Lumen Fidei. The First Encyclical by Pope Francis


As supreme teachers of the Roman Catholic Church, Popes write encyclicals to expound aspects of Christian belief that they deem particularly relevant or important for their time. Encyclicals mark the theological profile of a given pontificate and provide a helpful interpretative grid to it. It is, therefore, interesting to read Pope Francis’ first encyclical which was officially presented today (July 5th, 2013), and is titled: Lumen Fidei (LF), The Light of Faith. It is Bergoglio’s first theologically articulate work since becoming Pope Francis. Leonardo De Chirico provides helpful insights from an evangelical perspective HERE.

About the author

Chris Castaldo (PhD, London School of Theology) is the lead pastor at New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Talking with Catholics about the Gospel and coauthor of The Unfinished Reformation.


  1. There are accurate summaries of some aspects of Francis’ Lumen Fidei in this recent Vatican Files. Leonardo correctly describes its evangelical understanding of faith. Yet, he claims that in paragraph 19, the section entitled Salvation by Faith, the word “alone” is missing, and hence Leonardo concludes (unsurprisingly) that this is because the “Roman Catholic Church has not accepted the doctrine of salvation by grace alone through faith alone.”

    Now, I am puzzled as to why Leonardo doesn’t consider the whole of paragraph 19, which is precisely where Francis rejects the claim that men are “justified before God on the basis of their own works.” This is how the pope frames the question of salvation by grace: “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. Such people, even when they obey the commandments and do good works, are centered on themselves, they fail to realize that goodness comes from God. 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 to keep the law. . . . The beginning of salvation is opennes 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. Salvation by faith means recognizing 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).” There is no evidence in paragraph 19 of an autonomous self-justification through works, faith plus works, as you put it. Now, you may ask how can this position of Francis be consistent with Trent, indeed with the teaching of the Catholic Church on justification, etc.? Good question. But no, you just charge the pope with the very position that he rejects in the very paragraph you refer to but fail to discuss.

    Furthermore, you claim that the evangelical dimensions of the encyclical is inconsistent with the Catholic understanding of the nature and role of the sacraments as well as of the Church. On its face, the way you oppose the life of faith and the sacraments, I dare say, is not only not Catholic but also not even Reformed or Lutheran. It seems more to be indebted to Zwingli. In his book on the Sacraments (1954), Berkouwer quotes Abraham Kuyper, summarizing the Reformed view: “The Reformed stand with Rome, Luther, and Calvin against Zwingli in their adherence to a divine working of grace in the sacraments” (p. 84). On this matter, see the section in Reformed Confessions Harmonized (edited by J.R. Beeke & S.B. Ferguson) entitled “The Means of Grace: Word and Sacrament,” pp. 208-215. Indeed, for Luther, baptism is clearly linked with regeneration and salvation in the New Testament. In Luther’s Small Catechism, question 333, he asks: “Why is baptism called a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration?” Answer: “Baptism is called a gracious water of life and a washing of regeneration because therein the Holy Ghost bestows the power of a new life on the believer.” And in question 334, he asks: “Who should be baptized?” Answer: “All who would be saved should be baptized.” (See also Luther’s larger Catechism, Fourth Part, on baptism. Now, I am not arguing here that the Roman Catholic view is exactly Luther’s view or the view of the Reformed tradition on baptism and the sacraments. What I am arguing is very well put by Berkouwer: “And it is clear that neglect or disdain of the baptismal sacrament flagrantly contradicts the message of the New Testament. There is evidently a very important relation between baptism and the salvation of Christ, and the question is raised what the nature of this relation could be” (The Sacraments, 111). But no, you don’t raise this question, or even have an eye for a certain level of convergence betwen the Catholic tradition and the Reformed and Lutheran traditions. You just repeat your opposition between faith and the sacraments (presumably because think the latter are a form of works righteousness).

    On the matter of the Church, you set up another specious opposition: “It is no longer the Word of God that leads the way, but the Church.” Again, you refer us to paragraph 40, but you neglect to consider the question that the pope is examining. Francis states: “The Church, like every family, passes on to her children the whole of her memories. But how does this come about in a way that nothing is lost, but rather everything in the patrimony of faith comes to be more deeply understood?” Then follows the passage that you quote, but which you inexplicably set up here an opposition here between the Word of God and the Church. Suggesting what? Are you suggesting that there is a confusion here between the instrumental or ministerial role of the Church and the magisterial authority of the Word of God? I don’t think the Church makes that confusion. But most important, I don’t see how you can derives that claim from what Francis actually says.

