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The Faith of Christ in Pope Francis's Encyclical 'Lumen Fidei'

By Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq.
7/8/2013 (4 years ago)
Catholic Online (

"Faith," Pope Francis says, "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."  (LF, No. 18)  Faith is "sharing in Jesus' way of seeing things," both God and things in God.  (LF, No. 19)  By our faith, "we see with the [spiritual] eyes of Jesus," and "receive in a certain way his vision" of God the Father.  (LF, No. 21)  Clearly, Pope Francis reiterates the traditional doctrine that Jesus had an immediate, intimate vision of God.

CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - In a recent article on Catholic Online entitled "Believing in the Jesus without Faith," I addressed the issue of whether Jesus had human faith or not.  According to the Church's doctrine, the answer is he did not. 

As the Son of God, Jesus in his human nature was graced with the "immediate vision," the "intimate vision", or the "beatific vision" (they are all synonymous) of God.  Having a direct vision of God makes the theological virtue of faith--belief in something unseen or not completely known--needless for Jesus. 

In his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, Pope Francis insists on this reality.  Pope Francis insists that it is because Jesus, as the Son of God, sees God face to face in his humanity that he is worthy of belief. 

"Faith," Pope Francis says, "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."  (LF, No. 18)  Faith is "sharing in Jesus' way of seeing things," both God and things in God.  (LF, No. 19)  By our faith, "we see with the [spiritual] eyes of Jesus," and "receive in a certain way his vision" of God the Father.  (LF, No. 21)  Clearly, Pope Francis reiterates the traditional doctrine that Jesus had an immediate, intimate vision of God.

It was because God the Son took on our flesh that Jesus "also saw the Father humanly, within the setting of a journey unfolding in time.'" (LF, No. 18)  So, here again, Pope Francis reiterates the traditional teaching that Jesus was viator simul et comprehensor, a wayfarer like us, but, because he was the Word of God, he also enjoyed a full, albeit human comprehension of God unlike any other human being on earth that ever as, that is, or that ever will be.

There is, however, a kind of faith, a narrow but very important kind of fidelity, which may be found in Jesus Christ.  This faith--found not in any man or idol--is found only in "the God who is fidelity (LF, No. 10), and is called "covenant fidelity" (LF, No. 23). 

The Holy Trinity who was revealed by Christ is "the God who is Amen, the 'God of truth,'" and it is He who is "the enduring foundation of covenant fidelity."  (LF, No. 23)

The words "covenant fidelity" are an effort to translate the untranslatable Hebrew word 'eműnāh (אמונה) and its virtual partner-words and well-nigh synonyms, hesed (חסד), emet (אמת), tsedaqah (צדקה), and mishpat (משפט).  These words are frequently found as the foundations underlying the Hebrew word berith (ברית), meaning covenant. 

The "covenant fidelity" of God is what underlies the covenant on God's part and so makes it worthy and reasonable of belief.  The various Hebrew words we might all translate as "covenant fidelity" describe the underlying foundation rock that is God: the immovable, unshakeable and reliable love, fidelity, truth, and mercy of God which underlies any covenant with God, but especially that ultimate covenant of Jesus Christ.

God--being God--can absolutely be trusted with our entire self, with our entire life.  This "covenant fidelity" in Christ is found in him by virtue of the fact that he was the Son of God.  Pope Francis's encyclical Lumen Fidei makes specific mention of it.  As the encyclical explains:

"In the Bible, faith is expressed by the Hebrew word 'eműnāh, derived from the verb 'amān whose root means "to uphold". The term 'eműnāh can signify both God's fidelity and man's faith. The man of faith gains strength by putting himself in the hands of the God who is faithful."  (LF, No. 10) 

As the encyclical explains, this double meaning of the Hebrew word has also found its way into the Greek word for faith (pistōs) and the Latin word for faith (fidelis).

God's fidelity is something entirely other than its counterpart, man's obedience of faith.  They are, it might be said, the two sides of the coin of covenant.  "As Saint Augustine explains: 'Man is faithful (fidelis) when he believes in God and his promises; God is faithful (fidelis) when he grants to man what he has promised.'"  (LF, No. 10)

In the Scriptures, "truth and fidelity go together: the true God is the God of fidelity who keeps his promises and makes possible, in time, a deeper understanding of his plan."  (LF, No. 28)

Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."  (John 14:6)  Jesus was the "righteousness of God."  (2 Cor. 5:21)  In short, being both God and man, Jesus was, in human form, the "covenant fidelity" of God.

By assuming the nature of man in Jesus, the Son of God, though in the form of God, "humbled himself, becoming obedient, even unto death, death on a cross."  (Phil. 2:6-8)  In his human nature, Jesus fully and freely submitted his human intellect and will to the God the father that he knew.  In reference to his relationship to God the Father, "the Son of God, Jesus Christ . . . was not 'yes' and 'no,' but in him it was always 'yes.'" (2 Cor. 1:19)

It is impossible to forget those words directed to God the Father central to the entirety of Christ's life but which are most poignant at the Christ's agony at the Garden of Gethsemane: "Not as I will, but as you will."  (Matt. 26:39).  Jesus "becomes the definitive 'Yes' to all the promises" of God, and so "the ultimate basis of our 'Amen' to God."  (LF, No. 15)  In light of the resurrection, it was because he was obedient unto death that Jesus revealed the "the utter reliability of God's love."  (LF, No. 17) 

As God, Jesus enjoys the "covenant fidelity" of God.  At the same time, as man, Jesus is the perfectly obedient response to the "covenant fidelity" of God.

So, in his humanity, Jesus showed perfect obedience to the "covenant fidelity" of God.  In his humanity, Jesus had a perfect obedience, what we might call the obedience of vision

Unlike Israel, whose history "shows us the temptation of unbelief" (LF, No. 13) and disobedience, or the Apostles whose chief denied Christ three times (e.g., Luke 22), or the Father who sought Jesus out to cure his son and who believed, but prayed that Jesus might help his unbelief (Mark 9:24), or the rich young ruler who could not follow Jesus (Mark 10:17-27), Jesus was perfectly obedient to the will of the Father.

In Jesus, then, we have in one person both the revelation of God's "covenant fidelity" and a perfect reciprocal human response of covenant obedience.  We have in Jesus both sides of the coin of covenant.  Jesus, in his person, is the entire New Covenant. God's part, and man's part.

We can participate in Christ's perfect obedience, Christ's obedience of vision, by the obedience of faith.  "The obedience of faith . . . must be our response to the God who reveals.  By faith one freely submits oneself entirely to God making the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals, and willing as assenting to the revelation give by God."  (LF, fn 23).

By the obedience of faith, we make Christ's covenant ours.

Here, our model is Mary.  "The Mother of the Lord is the perfect icon of faith."  "In Mary, the Daughter of Zion, is fulfilled the long history of faith of the Old Testament."  (LF, No. 58) 

How does Mary do this?  By Mary "following in the footsteps of her Son," the "faith journey of the Old Testament" found its final fulfillment in Mary.  In Mary, therefore, faith was "taken up into the following of Christ," being "transformed by him," and so faith allows us to "enter[] into the gaze of the incarnate Son of God," who, unlike any human being who ever walked this earth since Adam's fall, saw God the Father intimately, directly, immediately.  (LF, No. 58)


Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas.  He is married with three children.  He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum.  You can contact Andrew at


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