What brilliance to counter perceptions of faith as a leap in the dark or obscurantism with a papal encyclical that shines with the light of faith! And it does shine - biblically, theologically and, I will dare to say, practically as I'm a preacher always in search of illustrations. This booklet will make Christ accessible to suitably literate keen enquirers but, though said to be a good translation of the original German, it is rather too dense for any reader who isn't eager to get to grips with its substance - and substance there is! I've rarely spent so long digesting a 56 page booklet nor reaped so much benefit from a booklet in terms of finding new angles on the age old unchangeable truth of Christianity.
What is faith? The two Popes - Francis editing Benedict's draft - paint the picture in bright colours. `In the great cathedrals light comes down from heaven by passing through windows depicting the history of salvation. God's light comes to us through the account of his self-revelation... In the love of God revealed in Jesus, faith perceives the foundation on which all reality and its final destiny lies... Faith knows that God has drawn close to us, that Christ has been given to us as a great gift which inwardly transforms us, dwells within us and thus bestows on us the light that illumines the origin and the end of life.'
To be saved is to open up your life to someone prior to yourself. `We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - this life was revealed' (1 John 1:1-2a) To have faith is to hear God's call, to see your life as part of his awesome reality, to touch the Lord in the sacraments. It is `to grasp reality's deepest meaning and to see how much God loves this world and is constantly guiding it towards himself... to live our lives in this world with ever greater commitment and intensity'. The light of faith sheds light not just on `the destiny of one particular people, but the entire history of the created world, from its origins to its consummation'. As I read this encyclical I thought of Teilhard de Chardin, such is its cosmic theme, presenting the Church as `the bearer within history of the plenary gaze of Christ on the world' (Romano Guardini).
Faith, far from being an obscure preoccupation, eagerly ventures towards the cosmic future, counting on the hand of God, bringing light to the world through hope and love. Christianity is the biggest of `big picture thinking' - this encyclical is a counter to many stricture-filled past encyclicals in its brightness. `Faith appears as a process of gazing, in which our eyes grow accustomed to peering into the depths... 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... in this circular movement the light of faith illumines all our human relationships, which can then be lived in union with the gentle love of Christ'.
The light of faith isn't given to brighten the interior of the Church but to build a hopeful world confident in the self-gift to it of God in Christ. `The awakening of faith is linked to the dawning of a new sacramental sense in our lives... in which visible and material realities are seen to point beyond themselves to the mystery of the eternal'. That awakening is an awakening into the pursuit of justice, love and truth. I thought of our great Anglican theologian Michael Ramsey more than once as I drank in this booklet, notably in this sentence: `believers know that, rather than ourselves possessing truth, it is truth that embraces and possesses us. Far from making us inflexible, the security of faith sets us on a journey; it enables witness and dialogue with all'.
As a booklet this is a portable albeit dense resource. It will yield most fruit when space is set aside for proper digestion since its thinking is catalytic of a recovery of basic Christian vision and you need space to ponder for that to impact. Weighty as it is I found it a welcome counter weight to Christian writing that sits light to the transcendent and I suggest it will serve as a robust and cheerful pointer to open minded and suitably literate Christian enquirers.