Earlier today, Pope Benedict visited the Vatican offices of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, where he told leaders that "human beings are part of nature and, yet, as free subjects who have moral and spiritual values… transcend nature."
The two academies, located in the Vatican Gardens, are headed, respectively, by Nicola Cabibbo and Mary Ann Glendon.
Before presenting a sculpture of the late Pope John Paul II, founder of the academies, Benedict specifically thanked the Academy of Social Sciences for their choice of "the concept of the person in social sciences" as the subject of its plenary assembly this year.
In his address, he said that the anthropological reality of humans being part of, and transcending nature "is an integral part of Christian thought, and responds directly to the attempts to abolish the boundary between human sciences and natural sciences, often proposed in contemporary society.
"Understood correctly," Benedict told the group, "this reality offers a profound answer to the questions posed today concerning the status of the human being. This is a theme which must continue to be part of the dialogue with science."
"According to God's design," he went on, "persons cannot be separated from the physical, psychological or spiritual dimensions of human nature. Even though cultures change over time, to suppress or ignore the nature that they claim to 'cultivate' can have serious consequences."
"Likewise," he added, "individuals will only find authentic fulfillment when they accept the genuine elements of nature that constitute them as persons."
The Pope said that "the concept of person continues to bring about a profound understanding of the unique character and social dimension of every human being. This is especially true in legal and social institutions, where the notion of 'person' is fundamental."
"Sometimes," he noted however, "even when this is recognized in international declarations and legal statutes, certain cultures, especially when not deeply touched by the Gospel, remain strongly influenced by group-centered ideologies or by an individualistic and secularist view of society."
Benedict then explained that "The social doctrine of the Catholic Church, which places the human person at the heart and source of social order, can offer much to the contemporary consideration of social themes."
Before presenting the John Paul II sculpture, the Holy Father stressed how his predecessor greatly "enriched and expanded the concept (of the person) in his Encyclicals and other writings. These texts represent a patrimony to be received, collected and assimilated with care, particularly by the pontifical academies."
The Pope closed by expressing his gratitude at having the opportunity "of this occasion to unveil this sculpture of Pope John Paul II, flanked by two memorial inscriptions. They remind us of the Servant of God's special interest in the work of your academies, especially the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, founded by him in 1994."
"They also", he said, "point to his enlightened readiness to reach out in a dialogue of salvation to the world of science and culture, a desire which is entrusted in a particular way to the pontifical academies."