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The Light of Francis

The new pope’s first encyclical

Jul 22, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 42 • By JOSEPH BOTTUM
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Along the way, Lumen Fidei mentions medieval architecture, Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Dostoyevsky’s novels, the role of the French Revolution, T. S. Eliot’s poetry, and the mystical theology of the saints​—​a rather amazing collection for a document intended to speak to believers in the Year of Faith, on the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II, which Francis calls a “council on faith.”

But that points to the second purpose of Lumen Fidei. Many of the first commentators have claimed that Francis is aiming the encyclical at nonbelievers, urging them to see how the light of faith reveals a larger, less circumscribed world. That’s not wrong, exactly, but a careful reading suggests something a little more delicate. The encyclical is addressed specifically to members of the church, though Francis is speaking in a way that reveals he knows he will be overheard. And what he’s telling the church, in the secondary theme of Lumen Fidei, is how to understand and speak to nonbelievers in the most positive and persuasive way.

“Because faith is a way, it also has to do with the lives of those men and women who, though not believers, nonetheless desire to believe and continue to seek,” Francis writes. “To the extent that they are sincerely open to love and set out with whatever light they can find, they are already, even without knowing it, on the path leading to faith.”

Joseph Bottum is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.

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