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Love for Man is the Substance of the Message of Christ

Address of John Paul II to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) Paris, 2 June 1980

This article was published in Oasis 10. Read the table of contents

Last update: 2019-06-19 15:09:05

‘Genus humanum arte et ratione vivit’ [cf. S.Thomae In Aristotelis Post. Analyt., 1]. These words of one of the greatest geniuses of Christianity, who was at the same time a fecund continuator of ancient thought, lead beyond the circle and the contemporary meaning of Mediterranean and Atlantic Western culture. They have a meaning that applies to mankind as a whole, in which meet the various traditions that constitute its spiritual heritage and the various epochs of its culture. The essential meaning of culture consists, according to these words of St. Thomas Aquinas, in the fact that it is a characteristic of human life as such. Man lives a truly human life thanks to culture. Human life is culture also in the sense that man is distinguished and is differentiated through it from everything that exists otherwise in the visible world: man cannot be outside culture. Culture is a specific way of ‘existing’ and ‘being’ of man. Man always lives according to a culture that is specific to him, and which, in its turn, creates amongst men a tie that is also theirs, determining the inter-human and social character of human existence. In the unity of culture, as a specific mode of human existence, is rooted at the same time the plurality of cultures within which man lives. In this plurality, man develops, without, however, losing essential contact with the unity of culture as such, a fundamental and essential dimension of his existence and his being. Man, who in the visible world is the only ontic subject of culture, is also its only object and its end. Culture is that by which man as man becomes man more, ‘he is’ more, he accedes more to ‘being’. It is also here that is founded the capital distinction between what man is and what he has, between being and having. Culture is always situated in an essential and necessary relationship to what man is, whereas its relationship to what he has, to his ‘having’, is not only secondary but completely relative. The whole of ‘having’ for man is not important for culture, it is not a factor that creates culture unless man, with the mediation of his ‘having’, can be ‘be’ more fully man in all the dimensions of his existence, in everything that characterises his humanity. The experience of various epochs, without excluding the present one, demonstrates that culture is thought of and spoken about first of all in relation to the nature of man and only in a secondary and indirect way in relation to the world of his productions. This does not take anything away from the fact that we judge the phenomenon of culture beginning from what man produces or that we draw from this, at the same time, conclusions about man. This approach – which is typical of the a posteriori process of knowledge – contains in itself the possibility to rise, in an opposite direction, towards ontic-causal dependencies. Man, and only man, is an ‘author’ or ‘architect’ of culture; man, and only man, expresses himself in it and in it finds his own equilibrium. All of us present here encounter each other on the terrain of culture, a fundamental reality that unites us and is at the basis of the creation and the purpose of UNESCO. We encounter each other by the same fact around man and in a certain sense in him, in man. This man who expresses himself and objectivises himself in and through culture, is unique, complete and indivisible. He is at the same time the subject and architect of culture. One cannot, therefore, see him solely as the result of all the concrete conditions of his existence, as the result – to give only one example – of the relations of production that prevail in a given epoch. Would, therefore, this criterion of the relations of production not be in some way a key to the understanding of the historicity of man, the understanding of his culture and the multiple forms of his development? Certainly, this criterion well constitutes a key and also a valuable key, but it is not the fundamental, constitutive, key. Human cultures reflect, there is no doubt, the various systems of relations of production; however, it is not this or that system that is at the origin of culture, but man himself. Man who lives in the system, who accepts or tries to change it. One cannot think of a culture without human subjectivity and without human causality; but in the cultural field man is always the primary fact: man is the primordial and fundamental fact of culture. And man is this always in his totality: in the integral whole of his spiritual and material subjectivity. If the distinction between spiritual culture and material culture is right as regards the character and the contents of the products in which culture manifests itself, one must observe at the same time that, on the one hand, the works of material culture always make appear a ‘spiritualisation’ of matter, a subjection of the material element to the spiritual forces of man, that is to say, to his intelligence and his will, and, on the other, the works of spiritual manifest in a specific way a ‘materialisation’ of the spirit, an embodiment of what is spiritual. In cultural works this dual characteristic seems to be equally primordial and equally permanent. Here, therefore, in the form of a theoretical conclusion, we have a sufficient basis to understand culture through integral man, through all the reality of his subjectivity. Here also – in the field of acting – we have the sufficient basis to look always for integral man in culture, the whole man, in all the truth of his spiritual and corporeal subjectivity; the basis that is sufficient not to superimpose on culture – an authentically human system, a splendid synthesis of spirit and body – divisions and preconceived oppositions. Indeed, whether one is dealing with an absolutisation of matter in the structure of the human subject, or, inversely, an