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Weigel on Lumen Fidei

The "autonomous Self," writes Weigel, passes through a "wilderness of mirrors."

Friday, July 12, 2013 12:49 PM Comments (3)

Once again, George Weigel offers a brilliant analysis of Pope Francis' first encyclical and its gentle but stirring diagnosis of modern secular ideology:

Here's what Lumen Fidei says about the self-referential mindset that keep secular humanists on a path to nowhere. 

The light of faith is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: In a word, it must come from God. Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love.  ... Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment and that a vision of the future opens before us.  ... We come to see that faith does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness. Dante ... describes that light as a “spark, which then becomes a burning flame and like a heavenly star within me glimmers.”

And here is Weigel's commentary on this point:

Radical skepticism honed by an ironic sense of life constricts the horizon of human vision and aspiration. We can see only so far through lenses ground by cynicism; and if we view our life through them, our line of sight is sooner or later bent back toward the autonomous Self, in what becomes a wilderness of mirrors. Biblical faith, by contrast, opens up “vast horizons” that suggest a superabundance of life and meaning. Biblical faith satisfies the yearning that led the ancient world to worship Sol Invictus, the sun god; but the sun’s light, however bright, “cannot penetrate to the shadow of death, the place where men’s eyes are closed to the light.” And thus the early Christian apologist St. Justin Martyr could remind Trypho that “no one has ever been ready to die for his faith in the sun.” For centuries, however, men and women have been willing to stake their lives on the light of faith, bearing “public witness to the end” — which is to say, becoming martyrs. And that itself is a testimony to the truth of the light of faith in the God of the Bible.

For readers who prefer a simplified take on the sterility of secular humanism, Weigel includes this remarkable exchange with Walker Percy, the noevelist, essayist and Catholic convert:

Q. What kind of Catholic are you — a dogmatic Catholic or an open-minded Catholic?

Percy: I don’t know what that means. Do you mean do I believe the dogma that the Catholic Church proposes for belief?

Q. Yes.

A. Yes.

Q. How is such a belief possible in this day and age?

A. What else is there?

Q. What do you mean, what else is there? There is humanism, atheism, agnosticism, Marxism, behaviorism, materialism, Buddhism, Muhammadanism, Sufism, astrology, occultism, theosophy.

A. That’s what I mean. ...

Q. I don’t understand. Would you exclude, for example, scientific humanism as a rational and honorable alternative?

A. Yes.

Q. Why?

A. It’s not good enough.

Q. Why not?

A. This life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, “Scientific humanism.” That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery; love is a delight. Therefore, I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact, I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don’t see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and would not let go until God identified himself and blessed him.

Q. Grabbed aholt?

A. A Louisiana expression. ... 

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About Joan Desmond

Joan Desmond
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Joan Frawley Desmond, is the Register’s senior editor. She is an award-winning journalist widely published in Catholic, ecumenical and secular media. A graduate of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies of Marriage and Family, she lives with her family in Menlo Park, Ca, in the San Francisco Archdiocese.