Renewing Christian Humanism for the Millennium
Address of Pope John Paul II to a joint session of all the Pontifical Academies
Prepared for internet by Msgr. Peter Nguyen Van Tai, Radio Veritas Asia, Philippines
It gives me great joy this morning to be able to preside at the first public session of your Pontifical Academies, appropriately organized and prepared by the Coordinating Council. Since my venerable predecessor, the Servant of God Paul VI, began the work of renewing your academies, you have continued the initiative in recent years with patience and determination, with the intention of making each of your institutions more responsive to emerging cultural demands. I thank all those who in these decades have worked to achieve this, and I am pleased to seal with today’s meeting all that has already been accomplished. Indeed, for the first time, I welcome the renewed academies, ready for more effective action in the fruitful dialogue between the Gospel and culture on the threshold of the new millennium.
My gratitude goes also to the distinguished presidents and members of the individual pontifical academies who, in the light of their long and rich experience, have striven to renew the presence of their respective institutions in the heart of contemporary cultures, promoting that systematic interdisciplinary collaboration which scientific progress has now made indispensable. I would also like to express my gratitude to the Pontifical Council for Culture and in particular to its President, Cardinal Paul Poupard, who coordinated this work and has given a succinct report of it in his cordial address to me.
Christian thinkers must share their rich heritage
I greet the cardinals who by their presence have wished to add to the prestige of your meeting, and I address a respectful greeting to the distinguished representatives of the Diplomatic Corps, who have gathered here for this event. At this moment, my thoughts turn respectfully to all the world’s academic centers where countless men and women of culture, gathered by a noble ideal, constantly share their knowledge, experience and wisdom, to help blaze a trail of civilization in which all men and women can fulfill their own highest aspirations. In this context, distinguished academicians, your particular contribution is of great importance, and I thank you for the work you generously accomplish.
If it is true that every pontifical academy has a task of its own and a specific field of activity, it is also true that the recent reform answers the need for the necessary coordination of their respective work, while safeguarding the legitimate antonomy of each one. The effort to coordinate their programs appropriately stems from the desire to make the pontifical academies a priviledged participant in the dialogue between faith and culture in our day. In itself, this task is incumbent on every Christian institution which has an intellectual calling, since Christian thought is open to the truth wherever it is found; this thought is ready to encounter the different opinions existing in the world of other religious and cultural traditions.
In this regard, the contribution made by various departments of the Holy See, or those associated with it, is well known: from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Congregation for Catholic Education, from the Pontifical Council for Culture to the Pontifical Commissions for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and for Sacred Archaelogy, from the Secret Archives and the Apostolic Library to the Vatican Museums, from the pontifical universities based in Rome to the various Catholic cultural centers scattered throughout the world. The pontifical academies have their own particular claim to being a participant in the dialogue between faith and culture.
However it must be stated immediately that the condition for the best kind of dialogue with different cultures is for us ourselves to be creative. Before any formal dialogue, it will be the creativity of the Christian thinker, scholer and artist – each according to the requirements proper to his field of research of research – that will make him a credible and enthusiastic interlocutor. The heir to a very rich cultural heritage, the Christian thinker no less than the artist is called to present this immense treasure with great honesty to the non-believing interlocutor. Nor is this enough. He is likewise committed to working out his own original offerings, which, although firmly rooted in the Word of God and the Church’s tradition, can address the new problems and offer sound answers to the questions raised by contemporary cultural trends. Abundantly drawing on the inexhaustible riches of Revelation, he can grasp one or another aspect of the “beauty, ever ancient and ever new,” that shines on the face of the Redeemer, to nourish a genuine creative vein in the various areas of human expressiveness. The history of twenty centuries of Gospel sowing amply documents the wonderful harvest which has ripened beneath the most varied skies the fertile fields of Christian humanism.
At the close of this century and millennium, it is the duty of each of the pontifical academies to collaborate, in accordance with its special genius, in the preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. I know that the theme you have chosen as your particular contribution to this vast activity of reflection and spiritual and missionary commitment is precisely Christian humanism. It is a decision I approve of and encourage. May this be your field of research and activity in the years ahead: a truly magnificent challenge!