absolutisation of the spirit in this same structure, neither of them expresses the truth of man and they do not serve his culture. I would like halt here at another essential observation, a reality of a very different order. We can draw near to it when noting the fact that the Holy See is represented at UNESCO by its Permanent Observer, whose presence is located in the perspective of the very nature of the Apostolic See. This presence is, in an even broader way, in consonance with the nature and the mission of the Catholic Church, and, indirectly, with that of the whole of Christianity. I take the opportunity that is offered to me today to express a deep personal conviction. The presence of the Apostolic See at your organisation – although motivated by the specific sovereignty of the Holy See – finds above all its reason for being in the overall and constitutive tie that exists between religion in general and Christianity in particular, on the one hand, and culture, on the other. This relationship extends to the multiple realities that one should define as concrete expressions of the culture of the various epochs of history and in all points of the globe. It would certainly not be exaggerated to state in particular that through a multitude of facts, the whole of Europe – from the Atlantic to the Urals – testifies, in the history of every nation and in that of the whole community, to the tie between culture and Christianity. Remembering this, I do not want in any way to diminish the heritage of other continents, nor the specificity and the value of this very heritage which derives from other sources of religious, human and ethical inspiration. Moreover, to all the cultures of the whole of the human family, from the most ancient to those that are contemporary, I wish to render the deepest and most sincere homage. It is in thinking of all the cultures that I wish to say in a loud voice here in Paris, at the headquarters of UNESCO, with respect and admiration: ‘Behold man!’. I want to proclaim my admiration before the creative wealth of the human spirit, before its unceasing efforts to know and to affirm the identity of man: of this man who is always present in all the particular forms of culture. Speaking, instead, about the place of the Church and the Apostolic See in your organisation, I do not think only of all the works of culture in which, over the course of the last two millennia, man who has accepted Christ and the Gospel has expressed himself, or the institutions of various kinds that were born from the same inspiration in the field of education, instruction, charity, social assistance and so many other fields. I think above all else, Ladies and Gentlemen, of the fundamental bond of the Gospel, that is the message of Christ and the Church, with man in his very humanity. This bond is, in fact, the creator of culture in its fundamental sense. To create culture, one should see, to the point of its ultimate consequences and in an overall way, man as a particular and autonomous value, as a subject who carries the transcendence of the person. One should affirm man for himself and not for some other motive or reason: solely for himself! Even more, one should love man because he is man, one should uphold love for man because of the special dignity that he possesses. This set of statements concerning man belongs to the very substance of the message of Christ and the mission of the Church, despite everything that critical spirits have been able to declare on the matter, and everything that the various currents opposed to religion in general and Christianity in particular have been able to do. In the heart of history we have been more than once and we still are witnesses to a process, to a very significant phenomenon. Where religious institutions have been suppressed, where the ideas and works born from religious inspiration and in particular from Christian inspiration, have been deprived of their right of citizenship, men rediscover these same facts, outside institutional roads, in seeing that one works, in truth and interior effort, between what constitutes their humanity and what is contained in the Christian message. Ladies and Gentlemen, please forgive this statement. In proffering it, I absolutely did not want to offend anyone. Please understand that in the name of what I am I could not abstain from bearing this witness. It also bears within it that truth – which cannot be passed over in silence – about culture, if one looks in it for everything that is human, for that in which man expresses himself or through which he wants to be the subject of his own existence. In speaking about this, I wanted at the same time to express further my gratitude for the ties that unite UNESCO to the Apostolic See, ties of which my presence here today wants to be a special expression. From all of this derive a certain number of fundamental conclusions. Indeed, the observations that I have made clearly show that the primary and essential task of culture in general, and also of every culture, is education. Education consists in substance in the fact the man should become ever more human, that he should ‘be’ more and not only that he should ‘have’ more, and that, as a consequence, through everything that he ‘has’, everything that he ‘possesses’, he should increasingly know more fully how ‘to be’ man. To this end, man should know ‘to be more’ not only ‘with others’ but also ‘for others’. Education has a fundamental importance in the formation of inter-human and social relationships. At this point, I also touch upon a set of axioms on the terrain of which the traditions of Christianity derived from the Gospel encounter the educational experience of many well disposed and profoundly wise men, so many in number in all the centuries of history. Not even in our epoch are these men, who reveal themselves to be great simply through their humanity, who know how to share with others in particular with young people, absent. At the same time, the symptoms of crisis of every kind, faced with which environments and societies, which, on the other hand are the most provided for, succumb – a crisis that affects first of all the young generations – compete in testifying that the work of the education of man is not engaged in solely with the help of institutions or only with the help of organised and material instruments, however excellent they may be. They also demonstrate that what is most important is always man, man and his moral authority, which derives from the truth of his principles and the conformity of his actions with these principles. As a world organisation with the greatest competence as regards all the questions of culture, UNESCO cannot ignore these other absolutely primordial questions: what should be done so that the education of man takes place above all within the family? What is the state of public morality that will assure to the family and above all to parents the moral authority that is necessary to this end? What kind of instruction? What form of legislation sustains this authority or, in contrary fashion, weakens or destroys it? The causes of success or failure in the formation of man through his family are always located within the environment that is the fundamental creator of culture, namely the family, and also, at a higher level, that of the competence of the State and its organs on which they are dependent. These questions cannot but provoke reflection and solicitude in the forum where the qualified representatives of the state encounter each other. There is no doubt that the primary cultural fact is fundamental, it is spiritually mature man, that is to say fully educated man, man capable of educating himself and educating other people. There is no doubt, equally, that the primary and fundamental dimension of culture is healthy morality: moral culture. Certainly, in this field there are numerous particular questions, but experience shows that everything remains and that these questions are located in evident systems of mutual dependence. For example, in the whole of the process of education, school education in particular, has that not perhaps taken place within a unilateral shift towards instruction in the narrow sense of the term? If one considers the scale acquired by this phenomenon, such as the systematic increase in instruction that refers solely to what man possesses, is it not man himself who finds himself increasingly placed in the shade? This then brings with it a true alienation of education: rather than working in favour of what man must ‘be’, it works solely in favour of what man can use in the field of ‘having’, of ‘possession’. The further stage of this alienation is to habituate man, depriving him of his own subjectivity, to being the subject of multiple manipulations: ideological or political manipulations that are done through public opinion; those that operate through monopoly or control, by economic forces or political powers, by the mass media; manipulation, lastly, that consists of presenting life as a specific manipulation of ourselves. It appears that such harm in the field of education threatens above all societies with the most developed technological civilisation. These societies are faced by the specific crisis of man which consists of a growing lack of trust towards our own humanity, of the meaning of the act of being man and the affirmation and joy that derive from this and are a source of creation. Contemporary civilisation tries to impose on man a series of apparent imperatives that their spokesmen justify by resorting to the principle of development and progress. Thus, for example, in the place of respect for life, the ‘imperative’ of getting rid of life and destroying it; in the place of love, which is the responsible communion of people, the ‘imperative’ of the greatest sexual enjoyment outside any sense of responsibility; in the place of the primacy of truth in action, the ‘primacy’ of fashionable behaviour, of the subjective and of immediate success. In all of this is indirectly expressed a great systematic forgoing of that healthy ambition – the ambition to be man. Let us not engage in illusions: the system formed on the basis of these false imperatives, of these fundamental renunciations, can determine the future of man and the future of culture. If in the name of culture one should proclaim that man has the right to ‘be’ more and if for the same reason one should require a healthy primacy of the family in the whole of the work of the education of man towards true humanity, one should also place in the same approach the right of a nation; one should also place this at the basis of culture and education. A nation is indeed a great community of men who are united by various ties but above all by culture. A nation exists ‘through’ culture and ‘for’ culture, and it is therefore the great educator of men so that they can ‘be more’ in the community. It is that community which has a history that goes beyond the history of the individual and the family. It is also in this community, for which every family educates, that the family begins its work of education in that simplest of things, namely language, thereby allowing man who is taking his first steps to learn to speak so as to become a member of the community which is his family and his nation. In all of this that I proclaim now and which I will elaborate on later, my words translate a special experience, a testimony of its own kind. I am the son of a nation which has gone through the greatest experiences of history, whose neighbours have condemned to death on more than one occasions, but which has survived and remained itself. It has preserved its identity and it has preserved, despite the partitions and the foreign occupations, its national sovereignty, not relying on the resources of physical force but solely by relying on its culture. This culture has shown itself, when necessary, to be a power greater than all other forces. What I am saying here as regards the law of nations, the foundation of their culture and their future is not an ‘echo’ of some form of nationalism but, instead, always concerns a stable element in the human experience and the human prospects for the development of man. A fundamental sovereignty of society exists which is expressed in the culture of a nation. This is sovereignty for which, at the same time, man is supremely sovereign. And when I express myself thus I am thinking equally, with a profound interior emotion, of the cultures of so many ancient peoples who have not given way when they have been faced with the civilisations of invaders, and they still remain for man the source of his ‘being’ man in the interior truth of his humanity. I am also thinking with admiration of the cultures of new societies, of those who are awakening to life in community in their own nation – like my nation which awoke to life ten centuries ago – and which struggle to preserve their own identity and their own values against the influences and pressures of models established from outside. Addressing you, Ladies and Gentlemen, who have been gathering in this place for over thirty years, now, in the name of the primacy of local cultural realities, of human communities, of peoples and of nations, I say to you: watch over, with all the instruments available to you, this fundamental sovereignty that every nation possesses in virtue of its own culture. Protect it as though it were the pupil of your eyes for the future of the great human family! Protect it! Do not allow this fundamental sovereignty to become the prey of some political or economic interest! Do not allow it to become the victim of forms of totalitarianism, of imperialism or hegemony, for which man counts only as an object of domination and not as a subject of his own human existence! For them, as well, a nation – their own nation or other nations – only counts as an object of domination and a bait for different interests, and not as a subject: the subject of sovereignty that comes from the authentic culture that belongs to it as its own. Are there not perhaps on the map of Europe and the world nations that have a wonderful historical sovereignty that comes from their cultures and which are, however, and at the same time, deprived of their full sovereignty? Is this not an important point for the future of human culture, important above all in our epoch, when it is urgently important to eliminate the remains of colonialism? This sovereignty that exists and which has its origin in the specific culture of a nation and a society, in the primacy of the family in the work of education, and lastly in the personal dignity of every man, must remain the fundamental criterion in the way in which is treated that question that is important for humanity today – the question of the mass media (of the information that is connected with them and also what is called ‘mass culture’). Given that these instruments are the ‘social’ instruments of communication, they cannot be instruments of domination over other people by the agents of political power or the power of financial powers that impose their programme and their model. They must become the instruments – and what an important instrument! – of the expression of that society that uses them and also assures their existence. They must take into account the real needs of that society. They must take into account the culture of that nation and its history. They must respect the responsibility of the family in the field of education. They must take into account the good of man, of his dignity. They cannot be subjected to the criterion of self-interest, of the sensational and of immediate success, but taking into account the requirements of ethics they must serve the construction of a ‘more human’ life. ‘Genus humanum arte et ratione vivit’. It is affirmed in essential terms that man is himself through truth; and he becomes increasingly himself through an increasingly perfect knowledge of truth. I would like to render homage, Ladies and Gentlemen, to all the merits of your organisation and at the same time to the endeavour and all the efforts of the States and the institutions that you represent, on the path of the popularising of instruction on all planes and at all levels, on the path of the elimination of illiteracy which means the absence of all instruction, even the most elementary, a painful absence not only from the point of view of the elementary culture of individuals and contexts, but also from the point of view of socio-economic progress. There are troubling indices of delay in this field connected with a distribution of possessions which is often radically unequal and unjust: we may think of the situations in which there exist side by side with a not very numerous plutocratic oligarchy multitudes of hungry citizens who live in acute poverty. This delay can be eliminated not by the path of bloody struggles for power but above all else by the path of systematic literacy through the spread and popularising of instruction. An effort directed in this way is necessary if one wants to work for the changes that impose themselves in the socio-economic field. Man ‘is more’ thanks to what he ‘has’ and to what he ‘possesses’ as well. He must know how to possess, that is to say to dispose of and administrate the instruments that he has, for his own good and for the common good. To this end, instruction is indispensable. [...] Today it has befallen me to achieve one of the most living wishes of my heart. It has befallen me, specifically here, to enter the aeropagus that is the whole world. It has befallen me to say to all of you, members of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation, to you who work for the good and the reconciliation of men and peoples through all the fields of culture, education, science and information, to tell you and shout to you from the depths of my soul: Yes! The future of man depends on culture! Yes! The peace of the world depends on the primacy of the spirit! Yes! The peaceful future of humanity depends on love. Your personal contribution, Ladies and Gentlemen, is important, it is vital. It is actuated in the correct approach to problems, to the solution of which you consecrate your service. My final words are these: do not stop! Continue! Continue always! ©Copyright 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana