During the symposium the various
topics were presented and discussed with great scholarly rigour and full freedom, from a
variety of historiographical, ideological and cultural standpoints. The proceedings of the
conference will be published in the near future.
On Saturday, 31 October, the Holy Father received the participants in audience and gave
them the following address in Italian. Here is a translation.
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Ladies and Gentlemen!
1. I am delighted to welcome you during the Study Conference on the Inquisition,
sponsored and organized by the Historical-Theological Commission for the preparation of
the Great Jubilee. I extend my cordial greeting to each of you. Thank you for your
willingness to participate and for the contribution you have made to preparing for the
forthcoming Jubilee by also addressing a theme which is certainly not easy, but of
undoubted interest for our time.
I especially thank Cardinal Roger Etchegaray for the noble address he gave to open this
meeting and for presenting the conference's objectives. the same time I express my deep
appreciation of the efforts taken by the Commission's members in preparing the symposium
and by the speakers who conducted the study sessions.
The topic you have dwelt on, as you can easily see, calls for careful discernment and
considerable knowledge of history. The indispensable contribution of historians will
certainly be a help to theologians in making a more accurate evaluation of this phenomenon
which, precisely because of its complexity, must be analyzed in a scrupulously objective
2. Your conference on the Inquisition is being held a few days after the publication of
the Encyclical Fides et ratio, in which I wanted to remind the men and women of our
time, who are tempted by scepticism and relativism, of the fundamental dignity of reason
and its innate ability to attain truth. The Church, whose mission is to proclaim the word
of salvation received in divine Revelation, sees this yearning to know truth as an
irrepressible prerogative of the human person, created in the image of God. She knows that
a bond of mutual friendship unites knowledge through faith and natural knowledge, each
with its specific object and its own rights (cf. Encyclical Fides et ratio, n. 57).
People and societies must know how to integrate their past
At the beginning of the Encyclical, I made reference to the inscription on the temple
at Delphi, which inspired Socrates: know yourself. This is a fundamental truth: knowing
oneself is something distinctively human. Man is distinguished from the other created
beings on earth by his ability to ask questions about the meaning of his own existence.
Because of what he knows about the world and about himself, man can respond to another
command passed on to us by Greek thought: become what you are.
Knowledge, then, has vital importance for man as he advances towards the full
realization of his humanity: this is particularly true as regards historical knowledge.
Individuals, as well as society, become fully aware of themselves only when they know how
to integrate their past.
3. In the Encyclical Fides et ratio I also expressed my concern about the
phenomenon of the fragmentation of knowledge, which is one reason why knowledge
loses its meaning and deviates from its true purpose. This phenomenon has a variety of
causes. Progress itself has led to ever greater specialization, one consequence of which
is the lack of communication between the various disciplines. For this reason I invited
philosophers, men and women of learning to recover "the sapiential dimension as a
search for the ultimate and overarching meaning of life" (cf. ibid., n. 81), because
the integration of knowledge and action is a requirement inscribed in our spirit.
In this regard, it seems essential to stress the role of epistemological reflection
for the integration of the different elements of knowledge in a harmonious unity that
respects the identity and autonomy of each discipline. This, moreover, is one of the most
valuable achievements of contemporary thought (cf. ibid., n. 21). Only if the scientist
rigorously adheres to his field of research and to the methodology directing it, will he
be a servant of the truth for that portion which is his concern.
Today, in fact, there is a widespread conviction that it is not possible to arrive at
the whole of truth on the basis of a particular discipline. Collaboration between the
representatives of different sciences, therefore, becomes a necessity. On the other hand,
as soon as a complex matter is addressed, researchers feel the need for each other's
explanations, while obviously respecting one another's expertise.
Question involves cultural and political context of the time
For this reason the Historical-Theological Commission for the preparation of the Great
Jubilee rightly thought that it could not properly reflect on the phenomenon of the
Inquisition without first hearing from universally recognized experts in the historical
4. Ladies and Gentlemen! The problem of the Inquisition belongs to a troubled period of
the Church's history, which I have invited Christians to revisit with an open mind. As I
wrote. in the Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente: "Another painful
chapter of history to which the sons and daughters of the Church must return with a spirit
of repentance is that of the acquiescence given, especially in certain centuries, to
intolerance and even the use of violence in the service of the truth" (n. 35).
The question, which involves the cultural context and political ideas of the time, is
precisely theological in origin and presupposes an outlook of faith regarding the essence
of the Church 'and the Gospel requirements that govern her life. The Church's Magisterium
certainly cannot perform an ethical act, such as asking for forgiveness, without first
being accurately informed about the situation at the time. Nor can it be based on the
images of the past spread by public opinion, since they are often charged with an intense
emotionalism that prevents calm, objective analysis. If the Magisterium does not bear this
in mind, it would fail in its fundamental duty of respecting the truth. That is why the
first step is to question historians, who are not asked to make an ethical judgement,
which would exceed their sphere of competence, but to help in the most precise
reconstruction possible of the events, customs and mentality of the time, in the light of
the era's historical context.
Only when historical science has been able to determine the true facts, will
theologians and the Church's Magisterium itself be in a position to make an objectively
At this time I earnestly wish to thank you for the service you have offered in complete
freedom, and I once again express all the Church's esteem for your work. I am convinced
that it offers an outstanding contribution to the truth, and in this way makes an indirect
contribution to the new evangelization.
Differences should be resolved through honest dialogue
5. In conclusion, I would like to share a thought with you that is particularly close
to my heart. The request for forgiveness, which is much talked about at the time,
primarily concerns the life of the Church, her mission of proclaiming salvation, her
witness to Christ, her commitment to unity, in a word, the consistency which should
distinguish Christian life. But the light and strength of the Gospel, by which the Church
lives, can illumine and support more than abundantly the decisions and actions of civil
society, with full respect for their autonomy. It is for this reason that the Church
continually works in her own way for peace and the promotion of human rights. On the
threshold of the third millennium, we may rightly hope that political leaders and peoples,
especially those involved in tragic conflicts fueled by hatred and the memory of often
ancient wounds, will be guided by the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation exemplified
by the Church and will make every effort to resolve their differences through open and
I entrust this hope to your reflection and your prayer. And as I invoke God's constant
protection on each of you, I assure you of a constant remembrance in prayer and am pleased
to give you and your loved ones a special Apostolic Blessing.