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An academic alongside his colleagues. Thoughts on University

On April 27, 2014, a university professor is declared a saint by the Catholic Church. His name is Karol Wojtyla, and today he is Saint John Paul II, professor of Ethics in Lublin, later archbishop of Krakow, and in the end Roman Pontiff. Here we desire to remember with gratitude his long Magisterium in the light of university culture and life, offering various passages taken from some of his many keynote addresses given to the academic community and the whole world. An academic, therefore, alongside his colleagues.

Let us review briefly the story of his academic experience. Having received his teaching license in ethics and moral theology in 1953 from the Department of Theology at the Jagiellonian University, Karol Wojtyla held his first classes initially at the Seminary of Krakow and later in the Department of Philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin, where he started as a temporary professor in 1956 and then chair of Ethics in 1958. Named auxiliary bishop of Krakow in July of 1958, he would continue to teach at Lublin for another twenty years, without interrupting his academic activity, not even when he was appointed as Archbishop of Krakow in January of 1964. These are the years in which the vast majority of his publications are done. Among these, there is his monograph Love and Responsibility (1960), a study of sexual morality born from his philosophical reflection on human love. After his work in the Second Vatican Council, the archbishop of Krakow will publish The Acting Person (1969), a philosophical synthesis that marks an attempt to bring together Phenomenology and the Aristotelian - Thomistic tradition, studying action as it reveals the person. This will be followed by Sources of Renewal (1972), a theological compendium of the conciliar teachings from the prospective of their application to the ecclesial reality in Poland, and Sign of Contradiction (1976), which collects his preaching of spiritual exercises for Pope Paul VI. Fruit of his scientific activity, during the entire period of his professorship at the Catholic University of Lublin multiple articles will appear, both in Polish in journals such as Znak (Sign), Roczniki filozoficzne (Philosophic annals), Zeszyty Naukowe (Scientific Reviews of the University of Lublin), as well as in other languages, as in Analecta Husserliana (The Yearbook of Phenomenological Research). In this period there will be not infrequent invitations to hold conferences in other European universities, for example at the Catholic University of Milan. He will remain at his position at Lublin until the moment of his unexpected nomination during the papal consistory on October 16, 1978; only then will the newly elected John Paul II have to inevitably leave his chair as professor in order to ascend the chair of Peter.

The thought of John Paul II has left us witnesses and teachings invaluable to reviewing the finality, the mission, and the role of a university formation, in order to reflect on the virtues that must preside over academic life. The beauty and depth of his discourses have spurred us to offer readers the following passages from his speeches as Pontiff, certain that the encounter with his words will shed new light on the meaning of intellectual work in the context of the university. The cultural heritage left  us by John Paul II is extremely vast and remains always available through access to the texts of his Magisterium, of which the Portal has offered for years an ample documentation, useful for those who teach and conduct research, but inspiring also for those young people who are headed for university work. From these sources we can always benefit, especially those who attribute a strategic role to the culture and formation of younger generations to promote society and the development of peoples, especially in moments of economic uncertainty and anthropological crisis, like those which many western countries are confronting today.

With this hope and sense of gratitude towards John Paul II, the Center for Research DISF (Documentazione Interdisicplinare di Scienza e Fede) and the ADSIR School (Advanced Schools for the Interdisciplinary Research) invite you to read these passages, with the wish for all, especially young people, that from these reflections, like seeds destined to bring for fruit, may be born in many a genuine love for the pursuit of Truth and a sincere commitment to the promotion of a culture at the service of man.



An academic alongside his colleagues

“Perhaps you will ask me by what authority I, as the representative of the Church, turn to you today with such intense feeling regarding what are your specific duties. You may ask me if I have the right, so to speak, to intrude into the area of your responsibilities. There are various reasons which press me to do so. There is above all an historical motive: the Church can affirm that it has often been at the origins of the university institution, with its schools of theology and canon law. There is also, perhaps, if you will permit me, a personal reason, since as you know I dedicated not a small part of my past endeavours to teaching at the university level, so that I feel truly honoured to be your colleague. But there is a deeper and more universal reason, and it is the mutual passion, yours and the Church’s, for the truth and for man; or rather, for the truth of man.”

(To the teaching staffs of the universities of Emilia-Romagna, St. Dominic’s Convent, Bologna, April 18, 1982, no. 2)

“On a very personal level, permit me now to tell you how many memories come to me by being here with you today. I feel at home, among friends, among my own. My association with the university world in Krakow and Lublin is still vivid in my mind, but also all the many contacts that I have had with academe throughout the world. And the common element in all of this is truth – truth at the service of humanity, humanity fulfilled in truth and speaking the truth in love. Dear friends: may God sustain you in your commitment to his truth and to its consequences in your lives. And in this truth may you all experience his love.”

