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ADDRESS OF CARDINAL ANGELO SODANO
AFTER THE CONFERRAL OF A HONORARY DOCTORATE
AT ST JOHN'S UNIVERSITY IN NEW YORK

Tuesday, 21 September 2004

 

Father Harrington,
Professors and Students,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Friends,

There is a parable in the Gospel which could nicely serve to explain the purpose of each of the Church's institutions, including this distinguished University. It is the well-known parable of the leaven or the yeast, in which Jesus, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, taught his disciples about the nature of his Kingdom, and consequently of all its institutions.

"The Kingdom of God is like yeast, which a woman took and kneaded into three measures of flour. Eventually the whole mass of dough began to rise" (Mt 13: 33).

Those who first heard these words clearly understood what our Lord meant to teach them. Yeast was present in every home and was used to bake bread. Everyone was familiar with its power to make dough rise and to give new flavor to the daily meal.

Christ's parable about the transforming power of his Kingdom can also be applied to the power of the Gospel to elevate and ennoble every aspect of the presence and activity of Christians in the world.

Two thousand years of history show how the Gospel of Christ has imbued and enriched our own civilization with the specific values of the Christian message. When I studied theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, I was very impressed by a book written by a learned German Jesuit, Fr Karl Prümm, entitled Christianity as Newness of Life (Il Cristianesimo come novitÓ di vita, Brescia, 1955). The author listed all those ways in which the Christian message had renewed and transformed the Greco-Roman world. From the outset the Gospel had the power to awaken new life; the Christian message was not something static but dynamic, a reality capable of giving new meaning to human existence.

Over the course of the centuries, Christ's Church has carried on his work and planted in the heart of the world those vital values which the Lord revealed to us. Indeed, there is no other reason for the Church's presence in the world save that of continuing the activity of her Lord. It can rightly be said that the Church is the extension and continuation of Christ's presence throughout the ages.

This truth was clearly brought out by the Second Vatican Council in its celebrated Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes (7 December 1965). The Council states that the Church is called to be "the leaven and, as it were, the soul of human society, which is to be renewed in Christ and transformed into God's family" (n. 40).

These words are themselves an echo of statements made from the earliest centuries of the Church. The author of the Letter to Diognetus wrote that "as the soul is to the body, so Christians must be in the world" (n. 6).

The Council reminds us that "Christ gave his Church no proper mission in the political, economic or social order. The purpose which he set before her is a religious one. But out of this religious mission itself comes a duty, a light and an energy which can serve to structure and consolidate the human community in accordance with God's law.

"Thus, when circumstances of time and place demand it, the Church can and indeed should initiate activities on behalf of all people, especially those in need, such as works of mercy and similar undertakings" (Gaudium et Spes, n. 42).

Such charitable works were in fact the first way that the Church brought the leaven of evangelical charity to the world of the suffering. We need but think of the diaconate, established in apostolic times for the relief of the poor.

As the centuries passed, there was a growing sense of the need to bring the leaven of evangelical truth to the world of young people, since in a very special way they are in need of light to guide their way.

Consequently, the Church established schools, universities and cultural institutions of many kinds as a means of helping new generations to discover the true, the good and the beautiful: in a word, to discover all that corresponds to the deepest needs of the human soul.

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

The same could also be said of all the other academic institutions established by the Church, as we are reminded by another important Conciliar Document, the Declaration on Catholic Education Gravissimum Educationis Momentum, "The supreme importance of education" (28 October 1965).

The goal of these institutions is to achieve "a kind of public, stable and universal presence of Christian thought in the whole work of promoting higher learning, and of training their students to become men and women outstanding for their knowledge, prepared to undertake the weightier offices in society and to bear witness to their faith before the world" (n. 10).

If we look to the origin of many educational institutions, it is clear that they were born "from the heart of the Church".

The present University of Rome, known as La Sapienza, was established seven centuries ago, in 1303, by Pope Boniface VIII, under the name Studium Urbis. In Paris, the Sorbonne is known by that name because it was established in 1257 by Canon Robert Sourbon.

In the classic work of Hastings Rashdall, The Universities of Europe in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1936), we learn that, of the 75 Universities established between 1100 and 1500, 47 received a Papal Bull of foundation, while many others, which emerged spontaneously or by decision of the secular Authorities, later received papal confirmation with the grant of a Faculty of Theology or Canon Law (cf. op. cit., I, xxix).

The same leaven of the Gospel was subsequently added to the world of culture when Universities and institutions of higher education were established by the modern States.

In addition to being present in these centres of study and research through the work and the witness of many other sons and daughters, the Church deemed it fitting to establish her own research lnstitutes for the human sciences, as well as Universities for the ecclesiastical sciences.

