Pope Francis’ First Encyclical Continues Themes Begun by Pope Benedict

On Friday, July 5, Pope Francis will publish his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith).

Looking forward to that, I can’t help but notice that it lines up perfectly with the themes of the encyclicals published by Pope Benedict XVI during his pontificate.

Remember his first?  Benedict surprised the world when he published Deus Caritas Est (On Christian Love—God Is Love) on Christmas Day 2005.  The media was still referring to him as “the Rotweiler” and painting a picture of a ruthless disciplinarian.  The surprise was that instead of focusing on reshaping the Church, Pope Benedict spoke of the types of love:  agape, eros, filia.  Drawn from the writings of Benedict’s predecessor Pope John Paul II, Deus Caritas Est explored love as seen through a Christian perspective, and God’s place within all love.

Two years later, Spe Salvi (Saved by Hope) was released.  In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict explored the relation between hope and redemption, citing Romans 8:24, “For we are saved by hope. But hope that is seen is not hope. For what a man seeth, why doth he hope for?”

Benedict drew from history in Spe Salvi, pointing to hope as it was in the lives of saints and contemporaries:  Josehine Bakhita, who had been born a slave and found faith, and who was canonized in 2000; mystics Augustine of Hippo and Bernard of Clairvaux; philosophers, theologians, politicians, and more.

And then there was Pope Benedict’s last great encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), released in June 2009.  The first social encyclical written by Benedict, Caritas in Veritate focused on the problems of global development and progress towards the common good.  Both Love and Truth, he argued, are essential elements of an effective response.  But Pope Benedict outlined the Christian response to many issues:  the economy, hunger, the environment, migration, sexual tourism, bioethics, cultural relativism, social solidarity, energy and population issues.

And now this week, the Church awaits a new encyclical, Pope Francis’ gift to the Church and the world;  and in a very real way, Lumen Fidei is the first encyclical of Pope Francis’ tenure, and the last of Pope Benedict’s.  Lumen Fidei—another encyclical with a title grounded in the virtues—was begun by Pope Benedict XVI, but he resigned before he could complete it.  The Vatican has said that Pope Francis planned to take elements of Benedict’s draft and make them his own; so presumably, this time we will benefit from the wisdom of the two popes.

Pope Francis will issue his first encyclical and then will travel to Sicily to meet with recently arrived African migrants.  Present at a press conference announcing the release will be Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office; Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.P.S., prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; and Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization.

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