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Pope Francis greets members of the Italian Academic Association of Church History Pope Francis greets members of the Italian Academic Association of Church History   (Vatican Media)

Pope: History helps us reflect on the past and shows us the way forward

Pope Francis on Saturday addressed Professors of Church History inviting them to continue to contribute to the contemplation of Christ: “the cornerstone, who works in the history and memory of humanity and of all cultures”.

By Linda Bordoni

Thanking Italian Professors of Church History for their service to the Magisterium of the Church, Pope Francis reflected on how history is a teacher of life, but regretfully also has very few students!

He was receiving in audience members of the Italian Academic Association of Church History that has just wrapped up a Conference marking the its 50th anniversary.     

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Reflecting on the lessons of history

“History” the Pope said, “if studied with passion” would have a lot to teach today’s society which is so “disjointed and thirsty for truth, peace and justice”.

“It would suffice”, he continued, “if, through it, we learned to reflect with wisdom and courage on the dramatic and evil effects of war: of the many wars that have troubled man's path on this earth. And we continue not to learn!”.

He commended the work of history scholars in seminaries, Pontifical Universities, Conferences and Seminars for their precious contribution and testimony which result from the study of Church history and its Magisterium.

Wealth of Italian Church history

He pointed out that in particular “the Italian Church is so rich in testimonies of the past” and said that it is a wealth that “must not only be a treasure to be jealously guarded, but must help us to walk in the present towards the future”.

Reflecting on how the history of the Italian Church represents an essential point of reference for all those who want to understand, deepen and “enjoy” the past, he urged historians not to transform it into a museum or into “a cemetery of nostalgia”, but to present it in a way that it is alive and relevant to us today.

God’s Word at the heart of history

At the core of the Pope’s message was the reminder that God’s Word is at the heart and at the root of history.

“A Word that is not born in writing, that does not come to us from human research, but is given to us by God and is witnessed above all through life and within life” he said.

This Word, he said, acts in history and transforms it from within: “this Word is Jesus Christ, who so deeply marked and redeemed human history” that the chronology of history is defined by his birth.

The Pope went on to note that faith should make the historian or scholar even more respectful of facts and truth.

“He should distance himself from all the worldliness linked to the presumption of knowledge, such as the longing for a career or academic recognition, or the conviction that he can judge facts and people for himself” he said.

In fact, he continued, the ability to see the presence of Christ and the Church's journey through history “makes us humble, and removes us from the temptation to seek refuge in the past in order to avoid the present”.

Pope Francis concluded his address inviting those present to continue to contribute to the contemplation of Christ: “the cornerstone, who works in the history and memory of humanity and of all cultures”.

12 January 2019, 13:07