Pope’s Sapienza Lecture to Have Focused on Truth

Cardinal Bertone Explains Reason for Canceling Papal Visit

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- There is a danger in modern times that man may stop seeking the truth, Benedict XVI planned to tell faculty and students of Rome’s Sapienza University today.

His visit to the university’s inauguration was canceled, due to what the Pope’s secretary of state called a lack of the “prerequisites for a dignified and tranquil welcome.”

The rector of Sapienza University had invited the Holy Father to speak, but a small protest that eventually reached the point of several students occupying the rector’s offices motivated the Holy See to cancel the visit. The protestors accused the Pope of being “hostile” to science and took issue with a 1990 speech by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the Galileo case.

The 1990 speech in its entirety showed the protestors to have taken Cardinal Ratzinger’s words out of context.

Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope’s secretary of state, sent a letter Wednesday to the rector of Sapienza University, explaining the reasons for which the Pontiff did not participate in today’s ceremony.

In his letter, the cardinal writes: “As, unfortunately, the prerequisites for a dignified and tranquil welcome were not present, because of an initiative by a decidedly minority group of professors and students, it was judged opportune to postpone the scheduled visit in order to remove any pretext for demonstrations which would have been unfortunate for everyone concerned.”

Nonetheless, the letter continues, given that the majority of professors and students wished to hear “a culturally meaningful word, whence to draw stimuli for their own journey in search of truth, the Holy Father has instructed that the text he prepared for the occasion be sent to you.”

Authority of truth

Benedict XVI’s address was read at the end of this morning’s ceremony. The Pontiff recalled the lecture he delivered at Regensburg in September 2006, during his apostolic trip to Germany. On that occasion, he wrote, “I spoke as Pope but, above all, as a former professor of what used to be my own university. […] However, I was invited to ‘La Sapienza,’ the ancient university of Rome, as Bishop of Rome, and as such I must speak.

“Of course, ‘La Sapienza’ was once the university of the Pope, but today it is a lay university enjoying that autonomy which, on the basis of the principles on which they were founded, has always been part of the nature of universities, which must be exclusively bound by the authority of the truth.

“The Pope is first and foremost the Bishop of Rome and as such, by virtue of his succession from the Apostle Peter, has an episcopal responsibility toward the entire Catholic Church. But, the community which the bishop has in his care, be it large or small, lives in the world; its conditions, its progress, its example and its word inevitably influence all the rest of the human community.”

The Holy Father wrote that he speaks as the representative of a community of believers, “as a representative of a community that contains within itself a wealth of ethical knowledge and experiences which are important for all humankind. In this way he speaks as a representative of ethical reason.”

The university

Benedict XVI asked, “What is the university? What is its task?” Then he explained: “The true, intimate, origin of the university lies in the longing for knowledge which is inherent to mankind. Humans want to know what it is that surrounds them. They want truth.

“Truth is never just theoretical. […] Truth means more than knowing. Knowledge of truth has as its goal knowledge of good. […] What is the good that makes us true? The truth makes us good, and goodness is truth. This is the optimism that lives in Christian faith, because [that faith] has been granted the vision of the ‘Logos,’ creative Reason which in the incarnation of God was revealed as Good, as Goodness itself.”

In this context, the Holy Father presented the example of medieval universities in which, he noted, faculties of philosophy and theology “were entrusted with searching for the truth about man in its entirety and, alongside that, with the task of ensuring that awareness of truth remained high.” Then, quoting a formula used at the Council of Chalcedon to describe Christology, Benedict XVI affirmed that theology and philosophy must coexist “without confusion and without separation.”

“Without confusion,” he added, “means that each of the two disciplines must conserve its own identity. Philosophy must remain a real search for reason, with its own inherent freedoms and responsibilities,” while theology “must continue to draw from that wealth of knowledge that it did not invent itself […] and that, since it can never be totally consumed by reflection, always provides fresh stimulus for thought.”

“Without separation,” the Holy Father wrote, means that “philosophy does not start afresh from zero each time in the mind of the thinker, but is part of the great dialogue of historical wisdom,” in which “it must not close itself to what religions — and in particular the Christian faith — have received and donated to humanity as signs along its journey.”

A danger

Benedict XVI acknowledged that “much of what theology and faith say can be absorbed only within the context of faith itself and therefore cannot be presented as a requirement to those people for whom this faith remains inaccessible.”

“Yet,” he continued, “at the same time it is true that the message of Christian faith […] is a purifying force for reason, […] an encouragement toward truth, and therefore a force against the pressures of power and interest groups.”

The Holy Father also referred to modern times in which “new dimensions of knowledge” have opened up, represented in universities in two main areas: “the natural sciences, […] and the historical and human sciences.” He also noted with satisfaction how “the recognition of the rights and the dignity of man” has increased.

Despite this, the Pontiff warned, “the danger of falling into inhumanity can never be completely eliminated,” in particular “the danger facing the Western world […] is that man today, precisely because of the immensity of his knowledge and power, surrenders before the question of truth. […] This means that, in the end, reason gives way before the pressure of other interests and the lure of efficiency, and is forced to recognize this as the ultimate criterion.”

“There is a danger,” the Pope observed, “that philosophy, no longer feeling itself capable of playing its true role, may degenerate into positivism; that theology with its message to reason, may be confined to the private sphere of a particular group, large or small as it may be.”

In closing his discourse, Benedict XVI asked: “What does the Pope have to do or to say to the university?” And he answered: “Certainly he must not seek to impose on others, in an authoritarian way, a faith which can only be given in freedom.

“Over and above his ministry as a pastor in the Church and on the basis of the intrinsic nature of such pastoral ministry, it his job to maintain high the awareness of truth, inviting reason ever and anew to seek truth, goodness, God and, on this journey, encouraging it to notice the valuable lights that have arisen during the history of the Christian faith.”

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a micro-donation

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a micro-donation

Subscribe to the ZENIT Daily Email Newsletter

Receive the latest news of the Church and the world in your inbox every day. 

Thank you for subscribing! We will confirm your subscription via email. Please check your spam folder if you do not receive it soon.