Incarnation touches depths of humanity
"The basic theme which you have considered—The
University for a New Humanism—fits
well with the Jubilee's rediscovery of the centrality of
Christ", the Holy Father said to participants in the World
Meeting of University Teachers, whom he received in audience for
their Jubilee on Saturday, 9 September. The Pope also reminded them
they had chosen to reaffirm "the need for a university culture
which is genuinely 'humanistic', in the sense —primarily—that
culture must correspond to the human person". Here is a
translation of his address, which was given in Italian.
Dear University Teachers,
1. I am happy to meet you in this year of grace, when Christ
powerfully calls us to a stronger faith and a deep renewal of life.
I thank you especially for the commitment you have shown in the
spiritual and cultural gatherings which have marked these days.
Looking out at you, my thoughts turn to university teachers of all
nations as well as to the students entrusted to their guidance on
the path of research, a path both arduous and joyful, and I send
them cordial greetings. I greet also Senator Ortensio Zecchino,
Minister for Universities, who is here representing the Italian
The distinguished professors who have just spoken have allowed me
to see how rich and articulate your reflection has been. I thank
them most sincerely. This Jubilee gathering has been for each of you
a timely moment to consider just how well the great event which
we are celebrating, the Incarnation of the Word of God, has been
accepted as a life-giving principle informing and transforming the
whole of life.
Yes, for Christ is not a symbol of some vague religious reality,
rather he is the concrete point where, in the person of the Son,
God makes our humanity completely his own. With Christ,
"the Eternal enters time, the Whole lies hidden in the part,
God takes on a human face" (Fides et ratio, n. 12). This
"self-emptying" of God, even to the "scandal" of
the Cross (cf. Phil 2:7), can seem foolishness to that reason which
is enamoured of itself. In fact, this self-emptying is "the
power and the wisdom of God" (I Cor 1:23-24) for those who are
open to the unexpectedness of his love. You are here to give witness
2. The basic theme which you have considered—The
University for a New Humanism—
fits well with the Jubilee's rediscovery of the centrality of
Christ. In fact, the event of the Incarnation touches the very
depths of humanity, it illuminates our origin and destiny and it
opens us to the hope which does not disappoint. As men and women of
learning, you never cease to enquire into the value of the human
person. Each of you could say, with the ancient philosopher: "I
am searching for man"!
Among the many responses given to this fundamental quest, you
have accepted that given by Christ, a response which emerges from
his words but which is seen even before shining brightly on his
face. Ecce homo: Behold the man! (Jn 19:5) In showing
Christ's battered face to the frenzied crowd, Pilate did not imagine
that he would, in a sense, speak a word of revelation. Unwittingly,
he pointed out to the world the One in whom all human beings can
recognize their origin, and in whom all can hope to find their
salvation. Redemptor hominis: this is the image of Christ
which, from my first Encyclical, I have sought to "shout"
to the world, and which this Jubilee year seeks to propose anew to
human minds and hearts.
3. Drawing your inspiration from Christ, who reveals man to
himself (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 22), you have chosen in the
meetings of these days to reaffirm the need for a university culture
which is genuinely "humanistic", in the sense—primarily—that
culture must correspond to the human person and overcome the
temptation to a knowledge which yields to pragmatism or which loses
itself in the endless meanderings of erudition. Such knowledge is
incapable of giving meaning to life.
That is why you have emphasized that there is no contradiction,
but rather a logical connection, between freedom of research and
recognition of truth. It is to truth that all research looks, albeit
with the limitations and fatigue of human thought. This is an aspect
which needs to be underlined, lest we succumb to the climate of
relativism to which a large part of today's culture falls prey. The
reality is that if culture is not directed towards truth, which must
be sought both humbly and confidently, it is doomed to disappear
into the ephemeral, losing itself to the instability of opinion, and
perhaps giving itself over to the domineering will—though
A culture without truth does not safeguard freedom but puts it at
risk. I have said this on a number of occasions: "The
demands of truth and morality neither degrade nor abolish our
freedom, but on the contrary enable freedom to exist and liberate it
from its own inherent threat" (Discorso al Convegno
ecclesiale di Palermo, in Insegnamenti, XVIII, 2, 1995,
p. 1198). In this sense, the words of Christ remain decisive:
"The truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32).
4. Rooted in the perspective of truth, Christian humanism implies
first of all an openness to the Transcendent. It is here that we
find the truth and the grandeur of the human person, the only
creature in-the visible world capable of self-awareness and
recognizing that he is surrounded by that supreme Mystery which both
reason and faith call God. What is needed is a humanism in which the
perspectives of science and faith no longer seem to be in conflict.