The first Catholic University in modern Europe was established in 1843 at Louvain. Even earlier, in 1789, Georgetown University had been founded in the United States.

Your own St John's University was established in 1870 by the apostolic initiative of the Most Reverend John Loughlin, first Bishop of Brooklyn, and entrusted to the direction of the Vincentian Fathers. In fidelity to the charism of St Vincent de Paul, the Vincentians are apostles of charity. In this distinguished University, their apostolate is to serve the charity of truth.

The 20th century saw a great flowering of cultural institutes, faculties, chairs, schools, colleges, universities and various associations of professors and students. All were inspired by the same ideal: that of helping young people to grow in the habit of study and in the search for truth.

At this point I would like to add another reflection in my role as Secretary of State of the Holy See, namely, that this same spiritual concern inspires the activity of the Holy See in the international community. The aim of that activity is to bring to public life all those Christian values which can contribute greatly to the spiritual progress of peoples.

Addressing the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, Pope John Paul II has stated that "the reason why the Holy See has a place in the midst of the community of nations [is] to be the voice which the human conscience is waiting for, without thereby diminishing the contribution of other religious traditions. Being a spiritual and worldwide authority, the Apostolic See continues to provide this service to humanity, with no other aim than tirelessly to recall the demands of the common good, respect for the human person and the promotion of the highest spiritual values" (Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 9 January 1995, n. 10).

For this reason the Holy See today entertains regular diplomatic relations with 174 States (of the 191 which are part of the United Nations Organization) and takes an active part in international bodies and thus in international diplomacy. One need only think of the Holy See's presence at the United Nations Organization itself, as well as at UNESCO, FAO and the U.N. institutions in Geneva and Vienna.

Mention could also be made of the presence of Papal Representatives at various regional bodies such as the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Arab League and other international institutions.

The Accords which the Holy See establishes with various countries are aimed both at ensuring the necessary freedom for the Church to carry out her mission in society and at contributing to the spiritual progress of the peoples among which she is present and active.

With the same goal in mind the Church strives to enable the leaven of Christ's Gospel to work within various civilizations, purifying them of potentially destructive elements and infusing them with the transforming power of Christ's grace.

Etymologically, the term "civilization" is derived from the Latin civilitas, itself a translation of the Greek word politeia. The term essentially refers to the model of life typical of Rome and the larger cities, as distinct from country life. The life of the city was considered better developed, more perfect.

Similar to the concept of civilization is that of "culture", based for its part on a metaphor drawn from the country, namely, the careful and patient cultivation of the earth by farming.

Despite the fact that they refer to two distinct sectors of human life, the city and the country, the terms "civilization" and "culture" coincide insofar as they emphasize the impact which human beings make on their environment in the effort to make life more human.

It must be said, however, that in the judgment of many scholars of the Latin tradition, the two terms, for all their similarity, are not perfectly synonymous. Among some peoples, we find imperfect or deviant cultures which cannot be called civilized.

If a particular culture, for example, exalts brute force, or is marked by thoroughgoing agnosticism, or extols class struggle, or shows contempt for the newborn and for women, such a culture cannot rise to the level of civilization. As the Jesuit scholar Hervè Carrier has observed, every civilization is a culture, but not every culture is a civilization (cf. Dizionario della Cultura, Vatican City, 1997, p. 93).

At the same time, it should be pointed out that in the non-Latin languages, particularly English and German, the terms "civilization" and "culture" tend to coincide; indeed, the Latin concept of "civilization" is often translated by the English "culture" or the German "Kultur".

This having been said, "civilization" might be defined as follows: the complex of social, religious, artistic and technological expressions resulting from human activity which, as such, are expressions of the perfection of man himself. "Civilization" signifies all those ways in which human beings and society express the best of themselves, their own perfection. We can say that civilization expresses the vital relationship of human beings with the world of nature, with one another and with God: it is a "high" style of life which characterizes a particular people.

Every civilization, precisely because it is a human work, is always capable of improvement. History shows us that civilizations can also be subject to corruption and degeneration. European history in the 20th century, scarred by the horrors of Nazism and Communism, is a clear example of this.

Ultimately, every civilization is somewhat fragile, since it can lose important values which were earlier taken for granted.

In view of this fact, Christians are called to work within the societies in which they live, for the sake of preserving their values and strengthening their life.

Clearly, then, it is part of Christianity's vocation to associate itself closely with "civilization". If civilization signifies "a human perfection and good", then Christianity is called to shape civilization.

