By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
The Vatican announced today that the new encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI, titled Spe Salvi, or "Saved by Hope," will be presented on Friday, Nov. 30, in a Vatican press conference.
Described by sources who have seen the text as an "extremely spiritual" document, the encyclical will be presented by French Dominican Cardinal Georges Marie Martin Cottier, former theologian of the papal household under John Paul II, and Jesuit Cardinal Albert Vanhoye, an emeritus professor of exegesis at the Pontifical Biblical Institute.
(Some Roman wags observed that merely by bringing the Dominicans and Jesuits together, Benedict has already provided a sign of hope for peace in the church!)
Among other sources, the encyclical builds upon recent discussions about hope developed by the International Theological Commission, the chief advisory body to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The ITC was asked to reflect on the theological virtue of hope while then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was still the prefect of the doctrinal congregation.
It was that reflection which led, among other things, to the ITC's consensus in favor of downplaying the notion of "limbo," referring to a special destination in the afterlife for unbaptized babies. Instead, the ITC concluded, Christians may hope that God's desire that all may be saved will also extend to infants who die without baptism.