I. We have believed in love
“ 8. Faith opens the way before us and accompanies our steps through time. Hence, if we want to understand what faith is, we need to follow the route it has taken, the path trodden by believers, as witnessed first in the Old Testament. ”
Let us open our Bible.
“ Here a unique place belongs to Abraham, our father in faith. Something disturbing takes place in his life : God speaks to him ; He reveals Himself as a God Who speaks and calls his name. ”
We are far from the God of Aristotle ! Thus Pope Francis makes the immense contribution of Fr. Georges de Nantes' total theology ‘ his own, ’ since in it our Father, “ after seven centuries of Aristotelian totalitarianism and decline in the faith ”, came back “ to the mysticism drawn from the fountains of Abraham, Moses and Jesus Christ. ”
The Pope continues : “ Faith is linked to hearing. Abraham does not see God, but hears His voice. Faith thus takes on a personal aspect. God is not the god of a particular place, or a deity linked to specific sacred time, but the God of a person, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, capable of interacting with man and establishing a Covenant with him. ”
Presenting Himself as “ three men ”, God began to a relationship with Abraham, began to consider him as a friend, and even to ask him for advice (Gn 18). Then Abraham interceded in favour of Sodom and Gomorrah...
“ Faith is our response to a Word that engages us personally, to a ‘ You ’ who calls us by name. ” Pope Francis resumes the great patristic tradition, to which Georges de Nantes, our Father, referred by quoting St. Ambrose :
“ ‘ Abraham was a truly great man, glorious by his numerous and remarkable virtues, he whom philosophy was never able to equal, even by its aspirations, for the ideal of its dreams is beneath what this man accomplished, and the simple truth of the Faith prevails over the lie of human discourse. ’This eulogy of the faith of Abraham, pronounced by St. Ambrose (matins of Quinquagesima), is to be understood of all his spiritual descendants. It includes his sons according to the Word of God and the grace of Christ, on account of their holy virtues, based on their devotion, says this same saint, nourished on a true knowledge of God, of the living God, drawn from the Scriptures old and new. Compared with these, all the Fathers and Doctors of the Church from St. Paul to St. Bernard of Clairvaux, regarded all philosophers as being capable of nothing, deliberately ignorant of the inspired Scriptures, lost in their vain quests and their gloomy reasoning. ” ( Georges de Nantes, Theology and metaphysics, CCR no. 283, February-March 1996, p. 11)
It has been so from Abelard down to Kant, Hegel and Marx.
“ 9. The Word spoken to Abraham contains both a call and a promise. First, it is a call to leave his own land, a summons to a new life, the beginning of an exodus that points him towards an unforeseen future. The sight that faith would give to Abraham would always be linked to the need to take this step forward : faith ‘ sees ’ to the extent that Abraham journeys, to the extent that he chooses to enter into the horizons opened up by God’s Word. This word also contains a promise : Your descendants will be great in number, you will be the father of a great nation (cf. Gn 13:16 ; 15:5 ; 22:17). ”
In fact, “ God ties His promise to that aspect of human life which has always appeared most ‘ full of promise ’, namely, parenthood, the begetting of new life : ‘ Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall name him Isaac ’(Gn 17:19). The God Who asks Abraham for complete trust reveals Himself to be the source of all life. Faith is thus linked to God’s fatherhood, which gives rise to all creation... ” (no. 11)
One might think this paragraph is copied from CCR no. 104, p. 10 in which Georges de Nantes, quoting St. Bonaventura, wrote: “ Here is St. Bonaventura’s amazing thesis : ‘ Omnis creatura clamat generationem aeternam. ’ All creatures proclaim the eternal generation of the Word, the Son of God, God of God, by the Father. It is obvious, however, that no one can properly hear that cry unless his ears are opened by God’s grace, the ears and the eyes of faith ! ”
In no. 10, we can notice the extent to which this Pope is well-served by Fr. de Nantes’ thought : “ Faith understands that something so apparently ephemeral and fleeting as a word, when spoken by the God Who is fidelity, becomes absolutely certain and unshakable, guaranteeing the continuity of our journey through history. ”
“ Faith accepts this Word as a solid rock upon which we can build, a straight highway on which we can travel. In the Bible, faith is expressed by the Hebrew word ’emûnāh, derived from the verb ’amān the root of which means ‘ to uphold ’. The term ’emûnāh can signify both God’s fidelity and man’s faith. ”
Thus before being used to qualify the man who believes, ‘ faithful ’ is a divine name. “ The man of faith gains strength by putting himself in the hands of the God Who is faithful. ”
This sentence is luminous. Faith is a theological virtue ; it thus has God for subject, even in the person of the believer in whom the firmness of faith comes from the grace of God in him, from the God Who is faithful and Who inspires it to him.
