The Holy See
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  Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice
Saturday, 24 April 2004



One Gospel parable could effectively explain the significance of the creation of this new study centre: the well-known Parable of the Leaven, which Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee used to explain to his disciples the nature of his Kingdom.

"The Kingdom of Heaven", the Teacher explained, "is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened" (Mt 13: 33).

Immersed in the rural civilization of their time, those present would have had no difficulty in understanding what the Lord wanted to teach them. Every house had a supply of leaven to make bread, baked in the small domestic oven, and everyone knew of the transforming power of this minute organism that can make the dough kneaded by the woman of the house rise, thereby giving every-day food a fresh flavour.

The dynamism of the Gospel

The comparison that Christ makes to show us the transforming nature of his Kingdom can explain well the capacity of the Christian message to raise and ennoble human commitment in every area where man is present in the world.

Two thousand years of history show us how the Gospel of Christ has permeated our civilization, bringing to it the values typical of the Christian message. When I was studying theology in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University, a book by Fr Karl Prümm, a German Jesuit scholar, made a deep impression on me. It was entitled: Il Cristianesimo come novità di vita (Brescia, Morcelliana, 1955). The author reviewed the innovative, transforming action of the Christian message in the Greco-Roman world; it instantly appeared as a powerful generator of new life, not a static but a dynamic reality, destined to exalt the meaning of human existence.

With the passing centuries, Christ's Church has continued this work, instilling in the heart of the world those values of life that Christ revealed to us. The raison d'être of the Church in the world is none other than to continue the work of her Lord. Indeed, she has been aptly described as "Christ, made known and extended down the centuries".

The Second Vatican Council shed clear light on this in the well-known Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, of 7 December 1965. The Constitution illustrates vividly that the Church is called to be "a leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society in its renewal by Christ and transformation into the family of God" (ibid., n. 40).

These words come from the distant echoes of the early centuries of the Church when the author of the Epistle to Diognetius wrote: "Christians are to the world what the soul is to the body" (n. 6).

Of course, as the Second Vatican Council reminded us, "Christ did not bequeath to the Church a mission in the political, economic or social order: the purpose he assigned to her was a religious one. But this religious mission can be the source of commitment, direction and vigour to establish and consolidate the community of men according to the law of God. In fact, the Church is able, indeed she is obliged, if times and circumstances require it, to initiate action for the benefit of all men, especially of those in need, like works of mercy and similar undertakings" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 42).

From the heart of the Church

It was actually this charitable action that was the first to come into being in the Church to introduce the leaven of evangelical charity into the world of those who suffer. It suffices to think of the institution of the diaconate, already in the apostolic era, to meet the needs of the poor.

As centuries passed, it became obvious that it was essential to bring the leaven of Gospel truth to the world of young people especially in need of direction for their journey.

Thus, the Church was born in schools and universities and various kinds of cultural institutions were founded to help the new generations discover the true, the good and the beautiful, that is, all that can respond to the deepest needs of the human soul.

Yes, many cultural institutions were born from the heart of the Church, as Pope John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities, significantly entitled Ex Corde Ecclesiae, "from the heart of the Church".

We could say the same of all the scholastic institutions set up by the Church, as we are forcefully reminded by another important conciliar Document, the Declaration on Catholic Education, Gravissimum Educationis Momentum, that is, "the paramount importance of education", of 28 October 1965.

Their purpose is to assure "a public, stable and universal influence in the whole process of the promotion of higher culture. The graduates of these institutes should be outstanding in learning, ready to undertake the more responsible duties of society, and to be witnesses in the world to the true faith" (ibid., n. 10).

Study centres in the Middle Ages

In looking back at the origins of the many centres for advanced studies, we precisely note that they emerged "from the heart of the Church", just as today the "Studium Generale Marcianum" is born from the heart of the Church in Venice.

It is enough to think of today's University of Rome, La Sapienza, created precisely 700 years ago in 1303 by Pope Boniface VIII, with the name "Studium Urbis". At that time it had five faculties: theology, canon law, civil law, arts and medicine. The awarding of academic degrees was reserved to the Pope and his Vicar General.

