Review, Part 2
(You need to read Part I, first, in this series. Also, you can read the encyclical online at the Vatican web site, or numerous other ones. Or buy the encyclical at the Basilica/Shrine bookstore in D.C.)
Continuing with Pope Francis’ encyclical, Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith), we now enter chapter 1. In this chapter the Holy Father looks at the different manifestations of Faith in Salvation History, beginning with Abraham. For Abraham faith opened up a way, a new horizon, opened up by God’s word. The faith of Abraham is a kind of faith that is only possible in relation to God’s word. Because it is the word of God, and God is absolutely faithful to his word, we can give our lives in reliance on the word of God. The word faith in Hebrew is derived from the word “to uphold.” Faith upholds our relationship with God and his promise, while God’s faithfulness upholds his own word and promise.
Faith in God is not something alien to Abraham. He has sensed it in the core of his being. The Holy Father introduces a concept here in his words that could sound strange to us: “memory of the future.” Say what? How can we remember the future?
What is being remembered in Abraham is the promise given by God. The promise given to Adam and Eve, but, even more, the promise imbedded in us as creatures created by God. In this, the Holy Father expresses a concept from Pope Emeritus Benedict. As creatures, we already have the truth of who we are in us. Original sin, while it damages creation, does not destroy it. God’s revelation and grace revive what was damaged. So, in a sense, we “wake up” from our fallen state and discover who we were created to be. God promises an heir to Abraham. God reawakens this hope for Abraham. The horizon of faith opened up for Abraham is connected to the hope for descendants, a hope that is the center of our hopes in our natural lives.
So we are reviewing the Faith of Israel, and how Pope Francis sees that period of faith and its lessons with the patriarchs… all related to the light of faith.
Now, we move on to Israel’s Faith.
Abraham’s faith tapped into a “memory” of a relationship with God.
This is a concept that Pope Francis takes from his predecessor’s early work on this encyclical on faith. Pope Benedict the XVI had an Augustinian-influenced theology. This section on Israel’s faith will look at it from the Augustinian acknowledgement of “original sin” and how this clouded the heart-view of man to God. Yet, while man is yoked with original sin, St. Augustine would teach how there was still a kind of “memory” of a relationship with God.
That memory is sort of understood by man’s empty heart and emptiness, which so troubles him….. or understood some, too, through man’s lost or confused and limited mind, which keeps reminding him of how is must be capable of so much better. Three are the voids and question marks of man. We are a marred creature…
Yet what has marred mankind? This is a question he does quest to find an answer (even when man wants to keep denying religious practice or observances). Man still sees or knows that a separation of man occurred from our Source or Creator, as we chose self over the reign of God, as it seems obvious that selfishness is a big dilemma of man.
As I person tried to explain her disturbing self-absorbion: “I can’t help it, this being selfish and greedy and all, as I was just born this way!”
Yet there is another option out there: living by Faith. What does it lead to? An acknowledgement of God, and an obedient and loving trust before Him. We desire to get back into friendship with God.
But what of this desire of recovery back to God-ly cooperation and friendship?
Abraham’s faith was based on this “inchoate” memory of this relationship. Abraham acts to respond back to God. It is a start back.
What does “inchoate” mean? in·cho·ate [ in kṓ ət ]
1. just beginning: just beginning to develop 2. imperfectly formed: only partly formed 3. chaotic: lacking structure, order, or organization
Synonyms: undeveloped, incipient, immature, beginning, starting, budding, developing, emergent, early, embryonic.
Now, in the follow-through after Abraham, of a NATION of faith response, Israel’s faith will rest on memory, too. But, not an inchoate memory or sense but a remembrance of concrete actions performed by God on their behalf: the release from slavery in Egypt, the giving of the Law, the wandering in the desert, the manna, the water from the rock, the entry into the promised land. Israel’s faith is based on God’s actions in forming and saving them. Faith responds to God’s first move.
Another aspect of Israel’s faith is the constant temptation and frequent fall into idolatry. The hiddenness of God is something Israel must contend with in its faith life. The making and worshiping of the Golden Calf is the first instance of Israel trying to make something with their own hands that they could worship. This is the constant drama of Israel’s faith lived out in a fallen, pagan world. God’s faithfulness to the covenant, despite the people’s repeated failures,becomes an important revelation of who this merciful God is.
A third aspect of Israel’s faith is the presence of a mediator in Moses. Not only can the people not make an image of this God, they cannot directly meet Him. They have to not only trust God– they need to trust the people He sends to represent him. Pope Francis here brings out the challenge modern man faces in this aspect of faith: modern man wants to know on his own. Modern man wants to know directly, not relying on anyone else. But, this way of knowing also shows our ability to share knowledge. Knowledge becomes a source of a relationship. It is a kind of knowledge that rests on love.
This is a lot to digest. It is our history of faith, and it is worthy to know.
Next time we move into Christian Faith and the centrality of love in that faith, as we keep examining “Lumen Fidei.”