(To the representatives of all Australian Institutions of Higher Learning, Sydney, November 26, 1986, no. 8)


Intellectual work as gaudium de veritate

 “The intellectual who reflects on the meaning of his mission understands that the soul of this mission is the love of truth above everything else. His fundamental attitude cannot be other than the search for, and the welcoming of, truth. These is need for much strength of spirit, for interior freedom, for independence with regard to the dominant mentalities and fads, for integrity and humility. But the greatest joy of intellectuals, at the end of their arduous research, is the “gaudium de veritate” of which Saint Augustine spoke with enthusiasm.”

(To the representatives of the World of Culture at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, June 13, 1984, no. 3).


Search for the truth and search for God

 “By its very nature, scholarship is ultimately theocentric, and as such it renders immense service to humanity. It helps people in their search for the meaning of life. It supports them in their gropings for the light of truth. Scholarship, with the truth it brings, does not abandon people when they have succumbed to disregarding human life, to tolerating violence, to pursuing greed, to accepting injustice. No, even as certain sectors of humanity are guilty of all of this and are hence drifting to destruction, truth offers help. It will not go away. It still makes itself felt. It appeals to the highest instincts of man. It confronts his conscience. It will plead its own case and prove it! As scholarship discovers by its proper method the existence of God and receives insights into his being, it helps man to understand his own nature, to know himself. The great nobility of the human mind is based above all on its ability to know God and to search more and more deeply into the mystery of God’s life and there – at that point – to discover also man. It is no wonder then that, as centres of learning, the universities of the past and the present have welcomed into their midst schools of theology, dedicated to the science of God. The truth of God leads us to the truth of man, and the truth of man leads us to the truth of God.”

(To the representatives of all Australian Institutions of Higher Learning, Sydney, November 26, 1986, no. 6)

“I spoke to you at the beginning of the connection between the Cathedral and the Chairs of science which this University has, saying that the scientist also is called to exercise his own type of “priesthood”. Yes, in a true sense every scientist is a priest: that end which the Lord God assigned to the first man at the moment of creation (…) has a particular and privileged application for the scientist. Precisely because he sees better and more, he has a more strict duty, on the one hand, to acknowledge, to praise, to admire, and to thank God in the works of his creation and, on the other, to make proper and responsible use of his own talent and of the conquests, little and great, which are its fruit.”

(Meeting with the professors and students of the University of Pisa, September 24, 1989, no. 6)


The university, place of research of the truth in freedom

 “Therefore the question arises, this, too, fundamental for the university, as to the relationship between the public power and its culture policy, or other powers present in society, and the autonomous initiatives of the university institutions (…). Freedom, in fact, has always been an essential condition for the development of a science which preserves its innermost dignity of the search for truth and is not reduced to pure function, used as an instrument of an ideology for the exclusive satisfaction of immediate ends, of material social needs or economic interests, of a view of human knowledge uniquely inspired by unilateral or partial criteria typical of biased, and for that very reason incomplete, interpretations of reality. Learning can more effectively influence practice according to how truly free it is.”
(To the teaching staffs of the universities of Emilia-Romagna, St. Dominic’s Convent, Bologna, April 18, 1982, no. 4)
 “There seems to be no doubt today that modern culture, the soul of Western society throughout centuries, and because of this, in large measure also of other societies, is undergoing a crisis: already “culture” no longer appears as the principal agent and unifier of society, which in turn appears to be dispersed and in difficulty with regard to assuming its mission of making man grow spiritually in every aspect of his being. This loss of vigour and influence by culture seems to have at its base a true crisis. The sense of truth has suffered a serious blow from every direction. If we observe well, it is basically a question of a metaphysical crisis, which is followed by the loss of the value of the word, whose deprecation has its origins in a type of uncertainty and distrust between peoples. Man asks himself in anguish: “Who am I?” The objective view of truth is often replaced by a more or less spontaneous subjective position. Objective morality gives way to an individual ethic in which each person seems to post himself as the norm for behaviour and to want to be required to be faithful only to this norm. And the crisis deepens when effectiveness assumes the function of value. As a result, manipulations of every sort arise and man each time feels more insecure, with the impression of living in a society that seems to be lacking in convictions and ideals and to be confused with regard to values.
(Meeting with university professors and people of culture in Coimbra, May 15, 1982, no. 6).


