment no one intends to abolish this Commission, as some had rumored. “The strong reactions provoked by the Decree concerning the Franciscans of the Immaculate surprised more than one Roman dignitary. Let us wait for what happens next…. For we are in the month of August, many are on vacation, and it is difficult to get reliable information.”

(Sources: Apic / IMedia / Aletheia / LaCroix / / / / private sources – DICI, No. 280, August 9, 2013)