Christianity Has Deeply Marked Culture of Peoples

Author: John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

Angelus, 1 September 1996

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

1. Christianity has profoundly marked not only humanity's spiritual life but also the culture of peoples. My journey next Friday and Saturday to Hungary to commemorate the 1,000 years of the famous Benedictine Abbey of Pannonhalma, will also highlight the great union of faith and culture which emerges from this prestigious centre of Western monasticism on the confines of Eastern Christianity.

Humanity is indebted to the Christian East for immense treasures. Here I would like to acknowledge the rich and varied cultural forms resplendent in the monumental architecture of Constantinople, Moscow, St Petersburg and of so many other cities. This culture is also reflected in the gleaming mosaics, the golden cupolas, in the icons rich in mystery, in the very movements of the liturgy, so solemn and majestic. Eastern religious art witnesses to the splendour of Christ, whether it presents him in the imposing figure of the Pantokrator, or points to him in the silent communion of divine intimacy, according to what appears, for example, from the delicate icon of the Trinity by Andrej Rublev.

2. The culture of the Christian East has also produced vigorous literary expressions, contributing notably to elevating the conscience of humanity even in our contemporary age. Desiring to give an example very dear to me, I am thinking of Vladimir Solovev. For him, the very basis of culture was recognition of the unconditional existence of others. Hence his rejection of a monolithic type of cultural universalism, incapable of respecting and accepting civilization's many different expressions. He was consistent with this view even when he became an ardent, impassioned prophet of ecumenism, doing all in his power for reunification between Orthodoxy and Catholicism.

Then how can we forget Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky, one of the greatest writers of all time? His believer's gaze penetrates the depths of the human soul, describing the endless journeys of the great adventure of freedom, in the light of his conviction that Christ is the secret of true freedom. At the root of his human and Christian vision he touches truly universal chords, expressing an intimate knowledge of man and deep concern for his destiny. The inmost soul of his thinking is love for Christ. In him he sees beauty born, the beauty that never fades, the beauty "that saves the world". For this reason he is deeply saddened—it is enough to remember the famous "Legend of the Great Inquisitor"—when he observes that men, sometimes believers themselves, are afraid of him [Christ], they are afraid of the true freedom which he came to bring them.

3. Let us pray to the Blessed Virgin that she may help us to incarnate Christianity deeply in culture. The split between Gospel and culture, as Paul VI said, is without a doubt the drama of our time (Evangelii nuntiandi, n. 20). By rediscovering the great cultural treasures of the Christian East, in a new dialogue of communion, we will also allow Christian witness to breathe at this level, with two "lungs", making our rightful contribution to humanity's future.

After praying the Angelus, the Holy Father said in Polish:

I have learned with deep sorrow that the Polish Parliament has approved the law which once again legalizes the practice of killing unborn babies. It is a sad fact that in our country, which suffered so much during the Second World War, the drama of the death of thousands of innocent, defenceless beings who are denied the right to life, still exists. There is no true justice in a country which permits innocent people to be killed. A people which kills its own children is a people without a future. With appreciation and gratitude I think of all those who caringly defend and will defend the right to life of the most innocent and defenceless. Let us pray for our homeland that the right to life from conception until natural death may be defended there. Let us ask God, the merciful Father, to reawaken the consciences of our compatriots.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
4 September 1996

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