“Must one perhaps fear that the adoption of the philosophy of St. Thomas means to compromise the just plurality of cultures and the progress of human thought? A similar fear would be manifestly vain, because the “perennial philosophy”, by strength of the methodological principal mentioned, according to which all the richness of the content of reality has its source in the “actus essendi”, it has, so to speak, already the right to all that which is true in relationship to reality. Reciprocally, every understanding of reality — which effectively mirrors this reality — has full right to citizenship in the “philosophy of being”, independently of who has the merit of having permitted such advancement in this understanding and independently of the philosophical school to which he belongs. The other philosophical trends, therefore, if one observes them from this point of view, can, or rather, must be considered as natural allies of the philosophy of St. Thomas, and as partners worthy of attention and respect in the dialogue that takes place in the presence of reality and in the name of a truth, which is part of that reality.”

(To the Pontifical University of the Angelicum, November 17, 1979, no. 7)


The Universitas studiorum, place of dialogue and of the universality of knowledge

 “One perceives the importance of a work of synthesis, oriented towards reaching a unity of knowledge and to converge different aspects of knowledge in a global vision of reality. (…) As I have already recalled on other occasions, the notion of the “University” entails in fact a demand for universality, and therefore an openness to the entirety of truth, which attracts and towers over everyone, and which identifies itself in the truth of God and in the truth of man, that is the Word incarnate. In such a way, man also is exalted, at least implicitly, as a subject capable of analysis, of reflection, of judgment, and as investigator and admirer of every value and of every beauty.”

(Meeting with the Academic Senate of “Alma Mater Studiorum”, Bologna, June 7 1988, no. 2).

 “ ‘All.’ Let us reflect on this expression. ‘All’ is a concept close to that which is contained in the word universitas. Universitas is a particular environment oriented towards the knowledge of ‘all’. To the subjective universitas corresponds the objective universum. This orientation, this aspiration are intimately united to men of every era, to the very nature of the human intellect. Intellectus est quodammodo omnia (the human intellect is in a certain sense all — St. Thomas Aquinas). In fact, all which in some mode exists, is given as a task to human knowledge, and therefore to the human intellect. All that in some way exists — that is, all of reality, all of reality diversified. The human intellect is oriented towards this reality, both according to the aspect of its universality (‘all’), as well as that of its diversification. The institutions that carry the name “university” proclaim with their very name this fundamental truth of man, of human knowledge. All of reality is entrusted as a task to man in the aspect of truth. The “university” speaks at one and the same time of a specific indebtedness of man towards all of reality. This is the indebtedness by means of truth. Man owes the world truth. Man cancels this debt through knowledge of the truth about the world, about reality, about the Creator and about creation, and at the same time, he fulfills himself. He justifies his intellectuality in the entire cosmos.”

(Homily for the Celebration of the Word at the University of Lublin, April 9 1987, no. 2)

 “Now it is precisely characteristic of the university, which is universitas studiorum par excellence as distinct from other centres of study and research, to cultivate a universal knowledge in the sense that in it every branch of knowledge must be cultivated in a spirit of universality, that is, with the awareness that each one, although diverse, is so linked to all the others that it is not possible to teach it outside the context, at least intentionally, of all the others. To withdraw into oneself is to condemn oneself, sooner or later, to sterility and to risk exchanging the norm of total truth for a keener method of analyzing and grasping a particular section of reality. The university therefore must become a place for meeting and spiritual collaboration in humility and courage where people who love learning can learn to respect, consult and communicate with one another, in an interweaving of open and complementary knowledge with the goal of leading the student towards the unity of the knowable, that is, towards the truth which is sought and safeguarded beyond any manipulation.”

(Meeting with professors and students at the University of Turin, September 3, 1988, no. 3).


The moral responsibility of the man of science

 “Traditional cultures have been transformed by new forms of social communication, of production, of experimentation, of the exploration of nature and of societal planning. In light of this, science must feel first of all a much greater sense of responsibility. The future of humanity depends on this. You men and women who represent science and culture: your moral power is enormous! You can act in such a way that the scientific sector serves first of all human culture and that it may never be depraved and used for its own destruction! (…) We need to rouse consciences. Your responsibility and your chance to influence public opinion are immense.”

(To the world of the university, academics and research, Madrid, November 3, 1982, no. 8).

