Up Front and Personal

Encyclical Was the Work of Four Hands

by Father John P. Cush

On July 5, the first encyclical of His Holiness, Pope Francis, was released to the world. Entitled Lumen Fidei (in English, The Light of Faith), this document brings to completion the trilogy of encyclicals on the theological virtues begun with Deus Caritas Est in 2005 (on love) and Spes Salvi in 2007 (on hope) (with Caritas in Veritate, a social encyclical in 2010, which focused on love as charity).

What makes this particular papal document so interesting is that not only is it the first of our current Holy Father but also that it is the collaborative work of Pope Francis and our emeritus pope, Benedict XVI.

It is not unusual for a pope to complete an encyclical begun by his predecessor. What is unusual is for the pope to speak so freely and openly about it. Pope Benedict began this encyclical, and after his resignation on Feb. 11, his successor, Pope Francis, took the document, amended it and added his own thoughts.

It is fun for those who have read Pope Benedict’s work and those who have listened to Pope Francis’ talks and homilies to try to discern what parts were written by Benedict and what parts were written by Francis. My own opinion is that the document as it appears is mostly the work of Benedict, up until number 50.

However, it ultimately does not matter in the least. The consistency, the unity of the two minds and hearts of our pope and pope emeritus, make it the work of a united front. Ultimately, it is the work of the pope, and, as we can only have one pope, it is signed and promulgated by Francis.

What a tremendous example of humility, of collaboration, is set by both Benedict and Francis. All too often, when someone new comes into a position, for the sake of establishing oneself, whatever had been done by his or her immediate predecessor is seen as no good.

The fact that Francis would acknowledge the work done by Benedict and to use it to complement his own thought demonstrates once again Francis as the pope of humility. The fact that Benedict, the prolific theologian and writer, would permit someone else to put forth his ideas without his name attached to it, also shows Benedict as the humble servant leader that he is.

Humility and collaboration: two essential ingredients for a good leader, both in the Church and in the world. How blessed we are to have two such examples before us in both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI.