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Address to the Academic Community of New Louvain

1985, May 21

Pope John Paul II is commending the University of Louvain for the excellence of study it has provided as a Catholic University.  He encourages them to seek the Truth of God, to live up to intellectual standards, and to avoid the pitfalls of relativism. The Catholic university has a bright future that is not determined because man has the ability to study and understand and choose in freedom. Faith in Jesus Christ sets the intellectual life on a solid foundation of Faith. The theologians of the university are called along with the Bishops to explain and teach the truth in accord with the Traditions of the Catholic Church. He acknowledges the diversity in the universities students and commends them to keep doing well in their work. Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, Pray for us. 

A Catholic university witnesses to the need to cultivate truth without any exclusion

Monsignor Rector,
Dear Friends

Addressing the academic community today, I first of all wish to express to you the particular pleasure I feel every time it is granted to e to cross the threshold of a university. My presence in the beautiful surroundings of New Louvain awakens in me the memories of a long and happy association with university teaching. Now, with its mysterious working, Providence has caused me with the incomparable task of teaching to all nations the Gospel that Jesus Christ gave to Peter and the Apostles. And it is above all in this capacity that I have responded with joy to your invitation.

Along with the professors and students of this university, I greet the representatives of the other French-speaking Catholic universities of Belgium, especially of Namur and of Mons.  I am likewise happy to see gathered here the inhabitants of the area, whose existence is affected by this modern university structure. Yes, I thank all those who have come to join with the university community in order to meet the Pope and to manifest their communion with him and, through him, with the universal Church that he has the duty of leading in fidelity, in unity, and in coherent progress.

The seed sown by Pope Martin V

Your university itself lives a certain universality. It is intimately tied to the history of the Church in Europe and in the world. For more than five centuries it has continued- with determination and intelligence- the mission that my predecessor, Pope Martin V, entrusted to it, instituting in 1425 the “Studium Generale” that was to become the Catholic University of Louvain. The seed has brought forth its fruits. The “tree” has grown as well, has developed the three original faculties – law, medicine, arts- and has branched out in many new sectors based on the needs and the specializations of science.

In this modern age, troubled but also full of hope, your vocation as a Catholic University continues to be of capital importance. It is principally of this that I would like to speak with you this morning; yesterday, at Louven, I spoke especially of the relationship between culture and faith. It is necessary to say that the two themes are equally valid for both universities? Recent historical circumstances led, in effect, to the breaking off of the University of Louvain into tow sister universities. But at New Louvain and at Woluwe’ you intend to continue with serenity and discernment, as at Leuven, the original spirit of the Alma Mater.

University’s reputation

Neither on the plane of scientific progress nor on the level of Christian reflection have you let yourselves be removed from the new problems posed by the evolution of the times and of cultures. The reputation of Louvain University has extensively crossed the boundaries of your country and of Europe. You receive a large number of students from all over the world.  You continue, as in the past, to form scientists, humanist theologians, researchers, who do honor to science, and whose efforts in the service of research, of faith, justice and of the development of humanity constitute the object of your legitimate pride.  But the most fundamental thing is your declared intention and your renewed project of wanting always to pursue side by side the proposals of science and the demands of a culture open to all the values of the Gospel.

Some people, as you know, have maintained that a university contradicts itself by declaring itself Catholic. The refutation of this simplistic affirmation is furnished by history itself, because no university member, no historian can seriously claim that the universities of Paris, of Bologna, of Salamanca, of Krakow, were not true universities, it is precisely the Catholic Church which created and gave a vital impulse to these first university institutions. This history is also yours. And today you are living a new stage in it solidly rooted in the past and resolutely turned towards the future.

Open to all truth

It is necessary instead to affirm with pride: a Catholic university, by the very fact of its catholicity, is called to be still more fully “university”. The fundamental reason consists in the requirement of universality that the notion of university carries with it. In fact a Catholic university, by vocation and radical requirement, is open to the truth in all fields, to all truth. In the material universe nothing is foreign to her, nor does anything in the spiritual world remain outside of her intellectual concerns. Through her action and her creativity a Catholic university witnesses, at the very heart of the cultures of our day, to the necessity –essential for the future of man and of his dignity- of cultivating truth without exclusion. Because this truth is a fascinating mountain: it peak is immersed in the luminous cloud of the mystery of God, of which the invisible was made visible to our eyes in the Incarnate Word; in him in his very person made flesh, the Truth of God and the Truth of man manifest themselves to our intelligence illuminated by faith. This fundamental dimension runs the risk of being veiled if one stops at a sort of university pragmatism, closed off in the limited field of juxtaposed suspects without seeking their logical coherence and their ultimate significance for human beings and for society. Eclecticism is not a university attitude, because it discredits the pursuit of the truth for its own sake.

The commitment to serve the whole truth shows itself, furthermore, to be a requirement of freedom of research, of teaching and of diffusion. I know that the Catholic University of Louvain, with the reflection that it encourages among professors, with its publications, with the congress that it holds within its wall, intends to fully assume the liberty of serving the whole truth, even if this intellectual attitude at times encounters difficulties that must not be minimized. Modern culture is in fact linked to a pluralism of attitudes, of behavior, of ideologies. And this form of liberty is dear to democratic societies. But let us be very careful that in the name of pluralism some do not wish to impose upon teaching institutions a sort of neutrality of minds, in which all opinions would have the same value, in which ideas of man would become confused in an atmosphere of generalized indifference. 

It is precisely the role of a Catholic university to go beyond both the mere pragmatic organization of teaching and an ethical of intellectual pluralism without absolutes in fact, this would end up rendering insipid the salt of the mind and swallowing the very humanity of man in a bland mechanism of social adaptation, deprived of real profundity and stripped of that unlimited amplitude which is at once the essence and the honor of the human mind, created in the image of God.

To build a future

The unceasing rediscovery of the creative dynamism of the mind presupposes on the part of the whole university community, and particularly of the teachers and the academic authorities, a tenacious desire for overcoming and a lively attachment to theological hope. Science and knowledge do not accept fatalism, but strive to freely build the future. Seen in this light, science is a means for impeding fatalism regarding the future. The future is then no longer a destiny to be accepted but a project and a duty to accomplish together, with the light of God that penetrates the secret of the dynamism proper to every Catholic university and allows the undivided acceptance of the Gospel of Christ and the generous and intelligent service of his Church. In last analysis, a Catholic university presumes and exercise of intelligence which integrates a vision of faith. It is this which gives such a vast dimension to research and a true liberty of spirit, which is also able to criticize itself, to re-center itself continually on the first foundation which is Jesus Christ living in the world and in the Church, on the authentic deposit of faith from the living Magisterium of the Church (cf. Dei Verbum, n.2; Lumen Gentium, n. 25).  For a Christian university member, the entire universe of creation, the history of mankind, the projects and the destiny of man are not extraneous to this divine economy, which first Christian thinkers and the Fathers of the Church sought to present as the ultimate explanation of the mystery of man. Now, to come to deepen this conviction founded upon intelligence and faith it is necessary for both professors and students to consciously cultivate and attitude, a spiritual refinement which permits the illumination from within of all the initiatives of intellectual life. There is no academic material, there are no human problems that remain foreign to a Christian perspective, because the faith teaches us this the mysteries of Creation, of the Incarnation and Redemption have transformed and enriched for ever the knowledge and the wisdom of the human family, the science and the culture of all mankind.

Need of clear convincing testimony

And when treating of theology properly so-called and of the related sciences, it is evident- it is the definition of its object and of the rigorously scientific character of its proper method- that the study itself is carried out regarding a datum of Revelation, the deposit of faith as it has been lived and made explicit throughout the history of the Church, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, as it is proposed by the Magisterium of the Church in its doctrinal aspects and ethical implications, which constitute so many points of certitude and sure paths.

