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Lumen Fidei: The Catholic Faith and the Common Good

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

To insist, as Pope Francis does, that the Catholic faith play a role in the public square is not a public faux pas.  The Catholic recognizes that the secular liberal "wall of separation" shibboleth is nothing but a ploy to muzzle him.  He is not so naive that he won't face opposition, even opposition of a violent or vicious nature.

Pope Francis & Pope Emeritus Benedict

Pope Francis & Pope Emeritus Benedict


CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (Catholic Online) - There are many things that could be said about Pope Francis's first encyclical Lumen Fidei, on the light of faith.  In this article I want to focus on the encyclical's view of the relationship between the Catholic's faith and the common good.
In a nutshell, here is the encyclical's vision of the relationship between faith and public life:

Faith is unabashedly public
Faith is unapologetically active in the public forum. 
Faith is a public, common good. 
Faith demands public witness. 
Faith demands public work. 

Make no mistake about it.  Pope Francis is talking about the Catholic faith, and no other. 

That faith is public and is part of the "common good."  That is a central theme of the Pope's encyclical.  The faith is public.  It is time to quit apologizing for it.  It is time to quit adopting formulas intended to reduce its public influence.  It is time to quit confining it to our hearts, or in our churches, or for sometime in the future.  Faith has public implications to the here and now.

In the Pope's view, there is utterly no place for, there must be given no quarter to, an "I-am-personally opposed-but" faith.  Similarly, to suggest faith involves only what goes on within the four corners of a Church is false.  Such views are not authentic.  Such views encapsulate a dead faith, a mortua fides.  (Cf. Jam 2:17)  Sweep that notion of faith out of the Church!

The vision of faith found in the encyclical is intensely evangelical.  Faith is a fire in Pope Francis's heart burning to get out.  Pope Francis is like the prophet Jeremiah:

"If I say, 'I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,' there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot."  (Jer. 20:9)

To privatize faith is to make a travesty of it.  "Faith is not a private matter, a completely individualistic notion or personal opinion."  (LF, No. 22)  "Faith is truly a good for everyone; it is a common good.  Its light does not simply brighten the interior of the Church, nor does it serve solely to build an eternal city in the hereafter."

According to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, the "common good" means "the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily."  (No. 164)   Faith, then, is part of the social conditions which allow people to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.  It is an essential part of human flourishing.

The Pope knows the Gospel: "You are the light of the world," our Lord told his disciples.  "A city set on a hill cannot be hid." "Nor," Jesus continued, "do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house."  (Matt. 5:14-15)  "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."  (Matt. 5:16)  Faith is part of the common good of the world.

This public "common good" view of faith leads the encyclical to describe the Catholic faith as "a process of building, the preparing of a place in which human beings can dwell together with one another."  (LF, No. 50)  Faith drove Noah to build the Ark and Abraham to look toward a city with firm foundations.  (Cf. Heb. 11:7, 9-10)  Faith "sheds light on the art of building" human communities because it appreciates "the architecture of human relationships" designed in truth and love, and therefore "it becomes a service to the common good."  (LF, No. 51)

Because the faith is public in nature, because it is part of the common good of mankind, it will drive Catholics to be like Jeremiah.  Such as these will not ever muzzle the faith, tame it, put it in a specimen bottle and cap it with a neat label for any reason.
Though the secular liberal intelligentsia insist that the Catholic not mention God or speak any more in his name in public, the Catholic, at least if he listens to Pope Francis, will give a prompt retort: "There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary holding it in, and I cannot."  (Jer. 20:9) 

In matters of public witness, the Catholic's Magna Charta is the encyclical Lumen Fidei.

If they live their faith, Catholics will build their respective societies in accordance with the social doctrines of the faith, because these are part of the faith.  "The hands of faith are raised up to heaven, even as they go about building in charity a city based on relationships in which the love of God is laid as a foundation."  (LF, No. 51)

The Catholic will know that the Catholic Faith is "linked to love," and so the light of faith he carries is necessarily "at the service of justice, law, and peace."  (LF No. 51)  How are these not public boons?

To insist, as Pope Francis does, that the Catholic faith play a role in the public square is not a public faux pas.  The Catholic recognizes that the secular liberal "wall of separation" shibboleth is nothing but a ploy to muzzle him.  He is not so naive that he won't face opposition, even opposition of a violent or vicious nature.

The Catholic will be confident that it is by no means an unjust imposition on others to build civil society in accordance with God's patterns as taught by the social doctrine of the Catholic Church.
One of the public benefits of the "light of faith" is that it is "capable of enhancing the richness of human relations, their ability to endure, to be trustworthy, to enrich our life together."  (LF, No. 51).  Without the light of the Catholic faith, human relations become poorer, and institutions such as marriage and the family are unable to endure, to be trustworthy.

Is there any doubt that the collapse of the family, the increase of irresponsible sex, the plague of divorce, of single-motherhood, of child abuse, of abortion, of a whole host of public ills is the direct result of the loss of faith in public life?

Without the faith, we build our society and its economic and political institutions in vain, since ultimately we lose the grounds of hope.  Faith--here and now, hinc et nunc--"helps us build our societies in such a way that they can journey towards a future of hope."  (LF, No. 51)

Faith is required to have a future of hope.  Without faith in God, in vain do we built civil society.  "He who is himself reliable gives us a city which is reliable."  (LF, No. 50)  A political system that is not built upon God is unreliable and unjust. 

Again, this view is intensely biblical: "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.  Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain."  (Ps. 127:1)

Pope Francis warns that, as a result of the contemporary reduction of the Catholic faith to the private realm, a reduction which he finds unacceptable, the faith has dangerously receded from culture, to the point that we can characterize it as "a massive amnesia in our contemporary world." (LF, No. 25)

In its place, a scientism or technologism and its moral ally utilitarianism occupy the field.  This presents all of us--those of the Faith and those without--with the plague of "relativism," where any notion of a "universal truth--and ultimately this means the question of God--is no longer relevant."  (LF, No. 25) 

If things do not change, the world and its institutions will continue to be held in thrall with the tyranny of relativism, a tyranny sure to become more brutal if not checked.

The contemporary world has groaned and found itself atheist, and the relativistic darkness spreads. 

But Pope Francis, like an Athanasius redivivus, won't have any of that.  "There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, all other lights begin to dim."  (LF, No. 4)

And so we, Pope Francis's boots on the ground, should pray the prayer at the end of the encyclical and then get to work with our public witness:

Let us turn in prayer to Mary, Mother of the Church and Mother of our faith.
Mother, help our faith!
Open our ears to hear God's word and to recognize his voice and call.
Awaken in us a desire to follow in his footsteps, to go forth from our own land and to receive his promise.
Help us to be touched by his love, that we may touch him in faith.
Help us to entrust ourselves fully to him and to believe in his love, especially at times of trial, beneath the shadow of the cross, when our faith is called to mature.
Sow in our faith the joy of the Risen One.
Remind us that those who believe are never alone.
Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, that he may be light for our path. And may this light of faith always increase in us, until the dawn of that undying day which is Christ himself, your Son, our Lord! 
(LF, No. 60)


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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