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Benedict XVI's Planned Lecture at La Sapienza

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"The Truth Makes Us Good and Goodness Is True"

VATICAN CITY, JAN. 20, 2008 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the speech Benedict XVI planned to deliver at La Sapienza University in Rome. The Vatican reported Tuesday that the visit would be postponed due to what the Pope's secretary of state called a lack of the "prerequisites for a dignified and tranquil welcome."

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Magnificent Rector,
Political and Civil Authorities,
Illustrious Professors and Administrative Staff,
Dear Young Students!

It is a source of great joy for me this encounter with the community of La Sapienza -- University of Rome -- on the occasion of the inauguration of the academic year. For centuries now this university marks the journey and the life of the city of Rome, bringing the best intellectual energies to bear fruit in every field of knowledge.

Whether in the period when, after its foundation at the behest of Pope Boniface VIII, it depended directly on ecclesiastical authority, or whether when the "Studium Urbis" later developed as an institute of the Italian state, your academic community has maintained a high scientific and cultural level, which places it among the most prestigious universities of the world.

The Church of Rome has always looked upon this university center with affection and admiration, recognizing the commitment -- sometimes arduous and demanding -- to research and to the formation of new generations. Significant moments of collaboration and dialogue have not been lacking in recent years. I would like to recall, in particular, the International Meeting of Rectors on the occasion of the Jubilee of Universities that saw your community take charge, not only of welcoming and organizing, but above all of the prophetic and complex task of elaborating a "new humanism for the third millennium."

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It is a pleasure, in this circumstance, to express my gratitude for the invitation you have offered to me to come to your university to give a lecture. In this regard I asked myself first of all the question: What can, and must, a Pope say on an occasion like this? In my lecture at Regensburg I spoke, indeed, as Pope, but above all I spoke as a former professor of that university of mine, trying to bring together memories and current events. At La Sapienza, the ancient university of Rome, however, I am invited precisely as Bishop of Rome, and because of this I must speak as such. Certainly, La Sapienza was once the Pope's university, but today it is a secular university with that autonomy that, on the basis of its foundational concept itself, has always been part of the university, which must be bound exclusively to the authority of the truth. In its freedom from political and ecclesiastical authorities, the university finds its particular function, precisely for modern society as well, which needs an institution of this type.

I return to my initial question: What can and must the Pope say in meeting with the university of his city? Reflecting on this question, it seemed to me that it included two others, whose clarification must lead by itself to the answer. It must, in fact, be asked: What is the nature and the mission of the Papacy? And still further: What is the nature and the mission of the university? In this place I do not wish to detain you and me with long disquisitions on the nature of the Papacy. A brief remark will suffice.

The Pope is first of all Bishop of Rome and as such, in virtue of succession to the Apostle Peter, has an episcopal responsibility in regard to the whole Catholic Church. The word "bishop" - "episkopos" in Greek, which primarily means "overseer" -- has already in the New Testament been fused together with the biblical concept of shepherd: He is the one who, from a higher vantage point, considers the whole, concerning himself with the right path and of the cohesion of the whole. In this sense, such a designation of his task orientates him first of all to the entirety of the believing community. The bishop -- the shepherd -- is the man who takes care of this community; he who maintains its unity and keeps it on the way toward God, indicated, according to the faith, by Jesus -- and not only indicated by Jesus: Jesus himself is the way for us.

But this community with which the bishop concerns himself -- large or small as it may be -- lives in the world; its state, its example and its word inevitably influence all the rest of the human community in its entirety. The bigger it is, the more that its good state or its possible degradation have repercussions for the whole of humanity. Today we see with great clarity how the conditions of the religions and how the situation of the Church -- her crises and her renewals -- affect the whole of humanity. Thus the Pope, precisely as shepherd of his community, has also become more and more a voice of the ethical reason of humanity.

Here, however, there immediately surfaces the objection, according to which, the Pope would not truly speak on the basis of ethical reason, but would take his judgments from the faith, and because of this he could not pretend that they are valid for those who do not share this faith. We must return to this issue later because here the absolutely fundamental question is posed: What is reason? How can a claim -- above all a moral norm -- show itself to be "reasonable"?

At this moment I would like to only briefly note that John Rawls, although denying to comprehensive religious doctrines the character of "public" reason, nevertheless sees at least in their "nonpublic" reason a reason that cannot, in the name of a secularly hardened rationality, simply be disregarded by those who support it.

He sees a criterion for this reasonableness in, among other things, the fact that similar doctrines derive from a responsible and validly grounded tradition in which, over a long period of time, sufficiently good argumentation has developed to support the respective doctrine. What seems important to me in this affirmation is the recognition that experience and demonstration over the course of generations, the historical background of human wisdom, are also a sign of its reasonableness and its enduring significance. In the face of an a-historical reason that tries to construct itself through a-historical rationality, the wisdom of humanity as such -- the wisdom of the great religious traditions -- is to be valued as a reality that cannot be with impunity thrown into the dustbin of the history of ideas.

Let us return to the initial question. The Pope speaks as a representative of a believing community in which, over the centuries of its existence, a determinate wisdom of life has matured; he speaks as the representative of a community that bears within itself a treasury of ethical knowledge and experience that turns out to be important for the whole of humanity: in this sense he speaks as a representative of ethical reason.

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But now we must ask ourselves: And what is the university? What is its task? It is a huge question to which, once again, I can try to respond only in an almost telegraphic way with some observations. I think that it can be said that the true, interior origin of the university is in the desire for knowledge that is native to man. He wants to know what it is that surrounds him. He wants truth. In this sense we can see that Socrates' self-questioning as the impulse from which the Western university was born.

I think, for example -- to mention only one text -- of the debate with Euthyphro, who defends mythical religion and his piety before Socrates. Against this Socrates poses the question: "Do you really believe that the gods fight with one another, and have awful quarrels and battles? ... Must we in fact say, Euthyphro, that all that is true?" ("Euthyphro," 6b-c). In this apparently impious question -- which in Socrates derived from a more profound and more pure religiosity, from the search for the truly divine God -- the Christians of the first centuries recognized themselves and their path. They did not understand their faith in a positivistic way, or as an escape from frustrated desires; they understood it as the dispersal of the fog of mythological religion to give room for the discovery of that God who is creative Reason and at the same time Reason-Love.

On account of this, reason's asking itself about the greater God, as its asking about the true nature and the true meaning of the human being, was not a problematic form of a lack of religiosity for those early Christians, but was part of the essence of their way of being religious. They did not need, then, to throw off or put aside Socratic self-questioning, but were able -- or rather, had to -- accept as part of their own identity reason's difficult search to reach knowledge of the whole truth. In this way, in the domain of Christian faith, in the Christian world, the university was able to -- or rather, had to -- be born.

It is necessary to take a further step. Man wants to know -- he wants truth. Truth is first of all a thing of seeing, of understanding, of "theoria," as it is called by the Greek tradition. But the truth is never only theoretic. Augustine, in making a correlation between the beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount and the gifts of the Spirit mentioned in Isaiah 11, affirmed a reciprocity between "scientia" and "tristitia": mere knowing, he says, makes one sad. And, in fact, those who only see and apprehend everything that happens in the world ends up becoming sad. But truth means more than knowing: Knowledge of the truth has knowledge of the good as its scope. This is also the meaning of Socratic self-questioning: What is that good that makes us true? The truth makes us good and goodness is true: This is the optimism that lives in Christian faith, because to it has been conceded the vision of the Logos, of creative Reason that, in the incarnation of God, has revealed himself as the Good, as Goodness Itself.

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