Today a certain number of problems are without a doubt new, especially in the area of ethics. Various experiments are taking place around the world, experiments which include the ambit of human life. Furthermore, it seems that a certain number of our contemporaries do not know how to grasp the requirements of the Church regarding their family life or their life in society. Scientists but also public opinion, the common man, address the church regarding what they confusedly feel to be either an impediment to their freedom or, on the contrary, a guarantee of their dignity. From the teaching body of a Catholic university like yours they expect great attention to their problems, and at the same time they have need of clear and convincing testimony concerning the principles which are capable of illuminating their consciences in perfect harmony with the precise affirmations of the Church in the area of faith and morals, and with the pastoral directives that she offers.

The bishops united with the Pope have the mission of teaching or of recalling, this doctrine in its authenticity. They are furthermore responsible for Catholic universities, in collaboration with the Grand Chancellor of the particular university.  As pastors, they watch over mankind, the projects and the unity of the People of God in the faith.  They absolutely have need of the help of qualified professional theologians, whose authority in the Church comes from the mission received from the legitimate Magisterium.  If is the duty of these theologians to make an inventory of doctrine, to reflect upon the ordinary teaching of the Church and at the same time to deepen it, to illustrate it, to clarify the controversial questions and the complex problems regarding the faith. Their task is important in making evident the foundations of the affirmations of the faith, and of all Christian values; for example, the values of the family and if life in common, of human love, of respect for human life and the dignity of the person. It is no less important that they prepare the way, according to the Christian principles, which allows the response to new questions, stimulating a coherent, authentic development of doctrine, in the sense understood my Newman, without straying from a faithful attitude towards the Church.

Dear theologian friends, I cannot repeat here all that I have developed for you in other circumstances, for example in Fribourg, Switzerland, regarding the unequalled and delicate service entrusted to theologians. You are linked with the Magisterium but not to be confused with it. You are with us the servants of Truth which comes to us from God and which at the same time is a grand messianic design for man. It is the honor and the responsibility of each professor and of the university itself.

I have before my eyes many students of various countries and numerous inhabitants of New Louvain. Each one certainly carries within his heart a certain number of questions concerning his own faith, religious practice, the problems in his life. Moreover, each one arrives here marked by a personal history, the history of his family, of his country. In this journey, dear friends, you wish to be respected, loved, sustained by a community capable of offering you friendship and a spiritual dynamism. For this reason I heartily encourage all those who participate in the religious animation of the university community, or of the parish, to play a primary role. It is my hope that all will be able to find in it suitable possibilities for prayer, for celebration, for Christian reflection, for doctrinal study, for mutual friendship, and above all for the various Christian commitments which correspond to your faith and you charisms. I especially greet the religious families present here or in the area; may they continue to associate themselves with this great work of pastoral animation! May every Christian be able to deepen his faith while responding to the demands of ecumenism! May Catholics be strengthened in their knowledge of the Church, in its love and its service!  And may they be capable of responding, if God calls them, to the priestly religious, contemplative, apostolic or missionary vacation, for which God will give them the grace. 

Seat of Wisdom

Dear friends, the emblem of your university providentially carries the figure of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom. It is more than a symbol, it is a seal of fidelity to your origins and the pledge of hope fro your university tasks of tomorrow. And I would like, at the end of this encounter at New Louvain, to make my own the words with which your Rector welcomed the General Assembly of the International Federation of Catholic Universities: “I implore Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom and patroness of our university, and I ask her to illuminate us in order that our university might bring to a troubled world a testimony of faith, of love and of hope. May she make us attentive towards everything that might weaken our ties to the Gospel! May she give us the courage for liberating discussions! May Our Lady teach us to Marvel at our double vocation: to complete the creation whose dominion God has entrusted to us, and to recognize in all men the face of his Risen Son”.

May Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, continue to grant you for a long time to come the spiritual strength and the joy to continue the original and always timely mission of the Catholic University of Louvain! With all the Catholic universities of the world, you make a contribution that the Church considers truly indispensable in her dialogue with the cultures of our day.

To all those who are linked with the community of New Louvain, to all of you, students, professors, researchers, staff members of this university which has always remained dear to my heart, I impart my Apostolic Blessing. 


Source of the English text: Osservatore Romano, English Weekly Edition, 1985, July 22, pp. 10-12.