Holy Father Stresses Importance of Historical Sciences

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 7, 2008 (Zenit.org).- A society that lacks an interest in history, is one that can be easily manipulated by ideologies, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope said this today upon receiving in audience members of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences. He said the committee works “in a field that is of great interest for the life of the Church.”

The Holy Father noted how during the pontificate of Leo XIII, “historiography was guided by the spirit of the times and hostile to the Church.” Hence, that Pope “opened the archives of the Holy See to researchers […] in the conviction that the study and description of the true history of the Church could not but be favorable to her.”

Today, he said “it is no longer just a question of tackling a historiography hostile to Christianity and to the Church. Today it is historiography itself that is going through a serious crisis, having to fight for its very existence in a society ruled by positivism and materialism.

“These two ideologies have led to a boundless enthusiasm for progress, which […] influences the view of life of large sectors of society. The past thus appears as a dark backdrop against which the present and future glitter with misleading promise.”

Set aside

“Typical of this mentality is a lack of interest in history,” said Benedict XVI, “which translates into the marginalization of the historical sciences.”

The Pope said this in turn leads to “a society which, heedless of its own past and hence lacking criteria acquired through experience, is no longer capable of harmonious coexistence or joint commitment in realizing future aims. Such a society is particularly vulnerable to ideological manipulation.”

“This danger is becoming ever greater because of an excessive emphasis given to modern history,” he added, “especially when research in this field is conditioned by a methodology which draws inspiration from positivism and sociology,” ignoring “other important aspects of historical reality, even entire epochs.”

“Even when its does not specifically concern ecclesiastical history, historical analysis nonetheless contributes to describing the life context in which the Church has carried out and continues to carry out her mission,” said the Pontiff.

“There can be no doubt that Church life and activity have always been determined — facilitated or made more difficult — by the various historical contexts,” he added. “The Church is not of this world, but she lives in it and for it.”