 “How great, in this regard, is the responsibility of the men of science, how noble their mission! Better than many other human beings, they are able to open new horizons, to forge new paths in the ever expanding sphere of what is knowable but not yet known. He cannot be resigned to the skeptical and agnostic observation that once caused someone to say “Ignoramus, et ignorabimus”, “We do not know and we shall never know.” Even in self-knowledge man continually makes progress. Today, thanks to the broadening of the scientific horizons, of the sciences of observation as well as of the “humanities”, in many aspects man knows himself and his peers better than ever before.”

(To the representatives of the world of culture united at the University of Trieste, May 2 1992, no. 5)


The University as educational community

 “Consequently, I believe it is necessary to reaffirm with vehemence the community dimension of the university, also with regard to the relationship between the teaching staff and students. Although this has been made difficult by the increased numbers of students and the scarce attendance at lectures in the various faculties, human contact is indispensable to the formation of the personality, and therefore essential so that the university may continue to be able to carry out its educative mission.”

(To the teaching staffs of the universities of Emilia-Romagna, St. Dominic’s Convent, Bologna, April 18, 1982, no. 5)

 “The University is an institution that by its very nature tends — or at least should tend — to overcome the particularisms of the subjects and of the objects of its study and teaching: Universitas studiorum, the Medievals called it, but also Universitas Docentium et Discentium, everyone and everything recomposing a harmonic, though dynamic, unity. The University, by its nature, represents and is this project of fundamental research of the truth, which attracts and towers over and tends towards the harmonization of all the particular aspects of the various specializations.

(To the professors and students in the Aula Magna of the University of Perugia, Perugia, October 26, 1986, no. 2)

 “The Church looks on university experience under the profile of its contribution to the integral formation of the person: even if with full respect for the autonomy of science and of its intrinsic laws, this end must be pursued only if research and teaching take place in such a way as to always have as a reference point the growth of those great values which, in the measure that they are authentic, are also in potential harmony with the Christian message. If in professors and in students there is the lively awareness of this end, their life within the University can only be oriented towards the actualization of a supportive community, founded on a fruitful human relationship between master and pupil.”

(Discourse to the university community of Ca’Foscari, Venice, June 17, 1985, no. 2)

 “One last consideration, and no less important, I would like to present to you, distinguished Professors: it is prompted by the presence of a numerous group of students representing here their colleagues. They are the protagonists of the University: if it is true, in fact, that the construction of the future is an integral part, not only of your ethical commitment, but also of your very process of research, then the pole that guides and orients your entire academic activity is constituted by the concrete and attendance of your students. In them you certainly see future: you question it, you provide for it, you interpret it, and you confront yourselves with it. But what availability, what attention, and most of all what respect are necessary towards these young people, in order that your teaching may be a fitting response! Such will be the quality of young people as is the quality teachers.”

 (Meeting with professors of the University of Palermo, November 20, 1982, no. 5).


A Christian humanism and university formation: education that edifies

 “University studies by their very nature help man to fulfill himself. Knowledge in any sector of the humanistic, natural, or social sciences fulfills man intellectually (…). But man is not only intelligence. He is also will. In everyday life the will always has priority in human behavior, especially in moral behavior (…). From this comes the essential pedagogical and constructive task of the university in the edification of the whole person, non only the intellectually skilled, but even more so skilled in wisdom and experience in the right use of the will. It is not enough that students come away from here with a mind full of notions/ideas. They must go out as men and women with a will, guided by resolute moral convictions and firm and applicable good intentions.”

(To the cultured world during the visit to the University of Sassari, October 19, 1985, no. 3).

 “The mission of the Catholic teacher is that of lovingly and gradually guiding man to this profound awareness; is that of helping him to purify and to educate his own reason, in order to render it more willing to welcoming, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the truth of the faith. If therefore many do not accept the truths of the faith, one can and must introduce them, by means of a patient and charitable dialogue, towards the comprehension of spiritual and religious values, parting from facts of reason, of which all of us, believers and non-believers, are capable, in as much as human persons.”

(to the LUMSA University [Libera Università Maria S.S. Assunta], Rome, March 9, 1985, no. 3)

 “The university institution must serve the education of the person. The presence of even the most prestigious cultural means and instruments would be worthless if they are not accompanied by a clear vision of the essential and teleological objective of a university: the comprehensive formation of the human person, viewed in his constitutive and original dignity and in his true end. Society asks the university not only for specialists who are well prepared in their specific fields of knowledge, culture, science and technology, but most of all, for builders of humanity, servants of the community of their  brothers and sisters, promoters of justice because they are oriented towards the truth. To put it briefly, today, as always, we need people of culture and science who are able to place the values of conscience above all else, and cultivate the supremacy of being over appearing.”

