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Joseph Ratzinger, better known as Pope Benedict XVI, stepped down from the papal ministry in 2013. But before he did, he began drafting an encyclical on the nature of Christian faith. His goal was to finish his ongoing thoughts on the three theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity—and their implications for true human development. For Benedict, faith was the foundation and informing energy of the other two virtues. And to his great credit, a newly elected Pope Francis adopted Benedict’s draft upon his accession. Francis added “a few contributions of [his] own.” Then he issued the resulting text as Lumen Fidei (“The Light of Faith”), his first encyclical and the inaugural document of his pontificate.

Given later events, it’s telling that some of the new pope’s strongest supporters were less than enthused with the style and content of Lumen Fidei. Understandably so. The text is a classically Ratzingerian work. In his previous roles as a peritus (expert) at Vatican II and as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger was one of the greatest Christian minds of the past century. Lumen Fidei is a tour-de-force reflection on the nature of faith, its role in reason’s search for truth, and its guidance for the Christian life.

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