The Dark of Faith: A Subtlety in Lumen Fidei
I’m still making my way through Lumen Fidei, the encyclical letter on faith that was begun by Pope Benedict XVI, finished by Pope Francis, and was released today.
The encyclical, the title of which means “the light of faith,” explores the metaphorical understanding of faith as a kind of sight. To have faith is to see by way of the light of God: “faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness.” This, of course, is an old theme treated throughout the bible. The encyclical also implies that faith means being in the dark.
We read that “faith opens the way before us and accompanies our steps through time,” summoning us to an unseen future, but then the encyclical says something striking: “the sight which faith would give to Abraham would always be linked to the need to take this step forward: faith ‘sees’ to the extent that it journeys, to the extent that it chooses to enter into the horizons opened up by God’s word.” In other words, to see by the light of faith, you first have to take a step in the darkness. Faith is a choice to move, to journey, and only on this journey is the path illuminated by faith. The light shines after the taking of each step, and as faith is a choice one must make at each moment of each day, the sight of faith is neither immediate nor constant. The light and the dark go together. In the words of the Lumen Fidei: “Faith by its very nature demands renouncing the immediate possession which sight would appear to offer; it is an invitation to turn to the source of the light, while respecting the mystery of a countenance which will unveil itself personally in its own good time.”
Fascinating and subversive stuff. Here we have an encyclical comparing faith to both light and darkness, to both seeing and not seeing. I’m eager to get deeper into its paradoxes and subtleties.