Pope to Hungary's academicians: Knowledge is humility, justice and peace

Pope Francis addresses Hungary's academicians and scientists at the last public event of his Apostolic Visit, and urges them to always be humble and recall that knowledge is truth and that truth is freedom.

By Francesca Merlo

Pope Francis’ final meeting in Budapest took place at the Péter Pázmány Catholic University, where he spoke to representatives of Hungarian academicians and exponents of culture.

In his addresss, the Holy Father focused on the acquisition of knowledge, which he said “entails a constant planting of seeds that take root in the soil of reality and bear rich fruit.”

He recalled that Romano Guardini, “a great intellectual and a man of deep faith”, claimed that there were “two ways of ‘knowing’”: One is a gentle, relational knowledge and mastery, which Guardini described as “rule by service, creation out of natural possibilities, which does not transgress set limits”, and another which he described as not inspecting but analysing.

The machine

Pope Francis noted that, in this second form of knowledge, “materials and energy are directed to a single end: the machine”, and that as a result “a technique of controlling living people is developing.”

"Guardini did not demonize technology," noted the Pope, "which improves life and communication and brings many advantages, but he warned of the risk that it might end up controlling, if not dominating, our lives. He foresaw the threat and left us with the question: Can life retain its living character in this system?”

Contemporary reality

The Pope went on to note that much of what Guardini foresaw seems obvious to us today.

“We need but think of the ecological crisis, the lack of ethical boundaries, of our tendency to concentrate on the individual, absorbed in his or her needs, greedy for gain and power, and on the consequent erosion of communal bonds, with the result that alienation and anxiety are no longer merely existential crises, but societal problems," he said.

He went on to quote, as he has done before, the novel The Lord of the World, by Robert Hugh Benson, describing it as being “to some degree prophetic in its description of a future dominated by technology, where everything is made bland and uniform in the name of progress, and a new 'humanitarianism' is proclaimed, cancelling diversity, suppressing the distinctiveness of peoples and abolishing religion.”

Real intellect includes humility

Pope Francis went on to stress that true intellectuals are truly humble. He explained that “they feel the duty to remain open and communicative, never unbending and combative. True lovers of culture, in fact, never feel entirely satisfied; they always experience a healthy interior restlessness.”

Truth is freedom

Pope Francis’ final point to the academic and cultural world reflected on the words of Jesus, when He said: “The truth will make you free”.

The Pope noted that “Hungary has seen a succession of ideologies that imposed themselves as truth, yet failed to bestow freedom”, adding that this risk remains to this day.

“I think of the shift from communism to consumerism,” said the Pope, noting how easy it is to pass from limits imposted on thinking, to the belief that there are no limits.

Instead, said Pope Francis, "Jesus offers a way forward; He tells us that truth frees us from our fixations and our narrowness. The key to accessing this truth is a form of knowledge that is never detached from love, a knowledge that is relational, humble and open, concrete and communal, courageous and constructive."

Universities, concluded the Pope, are called to cultivate this form of relational knowledge, expressing his hopes that all universities "will always be beacons of universality and freedom, fruitful workshops of humanism, laboratories of hope.”

Budapest, Meeting with the Academic and Cultural World

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30 April 2023, 16:30