“ Playing on this double meaning of the word – also found in the corresponding terms in Greek (pistós) and Latin (fidelis) – Saint Cyril of Jerusalem praised the dignity of the Christian who receives God’s own name [when he is called ‘ faithful, ’ the Christian receives a divine name] : both are called ‘ faithful ’. As Saint Augustine explains : ‘ Man is faithful when he believes in God and His promises ; God is faithful when He grants to man what He has promised. ’ ”
This limpid certainty dwells in the Pope. It is the mainspring of his energy, his alacrity to strengthen our faith in the promise of God Whose fidelity does not change.
THE FAITH OF ISRAEL.
The revelation of God’s paternity contained in the history of a family continues in the history of the people born of this family.
“ 12. The history of the people of Israel in the Book of Exodus follows in the wake of Abraham’s faith. Faith once again is born of a primordial gift [...]. God’s love is seen to be like that of a father who carries his child along the way (cf. Dt 1:31). ”
Still, there is a fly in the ointment :
“ The history of Israel also shows us the temptation of unbelief to which the people yielded more than once. Here the opposite of faith is shown to be idolatry. While Moses is speaking to God on Sinai, the people cannot bear the mystery of God’s hiddenness, they cannot endure the time of waiting to see His Face. Faith by its very nature demands renouncing the immediate possession that sight would appear to offer ; it is an invitation to turn to the source of the light, while respecting the mystery of a Countenance that will unveil itself personally in its own good time. ”
The Pope quotes Martin Buber whocited“ a definition of idolatry proposed by the rabbi of Kock : idolatry is ‘ when a face addresses a face that is not a face. ’ ” Can you figure out what this means ?
Fr. de Nantes clearly explained : “ The temptation of idolatry comes to us from this enchanting world the beauties of which assail us at every turn. Its beauties assail us through all our senses, through the pores of our skin and through the itching curiosity of our mind. Instead of overpowering us with the profound, indeterminate shock of the act of being, in the temptation to idolatry the world exerts its fascination and tries to ensnare us in the beautiful and multiple lacework of its forms, one more tantalising than the other.
“ Idolatry consists in allowing the attention to be drawn, sensibility to be filled, the mind to be subjugated by one particular beauty to the point of choosing it for the all, to choose one thing as absolutely worthy of one’s love and consideration. Because idolatry is a mysticism founded on a sentiment of aesthetic joy, it too appears to be incurable by means of metaphysical reasoning alone. ”( CCR no. 105, December 1978, p. 6 )
In other words, the only remedy for idolatry is another a revelation from God, the revelation of His Name : ‘ I Am ’ to Moses, in the Burning Bush. The Pope, however, does not even mention it ! It is a surprising flaw : “ In the faith of Israel we also encounter the figure of Moses, the mediator. The people may not see the Face of God ; it is Moses who speaks to YHWH on the mountain and then tells the others of the Lord’s will. ”(no. 14 )
What was Israel doing during that time ? It gave worship to the golden calf. A reserved silence is made on this unfortunate episode. All the same, this silence is surprising on the part of our Pope of the poor !
“ With this presence of a mediator in its midst, Israel learns to journey together in unity. The individual’s act of faith finds its place within a community, within the common ‘ we ’ of the people who, in faith, are like a single person – ‘ My first-born son ’, as God would describe all of Israel (cf. Ex 4:22). Here mediation is not an obstacle, but an opening : through our encounter with others, our gaze rises to a truth greater than ourselves. ”
Here, the thought seems to react against the immanentist model of the religious conscience :
“ Rousseau once lamented that he could not see God for himself... ” Here are our philosophers from the ‘ Age of Enlightenment ’ to extinguish the ‘ Light of the Faith ’ “ …‘ How many people stand between God and me ! ’[ in L’Émile, page 387, edition of 1966 ! ] ; ‘ Is it really so simple and natural that God would have sought out Moses in order to speak to Jean Jacques Rousseau ? ’ [ Letter to Mgr de Beaumont, with references to an edition from Lausanne. We have the feeling that we are straying from Pope Francis’ culture ! Well ! Since he makes the encyclical “ his own... ”]
“ On the basis of an individualistic and narrow conception of conscience one cannot appreciate the significance of mediation, this capacity to participate in the vision of another, this shared knowledge that is the knowledge proper to love. Faith is God’s free gift, which calls for humility and the courage to trust and to entrust ; it enables us to see the luminous path leading to the encounter of God and humanity : the history of salvation. ”
THE MYSTERY OF THE INCARNATION.