Yet we cannot be satisfied with an ambiguous reconciliation of
the kind favoured by a culture which doubts the very ability of
reason to arrive at the truth. This path runs the risk of misconstruing
faith by reducing it to a feeling, to emotion, to art: in the
end stripping faith of all critical foundation. But this would not
be Christian faith, which demands instead a reasonable and
responsible acceptance of all that God has revealed in Christ. Faith
does not sprout from the ashes of reason! I strongly encourage
all of you, men and women of the university, to spare no effort in
rebuilding that aspect of learning which is open to Truth and the
5. Let it be clear, however, that this "vertical"
dimension of learning does not imply any kind of closing in on
itself, on the contrary, by its very nature it opens out to the
dimensions of all creation. And how could it be otherwise? In
acknowledging the Creator, mankind recognizes the value of
creatures. In opening themselves to the Word made flesh, people also
accept all the things that have been made in him (cf. Jn 1:3) and
that have been redeemed by him. We must, therefore, rediscover
the original and eschatological meaning of Creation, respecting
all its intrinsic requirements, but also enjoying it in terms of
freedom, responsibility, creativity, joy, "rest" and
contemplation. As a splendid passage from the Second Vatican Council
reminds us, "enjoying creatures in poverty and freedom of
spirit, [man] is led to possess the world in truth, as if at one and
the same time he has nothing and possesses everything. 'All is
yours: but you belong to Christ and Christ belongs to God' (I Cor
3:22-23)" (Gaudium et spes, n. 37).
Today the most attentive epistemological reflection recognizes
the need for the human and natural sciences to enter into dialogue
once again, so that learning may recover the sense of a profoundly
unified inspiration. Scientific and technological progress in our
day puts into human hands possibilities which are both magnificent
and frightening. A recognition of the limits of science, in the
consideration of moral demands, is not obscurantism. but is the
guarantee that research will be worthy of the human person and put
at the service of life.
You, my dear friends who are involved in scientific research,
must make universities "cultural laboratories" in which
theology, philosophy, human sciences and natural sciences may engage
in constructive dialogue, looking to the moral law as an intrinsic
requirement of research and a condition for its full value in
seeking out the truth.
6. Knowledge enlightened by faith, far from abandoning areas of
daily life, invests them with all the strength of hope and prophecy.
The humanism which we desire advocates a vision of society centred
on the human person and his inalienable rights, on the values of
justice and peace, on a correct relationship between individuals,
society and the State, on the logic of solidarity and subsidiarity.
It is a humanism capable of giving a soul to economic progress
itself, so that it may be directed to "the promotion of each
individual and of the whole person" (cf. Populorum
progressio, n. 14; and Sollicitudo rei socialis, n. 30).
In particular, it is urgent for us to work to ensure that the
true sense of democracy, an authentic achievement of culture, is
fully safeguarded. In this regard, worrisome trends have emerged, as
when democracy is reduced to a purely procedural matter, or when it
is thought that the will of the majority is sufficient of itself to
determine the moral acceptability of a law. In reality, "the
value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies
and promotes.... The basis of these values cannot be provisional and
changeable ‘majority’ opinions, but only the acknowledgement of
an objective moral law which, as the 'natural law' written in the
human heart, is the obligatory point of reference for civil law
itself" (Evangelium vitae, n. 70).
7. Dear friends, the university too, no less than other
institutions, is experiencing the trials of the present time.
Nevertheless it makes an irreplaceable contribution to culture,
provided that it does not lose its original character of being an
institution dedicated to research and at the same time to a vital
even say "educational"—function
for the benefit especially of young generations. This function must
be placed at the centre of reforms and adaptations which may prove
necessary for this ancient institution to remain in step with the
With its humanistic aspects, Christian faith can make an original
contribution to the life of the university and to its educational
task, to the extent that Christian witness is borne by energetic
thought and coherency of life, in a critical and constructive
dialogue with those who promote a different vision. It is my hope
that this perspective will be further developed in the worldwide
meetings which will soon see the involvement of rectors,
administrative directors of universities, university chaplains, and
students themselves in their international "forum".
8. Distinguished teachers! On the Gospel is founded an
understanding of the world and of the human person which does not
cease to unleash cultural, humanistic and ethical values for a
correct vision of life and of history. Be profoundly convinced of
this, and make it a gauge of your commitment.
The Church, which historically has played a primary role in the
actual birth of universities, continues to look upon them, with deep
fondness, and from you she expects a decisive contribution so that
this institution will enter into the new millennium having fully
rediscovered itself as a place in which openness to knowledge,
passion for truth, and interest in the future of humanity may
develop in a noteworthy way. May this Jubilee meeting place its
indelible mark within each of you and inspire you with new strength
for this demanding task.
With this desire, in the name of Christ, the Lord of history and
the Redeemer of mankind, I impart an Apostolic Blessing to you all
with great affection.