ROME, APR. 3, 2001 (Zenit.org).- More than two millenniums after his death, Socrates still has a lot to teach the world.
So said Father Fernando Pascual, in his opening address at a congress on “Socrates and His Philosophic Value,” held last Friday at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University.
“Socrates died because he could not stop preaching his disturbing message, because he believed in his mission,” said Father Pascual, a professor.
After hearing his sentence, Socrates told his Athenian judges: “The hour has come for us to go, I to death and you to life; only God knows which one of us is going to a better end” (“Apologia,” 42a).
ZENIT interviewed Father Pascual, a professor, about the philosopher who died in 399 B.C.
–Q: What would Socrates say today to people today?
–Father Pascual: Socrates would pose a series of questions. “How is it possible that you can be so sure of the global market, and so unsure of what virtue and duty are? How is it possible that you get up every morning to earn a bit more money, when you still don´t know what justice is, and how it is possible to live in peace with yourself and others?
“How is it possible that you anxiously read so much news of what happens outside yourself, when you are unable to control one moment of anger, of profound rancor, and consent to a moment of disloyal pleasure?”
–Q: What are the similarities and differences between Socrates´ and Christ´s deaths?
–Father Pascual: Socrates accepted death, despite the fact he knew it was unjust. Christ knows that the sentence is unjust, but responds with a greater love and accepts it for love of humanity.
Socrates is lacking this dimension of love for others, but he expresses fidelity to himself, which also has the value of witness. He wants his disciples to understand that he is faithful to the law. Agreements must be respected, in order to live civilly, and Socrates respects them to the end; he does not flee, not even when he is unjustly condemned.
We have much more in Christ, because his death means salvation for all — even though many times there has been an attempt to make Christ a simple model of morality, as Kant did. Jesus´ death has salvific significance. Christ saves, something Socrates cannot do. Socrates can only witness to a value. Christ, however, incarnates a value and gives us the strength to live it. His death is a total giving.
Moreover, it is necessary to consider the way in which the two speak of their enemies. Contrary to Christ, Socrates does not forgive. Perhaps Socrates intended to forgive, but in the “Apologia” there is no trace of this feeling. Socrates said to the judges who voted his death: “Be careful, because my disciples will now attack you.”
Christ, however, does not preach vengeance. His disciples were the first to forgive and evangelize their very enemies. There is a radical difference in this also.
–Q: John Paul II´s last encyclical calls for the rebirth of Christian philosophy. What does Socrates say in this connection?
–Father Pascual: Socrates teaches the value of humble research, because he knows that we human beings cannot exhaust learning. Socrates says that human learning is weak. There is a wonderful passage in which Socrates says: “I can do four things, when I cannot find the truth: trust experience, trust a teacher, find any argument and see if it is consistent in itself; or trust divine revelation.”
Socrates keeps all these possibilities open and demonstrates that, even if the spirit is not open, it can open itself to transcendence.
Q: What do you think is Socrates´ legacy to us?
–Father Pascual: Socrates went out to meet death. Later, the judges who condemned him also died. In the next life, we will know which of the two deaths was more beautiful. However, we already know and are certain that it is better to die poor and just than rich and dishonest. This could be the legacy left to us by Socrates. This must be a rule of life for us all, men and women, if we want the new millennium to be more just and happy.