Under the title : The fullness of Christian faith, the Pope quotes Our Lord’s words in the Gospel according to St. John :
“ 15. ‘ Abraham (...) rejoiced that he would see My day ; he saw it and was glad ’(Jn 8:56). According to these words of Jesus, Abraham’s faith pointed to Him ; in some sense it foresaw His mystery. ”
The thought of Georges de Nantes, our Father, follows the same course, the same ‘ logic ’, in his treatise on Aesthetics, which has already been quoted above : “ Just as ‘ Abraham had seen His Day and was glad ’ (Jn 8:56,) two thousand years in advance, so we too see Him and rejoice. ” ( CRC no. 106, p. 20) Those who believe, see ! We too see Him two thousand years later ! “ For Abraham’s vision under the oak tree at Mambre belongs to our world as does the crossing of the Red Sea, the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Thabor, the vision of the Risen Lord in the mist of a beautiful Spring morning by Lake Tiberias, the beheading of St. Paul on the Ostian Way, the sending of missionaries to the English by St. Gregory, St. Louis embarking on the crusade, Joan of Arc present at the King’s anointing in Rheims and her burning at the stake in Rouen, St. Therese praying Jesus for Pranzini, that old priest passing in the street below, the Host in the Tabernacle... This list is far from exhaustive. Of such is our mystical food, our gnosis, our vision. ”
One might as well say that from now on the Person of Jesus invades the whole world, that He incorporates it into Himself. It is exactly the thought that is developed in the encyclical. That is why “ Christian faith is centred on Christ ; it is the confession that Jesus is Lord and that God has raised Him from the dead (cf. Rm 10:9). All the threads of the Old Testament converge on Christ [...]. If Israel continued to recall God’s great acts of love, which formed the core of its confession of faith and broadened its gaze in faith, the life of Jesus now appears as the locus of God’s definitive intervention, the supreme manifestation of His love for us. ”
The “ locus ”, maqôm, is no longer the Temple of Jerusalem, still less the Wailing Wall, it is Jesus in the Tabernacle, Jesus in His priest, on the paten and at the altar, Priest and Victim of the Holy Sacrifice of our Redemption.
“ The Word that God speaks to us in Jesus is not simply one word among many, but His eternal Word (cf. Hb 1:1-2). ” Our Father said likewise in his retreat on the Gospels :
“ Already the whole history of the Revelation in the Jewish people is given to us. When the Word becomes flesh, it is not a question of adding one event to another... ”
“ God can give no greater guarantee of His love, as Saint Paul reminds us (cf. Rm 8:31-39). Christian faith is thus faith in a perfect Love, in its decisive power, in its ability to transform the world and to unfold its history. ‘ We know and believe the love that God has for us ’(1 Jn 4:16). In the love of God revealed in Jesus, faith perceives the foundation on which all reality and its final destiny rest. ”
“ The foundation on which rest the reality ” of the universe, of the world, of the things that surround us, of existence itself, “ and its final destiny, ” is Heaven !
To reach it, however, one has to accept the Cross.
THE MYSTERY OF THE REDEMPTION.
“ 16. The clearest proof of the reliability of Christ’s love is to be found in His dying for our sake. If laying down one’s life for one’s friends is the greatest proof of love (cf. Jn 15:13), Jesus offered His own life for all, even for His enemies, to transform their hearts. This explains why the Evangelists could see the hour of Christ’s crucifixion as the culmination of the gaze of faith... ”
Those who believe, see ; when those who believe look at the Cross, they understand everything.
“ … in that hour the depth and breadth of God’s love shone forth. It was then that Saint John offered his solemn testimony, as together with the Mother of Jesus he gazed upon the pierced One (cf. Jn 19:37) :‘ He who saw this has borne witness, so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and He knows that he tells the truth ’(Jn 19:35).
“ In Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, Prince Myskin sees a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger depicting Christ dead in the tomb and says : ‘ Looking at that painting might cause one to lose his faith. ’ The painting is a gruesome portrayal of the destructive effects of death on Christ’s body. Yet it is precisely in contemplating Jesus’ death that faith grows stronger and receives a dazzling light ; then it is revealed as faith in Christ’s steadfast love for us, a love capable of embracing death to bring us salvation. ”
This is a new connection with Fr. de Nantes, who was an attentive reader of Dostoevsky and above all a tireless commentator on St. John who saw the manifestation of Jesus’s glory on the Cross, even more than on the Mount Tabor or on the day of the Resurrection.
