Unless you Believe you will not Understand

By Paul Fahey                                                                                        Thursday, September 12

Shortly after it was released I began reading through Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei or The Light of Faith. I breezed through it pretty quickly, picking up some great tidbits and one liners. However, later in the summer I was asked to give a talk on the second chapter of this encyclical, “Unless you Believe you will not Understand.” So then I went back and spent nearly two hours really diving into chapter two of Lumen Fidei. And since I just gave that talk this past week, I figured, “Why not double dip?” and decided to share some of my reflections here as well.

Chapter two of Lumen Fidei has thirteen numbered paragraphs (about 20 paperback pages) that are grouped into six sections. My favorite was the second section, “Knowledge of the Truth and Love.” This is primarily because it touched on a subject that has been on my mind as of late (and have previously written about), viewing reality with a supernatural vision. So it is section two that I will share with you here.

The encyclical begins this section by discussing the relationship between faith and love, and how this relationship gives the person of faith a particular kind of knowledge.

Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps. Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes (26).

Referencing Wittgenstein, the pope then goes on to explain how, in our relativistic culture, faith is likened to love, or rather, the feeling of falling in love. That is, faith is a personal, subjective experience that may have meaning for the individual but ultimately has no bearing on anyone else. “But,” the pope asks, “is this an adequate description of love? (27).”

While love may involve emotions, is that all that it is, or is it something more than passing moments of intense feelings? According to the pope, real love is grounded on truth, that is, a sincere acceptance of who I am and who the other is. Real love seeks to unite who I truly am with who the other truly is. True love, the pope says, “unifies all the elements of our person and becomes a new light pointing the way to a great and fulfilled life. Without truth, love is incapable of establishing a firm bond; it cannot liberate our isolated ego or redeem it from the fleeting moment in order to create life and bear fruit (27).”

Now here is where things get really interesting. Love, uniting one’s self with another, brings the lovers a unique kind of knowledge. Love allows the man or woman to experience reality through the eyes of their beloved. The pope says,

One who loves realizes that love is an experience of truth, that it opens our eyes to see reality in a new way, in union with the beloved. In this sense, Saint Gregory the Great could write that “amor ipse notitia est”, love is itself a kind of knowledge possessed of its own logic. It is a relational way of viewing the world, which then becomes a form of shared knowledge, vision through the eyes of another and a shared vision of all that exists (27).

Here is a really simple example. My friend and I go on a “man-date” to the local movie theater to watch that most terrible move, “Pacific Rim.” Then during the car ride home I share with him what I thought of the movie, the main themes, and what stood out to me. He does the same. So, by the end of the night, not only did I experience the movie from my perspective, but, in some way, I experienced it from his as well. This, in a nutshell, is what the encyclical is getting at.

Now let’s apply this idea to faith. God loves us first, then if we respond to Him in faith and love Him in return, God’s loves transforms us and allows us to see reality as He does. The pope says, “Faith does not merely gaze at Jesus, but sees things as Jesus himself sees them (18).”  Let this sink in for a moment. Faith allows us to see reality, our reality, but also all of history, from His eyes. “Faith-knowledge,” the pope says, “sheds light not only on the destiny of one particular people, but the entire history of the created world, from its origins to its consummation (28).”

It is this faith-knowledge, seeing the world through God’s eyes, that gave the great saints their peace and their hope. Saint Maximilian Kolbe, for example, saw (at least in part) the Nazis and the horrors of Auschwitz as God saw them. He saw them as mere pawns of the darkness, darkness already beaten by the new dawn that is Christ.

So let’s pray for faith. Real faith. Not faith that makes us feel good about ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in, but faith rooted in the truth and the love of Christ. For it is only with the light of faith that we will see things as they truly are.

Paul Fahey is a husband, father, and catechist. He has a BA in Theology with minors in History, and Catholic Studies and is currently studying at the Augustine Institute for a MA in Theology. 


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