(Zenit has it up as well, including a pdf version, which might be helpful if you want to print it out. Because you have to take read it on the run today. Because you have to condense it by…oh, don’t remind me.)
Speaking this morning at a Vatican news conference, Cardinal Georges Cottier, a Dominican and the former theologian of the papal household under Pope John Paul II, said that the encyclical argues that the virtue of hope is “decisive for culture and for an authentic humanism.”
Cottier said the encyclical also illustrates how Christian hope is not a “flight from the world,” but rather a force that impels Christians into active service to others and to the world.
During the news conference, television screens played images of the pope signing the new encyclical this morning.
Throughout the encyclical, Benedict weaves familiar themes for those who know his mind. Repeatedly, for example, he insists that the claims of the Christian faith do not place limits on human freedom or on the free exercise of reason, but rather point freedom and reason to their ultimate fulfillment. He also returns once more to what he describes as the “fundamental error” of Marxism, placing its hope exclusively in materialism.
Benedict wanted this encyclical to appear in the Christmas season, since Christmas is the great feast of the Incarnation, traditionally understood as the principal symbol of Christian hope. On Saturday, the church enters the period of Advent, pointing towards Christmas.
With Spe Salvi,, Benedict solidifies his profile as a “pope of the basics” – determined to accent the core principles of the Christian faith.
Early indications suggest that Spe Salvi may succeed in appealing to a wide cross-section of Catholics; even the German reform group “Wir Sind Kirche,” for example, one of Joseph Ratzinger’s harshest critics over the years, issued a statement today calling the encyclical “impressive and engaging.”
Moreover, the focus on love and hope for his first two encyclicals also serves the pope’s ecumenical purposes, since Christians have not been divided historically on these two virtues. Competing understandings of the faith, on the other hand, have been far more explosive.
The Feast of St. Andrew is also the patronal feast of the Patriarch of Constantinople, offering another ecumenical dimension. Cottier said this morning that the text could be a “document of unity” for the different Christian confessions. Cottier also noted that Benedict quotes the Protestant Biblical scholar Helmut Koester approvingly in the encyclical.
Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, said this morning in a Rome news conference that the encyclical is “absolutely and personally” a work of Benedict XVI. As a matter of fact, Lombardi said, papal advisors had been working on another encyclical on social themes, and were “surprised” when Benedict chose to bring this project to completion first, virtually exclusively the work of his own hand during the Easter season and his summer period at Castel Gandolfo.
Lombardi said that work on the social encyclical will continue.
In the text of Spe Salvi, Benedict cites a series of recent saints and Catholic heroes, from Mother Josephine Bakhita to “the unforgettable Cardinal Nguyen Van Thuan,” the late Vietnamese prelate who spent 13 years in a Communist prison, and who wrote a book on the experience titled Prayers of Hope.
Benedict also reflects at length on various Biblical passages related to hope. Among other things, he tackles the much-disputed question of how to understand the Greek term hypostasis in Hebrews 11, which reads that “faith is the substance of things hoped for.” Benedict argues that this “substance” is not, as Martin Luther suggested, merely a subjective sensation within the individual believer, but rather an objective reality based on the truth of the Christian faith.
Benedict also rejects an individualistic interpretation of hope, arguing that Christian hope points toward a “communitarian salvation” leading the believer “out of the prison of the ego.”
(I have to read this today and turn around a treatment of it by tomorrow, so….see ya!)