Pope: “Science Without Limits Has Drastic Consequences”

The Pope gave an important speech to young professors from Spanish universities, all of whom were under the age of forty.

The Pope said “Being here with you, reminds me of my first steps as a professor at the University of Bonn. When the wounds of the war were still raw and there was still a great deal of material deprivation; all this was overcome through the enthusiasm inspired by a fascinating activity, through contact with colleagues from different disciplines and through the desire to find an answer to the new and fundamental concerns expressed by students.

“This universitas that I experienced, Benedict XVI continued, marked by professors and disciples trying to search for truth together, in all areas of knowledge, or, as Alfonso X, the Wise, purportedly described it, that “gathering of teachers and disciples with the willingness and the goal to learn,” really sums up the meaning and the definition of University.”

It was on this very topic, the meaning of university teaching that the Pope’s speech focused. Where else will youngsters find such points of reference “in a crumbling and unstable society” such as ours?” Ratzinger, the professor turned Pope, asked himself. “Sometimes, he added, people see a professor’s mission as being solely that of training students to become competent and efficient professionals who are able to satisfy the demands of the market at any given time. It also transpires, that the only thing that should be valued at present, is pure technical ability.”

Benedict XVI said this was “a utilitarian vision of education,” including university education, “that is particularly diffused in environments outside university.” This is because today universities are increasingly expected to meet the needs of the business and industrial world. “You who experienced university as I did and who are now experiencing it as professors, the Pope said, will doubtless feel the need to take your experiences to a higher level, in correspondence with the different dimensions of man.”

“We know, he warned, that when utility and immediate pragmatism alone become the main criteria, the resulting loss is dramatic: from the abuse of science that has no limits and whose exploitation is taken too far, to political totalitarianism which is easily revived when humans lose sight of all other values other than the importance of power. The genuine idea of university, however, is exactly what prevents us from adopting such a limited and distorted vision.

University, Ratzinger added, was and is still being called to continue being “the house where people can search for the real truth about humans. It is for this reason that the Church has promoted university as an institution, precisely because Christian faith tells us about Christ and about the Logos through which everything was created; it also tells us about humans beings who were created in the image and likeness of God. The Gospel provides an explanation for all things that were created and sees humans as creatures that take part in and can eventually come to understand this rationality.”

University, he said, represents an ideal that should not be distorted by ideologies that are closed to rational dialogue, or through subservience to a utilitarian logic that sees things in pure market terms, and man merely as a consumer.” The mission of young professors is therefore “important and vital.” “You have the honour and responsibility of transmitting this university ideal: an ideal that was passed on to you by your predecessors, many of whom are humble followers of the Gospel and who as such, have become great giants of the Holy Spirit.”

This heritage and this ideal should not just be transmitted “through teaching, but through living it and embodying it,” because youngsters need “real teachers; individuals who are open to the full truth that is contained in the different areas of knowledge, knowing how to listen and living this interdisciplinary dialogue from within; earnest individuals who are convinced, above all, of the ability of humans to move forward in their journey towards the truth.” Benedict XVI reminded listeners that youth “is an optimum period in which to try to look for ways to come closer to the truth,” and he quoted Plato: “Look for the truth while you are young, because if you do not, it will escape through your fingers.” (Parmenides, 135d).

This “high aspiration, the Pope added, is the most precious one you could transmit in a personal and lively way to your students, and not simply a few instrumental and anonymous techniques, or cold facts, that have a merely functional use. I thus encourage you never to lose this sensitivity and yearning for the truth, never forget that teaching is not a dry communication of information; instead, it involves training students in a well researched way that shows understanding. It is your duty to transmit this thirst for the truth that they feel deep down, as well as the eagerness to surpass themselves.”

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