“ This love, which did not recoil before death in order to show its depth, is something I can believe in ; Christ’s total self-gift overcomes every suspicion and enables me to entrust myself to Him completely. ”
How many times did we hear our Father ask us : “ Who in the world has ever loved me as Jesus has ? ” One does not have to reflect long to find the answer… No one ! I can doubt the “ reliability ” of any declaration of love. I, however, can have absolutely no doubt about Jesus' love since He gave His life for me !
“ 17. Christ’s death discloses the utter reliability of God’s love above all in the light of His Resurrection. As the risen One, Christ is the trustworthy witness, deserving of faith (cf. Ap 1:5 ; Hb 2:17), and a solid support for our faith. ‘ If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile ’, says Saint Paul (1 Co 15:17). Had the Father’s love not caused Jesus to rise from the dead, had it not been able to restore His Body to life, then it would not be a completely reliable love, capable of illuminating also the gloom of death. ”
The “ light of Faith ” goes “ to the shadow of death, the place where men’s eyes are closed to the light ”of the sun. (cf. no. 1).
“ When Saint Paul describes his new life in Christ, he speaks of ‘ faith in the Son of God, Who loved me and gave Himself for me ’(Gal 2:20). Clearly, this ‘ faith in the Son of God ’ means Paul’s faith in Jesus, but it also presumes that Jesus Himself is worthy of faith, based not only on His having loved us even unto death but also on His divine Sonship. Precisely because Jesus is the Son, because He is absolutely grounded in the Father, He was able to conquer death and make the fullness of life shine forth. ”
As He says throughout St. John’s Gospel, His death is the proof that He obeys His Father, that He is but one with His Father.
“ Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. ”
The true name of such a “ culture ” is Apostasy, the result of the Second Vatican Council.
“ 18. This fullness that Jesus brings to faith has another decisive aspect. In faith, Christ is not simply the One in Whom we believe, the supreme manifestation of God’s love ; He is also the One with Whom we are united precisely in order to believe. Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus Himself sees them, with His own eyes : it is a participation in His way of seeing. ”
When Pope Francis kisses lepers, the aged and the infirm or children, he truly imitates Our Lord, our Good Samaritan.
“ In many areas in our lives we trust others who know more than we do. We trust the architect who builds our home, the pharmacist who gives us medicine for healing, the lawyer who defends us in court. We also need someone trustworthy and knowledgeable where God is concerned. Jesus, the Son of God, is the one Who makes God known to us (cf. Jn 1:18). Christ’s life, His way of knowing the Father and living in complete and constant relationship with Him, opens up new and inviting vistas for human experience. ”
The second part of the encyclical will explain how.
SALVATION BY FAITH.
“ 19. On the basis of this sharing in Jesus’ way of seeing things, Saint Paul has left us a description of the life of faith. In accepting the gift of faith, believers become a new creation ; they receive a new being ; as God’s children, they are now ‘ sons in the Son ’. The phrase ‘ Abba, Father ’, so characteristic of Jesus’ own experience, now becomes the core of the Christian experience (cf. Rm 8:15). ”
“ Abba ” means “ dad, ” quite simply. St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Doctor of the Church, taught us to say “ dad ” to God !
“ The life of faith, as a filial existence, is the acknowledgment of a primordial and radical gift that upholds our lives. We see this clearly in Saint Paul’s question to the Corinthians : ‘ What have you that you did not receive ? ’(1 Co 4:7). This was at the very heart of Paul’s debate with the Pharisees : the issue of whether salvation is attained by faith or by the works of the law. Paul rejects the attitude of those who would consider themselves justified before God on the basis of their own works. ”
How can man consider himself justified since he cannot even exist by himself ?
“ Such people, even when they obey the commandments [as the Jews proud themselves on obeying them] and do good works, are centred on themselves ; they fail to realise that goodness comes from God. ”
To whom is he referring ? He is pointing to the postconciliar Christians about whom we read in Gaudium et Spes : “ Believers and unbelievers alike are generally in agreement on this point : ‘ everything on earth must be ordered to man as to its centre and its zenith. ’ ” (GS 12, 1)
He puts them in their place :
“ Those who live this way, who want to be the source of their own righteousness, find that the latter is soon depleted and that they are unable even to keep the law. ”
Will Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Cardinal Bergolgio’s old friend, understand Pope Francis’ message ?
“ They become closed in on themselves and isolated from the Lord and from others ; their lives become futile and their works barren, like a tree far from water. ”
Like the fig tree that Jesus cursed ( Mk 11:14 ).
