Monday, November 22, 2010

The Vatican and the Importance of Thought

Above. Views of the Vatican Apostolic Library (Bottom photo view of the Manuscript Reading Room)

View of the second hall of the «piano nobile» with the marble bust of Father Augustin Theiner, Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives between 1855 and 1870. Above the door there is the coat of arms of Cardinal Scipione Borghese Caffarelli, Librarian between 1609 and 1618

Coat of Arms of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, librarian of the Holy Roman Church (1609-1618), with the crowned eagle and the winged dragon

Fresco of Reginald, Lord of the Isle of Anglesey, North Wales, offering his Kingdom to Pope Honorius III (1216-1227), in front of the papal legate on Third Floor of the «piano nobile» in the Vatican Secret Archive

One good thing about not blogging for a period is that one does not feel that one should react immediately to what appears to be "news".

Often what is produced is not "new", "newsworthy" or just simply wrong.

The reaction to the Pope`s comments in an interview about condoms springs to mind.

It is conceiveable that the present Pope would announce a change to Church teaching in an interview with a journalist (even if an old friend) especially one on such an important topic.

That is borne out by the clarification issued by the Vatican Press Office, putting the matter beyond all doubt.

The only light from the debacle has been to increase interest in the Book and in future sales.

Non-blogging also allows one to look more closely at what is only covered cursorily or not covered at all

One "little gem" overlooked is a Letter by Pope Benedict XVI (9th November 2010) to the Librarian of the Vatican Library on its Re-opening after being closed to the public for three years.

The Letter is addressed to Cardinal Raffaele Farina, S.D.B., Archivist and Librarian of the Holy Roman Church, the post which when Cardinal, Papa Ratzinger wanted to move to after leaving the CDF. However Pope John Paul II had other ideas for his future career.

The Vatican Library is one of the Church`s great treasures, vital in its mission.

He confirmed his personal closeness to the persons involved in the Apostolic Library.

He also referred to the neighbouring Secret Archives and how both the Library and the Archives have been essential tools in the Petrine Ministry.

The Pope stressed that throughout its hitory the Church has been linked to Books: first Scripture, then Theology, then books or writings about the Church

The Library is not the personal hobby of a group of bibliomaniacs: it is essential for the Church`s own realisation of its history and identity.It is the link to the Church`s historical roots. These roots are not dead but living and providing sustenance and strength to overcome day-to-day problems of the present and which gives the Church the ability to look at all problems with a long term view based on the wisdom and experience of the ages.

It carries within it precious examples of human culture, knowledge and experience from a broad swathe of humanity over a long period of time. As a result the Church has a breadth and depth of knowledge and experience possibly unparalleled in any other human institution

Again quoting Pope Paul VI, the Pope stressed the importance of culture and the quest for God: a plea for a mature and considered response to what life throws up

All of which is at the service of mankind.

In his letter the Pope wrote:

"One of the two epigraphs affixed by Pope Sixtus V next to the entrance of the Sistine Hall recalls that it was begun ("inchoata") by those Popes who listened to the voice of the Apostle Peter.

In this idea of continuity of a 2,000 year history there is a profound truth: the Church of Rome from its beginning is linked to books; at first it was those of the sacred Scriptures, then the theological and those relative to the discipline and governance of the Church.

In fact, if the Vatican Library was born in the 15th century, in the heart of humanism, of which it is a splendid manifestation, it is the expression, the "modern" institutional realization of a much older reality, which has always supported the journey of the Church.

This historical awareness induces me to underline how the Apostolic Library, like the neighboring Secret Archive, is an integral part of the instruments necessary for the development of the Petrine Ministry and like it is rooted in the exigencies of the governance of the Church.

Far from being simply the fruit of the accumulation of a refined bibliophile and of a hobby of collecting many possibilities, the Vatican Library is a precious means -- which the Bishop of Rome cannot and does not intend to give up -- that gives, in the consideration of problems, that look capable of gathering, in a perspective of long duration, the remote roots of situations and their evolution in time.

Eminent place of the historical memory of the universal Church, in which are kept venerable testimonies of the handwritten tradition of the Bible, the Vatican Library is but another reason to be the object of the care and concern of the Popes.