    Let’s listen to what Francis actually says here: “Faith, in fact, needs a setting in which it can be witnessed to and communicated, a means which is suitable and proportionate to what is communicated. For transmitting a purely doctrinal content, an idea might suffice, or perhaps a book, or the repetition of a spoken message. But what is communicated in the Church, what is handed down in her living tradition, is the new light born of an encounter with the true God, a light which touches us at the core of our being and engages our minds, wills and emotions, opening us to relationships lived in communion.” You are a church planter so you should have sme affinity here for what the pope is saying about the ecclesial setting in which to respond to the Gospel.

    Indeed, even the affirmation of the Nicene creed, of a profession of faith, “not only involves giving one’s assent to a body of abstract truths; rather, when it recited the whole of life is drawn into a journey towards full communion with the living God.” He adds: “it tells us that this God of communion, reciprocal love between the Father and the Son in the Spirit, is capable of embracing all of human history and drawing it into the dynamic unity of the Godhead, which has its source and fulfilment in the Father.. . . All the truths in which we believe point to the mystery of the new life of faith as a journey of communion with the living God” (paragraph 45). But the fullness of the faith in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit is mediated through the Church; the Church itself is not the living source of light, of illumination, but only the Word of God understood by the norms of the Church herself can bring us to that source. The Church has ministerial authority in the necessary role it plays in transmitting to us the Word of God. In fact, as Dei Verbum (no. 10) of Vatican II states: “The teaching office [of the Church] is not above the Word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously, and explaing it faithfully by divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit; it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revaled.”

    of course there is a lot more that one can say about this wonderful encyclical of Pope Francis, but I’ll leave it here.

  2. If , and I don’t believe the Church admits it, pope Francis contradicts Trent, then he has committed heresy against Roman doctrine.
    Neither Rome nor Luther, et al corrected the blunder of those early rejectors of Pauline revelation. Luther partially recovered it with “justification by faith” and/or the rejection of papal authority.
    Not until the 19th century do we have further restoration of more Pauline doctrine, e.g., premillennialism, the rapture of the BOC,
    and Paul’s preaching of the cross etc.

    1. Dear Marty, Thank you for your comment. You misunderstand my point about Francis and Trent. I objected to Leonardo’s characterization (really a caricature) of the Catholic doctrine of justification as faith + works precisely because the pope rejected that view precisely in the paragraph that Leonardo refers to in Lumen Fidei (no. 19). In that context, the pope says (quoting St. Paul, Ephesians 2:8) that salvation is a work of grace, of God’s gift, through faith. If that is what Francis asserts, and he does, then we should ask whether and, if so, how that is consistent with Trent. Leonardo doesn’t ask that question, unfortunately (but not surprisingly, given his assumptions about Catholicism). Marty, respectfully, let me encourage you to read the Decree on Justification of the Council of Trent. Or the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Grace and Justification, nos. 1987-2011. Both of these sources are on line for free. Yours in Christ, Eduardo

      1. I didn’t see the verbiage you quote from para.19 when I read the encylical. Perhaps I only saw an exerpt.

        It seems you find the pope in contradiction to Trent. Is that your stand? It would be sensational if he actually means to reject Trent. In opposing Luther, Trent placed the RCC in a corner from which it couldn’t extricate itself and begin to preach the true gospel of grace.The Protestant reformers also failed by not restoring Pauline truth from the letters of Paul. Only God knows how many, or how few, were able to come to saving faith while the centuries rolled on and the gospel was obscured by the false gospel in established churchianity.

  3. Dear Marty, Respectfully, Pope Francis’ encyclical is not “verbiage,” as you put it. Read the encyclical, Lumen Fidei, and the Decrees of Trent, especially on justification, or at the very least the Catechism of the Catholic Church, on grace and justification, before you make unsupportable claims. I’ll try again. I do not hold that the pope contradicts Trent. Apparently, you not only reject Catholicism, but Luther, Calvin, and so forth. You are just making claims for which you give entirely no support, biblical, creedal, or theological. I wish you the best. In Christ, Eduardo Echeverria

    1. “I do not hold that the pope contradicts Trent. Apparently, you not only reject Catholicism, but Luther, Calvin, and so forth. You are just making claims for which you give entirely no support, biblical, creedal, or theological. I wish you the best. In Christ, Eduardo Echeverria”

      I appreciate your taking the trouble to reply to my posts. I don’t follow how you resolve the question of the pope saying that works don’t save, yet not contradicting Trent. You are confusing on that point IMO. I also pray for the best for you.
      Marty Nichols

  4. I forgot to say that I didn’t mention the scriptural support I have for my Pauline doctrine for the sake of brevity here.
    If you have interest you might surf to my site called “Paul, Our Apostle” at:

    Please take the time to register and comment there.

Comments are closed.