THE traditional Christian teaching that marriage is a lifelong
and exclusive union between a man and a woman has been reasserted
by Pope Francis in his first encyclical.
He published Lumen Fidei: The light of faith after some
100 days in office, focusing on the subject of faith. But, at a
time when countries around the world - including the UK - are
extending marriage to include same-sex couples, the Pope makes
explicit the belief that marriage is reserved only for heterosexual
"The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is
the family," Pope Francis writes in the encyclical, which was
signed on 29 June, the feast of St Peter and St Paul, and published
on 5 July.
"I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman
in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and
presence of God's own love, and of the acknowledgment and
acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby
spouses can become one flesh, and are enabled to give birth to a
new life, a manifestation of the Creator's goodness, wisdom, and
"Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other
mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and
mirrors many features of faith.
"Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan
bigger than our own ideas and undertakings; a plan which sustains
us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we
Lumen Fidei completes a trilogy on the theological
virtues started by Pope Benedict XVI, who issued encyclicals on
charity, in the publication of Deus Caritas Est (God is
Love), in 2005; and hope, with Spes Salvi (Saved by Hope),
At a press conference at the Vatican, the president of the
Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, Archbishop
Rino Fisichella, explained that Pope Benedict had intended to write
an encyclical on faith, and publish it at the end of the Year of
Faith, which he opened last October - on the 50th anniversary of
the opening of the Second Vatican Council - and which will run to
the end of November.
"However, history took a different turn, and this encyclical is
now offered to us today by Pope Francis," he said. "It must be
said, without hesitation - while Lumen Fidei resumes some
of the intuition and themes typical of the ministry of Benedict
XVI, it is fully Pope Francis's text.
"Here we encounter his style . . . the immediacy of his
expressions, the rich images he uses, and the peculiarity of his
use of quotations from ancient and modern authors, make this text a
true introduction to his teaching," Archbishop Fisichella said.
In the first of four sections, the encyclical unpacks the
meaning of faith from a biblical perspective, beginning with
Abraham, before moving on to Jesus. The second chapter deals with
philosophical issues, including the relationships between faith and
truth, and between faith and reason.
The third deals almost exclusively with the importance of
evangelisation as a response to the gift of faith by the Church;
and the fourth deals with the relationship between Christians and
the world, and how that is shaped by faith.
At the press launch, the prefect of the Vatican Congregation for
Bishops, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, said that faith played a vital part
in establishing freedom and justice in civil societies, and in
conflict-resolution in nations afflicted by violence and war. "The
tendency to confine faith to the private sphere is calmly but
decisively rejected here," he said.
Lumen Fidei was welcomed in England with a pastoral
letter issued this week by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Portsmouth,
the Rt Revd Philip Egan. "Its basic message is that faith is a gift
from God, which enables us to see the world and our place within it
as it really is," Bishop Egan said. "Faith is seeing with the eyes
of Christ. It is knowledge born of love, the love of God poured
into our hearts. Christian faith and natural reason go together,
complementing one another, and one without the other leads to
Bishop Egan said that he was particularly concerned about the
social consequences of the spread in British society of "scientism"
- the belief that truth can be obtained only through empirical
He said he hoped that the study of Lumen Fidei would
"once and for all knock on the head false perceptions about faith
and reason, and enable us, as people of Christian faith, not only
to take fresh heart, but also to offer others in our society a
"We believe that faith and reason go together. They are two
forms of knowing, and essentially there is no conflict between
The text of the encyclical is available in full at www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/