Western civilization has already encountered Jesus Christ and the immense benefits which the Gospel has brought for human life, history and the definitive destiny of humanity. The history of the West has been brightened in any number of ways by the light of Christ.

True, there have been and continue to be powerful attempts to eliminate Christ's name from civilization and history, from family life, from the civil and religious life of humanity, and from its hopes and final destiny. The Church is very much aware of this, and despite her own difficulties within and without, precisely because she has known Christ, she protects and preserves his truth.

Today too, the Church "cannot abandon man, for his "destiny', that is to say his election, calling, birth and death, salvation or perdition, is so closely and unbreakably linked with Christ" (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis, 4 March 1979, n. 14).

Consequently, Christianity - as a religion of salvation - is deeply interested in culture and civilization, in other words, in every one of those realities which are the "steps" by which man ascends to his final destiny. All the ways of the Church lead to man, to everyone without exception, in order to make known Christ's truth and guide all to salvation. Christianity and culture are inextricably linked, as are Christianity and civilization.

The way in which Christianity engages culture and civilization is known as "inculturation". "This is the distillation of the evangelical message into the anthropological language and the symbols of the culture of which it has become a part" (John Paul II, Address to the Native Peoples, Latacunga Airport, Ecuador, 31 January 1985; Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, VIII, 1 [1985]: 30 1).

The result of this process can be defined as Christian civilization, that is, the acceptance in a particular people's life and customs of the light brought by faith in Christ. The process of inculturation can be determined by various elements, some of them supernatural in origin. The leaven of the Gospel works within each culture, and the result of inculturation is a particular expression of Christian civilization.

At this point, we might ask if there is one element which would characterize this Christian civilization. We can respond by drawing upon a profound intuition of Pope Paul VI, who defined Christian civilization as "the civilization of love". The Pope clearly saw that love is the vital principle, the "soul" of Christian civilization.

These are his words: "We look at the historical situation in which we find ourselves; and then, observing the life of humanity, we wish to open for it ways of greater well-being and civilization, animated by love. By civilization we mean that set of moral, civil, economic conditions which enable human life to flourish and to attain a reasonable fullness, a happy eternal destiny" (Audience, 31 December 1975; Insegnamenti di Paolo VI, XIII [1975]: 1577).

This idea occurs frequently in the social teaching of the Church's Magisterium.

Both Leo XIII and Pius XI pointed out, with regard to the Marxist theory of class conflict, that although justice might be able to eliminate the causes of social contentions, it cannot unite hearts.

John XXIII, in his Encyclicals Mater et Magistra and Pacem in Terris, while acknowledging that solutions to social problems call for scientific and technical expertise, also observed that charity continues to play a fundamental role, both as a complement to justice and as a definitive inspiration for implementing what has come to be seen as an obligation. There are also certain situations beyond the limits of the State's activity, where mercy and Christian charity alone can effectively operate.

Pope John Paul II has often used the expression "the civilization of love". Love has been a central point in his Magisterium. From his first Encyclical, Redemptor Hominis, the Pope has made it clear that the acceptance of love is fundamental for human self-understanding, history and destiny: "Man cannot live without love. He remains a being incomprehensible to himself, whose life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it" (n. 10).

In the Documents Novo Millennio Ineunte (nn. 42ff) and Ecclesia in Europa (nn. 83ff), the Pope devoted the final, forward-looking chapters to love. Even as the Church points to encouraging signs in today's society, she clearly sees the need to remind our contemporaries of the experience of Christian love, of which they have lost sight.

History and present-day experience show that justice alone is not sufficient, and can even prove baneful and self-destructive unless room is made for a greater power - love - to shape human life in all its aspects. The Holy Father insists on this point when he speaks of the need for forgiveness and mercy as a way of resolving problems between peoples.

With regard to the crisis in Palestine and in the Middle East, he has spoken of the need to move beyond a logic of justice and to embrace a logic of forgiveness (cf. Angelus, 1 January 2001).

During the Holy Year 2000 the Pope invited peoples, nations and government leaders to demonstrate concrete signs of a willingness to set out on the path of the civilization of love in the third millennium. He called for action in dealing with the debt of poor and developing countries (cf. Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 14), and he supported measures of clemency for the imprisoned.

In a word, the Holy Father pointed out to a new millennium the way of love.

Dear Professors and students, I encourage you to take up this great tradition of the Church and to allow the leaven of Christ's Gospel to permeate every aspect of contemporary American society. The Gospel message has the power to transform and elevate the lives of individuals and whole peoples.

In all that you think, say and do, continue to proclaim our conviction that the fullness of life and salvation are found in Christ alone. This is the great contribution which you are called to make to the future of America and the building of the civilization of love.

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