The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis have drawn extensive popular attention and commentary, with all eyes turned toward the Vatican. Nevertheless, amidst the frantic and chaotic days of a papal transition, some important details can slip through the cracks. In November of 2012, the Vatican confirmed that Pope Benedict XVI was putting the finishing touches on a new encyclical on faith. The excitement was palpable – members of the Curia described the text as “beautiful” and “beyond imagination.” Then, following Benedict XVI’s announced resignation, the encyclical disappeared from view with a mere cursory statement that the Pope would not be able to finish it in time.
As Pope Francis begins the daily work of his ministry, this should be rectified. Pope Francis: please finish the encyclical on faith.
The encyclical on faith is essential for the New Evangelization. Benedict XVI’s ultimate legacy will not be his governance, his appointments, or even his Twitter handle; it is his writings. This great theologian, the “teaching Pope”, has through his prose established a firm foundation for the Church in the 21st century.
The first half of this foundation are Benedict’s three books on Christ: Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week, and Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. As Pope Benedict emphasized again and again, these volumes were not meant to replace the Gospels. Instead, they presented the development of a personal and meaningful relationship with Christ through reflection on the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of the Lord. Benedict’s books refocused the ultimate purpose of the Catholic Church around Christ, presenting an inspirational example of how God might be found in modern times.
The second half of the foundation are the three encyclicals of Benedict’s papacy. Encyclicals are among the most influential and lasting documents of any papacy, but with these works, Benedict XVI explored the highest pinnacles of the Church – the theological virtues. Spe Salvi revitalized Christian hope; Deus Caritas Est reaffirmed Christian love. Caritas in Veritate applied Christian theology to justice and service in the modern world. These encyclicals begin to outline the roots of our Catholic theology in faith, hope, and love– but they do not overtly touch on one of these pillars, leaving our Christian faith unattended. Together, Benedict’s encyclicals and books on Jesus offer a solid foundation for the entire Catholic mission in the 21st century. But without an encyclical specifically focused on faith, the foundation is incomplete and wanting.
Benedict XVI could finish his writings on faith as pope emeritus, publishing it as a book or essay. However, in this form the text would not have the same lasting influence nor would it fill the hole left in Benedict XVI’s papal corpus. In completing Benedict XVI’s encyclical on faith, Pope Francis has the opportunity to establish a firm continuity between his predecessor’s ministries and his own. Such an act of continuity is not unprecedented. Benedict XVI’s own Deus Caritas Est was partially based on the writings of Pope John Paul II.
Pope Francis: completa de fide. In this Year of Faith, embrace the Jesuit ideal of contemplation in action by connecting the coming actions of your papacy with the thought of Pope Benedict XVI and complete Benedict XVI’s encyclical on faith.
Michael Fischer is a senior at Georgetown University and the President of the Georgetown Chapter of the Alpha Sigma Nu Jesuit Honors Society.