In his letter accompanying the appointment of Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Francis invites his new Prefect to focus on the “main purpose” of the Dicastery: “keeping the faith.” These are St. Paul’s words from his 2nd letter to his disciple, Timothy: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). The word “keep” here translates the Greek τετήρηκα, the perfect form of τηρέω, which also has connotations of guarding, watching, holding fast, and observing. It is the same word John uses to describe Jesus’ relationship to his Father’s commandments: “I have kept (τετήρηκα) my Father’s commandments and remain in his love” (Jn 15:10).

“Keeping the faith” is primarily about this “remaining” (or, as it is often tenderly translated, “abiding”) in a relationship with God in Christ. It is not a passive remaining, accomplished by not breaking rules and avoiding doctrinal error, any more than “remaining” in a marriage can be reduced to not being unfaithful. “Remain,” from the Greek μένω, entails enduring, awaiting, and persevering in relationship. Christ tells us the substance of this work of “remaining” in a relationship: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you” (Jn 15:7). The “good fight” as married couples know — is a battle to keep the words of another before us. In other words, it’s a battle to stay in communication, in dialogue, refusing to retreat into our solitary thoughts. It is not so much a battle against enemies without, but about staying in communion as we face the struggles of life. If we do not “keep the faith” in this primary meaning of fighting to stay in relationship (which is the meaning of “dialogue”), we can never hope to “keep the faith” in the secondary meaning of guarding against doctrinal error.

Pope Francis invites Archbishop Fernandez to see that one of the principal ways we “keep the faith” is, perhaps counterintuitively, by putting our faith in conversation with “the questions posed by the progress of the sciences and the development of society.” This is not a novel idea. Pope Benedict XVI invited the Church to take the world’s questions seriously: “The crisis in Christian preaching, which we have experienced in growing proportions for a century, is based in no small part on the fact that the Christian answers have ignored man’s questions; they were and remain right, but because they were not developed from and within the question, they remained ineffective.”[1] In the words of the final document from the synod on young people, quoted by Francis in his letter Christus Vivit, “all too often, there is a tendency to provide prepackaged answers and ready-made solutions, without allowing their real questions to emerge and facing the challenges they pose.”[2]

When our understanding of the faith is increased in light of the questions posed by science and society, Francis continues in his letter to Fernandez, the light of faith can become “a criterion for understanding the meaning of existence.” The very questions that at first seemed to be threats instead “become ‘tools of evangelization’ because they allow us to enter into conversation with ‘our present situation.’” Francis apparently sees Archbishop Fernandez as a model of this kind of engagement, in which any sincere question can be “incorporated into a renewed proclamation of the gospel message.”


[1] Ratzinger, J. (2011). Dogma and Preaching. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press.

[2] Pope Francis. (2019) Christus Vivit. https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20190325_christus-vivit.html#_ftn24

Discuss this article!

Keep the conversation going in our SmartCatholics Group! You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Liked this post? Take a second to support Where Peter Is on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

Gabe Lewis is a Catholic educator, husband, and father of four young children. He holds degrees in classical humanities, philosophy, and psychology, and works at a Catholic 6th-12th grade school as a theology teacher and campus minister.

Share via
Copy link