“ Saint Augustine tells us in his usual concise and striking way : ‘ Ab eo qui fecit te, noli deficere nec ad te ’, ‘ Do not turn away from the One who made you, even to turn towards yourself ’. Once man thinks that by turning away from God he will find himself, his life begins to fall apart (cf. Lk 15:11-24).
“ The beginning of salvation is openness to something prior to ourselves, to a primordial gift that affirms life and sustains it in being. Only by being open to and acknowledging this gift can we be transformed, experience salvation and bear good fruit. ”
Like a well-watered tree ( Ps 1).
“ Salvation by faith means recognising the primacy of God’s gift. As Saint Paul puts it : ‘ By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing ; it is the gift of God ’(Eph 2:8).
“ 20. Faith’s new way of seeing things is centred on Christ. ”
It is not centred on ‘ man ’.
“ Faith in Christ brings salvation because in Him our lives become radically open to a love that precedes us [in Spanish : primerea. This idea and the verb to express it are constantly repeated in Pope Francis’ speeches], a love that transforms us from within, acting in us and through us [...] by His Incarnation and Resurrection, the Son of God embraced the whole of human life and history, and now dwells in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. ”
He did not accomplish this by the sole fact of the Incarnation, contrary to John Paul II’s affirmation written in Gaudium et Spes 22, 2 ! Nor did He do so in order to unite to any man whomever he may be, but to place Himself at the head of the procession.
“ 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. ”
After a paragraph that could be a commentary on Fr. de Foucauld’s motto : Jesus caritas, Pope Francis relieves us of a Conciliar ‘ constitution ’.
“ 22. In this way, the life of the believer becomes an ecclesial existence, a life lived in the Church. ”
This is how this first chapter ends, a chapter devoted to faith in the love that is lived out in the Church, which is the opposite of Protestant individualism.
“ When Saint Paul tells the Christians of Rome that all who believe in Christ make up one body, he urges them not to boast of this... ”
Here again, what a shaft directed against the modern spirit ! If he urged them not to boast, today he would urge them to renounce the rights of the autonomous, free and independent human person. Listen :
“ … rather, each must think of himself ‘ according to the measure of faith that God has assigned ’(Rm 12:3). ”
This is the measure that determines the only dignity that an individual possesses.
“ Those who believe come to see themselves in the light of the faith that they profess : Christ is the mirror in which they find their own image fully realised. Just as Christ gathers to Himself all those who believe and makes them His Body, so the Christian comes to see himself as a member of this Body, in an essential relationship with all other believers. The image of a body does not imply that the believer is simply one part of an anonymous whole, a mere cog in a great machine ; rather, it brings out the vital union of Christ with believers, and of believers among themselves (cf. Rm 12:4-5). ”
This is what we recite every day in our prayer to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, asking for : “ the grace to celebrate unceasingly the most holy life of Jesus and Mary in one Heart, to form but one heart amongst ourselves and with Them, and to accomplish Their will in all matters. ”
“ Christians are ‘ one ’(cf. Gal 3:28), yet in a way that does not make them lose their individuality ; in service to others, they come into their own in the highest degree. This explains why, apart from this Body, outside this unity of the Church in Christ, outside this Church which – in the words of Romano Guardini – ‘ is the bearer within history of the plenary gaze of Christ on the world ’... ”
What does this mean ? When Pope Francis becomes acquainted with Fr. de Nantes, he will forget about Guardini, in favour of our Father's definition of the Church as “ the work of one Man and of one Man alone. That still remains true after twenty centuries. ” It remains so even after fifty years of disorientation because it is being born anew in the person of Pope Francis. “ The Church is almost nothing else except the repercussion in time and space of the Gospel. The Church’s movement is to this day, for those who know her well, only the effect of that initial impulse. ” ( Letter to My friends, nº 136, April 1963)
“ Faith is necessarily ecclesial ; it is professed from within the Body of Christ as a concrete communion of believers. It is against this ecclesial backdrop that faith opens the individual Christian towards all others. Christ’s word, once heard, by virtue of its inner power at work in the heart of the Christian, becomes a response, a spoken word, a profession of faith. As Saint Paul puts it : ‘ one believes with the heart... and confesses with the lips ’(Rm 10:10). Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or a personal opinion : it comes from hearing, and it is meant to find expression in words and to be proclaimed. For ‘ how are they to believe in Him of Whom they have never heard ? And how are they to hear without a preacher ? ’(Rm 10:14). Faith becomes operative in the Christian on the basis of the gift received, the love that attracts our hearts to Christ (cf. Gal 5:6), and enables us to become part of the Church’s great pilgrimage through history until the end of the world. For those who have been transformed in this way, a new way of seeing opens up, faith becomes light for their eyes. ”