respect life an promote solidarity
At the General Audience
on Wednesday, 16 December , in the Paul VI Hall, the Holy Father
talked about John of Salisbury, an outstanding philosopher and
theologian in the 12th century. The following is a translation of the
Pope's Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today we shall become acquainted with John of Salisbury
who belonged to one of the most important schools of philosophy and
theology of the Middle Ages, that of the Cathedral of Chartres in
France. Like the theologians of whom I have spoken in the past few
weeks, John too helps us understand that faith, in harmony with the just
aspirations of reason, impels thought toward the revealed truth in which
is found the true good of the human being.
John was born in Salisbury, England, between 1100 and
1120. In reading his works, and especially the large collection of his
letters, we learn about the most important events in his life.
For about 12 years, from 1136 to 1148, he devoted
himself to study, attending the best schools of his day where he heard
the lectures of famous teachers. He went to Paris and then to Chartres,
the environment that made the greatest impression on his formation and
from which he assimilated his great cultural openness, his interest in
speculative problems and his appreciation of literature.
As often happened in that time, the most brilliant
students were chosen by prelates and sovereigns to be their close
collaborators. This also happened to John of Salisbury, who was
introduced to Theobald, Archbishop of Canterbury
the Primatial See of England
by a great friend of his, Bernard of Clairvaux. Theobald was glad to
welcome John among his clergy. For 11 years, from 1150 to 1161,
John was the secretary and chaplain of the elderly Archbishop.
With unflagging zeal he continued to devote himself to
study; he carried out an intense diplomatic activity, going to Italy ten
times for the explicit purpose of fostering relations between the
Kingdom and Church of England and the Roman Pontiff.
Among other things, the Pope in those years was Adrian
IV, an Englishman who was a close friend of John of Salisbury. In the
years following Adrian IV's death, in 1159, a situation of serious
tension arose in England, between the Church and the Kingdom. In fact,
King Henry II wished to impose his authority on the internal life of the
Church, curtailing her freedom.
This stance provoked John of Salisbury to react and, in
particular, prompted the valiant resistence of St Thomas Becket,
Theobald's successor on the episcopal throne of Canterbury, who for this
reason was exiled to France. John of Salisbury accompanied him and
remained in his service, working ceaselessly for reconciliation.
In 1170, when both John and Thomas Becket had returned
to England, Thomas was attacked and murdered in his cathedral. He, died
a martyr and was immediately venerated as such by the people. John
continued to serve faithfully the successor of Thomas as well, until he
was appointed Bishop of Chartres where he lived from 1176 until 1180,
the year of his death.
I would like to point out two of John of Salisbury's
works that are considered his masterpieces, bearing elegant Greek
titles: Metalogicon (In Defence of Logic), and Policraticus
(The Man of Government).
In the first of these works, not without that fine irony
that is a feature of many scholars, he rejects the position of those who
had a reductionist conception of culture, which they saw as empty
eloquence and vain words. John, on the contrary, praises culture,
authentic philosophy, that is, the encounter between rigorous thought
and communication, effective words.
He writes: "Indeed, just as eloquence that is not
illuminated by reason is not only rash but blind, so wisdom that does
not profit from the use of words is not only weak but in a certain way
is mutilated. Indeed, although, at times, wisdom without words might
serve to square the individual with his own conscience, it is of rare or
little profit to society" (Metalogicon, I, 1, PL 199,
This is a very timely teaching. Today, what John
described as "eloquence", that is, the possibility of communicating with
increasingly elaborate and widespread means, has increased enormously.
Yet the need to communicate messages endowed with
"wisdom", that is inspired by truth, goodness and beauty is more urgent
than ever. This is a great responsibility that calls into question in
particular the people who work in the multiform and complex world of
culture, of communications, of the media. And this is a realm in
which the Gospel can be proclaimed with missionary zeal.
In the Metalogicon John treats the problems of
logic, in his day a subject of great interest, and asks himself a
fundamental question: what can human reason know? To what point can it
correspond with the aspiration that exists in every person, namely, to
seek the truth? John of Salisbury adopts a moderate position, based on
the teaching of certain treatises of Aristotle and Cicero. In his
opinion human reason normally attains knowledge that is not indisputable
but probable and arguable.
Human knowledge — this is
his conclusion — is imperfect, because it is subject to finiteness, to
Nevertheless it grows and
is perfected, thanks to the experience and elaboration of correct and
consistent reasoning, able to make connections between concepts and the
reality, through discussion, exchanges and knowledge that is enriched
from one generation to the next. Only in God is there perfect knowledge
which is communicated to the human being, at least partially, by means
of Revelation received in faith, which is why the knowledge of faith,
theology, unfolds the potential of reason and makes it possible to
advance, with humility in the knowledge of God's mysteries.
The believer and the
theologian who deepen the treasure of faith, also open themselves to a
practical knowledge that guides our daily activity, in other words moral
law and the exercise of the
John of Salisbury writes:
"God's clemency has granted us his law, which establishes what it is
useful for us to know and points out to us what it is legitimate for us
to know of God and what it is right to investigate.... In this law, in
fact, the will of God is explained and revealed so that each one of us
may know what he needs to do" (Metalogicon 4, 41,
According to John of
Salisbury an immutable objective truth also exists, whose origin is in
God, accessible to human reason and which concerns practical and social
action. It is a natural law that must inspire human laws and political
and religious authorities, so that they may promote the common good.
This natural law is
characterized by a property that John calls "equity", that is, the
attribution to each person of his own rights. From this stem precepts
that are legitimate for all peoples, and in no way can they be
abrogated. This is the central thesis of Policraticus, the
treatise of philosophy and political theology in which John of Salisbury
reflects on the conditions that render government leaders' just and
Whereas other arguments
addressed in this work are linked to the historical circumstances in
which it was composed, the theme of the relationship between natural law
and a positive juridical order, mediated by equity, is still of great
importance today. In our time, in fact, especially in some countries, we
are witnessing a disturbing divergence between reason, whose task is to
discover the ethical values linked to the dignity of the human person,
and freedom, whose responsibility is to accept and promote them.
Perhaps John of Salisbury
would remind us today that the only laws in conformity with equity are
those that protect the sacredness of human life and reject the licitness
of abortion, euthanasia and bold genetic experimentation, those laws
that respect the dignity of marriage between a man and a woman, that are
inspired by a correct secularism of the State — a secularism that always
entails the safeguard of religious freedom — and that pursue
subsidiarity and solidarity at both the national and the international
If this were not so, what
John of Salisbury terms the "tyranny of princes", or as we would say,
"the dictatorship of relativism" would end by coming to power, a
relativism, as I recalled a few years ago, "which does not recognize
anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's
own ego and desires" (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Dean of the College of
Cardinals, Homily, Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff,
18 April 2005; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 20 April
2005, p. 3).
In my most recent
Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, in addressing people of good
will who strive to ensure that social and political action are never
separated from the objective truth about man and his dignity, I wrote:
"Truth, and the love which it reveals, cannot be produced: they can only
be received as a gift. Their ultimate source is not, and cannot be,
mankind, but only God, who is himself Truth and Love. This principle is
extremely important for society and for development, since neither can
be a purely human product; the vocation to development on the part of
individuals and peoples is not based simply on human choice, but is an
intrinsic part of a plan that is prior to us and constitutes for all of
us a duty to be freely accepted" (n. 52).
We must seek and welcome
this plan that precedes us, this truth of being, so that justice may be
born, but we may find it and welcome it only with a heart, a will and a
reason purified in the light of God.