The famous university, La Sorbonne in Paris, also came into being thanks to the Church. Indeed, it is named after Canon Robert Sourbon who founded it in 1257!

We learn from the classic work of Hastings Rashdall, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1936), that at least 47 of the 75 universities founded between 1100 and 1500 received a Papal Bull of foundation, whereas many others that had emerged spontaneously or as the result of a decision of the secular authorities later received pontifical confirmation and were granted permission for a faculty of theology or of canon law (cf. op. cit., Vol. I, p. xxix).

In the modern age

This same Gospel leaven was then introduced into the world of culture, when universities and higher institutes of learning were established by the modern States. In addition to being present in these contexts of study and research with the work and witness of so many of her children, the Church felt that it was also appropriate to create research institutes of her own for human sciences, such as her athenaeums for the ecclesiastical sciences.

This is how the first modern Catholic university came into existence in Louvain in 1843.

Georgetown University had already been founded in the United States of America even earlier, in 1789.

Furthermore, the 19th century was teaming with initiatives to give an impetus to these forms of Christian presence in the cultural reality of various countries. In Chile, for example, under the Pontificate of Leo XIII, the Catholic University of Santiago came into being through the initiative of several praiseworthy lay Catholics. And if we then take a look at our own Italy, we note that in 1920 Fr Agostino Gemelli was responsible for establishing the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan.

In the century that has just ended, as well as universities, we had a flourishing of cultural institutes, faculties, chairs, schools, colleges, universities and various associations of professors and students. The same spirit always motivated their beginnings: to contribute, that is, to the formation of scholarly young people in search of the truth.

A new initiative

The Studium Generale Marcianum which, as Pope John Paul II's Envoy, I have the honour of opening today, fits into this mosaic.

What this study centre intends to offer, even in very different and varied fields, is a service to the formation of studious young people in this beautiful corner of Italy, as well as of other students who will come here from various Central European countries.

I am particularly pleased about the creation of an Institute of Canon Law, because an orderly development of the ecclesial society also requires this juridical science. In fact, the Church is not only a spiritual reality; she is formed of men and women who, even with the best of good will, nonetheless need clear rules of life by which to abide for their harmonious growth.

We think at times of an early Church, guided only by the zeal of her individual members. But we know that the apostolic Church also had her rules, that the Church in the early centuries had need of internal regulations. For my degree in Canon Law at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, I chose to study how the great Oriental Church of Constantinople was organized in the fourth century under the guidance of the Patriarch St John Chrysostom. Well, I was very interested to note the body of practical norms that already existed to defend the common good even in that charismatic community: canons concerning the life of clerics and lay people, on the administration of the sacraments, on the use of ecclesiastical property and even on the curative punishments to be meted out to those in need of a strong reminder to return to fidelity to their Christian vocation.

Furthermore, history has taught us how down the centuries a whole series of laws and decrees developed in the Church, to the point that Pope Pius X, a Pontiff whom this very See of Venice offered to the Church, decided to codify the ecclesiastical norms then in force. They were subsequently promulgated with the first Codex Iuris Canonici in 1917, thanks to Pope Benedict XV.

St Pius X was an eminently spiritual Pope, yet even he, in his wisdom, knew that there must be valid principles in the life of the Church for all her members, so as to guarantee her unity and apostolic outreach in the world today.

I well know that this pedagogical-university complex that forms the Studium Generale Marcianum also includes many other educational institutions, from the Patriarchal Seminary to the Religious Institution Studium Cattolico Veneziano and the John Paul I Foundation. Yet there is a well-founded hope that the new San Pio X Institute of Canon Law may prove to be the gem of the study centre we are inaugurating today.


The opening of the Studium Generale Marcianum is taking place in the context of the annual celebrations in honour of the great Patron of your city, and it fits well into the structure and apostolic activity of this illustrious diocesan Church.

Your Basilica houses the so-called Treasury of St Mark that preserves precious objects of art which, in their mute eloquence, speak of the creative genius of so many of the faithful.

For my part, I would like to express my hope to you, dear Venetian friends, that the new Studium Generale dedicated to St Mark will be an even more beautiful treasury, the treasure of a centre of Christian wisdom!