On Saturday in the Vatican, Benedict XVI received participants in a meeting of professors and rectors of European universities, who have come together to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
"The theme of your meeting — 'A New Humanism for Europe. The Role of the Universities' — invites a disciplined assessment of contemporary culture on the continent," said the Pope in his English-language address. "Europe is presently experiencing a certain social instability and diffidence in the face of traditional values, yet her distinguished history and her established academic institutions have much to contribute to shaping a future of hope."
"Promoting a new humanism, in fact, requires a clear understanding of what this 'newness' actually embodies. Europe today is experiencing a massive cultural shift, one in which men and women are increasingly conscious of their call to be actively engaged in shaping their own history. Historically, it was in Europe that humanism developed, thanks to the fruitful interplay between the various cultures of her peoples and the Christian faith."
"The present cultural shift is often seen as a 'challenge' to the culture of the university and Christianity itself, rather than as a 'horizon' against which creative solutions can and must be found."
On the subject of these solutions, the Pope identified three issues to which "men and women of higher education" are called to turn their attention: "The need for a comprehensive study of the crisis of modernity," and of "the problems raised by a 'humanism' that claims to build a regnum hominis detached from its necessary ontological foundation. The anthropocentrism which characterizes modernity can never be detached from an acknowledgment of the full truth about man, which includes his transcendent vocation.
"A second issue," he added, "involves the broadening of our understanding of rationality," which "needs instead to be 'broadened' in order to be able to explore and embrace those aspects of reality which go beyond the purely empirical. The rise of the European universities was fostered by the conviction that faith and reason are meant to cooperate in the search for truth, each respecting the nature and legitimate autonomy of the other, yet working together harmoniously and creatively to serve the fulfillment of the human person."
The third issue identified by the Pope "concerns the nature of the contribution which Christianity can make to the humanism of the future. The question of man, and thus of modernity, challenges the Church to devise effective ways of proclaiming to contemporary culture the 'realism' of her faith in the saving work of Christ. Christianity must not be relegated to the world of myth and emotion, but respected for its claim to shed light on the truth about man."
"It is," the Pope concluded, "my hope that universities will increasingly become communities committed to the tireless pursuit of truth, 'laboratories of culture' where teachers and students join in exploring issues of particular importance for society, employing interdisciplinary methods and counting on the collaboration of theologians. This can easily be done in Europe, given the presence of so many prestigious Catholic institutions and faculties of theology. I am convinced that greater cooperation between the various academic communities will enable Catholic universities to bear witness to the historical fruitfulness of the encounter between faith and reason."