(Meeting with professors and students at the University of Turin, September 3, 1988, no. 4).


The University and social progress: towards a culture of solidarity

 “In this sphere the university, in that it is a centre for the unification of knowledge, an institutional place for the elaboration of humanistic and scientific learning through the constant exercise of reason, has a primary and inalienable task. If development has a necessary economic dimension, nonetheless it must not be limited to that dimension so as not to be turned against those very people whose advancement is desired. The characteristics of a full development, a “more human” one, which—without denying economic demands—is able to remain at the level of the authentic vocation of man and woman, have been set out in the recent Encyclical Sollecitudo Rei Socialis (…) A development which is not solely economic is measured and oriented according to this reality and vocation of the person, seen in its globality, that is, according to its interior parameter. People certainly have need of created goods and industrial products, continually enriched by scientific and technological progress. However, in order to achieve true development it is necessary not to lose sight of this parameter, which is  the specific nature of the person, created  by God  in his own image and likeness.”

(Meeting with professors and students at the University of Turin, September 3, 1988, no. 5).

 “In this Athenaeum therefore — as in many others equally founded and developed in a Christian cultural context — we should recognize a unifying, beneficial, and decisive role. Today, at the beginning of the third millennium of our Redemption, the University that truly wished to put itself at the service of the concrete humanity of our times, finds that it must respond to similar requests. What is it today that people long for, even if not always with an explicit awareness and an insufficient capacity to let their voice be heard? (…)  They ask that a culture of solidarity be affirmed universally — against every excessive greed and race towards profit — in order that the world might become more just and more human. They ask that the process of integration among peoples be advanced more decisively, in various geographic areas, beyond every arbitrary laceration imposed by political and hegemonic demands. In the face of these demands, an Athenaeum, which has roots deep in history and traditions as honored as your own, can and must render itself attentive and welcoming.”

(Meeting with the Academic Senate of the “Alma Mater Studiorum”, Bologna, June 7 1988, no. 3-4).

 “The vastness of articulated subjects could discourage isolated researchers or thinkers. For this reason, today more than ever, research must be conducted together. Today the specialization of various disciplines is such that, for the efficacy of research, and even more importantly in order to serve man, researchers must work together. Not only as a requirement of methodology, but in order to avoid dispersion and to give an adequate response to the complex problems that must be tackled. Proceeding from the needs of man, both individual and social, centers of research and universities must overcome the division of the various disciplines, even if necessary methodologically, in order that the great problems of modern man, called development, world hunger, justice, peace, dignity for all, are approached with competence and efficacy. Public powers and the international community necessitate the talents of all and must count on your communal help.”

(To the representatives of the world of the university, academics, research, Madrid, November 3, 1982, no. 9).


The responsibility of European Universities

 “In this closing of the century, the European university finds itself invested with new problems and called to overcome new challenges. The experimental sciences have seen an extraordinary advancement, as the technological application has accelerated, on the one hand, the industrialization of all sectors of production, and has imposed, on the other hand, the multiplication of specializations, with the resulting need for constant professional updating. This has had obvious repercussions on the university curriculum, which appears to waver between forming the foundations and the specialization of knowledge, necessarily rendered every more parcelized. At the same time, the progressive orientation of the university towards industrial production and towards tertiary services has defeated humanistic study and research, economically unproductive and extraneous to the logic of the market. The university has watched as it has been drastically reshaped in its function of memory of the past, forge of the spirit, arena of the exploration of beauty, of metaphysics, of truth.”

(To the “Forum” of the rectors of the European universities at the University La Sapienza, Rome, April 19 1991, no. 3).

 “Europe still bears a great responsibility in the world. Because of its Christian history, Europe’s vocation is one of openness and service to the whole human family. But today Europe has a very special obligation towards developing nations. A major challenge of our time is precisely the development of all peoples in full respect for their cultures and spiritual identity. Our generation has still much to do, if it is to avoid the historical reproach of not having fought with all its heart and mind to defeat the misery of so many millions of our brothers and sisters. This is the message I have presented in my Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socalis, on the development of people. We have to fight against all forms of poverty, physical as well as cultural and spiritual. Development certainly has an economic dimension, but it would not be true human development if it were limited to material needs. ‘Development which is not only economic must be measured and oriented according to the reality and vocation of man seen in his totality, namely, according to his interior dimension.’”

(Meeting with the Swedish University Community, Upsala, June 9, 1987, no. 7).