From its origins it conserves the unmistakable, truly "catholic," universal openness to everything that humanity has produced in the course of the centuries that is beautiful, good, noble, worthy (cf. Philippians 4:8); the breadth of mind with which in time it gathered the loftiest fruits of human thought and culture, from antiquity to the Medieval age, from the modern era to the 20th century.

Nothing of all that is truly human is foreign to the Church, which because of this has always sought, gathered, conserved, with a continuity that few equal, the best results of men of rising above the purely material toward the search, aware or unaware, of the Truth.

Not accidental, in the iconographic program of the Sistine Hall, is the ordered succession of the representations of the ecumenical councils and of the great libraries of antiquity on the right and left walls, the images of the inventors of the alphabets in the central pillars all converge toward the figure of Jesus Christ, "celestis doctrinae auctor," alpha and omega, true Book of Life (cf. Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:15; 21:27) to which all human work tends and yearns.

The Vatican Library is not therefore a theological library or primarily of a religious character; faithful to its humanistic origins, it is by vocation open to the human; and thus serves culture, understanding with it -- as my venerable predecessor the Servant of God Paul VI said on June 20, 1975, on the occasion of the fifth centenary of that institution --

"human maturation ... growth from within ... exquisitely spiritual acquisition; culture and elevation of the most noble faculty that God the Creator has given man, to make him man, to make him more of a man, to make him similar to himself! Culture and mind, hence; culture and soul; culture and God. Also with this, 'her' institution, the Church proposes again to us these essential and vital binomials, which touch man in his truest dimension, and incline him, almost by an inversion of the law of gravity, towards the lofty, and urge him (...) to surpass himself according to the wonderful Augustinian trajectory of the 'quaerere super se' (cf. St. Augustine, Confessions, X, 6, 9: PL 32, 783). Also with the functioning of 'her' institution, the Church promises herself again today -- as she did five centuries ago -- to serve all men, inscribe this ministry of hers in the vaster picture of that ministry that is so essential to her to make her be Church: Church as community that evangelizes and saves" (Insegnamenti, XIII [1975], p. 655)

This opening to the human does not regard only the past but also looks to the present.

In the Vatican Library, all researchers of the truth have always been received with attention and care, without confessional or ideological discrimination; required of them only is the good faith of serious research, unselfish and qualified.

In this research the Church and my predecessors have always wished to recognize and value a motive, often, unwittingly, religious, because every partial truth participates in the Supreme Truth of God and every profound and rigorous research, to ascertain it is a path to reach it.

The love of letters, historical and philological research, are thus intertwined in God's desire, as I had the occasion to remind on Sept. 12, 2008, in Paris, when meeting with the world of culture at the College des Bernardines and evoking again the great experience of Western monasticism.

"The objective of monks was and remains that of "'Quaerere Deum' -- setting out in search of God (...) The longing for God, the désir de Dieu, includes amour des lettres, love of the word, exploration of all its dimensions. Because in the biblical word God comes towards us and we towards him, we must learn to penetrate the secret of language, to understand it in its construction and in the manner of its expression.

Thus it is through the search for God that the secular sciences take on their importance, sciences which show us the path towards language. Because the search for God required the culture of the word, it was appropriate that the monastery should have a library, pointing out pathways to the word. (...) The monastery serves 'eruditio,' formation and the erudition of man -- a formation with the ultimate objective that man learn to serve God" (Insegnamenti, IV, 2 [2008], p. 272).

The Vatican Library is hence the place in which the loftiest human words are collected and kept, mirror and reflection of the Word, of the Word that illumines every man (John 1:9). I am pleased to conclude recalling the words that the Servant of God Paul VI pronounced on his first visit to the Vatican Library, on June 8, 1964, when he recalled the "ascetic virtues" that the activity in the Vatican Library commits and exacts, immersed in the plurality of languages, of writings and words, but always looking at the Word, and through the provisional, continually drawing closer to the definitive.

From this austere and at the same time joyous asceticism of research, in the service of studies themselves and others, the Vatican Library in the course of its history has offered innumerable examples, from Guglielmo Sirleto to Franz Ehrle, from Giovanni Mercati to Eugene Tisserant.

May it be able to continue to walk on the path traced by these luminous figures!"