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The Work of Four Hands

Today Pope Francis issued his highly anticipated encyclical Lumen Fidei. An encyclical (from the Greek enkyklios meaning “circular” or “general”) is a letter sent by the pope for circulation among the bishops of the world or a particular region of the world. Encyclicals are used primarily for teaching and instruction in matters of faith and morals.

This is the first encyclical letter of Francis’s pontificate and a unique one at that, given that it was a collaboration between the Holy Father and his predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Benedict had written a draft of the encyclical prior to his resignation that was to complete his trilogy of encyclicals on the three theological virtues:

Deus Caritas Est (God is Love)
Spe Salvi (Saved in Hope)
Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith)

Francis announced a few weeks ago that he had taken up Benedict’s draft encyclical and that it was nearly completed. He referred to the “cross-pontificate” encyclical as “the work of four hands.”

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. A similar scenario unfolded after Benedict XVI was elected pope. For his first encyclical on charity Deus caritas est, Benedict used some material from a draft which had been prepared for John Paul II. It was reported that the draft had been sitting in John Paul II’s desk drawer to be completed at a later time.

In the new encyclical, Pope Francis acknowledges this collaborative effort:

These considerations on faith—in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue—are meant to supplement what Benedict XVI had written in his encyclical letters on charity and hope. He himself had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith. For this I am deeply grateful to him, and as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own. The Successor of Peter, yesterday, today and tomorrow, is always called to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the priceless treasure of that faith which God has given as a light for humanity’s path (LM, 4).

What this encyclical will no doubt reinforce is the wonderful continuity between these two popes and their commitment to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith. This continuity of faith has been exemplified in the Catholic Church for more than twenty centuries and endures to this very day.

Francis signed the encyclical letter on June 29, the Solemnity of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. Quite fitting, since this encyclical was the fruit of the collaboration of two modern-day pillars of the Church who have done so much to strengthen and advance the one Catholic Faith handed down from the apostles.

If you’d like a quick introduction to the encyclical, the Vatican Information Service has provided a nice summary. In addition, Catholic News Service (CNS) produced a short video discussing the collaboration between Benedict and Francis in the writing of Lumen Fidei.

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