VATICAN CITY, DEC. 21, 2008 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI urged the Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology to advance research into society’s Christian roots because society needs a culture more open to spiritual realities.
In the Pope’s address Saturday to the delegation of professors and students, which was led by the institute’s grand chancellor, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, the Pontiff wished to show “living appreciation” for the institute’s “precious and fruitful cultural, literary, and academic activity.”
The institute, the Pontiff noted, has as its principal objective “the study of the vestiges of ecclesial life throughout the centuries,” and offers the opportunity of penetrating into the complex reality of the Church of the first centuries, “to understand the past, making it present to the men of today.”
In describing the Church’s history, the Holy Father said, “the patient research of archaeology cannot prescind from also studying supernatural realities, without, however, abandoning the rigorous analysis of archaeological discoveries.”
“A complete vision of the reality of a Christian community, whether ancient or recent” is not possible if it does not take account of the fact that “the Church is composed of a human and a divine element,” continued Benedict XVI.
“Christ, her Lord, lives in her and willed her as a community of faith, hope, love, as a visible organism, through which to spread truth and grace to all,” the Pope added, citing the Vatican II document “Lumen Gentium.”
“In this theological pre-comprehension,” he said, “the basic criterion can only be that of letting oneself be conquered by the truth pursued in its authentic sources, with a soul free of passions and prejudices, Christian archaeology being an historical science, and as such based on methodical study of sources.”
According to the Holy Father, “the spread of artistic and historical culture into every sector of society furnishes the people of our time the means for rediscovering their own roots and drawing from them the cultural and spiritual elements that will help them to build a truly human society.”
Every person and every society, he said, needs a culture open to the anthropological, moral and spiritual dimension of existence.
Because of this the Pope expressed his wish that “thanks also to the work of your worthy Institute, research into the Christian roots of our society will be advanced and intensified.”
In his view, the institute’s experience proves that the study of archaeology, above all of paleo-Christian monuments, makes possible the “deepening of knowledge of the evangelical truth that has been transmitted to us, and offers us the opportunity of following the masters and witnesses of faith that have gone before us.”
“Knowing the heredity of past Christian generations permits succeeding generations to be faithful to the ‘depositum fidei’ of the first Christian community and, following the same route, to continue make the unchanging Gospel of Christ resound in every time and every place,” he said.
Benedict XVI called the institute a privileged means for “serving history and art, appreciating the numerous witnesses of western civilization, culture and Catholic spirituality that the ‘Eternal City’ possesses.”
“It is a precious patrimony formed over the course of two millennia,” he added, “an inestimable treasure of which you are the stewards and from which you must, like the scribe of the Gospel, unceasingly bring out the new and the old.”