Faith and Culture in Education

Message of Pope John Paul II to
Bishop Angelo Scola, rector of the Pontifical Lateran University

Prepared for internet by Msgr. Peter Nguyen Van Tai,
Radio Veritas Asia, Philippines

On the occassion of the inauguration of the new academic year, I address cordial greetings to you, venerable brother; I also greet the Grand Chancellor, Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the authorities, the teachers, the students, and all those taking part in the academic convocation at which this worthy institute, linked in a particular way with the ministry of the successor of Peter, officially begins its activities.

I also extent a greeting to all the other universities and to the various pontifical athenaeums which function in Rome, inviting them to make their own generous contribution to the City Mission that is beginning in our diocese in preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000.

The University, as a place of research and education, is by its nature directed to probing the mystery of man and , as such, needs the presence of people who are ardent lovers of the truth. From this standpoint, it is defined not only by the object and method of its research but also by the subjectivity it can express, thanks to the contribution of those in whose experience the truth about the mystery of man has, to some extent, already emerged. It is the unity of thses two aspects that makes the univeristy environment existentially significant as well as intellectually fruitful and creative; indeed, its target is man in all the dimension of his being and life, and it requires all who work in it to be actively involved in seeking the truth, at every level of their life and activity. Insofar as it is a free and open space where one learns "a specific way of man's 'existing' and 'being'" the university is a primary place of culture.

Union of faith and culture is goal of pontifical universities

Through her faith in Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of man, and her daily encounter with human expectations and hopes, the Church, although not limited to any specific culture, has always shown herself to be an extraordinary promoter of culture. By introducing man to knowledge of the mystery of Christ, she has led him to discover the deepest core of his own being, the source from which every form of culture springs. On the other hand, in its ontological basis, the phenomenon of culture has an intrinsic religious dimension since it demonstrates in many ways the desiderium naturale videndi Deum that is in every man and woman.

Since it gives rise to culture, faith in Jesus Christ brings with it, at the same time, the need to extend to all areas of human life and to the various branches of knowledge, in order to reveal there that light of intellect which illumines individual realities and the different situations concerning man, as well as that moral energy necessary for advancing on the path of truth and good in every circumstance and predicament of human life.

Faith is born from proclamation, which is never seperate from relationship with those who have brought it. In this regard, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews writes: "For good news came to us just as to them [who have come out of egypt]; but the message which they heard did not benefit them, because it did not meet with faith in the hearers" (Heb 4:2).

The union of faith and culture, the primary objective of pontifical universities, necessarily involves remaining "united in the faith." Genuine commnunion among the teachers, students and all who work there in various capacities is the natural presupposition for active and fruitful cooperation in developing any content of knowledge. Without the experience of communion, the fundamental condition on which the ecclesial nature of the intellectus fedei is based, would also be lost, as well as the rich creative potential organically connected to it.

When faith is the origin of culture it also becomes the factor of history. Such a consideration is very opportune at this time of preparation of the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. In my apostolic letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente I recalled that "in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, time becomes the dimension of God, who is himself eternal," and that Christ is the Lord of time and history. The prospect of the approaching Jubilee cannot fail to imbue the whole curriculum of the pontifical academic institutions, encouraging them to reflect attentively on the historical importance of the faith in helping to overcome the gnostic temptations which, even today, are gaining ground in many Western cultural spheres and trends.

The missionary ardor which must always enliven study and research oriented by and towards faith affords an opportunity, especially in this pontifical university, to cooperate in the City Mission that will involve the people of Rome over the next three years. It is a vast activity of new evangelization that will take account of the expectations and challenges of the present time. Theology, philosophy, law, history, literature, art and every form of expression closely connected with the human spirit will help the Christian community of Rome, aware of its special vocation as the Urbs, to understand the contemporary man's spiritual needs, making wide scale and appropriate pastoral action possible.

Theology must be participation with Christ in faith

For 20 centuries the Church in Rome has enjoyed a providential position, above all because of its unfailing faith and the teaching which was guaranteed to Peter by the prayer of Jesus himself (cf Lk 22:31-32). This is why in some way she is an archetype, a model and a significant point of dissemination for the Gospel truth. With the approaching Jubilee, Rome will become the destination of innumerable pilgrims who, by visiting the places of martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul, wish to confirm their loyalty to the redeemer.

The Roman universities, and in particular the Pontifical Lateran University, are called to prepare for this great ecclesial event, placing at the service of the Church the special grace of being rooted in the City of Peter and Paul. I am certain that this pontifical university will work with great enthusiasm in this direction, and thus confirm the special bond uniting it to the sucessor of Peter and the Diocese of Rome. In its daily academic activity, may this athenaeum increasingly become the reference point of a culture, born of faith, which prizes man's dignity, respect for his rights and the call of this duties.

Nevertheless, the special attention that must be paid to the human being and to his dignity must not let us forget that God is the goal of our journey. "Ambula per hominem et pervenis ad Deum," St. Augustine writes, in reference to the holy humanity of Christ, streesing how he is the "one mediator between God and men" (1 Tm 2:5) and how He mediates through man. St. Teresa of Jesus, Doctor of the Church, echoes Him by recalling that, to go to God through Christ, we must pass through the Man whom the Son became, taking our humanity on himself.

Your pontifical university is called to reaffirm the primacy of God, entering into the debate about the humanum, which has marked the large part of the 20th century, and on which the Second Vatican Council reflected deeply, especially in the pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes. All this is possible through a continuous conversion to Christ, never separated from the careful study of theology and the sciences connected with it. This demands of everyone a continual orientation to the divine mystery and a participation in Christ and in the "mind of Christ." As the apostle teaches: "We have the mind of Christ" (1Cor 2:16). In fact, the practice of theology cannot be proposed only as scientia fidei, but rather, and even more, as a participatio cum Christo in fide.

My wish for the new academic year is that this community may study ever more deeply its own task of evangelization. In the lecture halls, in study and in research, in its publications and in constant and rigorous dialogue with the results of human research, may Christ always be the great joy that cannot be expressed in words (cf. 1 Pt 1:8).

With these hopes, I wish you a productive school year and, assuring you of my remembrance in prayer, I cordially impart a special apostolic blessing to you, to the teachers, to the students and all who are part of the Pontifical Lateran University.

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