A central and recurring theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s apostolic visit to the Czech Republic, which wrapped up today, was one that has long been close to his heart: the importance of the truth and the search for it.
“The presidential flag flying over Prague Castle proclaims the motto ‘Pravda Vít?zí – the Truth wins,’” the Pope said on Saturday on arrival at Prague airport. “It is my earnest hope that the light of truth will continue to guide this nation, so blessed throughout its history by the witness of great saints and martyrs.”
The Holy Father expounded on the theme later in the day, delivering a striking address to diplomats that tackled the authentic nature of freedom, and how it should be exercised. Tailoring his address for a country which has had difficulty adjusting to freedom in a post-Communist era, Benedict reminded the audience with clarity and directness that “true freedom presupposes the search for truth — for the true good.” Therefore, he said, it finds its fulfillment “precisely in knowing and doing what is right and just. Truth, in other words, is the guiding norm for freedom, and goodness is freedom’s perfection.”
“Indeed, the lofty responsibility to awaken receptivity to truth and goodness falls to all leaders — religious, political and cultural, each in his or her own way,” the Holy Father continued. “Jointly we must engage in the struggle for freedom and the search for truth, which either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery.” For Christians, the Pope reminded the audience, “truth has a name: God. And goodness has a face: Jesus Christ.”
Stressing Christianity’s vital role in forming consciences and sensibility to ethics, Benedict asserted politicians should have nothing to fear from the truth, nor should truth be eclipsed by particular interests, no matter how important. “Far from threatening the tolerance of differences or cultural plurality, the pursuit of truth makes consensus possible, keeps public debate logical, honest and accountable, and ensures the unity which vague notions of integration simply cannot achieve,” the Pope said.
“In the end, truth does conquer, not by force, but by persuasion, by the heroic witness of men and women of firm principle, by sincere dialogue which looks beyond self-interest to the demands of the common good,” the Holy Father explained. “The thirst for truth, beauty and goodness, implanted in all men and women by the Creator, is meant to draw people together in the quest for justice, freedom and peace.”
Implicitly referring to the Czech Republic’s communist past, Benedict said history has “amply shown that truth can be betrayed and manipulated in the service of false ideologies, oppression and injustice.”
Added the Pope, “In the end what is more inhuman, and destructive, than the cynicism which would deny the grandeur of our quest for truth, and the relativism that corrodes the very values which inspire the building of a united and fraternal world?” Instead of this negative cynicism and relativism, the Holy Father said, it is important to “re-appropriate a confidence in the nobility and breadth of the human spirit in its capacity to grasp the truth, and let that confidence guide us in the patient work of politics and diplomacy.”
Benedict returned extensively to the theme when he addressed academic leaders in Prague Castle yesterday. “The freedom that underlies the exercise of reason — be it in a university or in the Church — has a purpose,” he said. “It is directed to the pursuit of truth, and as such gives expression to a tenet of Christianity which in fact gave rise to the university.”
“The idea of an integrated education, based on the unity of knowledge grounded in truth, must be regained,” the Pope continued. “While the period of interference from political totalitarianism has passed, is it not the case that frequently, across the globe, the exercise of reason and academic research are — subtly and not so subtly — constrained to bow to the pressures of ideological interest groups and the lure of short-term utilitarian or pragmatic goals? What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded? What will happen if in its anxiety to preserve a radical secularism, it detaches itself from its life-giving roots? Our societies will not become more reasonable or tolerant or adaptable but rather more brittle and less inclusive, and they will increasingly struggle to recognize what is true, noble and good.”
Frequently during his visit, the Pope returned to the importance of Europe not forgetting its Christian roots and heritage — part of his consistent concern that modern society be mindful of God’s presence, and that reason be nourished by faith in order to uphold human dignity and avoid falling into evil policies and practices. Nowhere is that more urgent than in the Czech Republic, which has suffered greatly from encroaching secularism since the fall of Communism in 1989.
“An understanding of reason that is deaf to the divine and which relegates religions into the realm of subcultures, is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures that our world so urgently needs,” the Pope reminded the academics. “This confidence in the human ability to seek truth, to find truth and to live by the truth led to the foundation of the great European universities.”
The Pope closed his speech by calling on academics to “reaffirm this today in order to bring courage to the intellectual forces necessary for the development of a future of authentic human flourishing, a future truly worthy of man.”