The mystery of the Incarnation has given a tremendous impetus to man’s thought and artistic genius. Precisely by reflecting on the union of the two natures, human and divine, in the person of the Incarnate Word, Christian thinkers have come to explain the concept of person as the unique and unrepeatable center of freedom and responsibility, whose inalienable dignity must be recognized. This concept of the person has proved to be the cornerstone of any genuinely human civilization.
Looking over the centuries, it is not difficult to realize that the mystery of the Incarnation has frequently directed human reason to inaccessible horizons that had never previously been reached, giving life to systems of thought of admirable breadth and depth. One need only think of the writings of the Fathers of the Church, or of the medieval theological treatises, first among which is the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas, and the works of many other Christian thinkers and reseachers.
Gospel message remains source of inspiration
It is true! For the two millenniums which have now passed, the mystery of the Incarnation has inspired a faith, a joy, a wonder that have not ceased to be sources of inspiration for the Christian genius, expressed in many splendid works of art: from architecture to painting, from sculpture to music, from literature to other artistic forms.
In the Year 2000 we are preparing to celebrate this extraordinary event which divides history in two – before and after Christ – and, at the same time, is its unifying center. I trust that in the light of this event, your pontifical academies will be able to make an original contribution to creating a renewed Christian humanism, presenting the humanity of Christ as the model for the generations of the new millennium. A splendid program: to create beauty, to draw from the good, to understand and express the truth!
The cultural fruitfulness of the Gospel message, which has been expressed in so many masterpieces down the centeries, is certainly not exhausted. The great ideal of the Beatitudes remains for man – for man of every time, every place and every culture – an incomparable source of inspiration, by the wonder it arouses and by the way it expands his capacity to be and to act, to contemplate and to create.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, may each one of you, aware of the fundamental role of culture, boldly renew your own creative commitment in a time like ours, which the Second Vatican Council has not hesitated to describe as “a new age of human history.”
Faith in Christ, the Incarnate Word, leads us to see man in a new light. In a certain sense, it enables us to believe in man, created in the image and likeness of God, at once a microcosm of the world and an icon of God. Anthropological vision of such breadth represents a leaven of unparalleled spiritual energy for overcoming the limitations of every culture by magnifying its creative potential. If one thinks of the hesitation and uncertainties typical of our time, all this is presented as a factor of authentic metamorphosis. In fact, from contemporary crises comes a call to create “a new humanism,” which restores to man his full human dimension, helping him at the same time to become aware of his extraordinary divine vocation. The Fathers of the Church repeated this constantly: “God became man so that man might become God.” In search of freedom and truth, of love and beauty, man finds in contemplating the Word of Life, the Son of God and Son of Mary, “reasons for life and optimism.” Here is the inexhaustible source of culture, which makes man “more a man.”
Pontical Academies Prize will support new talent
From these reflections, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, we can see that your pontifical academies, precisely by virtue of their prestigious heritage, are a new potential and a rich source of hope for the Church and for humanity. Be effective witnesses of the perennial newness of the Gospel, showing how the Christian heritage represents an extraordinary fertile cultural ground.
To help you accomplish this task, I have decided to institute a Pontifical Academies Prize. It is meant to support promising talents of initiatives which will emerge in the various cultural fields you cultivate: theology and Mariology, archaeology, religious history and the veneration of the martyrs, literature and the arts. On the suggestion of the President of the Coordinating Council of the Pontifical Academies, I myself will have the joy, please God, to award this prize to the eminent winner each year, on the occasion of your Academies’ annual public session.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, may the Good News of God’s saving love which the Church bears constantly inspire your work and your creativity. And may your pontifical academies, renewed and ready to accept the challenges of the new millennium, witness like a powerful symphony to the eternal newness of God and of the marvels of creation.
To this end, I ask the Lord to fill you with His inexhaustible gifts of intelligence, wisdom and love for a new springtime of Christian culture, tertio millennio ad veniente. I accompany these wishes with my apostolic blessing.
November 28, 1996
Joannes Paulus II